Why was Dan so Desperate? The demise of The Dandy

The last edition of the Dandy has just hit newsagent shelves. Technically, it’s not the end. The comic will continue to appear online. But this feels like the end. It’s a bit like when Blue Peter stopped being on BBC 1.

The Daily Telegraph attempted to assess why the comic might be folding when news of The Dandy imminent demise was announced in August.

“Political correctness,” Michael Leapman claimed. “It meant toning down the violence and, in the school-based strips, stopping teachers from taking the cane or the slipper to recalcitrant pupils”.

It is an odd suggestion. The Telegraph is well-known for its eccentric tendency to blame political correctness for virtually all the evils in the world, but even by their blinkered standards, this seems something of a stretch.

Would The Dandy really have survived had the teacher characters in the stories still been allowed to cane the child characters? Wouldn’t this seem a bit odd, in a Britain where no child has been caned in a state school for a quarter century? Why would this affect The Dandy more than The Beano, which has more school-based strips and is still going strong? And why, if this was such a blow to The Dandy, has it taken until 2012 to have any impact?

Leapman elsewhere blames the poor distribution of the comic for its failure: yet this was clearly a symptom of its decline, not the cause of it.

The real question should be not why is The Dandy ending now, but why hasn’t it ended before?

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I don’t mean this as an insult to the comic: quite the opposite. Its endurance is incredible.

The Dandy started in 1937. Repeat: 1937.

To have read the first issue, you would have to now be similar in age to the Queen, Lord Attenborough or Lady Thatcher. Or, more likely, dead.

The Dandy survived a world war (threat of invasion, paper shortages), the challenge posed by The Eagle comic and TV in the 1950s, the numerous upheavals of the Sixties, Seventies and beyond: computer games, Star Wars, texting, DVDs and the web (the last of which it is now merging into).

It has endured something roughly equivalent to a human life span. It already looked old-fashioned when I was a child in the Eighties. “Dandy” (like “Beano” which started in 1938) was hardly a hip or even a meaningful term by then. Neither was the term “hip” for that matter. I actually much preferred The Beano, also produced by DC Thomson in Dundee. Most people seem to. Hence why that’s still going.

Why was Desperate Dan “desperate” after all? He was incredibly strong and ate cow pie. He wasn’t “desperate”. He is, of course, desperate in the same way that a desperado is desperate. But how many children (or adults) understand that? Adult comic Viz launched a cruel lampoon in the same decade, “Desperately Unfunny Dan”.

The Eighties and Nineties were in fact a brutal period for the British comic industry. I stopped reading as I advanced towards adulthood in the mid-Nineties but many of the comics I read died even before then.

The news would usually be sneaked onto the front page: “Great news about your favourite comic inside!” Even as a child, I grew cynical about this process.

The “great news” was usually that the comic was merging into another comic and thus was effectively bankrupt. One or two stories would still continue to appear as would perhaps, separate annuals for a bit. The name would perhaps continue for a bit as a subheading. Wow! merged into Whoopee! for example and became Whoopee! and Wow!. As with the Lib Dems in the Coalition, the junior partner often disappeared completely after a while.

IPC comic Buster which started in 1960 was THE great swallower of comics during this time. Between 1974 and 1988, Buster absorbed Cor!! Monster Fun, Jackpot, School Fun, Nipper and Oink!

dandy

Whizzer and Chips (which unusually, never appeared as two separate comics) started in 1969 and also absorbed such largely forgotten titles as Knockout, Krazy and Scouse Mouse as well as Whoopee! which as already mentioned had already merged with Wow! plus Cheeky and Shiver and Shake.

Then in 1990, Whizzer and Chips merged into Buster. When Buster ended in the year 2000, it was as if a thousand dying comics screamed at once.

DC Thomson comics followed a similar pattern. Nutty (which included Bananaman) and the short-lived Hoot – which I actually read – merged into The Dandy in the Eighties. Bananaman (which was immeasurably boosted by having its own TV series) goes against the pattern of old stories dissolving quickly and is the third longest lasting Dandy story (the others are Korky the Kat and Desperate Dan).

The Beezer and Topper meanwhile had both endured since the 1950s. Both merged into each other and then into The Beano in the 1990s. I expected The Dandy to do the same.

The Dandy’s end is less sudden then and thanks to the internet, takes a different form to that of other comics.

Perhaps The Beano will one day go the same way. But in the meantime, let us not mourn. The Dandy’s capacity to survive since the period of Neville Chamberlain and the Spanish Civil War is more remarkable than its demise now.

The Dandy: 1937-2012, It’s an impressive run. This was the UK’s longest lasting comic.

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6 thoughts on “Why was Dan so Desperate? The demise of The Dandy

    • Chris,I liked being reminded of your original piece on Desperate Dan but it does look as though his time is finally running out. Surely his fondness for cow pie will continue to offend vegetarians the world over and also go against the government’s current war on obesity (e g the proposed sugar tax) and I seem to recall that Dan has a back-scratching device made of barbed wire. There must be some risk that children may try to copy this and thereby put an increased burden on the NHS. It’s all too risky. Poor old Dan , may he R I P.signed …Sad former Dandy Reader of Wiltshire.

      Date: Sun, 29 Nov 2015 21:10:43 +0000 To: duncanhallam54@hotmail.com

  1. Good summary, Chris. However I must correct you on one point: The Dandy was not the Uk’s longest lasting comic: that was (and still is) the Boy’s Own Paper, which ran from 1879 till 1967, when it was swallowed up by Eagle,

    • Thanks Alan! Is Boy’s Own definitely classed as a comic though? A lot of people seem to class it as a magazine. I see a title called Boy’s World merged into The Eagle in 1964. I assume that’s different? I know you know an awful lot about these things, mind you, so your input is definitely appreciated. I’m not sure what the exact definition of a comic is and, as you say, the Boy’s Own Paper definitely outlasted The Dandy (and, for that matter, The Beano).

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