Question: How do you follow something like the Harry Potter Saga?
Answer: You don’t. It’s impossible.
Arthur Conan Doyle scored a huge success with his most famous creation Sherlock Holmes but was continuously frustrated when his other achievements were largely ignored. Enid Blyton’s adult fiction never achieved the widespread success and popularity of her books for children. Douglas Adams was constantly dogged by the question “when are you going to write another Hitchhiker book?” Helen Fielding has yet to escape the shadow of Bridget Jones.
And J.K. Rowling will always be best known for Harry Potter. But with her first post-Potter novel, she certainly does an admirable job of making a name for herself in the field of adult non-fantasy fiction.
The Casual Vacancy centres on Pagford, a town awash with secrets which are all brought to the surface by a particularly ugly parish council election precipitated by the untimely death of thoroughly decent member, Barry Fairbrother. Although set up almost as a 21st century Barchester Towers, surprisingly little attention is focused on the election itself with Rowling devoting most of her attention to the town’s cast of sometimes unlovely characters.
Such issues as internet porn, class warfare, casual racism, rape, drug abuse, domestic violence and civic corruption are all handled deftly by Rowling. No one who has read the Harry Potter books will be surprised to see Rowling can juggle a labyrinthine story-line and a large range of characters. What is more surprising is that with both this and her more recent crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling (written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith) she has entered the world of adult fiction with such confidence and success.
Few recent series have so captured the popular imagination as eerie French drama The Returned (Les Revenants) which ended its Channel 4 run yesterday. But with a second series and indeed an English language remake planned, many questions still remained unanswered as the first series ended.
Why exactly did some people in the town start coming back to life? What’s the connection with the dam and the water supply?
Why didn’t everyone who had died come back? Why was Camille the only one to return from the crashed bus, for example?
The boy Victor seemed to cause the bus crash in the first episode. Why was this?
Why did Camille’s older sister Lena (not actually one of “the returned” herself) develop horrible symptoms on her back? And how come these seemed to go away?
How did religious loon Pierre come to be involved in the murder of the Victor’s family?
How many times can the dead be killed and come back?
Why exactly did Simon die on his wedding day? Was it suicide? Or something else?
Is Julie, who was attacked in the underpass seven years ago dead? (Probably not).
Did Victor kill Julie’s nosey neighbour?
Is Adele dead?
What was the story behind Monsieur Costa’s suicide in Episode One? Why didn’t he come back?
Why couldn’t Julie and Laure leave the town at the end of Episode Seven? Is everyone in the town dead? Are they in Purgatory?
The royal baby has been born. But how to decide on a suitable name for the heir to the throne? The new Prince will be King for the later decades of the 21st century as successor to Elizabeth II, Charles III and William V. At least, that’s the plan. Let’s not forget that in the 20th century alone, neither George V nor George VI were expected to be King in their early years. Both were second sons. George V’s elder brother Prince Eddy died young while Edward VIII abdicated in favour of his brother George VI in 1936.
Generally, the rule of thumb with naming recent monarchs has been to name it after one of its predecessors. The two most recent Kings to have previously unused monarchical names were George I in 1714 and James I (of England, James VI of Scotland) in 1603. Neither of these two were expected to be future Kings of England at the time of their birth. George was German and only became King of England because the law changed to prevent Catholics from inheriting the throne. James was expected to inherit the Scottish crown alone, not the English one.
However, William and Kate could opt for a brand new name, for example, Philip (after the boy’s great grandfather) or Arthur, after the semi-mythical post-Roman King . Arthur was also the name of Henry VIII’s older brother who died before inheriting the throne. Both of these options are considered unlikely, however.
The royal couple could also name the new baby after Stephen or John. These two medieval Kings remain the only two with their names to have ever ruled. There has never been a Stephen II or a John II, largely because both men had disastrous reigns.
George is a far more likely option. The last bearer of this name, George VI was the present Queen’s father and though he did not enjoy a tremendously happy reign either (George did not want to be King, had a terrible stammer and died in his fifties), he is at least, well regarded.
More Kings have been called Edward and Henry than anything else: eight each. There may well be more Edwards in the future but with the Abdication Crisis of 1936 still within the Queen’s memory, Edward IX is unlikely this time (it would also invite confusion with the Queen’s third son, Prince Edward). Henry VIII’s tyrannical reputation and religious divisiveness probably rule him out too.
James too, is a name, associated with religious division, in this case, the Protestant-Catholic feuding of the 17th century. James I was almost blown up by the Roman Catholic Gunpowder Plot in 1605 while James II was forced to flee the country.
Richard III was probably a better King than his Shakespearian reputation as a “poisonous hunchbacked toad” suggests. But Richard IV (to date, only a character played by Brian Blessed in the first series of Blackadder) would be a bold choice.
In retrospect, Charles was an odd choice for the heir to the throne in 1948. Charles I was, after all, beheaded in 1649 and his son, Charles II had a reputation for promiscuity. The future Charles III is already a controversial figure and it might be better to see how his reign plays out before naming anyone after him.
William remains a good name but again, we do not know what sort of King William V will be. We may not do so until the middle years of this century. It is also less fashionable to name one’s heir after oneself than it once was.
In retrospect, it’s easy to see why the smart money is on the new Prince one day becoming King George VII.
The Dandy, Britain’s longest running comic has gone forever. After ceasing to exist on paper last December, it now no longer exists in digital form either.
As a tribute to the comic which brought the world Desperate Dan, Korky the Cat and Bananaman, here is a timeline of The Dandy’s long history:
1937: The Dandy begins. It is originally called The Dandy Comic and is unusual for a comic of the time in using speech bubbles. Korky the Cat is on the front page. Inside, Desperate Dan, an incredibly strong man from the Wild West also features in the comic from the start. He is “desperate” in the sense that a desperado is desperate.
Another story in the first issue is Keyhole Kate, a nosey girl prone to looking through keyholes. She proves remarkably enduring, appearing until 1955 before (after a ten year break) enjoying a long return run in Sparky comic in the Sixties and Seventies. She returns to The Dandy in the Eighties and Nineties appearing on and off until the end.
1938: The Beano, The Dandy’s sister paper, which eventually features Dennis the Menace and the Bash Street Kids, begins. It continues to this day.
The first Dandy-Monster Book (later The Dandy Book or Annual) appears for the first time too.
1939-1949: Wartime (and post-war) paper and ink shortages force The Dandy and Beano to go fortnightly. The two comics come out on alternate weeks.
1940: Korky the Cat starts to speak. Initially, he was a silent character.
1945: Keyhole Kate appears on the cover for one issue only, breaking an otherwise uninterrupted 47-year run for Korky the Cat.
1944: Black Bob, a fictional Border collie, first appears in a text story. He later appears in The Weekly News and in eight books during the 1950s and 1960s.
1954: The first Desperate Dan Book appears. Technically, it was not an annual and only appeared again in 1978, 1990, 1991 and 1992.
1961: Public schoolboy, Winker Watson first appears.
1963: A Dandy-Beano joint Summer Special appears. The first Dandy Summer Special appears in 1964.
1967: Bully Beef and Chips first appears. Bully bullies Chips until 1997.
1975: Peter’s Pocket Grandpa appears in the comic lasting until the early 1980s. It has a similar premise to the early 21st century BBC children’s series Grandpa in my Pocket although also resembles the 1940s Dandy strip, Jimmie’s Pocket Grandpa.
1984: Korky the Kat is replaced on the cover by Desperate Dan after a long run. Korky continues inside, however, and appears next to the front page logo until 1998.
Dimples – a tearaway toddler – begins in The Dandy.
1980-1985: DC Thomson produces Nutty comic featuring spoof superhero Bananaman. The strip is a huge success and is turned into a memorable TV cartoon between 1983 and 1986 voiced by the performers from TV’s The Goodies (Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie). The strip, Cuddles also begins in Nutty in 1981.
1982: The first Dandy Comic Libraries appear.
1985: Bananaman’s popularity doesn’t save Nutty (although doubtless prolongs its life). The comic merges into The Dandy in 1985. The strip Bananaman continues to this day. Cuddles from Nutty becomes the lead character in a new comic, Hoot in 1985.
1986: Hoot folds and merges into The Dandy. Cuddles and Dimples – two quite similar strips – merge into one. The two toddlers later mysteriously become twin brothers and later, mysteriously again, older and younger brothers.
1984 – 1987: Bananaman has his own annual. He is the only Dandy character to ever get his own annual for four consecutive years although technically was still in Nutty for the first two of these (Nutty, unusually for the time, never has its own annual).
1993: The Beezer and Topper merges into The Dandy. Beryl the Peril which began in The Topper in 1953 appears in The Dandy on and off until the end.
1999-2000: Cuddles and Dimples briefly replace Desperate Dan on the front page. This proves unpopular with readers and Desperate Dan replaces them again after the two are found to be “too naughty”.
2004: The comic is dramatically revamped becoming glossier, bigger, more TV-orientated and more expensive. The price was raised from 70p to £1.20. This is the first of a series of big revamps which, depending on your view, prolong the life or help finish off the already ailing title. It is a challenging time for the industry: most long-running British comics (except The Beano, Dandy, 2000AD, Viz and Commando) folded in the Eighties and Nineties.
2005: Korky the Cat is dropped after 68 years in the comic. Reader polls suggest he is much less popular than he was. The strip had been undergoing various upheavals since 1999.
2007: The Dandy had another update, going fortnightly, becoming more magazine-like and being renamed Dandy Xtreme, priced at £2.50. The first issue has Bart Simpson on the cover. Regular characters no longer regularly appear on the cover. Some feel the comic has lost its identity.
2010: A counter-revolution! Of sorts. Dandy Xtreme becomes The Dandy again and goes back to being weekly. Every story from the Xtreme era with the exception of The Bogies, Desperate Dan and Bananaman is dropped. Korky returns. More celebrity parodies appear.
2012: The Dandy’s 75th birthday turns out to be a sad time. The comic ends and goes online. Bananaman, now The Dandy’s third longest running story starts appearing in The Beano and The Dandy online.
2013: The Dandy Online ends bringing to an end the Dandy Era.
Farewell. Thanks for everything. You will be missed!
The Fifties are often remembered as a serene and peaceful, even slightly boring time, but as David Kynaston’s book reminds us, it wasn’t all like that.
The Notting Hill riots of 1958, for example, were amongst the most serious racial disturbances of the century. British football reeled from news of the Munich air disaster which seemed to have robbed English football of the talented names that had seemed set to dominate the Sixties. The Wolfenden Report, meanwhile, recommended decriminalisation of homosexual behaviour. This wouldn’t actually happen until 1967.
The beauty of David Kynsaton’s book, the first of two making up Modernity Britain covering 1957-1962 (his previous volumes Austerity Britain and Family Britain detailed the period from 1945 to Suez) is how they seem to cover nearly everything that happened in the UK at the time. On the one hand, we get the big, obvious events: Macmillan pulling the Tories back after the disaster of Suez to a landslide victory in 1959, the emergence of CND, the moves towards the major town planning projects which would dominate the Sixties.
But we also get welcome snippets of popular culture. Paddington Bear made his first steps onto the literary scene, Nigel Pargetter is born in The Archers and Pete Murray introduced the first episode of Six-Five Special in the following manner:
“We’ve got almost a hundred cats jumping here, some real cool characters to give us a gas, so just get with it and have a ball”.
Elsewhere, almost sixty years’ perspective enables us to identify the national institutions of the future, making their first cautious steps into public life. Vanessa Redgrave and Judi Dench graduate from Drama College although the latter’s Ophelia is poorly received by some. Thirty year old Bruce Forsyth took over hosting of Sunday Night At The London Palladium after Tommy Trinder is sacked. Meanwhile, rising Labour star Anthony Wedgewood Benn (still quite moderate at this point) helps with an early Party Political Broadcast and the young Margaret Thatcher secures the Tory candidacy for Finchley and ultimately wins the seat. A teenager called Cliff Richard also started making waves threatening the musical domination of Tommy Steele.
We know now which buds will grow and prosper and which will wither away, making this fascinating stuff. Roll on the second half of Modernity Britain which will doubtless feature the emergence of the satire boom, the end of National Service and perhaps a little more about the promising teenaged Liverpool skiffle band, The Quarrymen, mentioned fleetingly once or twice here.
Happy birthday Beano! If you’ve never read it, here’s what you’ve missed…
1938: The first edition of the Beano appears, dated 30th July. The Dandy started the previous year. Stories include Big Eggo (the cover story centred on an ostrich), Pansy Potter: The Strongman’s Daughter and the more enduring Lord Snooty and his Pals which lasts into the 1990s.
There are only twelve copies of the first issue known to still be in existence.
1939 -1949: Due to paper rationing, the Beano and Dandy both appear on alternate weeks, rather than weekly.
1940: The first ever Beano Book. If you own one without a year on the front, it must be from between 1940 and 1965. If it’s called The Magic-Beano Book, it must be from between 1943 and 1950 (the regular comic was never called this). The one below is from 1948.
1940-43: Musso The Wop appears, the racist title of a strip mocking Italian fascist leader, Benito Mussolini. The real leader was overthrown in 1943 and the strip ended.
1948: Biffo the Bear appears and immediately knocks Big Eggo off the front page. Eggo disappears forever in 1949.
1950s: Despite (or perhaps because of) the threat provided by TV and new comics like The Eagle, the Fifties is something of a golden age for The Beano with most of its most famous stories starting during this decade.
1951: Dennis the Menace appears, undoubtedly the comic’s most popular and famous story. By strange coincidence, a US strip with the same name about a similarly mischievous but blonde brat started in the same week. The American one was usually just called “Dennis” in the UK to avoid confusion. Cartoons and films of the US version started to appear in the UK after the Eighties.
Biffo remains on the front page. Dennis’s distinctive black and red jumper appear after a few weeks and Dennis’s friends Curly and Pie-Face as well as Softy Walter all appear from the early Fifties onward. Gnasher comes later.
1953: Three major stories Roger the Dodger, Minnie the Minx and Little Plum all begin. Little Plum (“your redskin chum”) ceases to appear regularly after 1998.
1954: The Bash Street Kids (initially called When The Bell Goes or When The Bell Rings) appears. There were initially a vague and often changing large group of pupils eventually settling down to a hardcore of eight: Danny, Sidney and Toots (brother and sister), Smiffy (stupid), Erbert (short sighted), Plug (ugly), Spotty (spotty and has a very long tie), Wilfred (face partly obscured by jumper) and Fatty (obese)
Cuthbert Cringeworthy (the teacher’s pet) first appears in the Bash Street Kids from 1972.
1955: The first Dennis the Menace book appears. It is available most years until 2010.
1959: The Three Bears, a Wild West take on the fairy tale featuring blunderbusses appears (until 2011).
1964: Billy Whizz races onto the page for the first time.
1966: The Beano Books have the dates on the cover from now on.
1968: Gnasher appears alongside Dennis the Menace for the first time.
1972: Babyface Finlayson – appears (on and off) from now into the 21st century.
1974: Dennis replaces Biffo the Bear on the cover after a twenty-seven year run. Biffo ceases to be in the comic regularly after 1986.
1975: The football-obsessed Ball Boy kicks off.
1976: The Dennis the Menace Fan Club begins.
1979: The Bash Street Kids book (just called The Bash Street Kids) starts appearing most years until 2010.
Rasher, Dennis’s pet pig gets a story of his own.
1980: Smudge (a bath-averse boy) appears in the comic, lasting into the 1990s.
1982: The first Beano Comic Libraries (small book-like comics with one long story in) appear.
1985: Ivy the Terrible, the Toddler Terror,. makes her first appearance.
1986: The terminally unlucky Calamity James arrives at The Beano.
Gnasher goes missing in a well-publicised story, only to return with a new puppy Gnipper who has one solitary tooth (a new story Gnasher and Gnipper appears). Gnasher is male. Who Gnipper’s mother is, is never explained.
1988: The comic is revamped for its 50th birthday. Extra pages appear and more colour is used. Many other British comics fold in the Eighties and Nineties (The Beezer, Topper, Buster, Whizzer and Chips). The Beano does well to survive.
1991: The comic’s oldest story Lord Snooty ceases to appear regularly. Some blame John Major’s “classless society.”
1993: The Beezer and Topper merge into The Beano. The Numskulls – who live inside and operate a human body – now appear in The Beano. The comic goes into full colour for the first time.
1994: A new look politically correct Bash Street Kids are unveiled. The new look is quickly abandoned after a fierce public backlash. Some suspect it is just a publicity stunt.
1996: A Dennis the Menace cartoon appears on TV. Voices include Billy Connolly and Hugh Laurie.
1998: Birth of Dennis the Menace’s sister Bea.
2002: The Beano Book becomes The Beano Annual.
2004: Dennis the Menace becomes the longest running strip in Beano history (it became the longest-running front page story in 2000). As of 2013, the most enduring strips are Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, Roger the Dodger, The Bash Street Kids followed by the previous longest-running story, Lord Snooty.
2007: The Dandy undergoes a dramatic and probably ultimately fatal revamp, becoming Dandy Xtreme.
2009: Another new TV series, Dennis and Gnasher begins. It continues until 2013.
2012: The Dandy ceases to appear in print and becomes The Dandy Online. Bananaman, the third longest running strip in The Dandy now appears in The Beano and Dandy Online.
2013: The Dandy Online formally ends. The Beano has another revamp for its 75th birthday.
2016: Beano Studios is launched. It is described as “a brand new multimedia Studios set up to create, curate and deliver mischievous entertainment for kids worldwide”.
2018: With weekly sales figures hitting an impressive 37,542, The Beano approaches its 80th birthday.
July 2013 is the centenary of US President Gerald Ford. Here are a few facts about the man.
Gerald Rudolph Ford was the 38th US president. He took over when Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974 and left office in January 1977, after being narrowly defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election.
He was born in July 1913 (the same year as Richard Nixon) and died in December 2006, aged 93. He lived longer than any other US president (narrowly beating Ronald Reagan). Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush may beat this record if they live until 2018 (update: they both now have).
Ford was the only president never to be elected as President or Vice President. He succeeded Spiro Agnew as Veep when the latter resigned after being accused of tax evasion. He then succeeded Nixon when he became the first and only president to resign (over the Watergate Scandal). Agnew was and is only the second VP to ever resign and the only one to resign over criminal charges (which he was later found guilty of).
Ford was a college American football star in the 1930s. This prompted President Johnson to comment when Ford was Republican Minority leader in the 1960s that Ford “is a nice fellow” but had played “too much football without a helmet” and that “Jerry Ford is so dumb he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.” This is sometimes sanitised as “walk and chew gum at the same time”). Johnson died in 1973 and never lived to see Ford become President.
He had a reputation for clumsiness, falling over in public several times. Comic Chevy Chase made his name on TV’s Saturday Night Live impersonating the president by depicting him endlessly falling over and crashing into things. Chase made no attempt to look or sound anything like Ford.
Ford was the fourth of the six presidents to serve in the Second World War (the others were Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter and the first Bush).
As a Congressman, Ford served on the Warren Commission which investigated President Kennedy’s assassination. The Commission controversially concluded Lee Harvey Oswald was solely responsible for the killing, something that has been disputed ever since..
Betty Ford, Gerald’s wife was a notable champion of political causes and was open about her own battle with alcoholism and substance abuse. She is famous for the Betty Ford Clinics which bear her name and is arguably the only First Lady to exceed her husband in fame. She died in 2011, aged 93.
One of Ford’s first actions as president was to pardon his predecessor Richard Nixon for “any offences he may have committed at the White House”. This was an unpopular move as many suspected (wrongly) that Nixon and Ford had done a deal to secure Ford the presidency in exchange for Nixon’s freedom. The pardon seemed to link Ford to the sleaze of Watergate and probably cost Ford the 1976 election.
The Helsinki Accords of 1975 were an early step towards Détente (an early attempt to end the Cold War).
Ford’s presidency included the bicentennial year of 1976. But it was also a time of fuel crisis, inflation and post-Watergate/Vietnam gloom. Vietnam fell to communist forces in 1975.
Ford decided to run for the presidency in 1975. He previously had shown little personal ambition beyond being Speaker of the House. He faced a serious challenge from Ronald Reagan in the primaries which he eventually fought off.
Ford recognised his status in a car-related pun (made when Vice President): “I am a Ford, not a Lincoln!”
When LBJ took over following Kennedy’s death in 1963, he was not constitutionally obliged to pick a new Vice President immediately. Hubert Humphrey became Johnson’s running mate in the 1964 election and was thus sworn in after they won but between November 1963 and January 1965, there was no vice president. In 1967, the law changed, thanks to the Twenty Fifth Amendment. Any new president had to pick a VP immediately. Few expected it to come into practice so quickly. Ford had to pick a new VP in 1974 and appointed Nelson Rockefeller, a choice which Congress had to approve.
Rockefeller, a scion of the very rich oil family, had run for president himself in 1960, 1964 and 1968. He failed to win the nomination. Some attributed this to social stigma: Rockefeller (like Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s) had divorced, following the death of one of his children in the early Sixties. This divorce stigma had lifted by the Seventies. When Rockefeller announced he was retiring, Ford picked another divorced man, Senator Bob Dole as his running mate in 1976. Reagan would become the only divorcee to win the presidency in 1980 (update: twice divorced Donald Trump has since won the presidency in 2016). Dole and John McCain, another divorcee, were both presidential nominees in 1996 and 2008, although their divorced status was not a major factor in their subsequent defeats.
Ford narrowly escaped two assassination attempts in September 1975. Both the assailants were women. “Squeaky” Fromme drew a gun on Ford when he attempted to shake her hand in the crowd. Sara Jane Moore fired a gun at Ford but a bystander knocked her arm causing her to miss. Both women were freed only after Ford’s death, over thirty years’ later.
Ford’s 1976 running mate Bob Dole, a World War II veteran, committed a damaging gaffe during a terrifically bland performance in the 1976 Vice Presidential TV debate (the first ever). “I figured it up the other day: If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans — enough to fill the city of Detroit”. Many objected to the suggestion that the two World Wars, Korea and Vietnam were necessarily “Democrat wars”.
Ford made an even worse gaffe in his own TV debate with Democrat Jimmy Carter. Ford claimed “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford Administration.” This was an absurd statement to make at the time.
Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter very narrowly in November 1976. Ford actually won more states but carried less Electoral College votes. Had he won, Ford would not have been eligible to run again in 1980 as he had already served more than half of a full four year presidential term.
Former President Ford made his acting debut playing himself alongside his old Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on an episode of Dynasty in 1983.
The career of British Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home has a number of parallels to Ford’s. Both entered conservative politics after a college sports career (Home was a celebrated cricketer at Oxford in the 1920s). Both rose to power unexpectedly. Both inherited parties ravaged by scandal (the Profumo Affair in Home’s case, Watergate in Ford’s). Neither were personally implicated in scandal themselves and were considered lightweight but fundamentally decent. Both enjoyed short spells in office – Home was PM for a year, the second briefest premiership of the 20th century. Ford had the shortest tenure of any 20th century US president. Home was 60 when he became PM, Ford was 61 when he became president. Both were defeated narrowly in general elections. Home enjoyed a comeback as Foreign Secretary in 1970-74. Ford was nearly appointed as Reagan’s running mate in 1980, though this did not actually happen. Ford died aged 93 in 2006, Home was 92 when he died in 1995.