General Election memories 3: 1987

(FILES) - A picture dated Ocotber 13, 19

Peterborough, June 11th 1987

The Tories seemed to be doing rather well in 1987. Mrs Thatcher had beaten the unions, the Wets and the Argentines. She now seemed set to do the same for her third Labour electoral opponent, Neil Kinnock just as she had thwarted both Jim Callaghan and Michael Foot before. The economy was enjoying a brief economic boom. Thatcher, apparently invincible but not yet obviously unstable, looked unstoppable. The NHS, crime and homelessness figures were all far worse than they had been, but no one was worrying about this then.

Labour, though much more polished than in 1983, thanks to the red rose symbol and other behind the scenes innovations by the then largely unknown Peter Mandelson, were well on the road to becoming New Labour, this would propel it to a massive victory a decade later. But in 1987, the party still looked vulnerable as did the Alliance led by the “two Davids” Owen and Steel. In Peterborough, Brian Mawhinney seemed safe against his Labour foe Andrew MacKinlay (who would later be MP for Thurrock between 1992 and 2010).

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But as Lt. Col. Oliver North frequently said in the Iran-Contra hearings at about this time: “I was not aware” of all these things.

I was ten. I was in my third year (that is, Year 5) of my Junior School. I liked Whizzer and Chips, Buster and Oink! comic (none of these are still going) and books like The Demon Headmaster and The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler. I used to draw and write my own stories, sometimes in cartoon form, on Peterborough Development Corporation paper which my dad would bring home from work. He is retired now and the PDC no longer exists, so I hope my revealing this, doesn’t get him into trouble..

I liked riding my BMX round the park and swimming in the Regional Pool (not the Lido so much, as that was freezing). I could very nearly swim and cycle by 1987, though not simultaneously. I was never fat but disliked sport. I loved history. I was not the film buff I have become but I was already a big Blackadder fan, even though it was often unsuitable for a ten year old. I used to play very slow Atari 800XL computer games and fight with my younger brother (six). My older brother was just finishing his time at Reading University while my sister, just two months off being old enough to vote was then finishing her A levels.
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This was the first election I was aware of. I was not hugely impressed by any of the parties and had not yet developed any feelings of loyalty towards them. I found Mrs. Thatcher’s affected way of speaking rather grating, as indeed my mother did and still does. But Neil Kinnock seemed boring when he appeared on Wogan. The Alliance roused no strong feelings within me either. I understood bar charts well enough from my Scottish Maths books to see that the Tories were going to win.

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My third year teacher Mrs. Field (not her actual name) organised a mock election.The Tory candidate, a bright promising girl, was something of a favourite. As in all subsequent elections, I became emotionally involved but didn’t make a speech or do anything that involved work. Speeches were made by anyone, not just the three main candidates. I think the Tories would have won the mock election anyway but Mrs. Field was hardly an impartial arbitrator. Generally everyone made meaningless speeches e.g. “The Conservatives will build lots of houses” or “Look up “liberal” in the dictionary and it means…” or “Labour will make the schools better”. If someone spoke up for Labour though Mrs. Field would sometimes interject with something like: “but how will Labour pay for all this? With higher taxes!” Taxes sounded evil to our childish ears then. Even though, in retrospect, they might have got us a proper classroom rather than the mobile one we were then sat in.

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These interjections prompted a few people to defect from Labour to Tory, ultimately pushing them into third place. The Labour candidate was a decent boy and a friend. I regret to say for the first and only time I VOTED CONSERVATIVE MYSELF.

Yes, I know it wasn’t a real election and I admitted it at the time before I did it. My family weren’t impressed, but knew I was only a child. In time, I would be the only one of us to become a Labour Party member. But in 1987 I probably just wanted to back a winner.
But I’m not proud of myself.

The Tories won a 100 seat majority nationwide and the first plans for the Community Charge were announced soon afterwards. John Major won Mawhinney’s neighbouring seat of Huntington for a third time too. He won his first position in Cabinet straight after the election, became Foreign Secretary and Chancellor in 1989 and finally Prime Minister just three years later in 1990.
The Tories won in the class Mock Election comfortably too, the Tory candidate later becoming an actress. Mrs. Field died about twenty years ago and most people involved, now like me, fast approaching forty, have probably forgotten about the school election completely.
But by the next election in 1992, I would be fifteen. Still not old enough to vote but by then firmly in the Labour camp.

2017 update: I no longer regret not voting for the Labour candidate. I’d not seen him in years and he recently put a horrendously racist joke on Facebook. I de-friended him.

Politics - Thatcher Conservative Party Conference - 1988

 

 

Comics of the Eighties: Whizzer and Chips

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Whizzer and Chips was an unusual comic in many ways. For one thing, it had a strange dual status. Whereas Whoopee! and Wow!, another comic of the Eighties, was the result of two comics merging together, neither Whizzer and Chips had ever existed as separate entities (there was, in fact, a very old comic called Chips but this was wholly unrelated). Whizzer And Chips was always Whizzer and Chips from the moment it started in 1969 until right until the point it finally merged into the slightly more enduring Buster in 1990.

“Two in one: two times the fun!” was the slogan. Although, in fact, no more pages in total than any other comic of the time, Whizzer, (although labelled ‘Whizzer and Chips’ on the cover, never just ‘Whizzer’) began from the first page onward, while Chips, in theory, a separate comic with its own title page, began about a third of the way in. Whizzer would begin again (with no real fanfare) at some point towards the end, something I didn’t even notice for a while as I assumed everything after a certain point was counted as Chips territory. I seem to remember the comic vaguely encouraged you to detach the Chips segment from Whizzer. I never bothered. At the same time, the two comics were “not to be sold separately”. I doubt anyone ever tried: they would have been two very short comics.

Incidentally, as I remember the annuals never had a separate Chips section. On the other hand, the short-lived comic library series would take turns being either Whizzer or Chips: never both. The annuals tend to look better on screen, incidentally, hence why I’ve mostly used them instead of images of the regular weekly comics here.

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Although there was no real difference in the type of content provided by the stories in each section, a fierce rivalry was encouraged between the two comics. Readers who favoured Whizzer were known as “Whizz kids” while those who preferred the other bit were less attractively known as “Chip-ites”. I think I was both at different times although like everyone else I suspect, I always read both to get my money’s worth (Whizzer and Chips did, after all, cost 22p in 1984). Occasionally, one story would ‘defect’ from Whizzer to Chips or vice versa. Eagle-eyed readers could also try to spot “raiders” from the other comic on a weekly basis. For example, Sammy Shrink might appear in the background of the story, Fuss Pot.

The lead story in Whizzer was called Sid’s Snake (titter ye not!) about a boy who had a pet snake called Slippy. Shiner, the main story in Chips had an ever less promising premise, focusing on a boy called Shiner who repeatedly received ”shiners,” that is, black eyes.

As with many comic stories, I can only admire the ingenuity of anyone who could make such a flimsy premise endure, in this case, for over twenty years. Given a week to think up as many scenarios about a boy receiving “shiners” as I could, I think I would struggle to come up with even one. Yet the author or authors of Shiner must have come up with over a thousand. And who in the world has ever received multiple black eyes anyway? Surely his eyes would have been ruined? Shiner was, in fact, supposed to be an aspiring boxer. I suspect the strip rather glossed over the realities of boxing as a profession.

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What other stories were there?

(I admit, I now have no idea which of these stories were in Whizzer and which were in Chips):

Joker: A boy obsessed with practical jokes. He always wore a buttonhole which squirted water at passersby. This story made me briefly obsessed with the idea of going to a joke shop. This was difficult as there were few of these anywhere by the Eighties, at least none that I could find. Certainly not in my hometown of Peterborough anyway.

Fuss Pot: One of the few girl characters. Began every sentence with “I am fussy about…” e.g. “I’m fussy about getting the right shoes”. This actually quickly grew tiresome both for the other characters but also for the reader, at least if the reader was me.  Like Joker and Sammy Shrink, she first appeared in the Seventies comic, Knockout.

Junior Rotter: A juvenile parody of J.R from the TV series, Dallas.

Sweet Tooth: A boy with one prominent tooth. He loved confectionery but was constantly being menaced by an obese bully known as Greedy Greg.

Pongo Snodgrass: A beautifully-named strip about a disgustingly rancid boy. I think this had ended by the time I started reading the comic (1984) but I remember him from the monthly Best of… anthologies.

Sweeney Toddler: Another great name for a story about a malevolent infant. Sweeney terrorised his family and dog Daft Henry. He spoke in a weird babyish fashion e.g. “Me’s having lots of fun today readers!”

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He actually joined the comic from Whoopee! Which merged into Whizzer and Chips in 1985 but (Wikipedia tells me) had actually first appeared back in Shiver and Shake comic in 1973. He should really have been a teenager by the time I was reading.

Worldwide School: A weird one about a travelling international school presided over by a Mr Pickwick-style headmaster and peopled by a class of national stereotypes.

Lazy Bones: Fairly self explanatory. A very lazy boy.

Sammy Shrink: Again, a bit obvious. A tiny boy.

For whatever reason, I lost interest in being either a Whizz-kid or a Chip-ite by the time I reached secondary school age in the late Eighties. A lot of other children must have been the same, as the comic ended after twenty-one years in 1990. By that time I was so immersed in 2000AD, Viz, The Eagle and trying to produce my own comics with friends (as well as schoolwork obviously) that the comic I’d been so mad about when I was seven, died without me even noticing.

But let’s not forget it today, eh readers?

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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!

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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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