Saturday, August 04, 2007
Andy Capp is Fifty!
Today's edition of the Daily Mirror announces that Andy Capp, the strip about the hard-drinking, work-shy Geordie is fifty years old tomorrow. The paper celebrates the anniversary with a spread reprinting a few choice examples of the strip from the last five decades. Unfortunately the reproduction of some of the strips (particularly the newer ones) is appalling, with low-resolution pixels breaking up the linework. An unintentional indication of how standards and care of presenting strips has fallen at the Mirror over the last half-Century.
Andy Capp was the creation of cartoonist Reg Smythe, who in 1957 was asked to create a new strip for the Northern editions of the Daily Mirror. The character he came up with reflected the post-war environment of the Mirror's mainly blue-collar readers. Everyone knew an "Andy Capp type", and some might even admit to his flaws in themselves.
Above: Andy Capp from The Daily Mirror dated Sept 18th 1962.
Initially a single-panel gag, Andy Capp later became a strip appearing on the Laughter gag cartoon page, then on its own, beside news items. It was common practice for the Mirror in the sixties to feature various strips and cartoons throughout the paper (as Private Eye does today) as well as having a page with a tier of three other regular strips (Garth, The Larks, The Flutters). The newspaper was well served for comic strips in those years. Today's attitude to comics sadly gives them far less prominence.
Andy Capp became a huge success with the readers and soon started appearing in all editions of the Daily Mirror across the country. By 1958 the first Andy Capp Book appeared; an twice-annual softback collecting the best of the gags/strips. The second one (1959) is particularly collectible as it was designed in the shape of a flask of beer. The "bottle top" of which featured a flicker book; hold it side on and flip through the 96 pages and a 48-frame cartoon of Andy swigging a bottle of beer takes form. Turn the book over and flip the pages again and it's 48 frames of Andy's wife Florrie "dodging the empty bottle".
The latter is a dark aspect of the strip which has long been dropped from the current version. Shockingly, Andy was a wife-beater. Apparently a situation for gags in the 1950s, it's now rightly considered unacceptable. Unsurprisingly, the tribute in today's Daily Mirror makes no mention of it. Yet back in 1958 the first Andy Capp Book leads with a cartoon showing Flo sitting on the floor of the house beside broken crockery with Andy proudly stating "Look at it this way, honey, I'm a man of few pleasures, and one of them 'appens to be knockin' yer about."
Another aspect of the strip that has vanished since the original days is Andy's once-permanent cigarette sticking out of his mouth. When Reg Smythe gave up smoking in 1987, so did Andy.
Andy Capp is probably the most famous British comics character in the world. Reprinted in newspapers across the globe for several decades, he has undoubtedly been read by more people than Dan Dare or Dennis the Menace for example. The Mirror claims Andy Capp may have influenced the creations of both Homer Simpson and Jim Royale (from the tv series The Royale Family). They're probably right! I'd also venture that he was also an influence on Coronation Street's 1960s character Stan Ogden, and that Hilda Ogden was inspired in part by Flo Capp. (Hilda and Flo even both had their hair in permanent curlers.) Andy himself appeared as a tv series in 1988 starring ex-Likely Lad James Bolam. An interesting series, but not too popular unfortunately.
In 1960 Fleetway tried to capitalize on Andy's popularity by calling their new children's comic Buster, Son of Andy Capp. Indeed, Buster did have a replica of Andy's distinctive checked flat cap obscuring his eyes, although the "Son of.." sub-title was soon dropped because I understand that Reg Smythe was never happy with the connection. (Andy and Flo were childless in the Mirror.)
Reg Smythe died in 1998 aged 81, but the strip continued under the capable hands of writer Roger Kettle and artist Roger Mahoney. Two men to fill Reg's shoes, but they do a grand job.