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.

9 comments:

alcilan said...

Brilliant, Lew! Thanks so much for this trip down memory lane. My parents and I used to read the "Daily Mirror" (when it was a real newspaper!) and I never missed reading each day's 'Perishers' and 'Andy Capp' strips.

I collected the books and fondly remember the bottle one.

I also seem to remember Andy coming out the worst in many of his tussles with Flo!

Thanks again,

Al

John Freeman said...

Fab round up Lew. Have to say the material I've seen from the Mirror is better than how you've described its presentation in the paper.

We'll be running Andy Capp and other Mirror strips on ROK Comics soon.

Lew Stringer said...

We'll have to agree to disagree John. Click on the photo from yesterday's Mirror and it's easy to see the 1990's example of Andy Capp is poorly reproduced in my opinion.

On a daily basis, the repro quality of the current Mirror's strips are far inferior to the quality of those of earlier decades.

Lew

John Freeman said...

Hi Lew, bit of a misunderstanding here - I was referring to files of Andy Capp material I've got from Mirrorpix, not the print quality in the paper. What I'm saying is, the _source_ of the imagery published in the paper isn't the issue.

DuffPaddy said...

Blimey! I'm sure I can remember that flask-shaped annual with the flicker book. Must've been my Dad's though, judging from the date. Maybe I should've kept hold of it.

That could be right about Homer Simpson. I remember one episode where Homer was chuckling at the funnies, saying something like, "Ah, Andy Capp, you wife-beating drunk!". Speaking of which, that "man of few pleasures" panel seems unbelievable now. Not to blame Reg, of course; he was of his time like all of us.

Nite Owl said...

I just saw this. Great blog. I have tons of Andy Capp books and I love them all... Reg Smythe's style was a huge influence on my own cartooning style as a child. I loved the symmetry and bulbous noses... and I loved the wry, saracastic humor which I sometimes didn't understand as a child.

The gentlemen who took over the strip do a fine job. I was so happy to see that they were printing Andy Capp books again...but after the 50th anniversary, it seems they've stopped again! DANG!!!! This is a funny, well-done, consistent strip. Is it really having trouble finding an audience?


Any idea if anyone plans on releasing a new book?

Nite Owl said...

I just saw this. Great blog. I have tons of Andy Capp books and I love them all... Reg Smythe's style was a huge influence on my own cartooning style as a child. I loved the symmetry and bulbous noses... and I loved the wry, saracastic humor which I sometimes didn't understand as a child.

The gentlemen who took over the strip do a fine job. I was so happy to see that they were printing Andy Capp books again...but after the 50th anniversary, it seems they've stopped again! DANG!!!! This is a funny, well-done, consistent strip. Is it really having trouble finding an audience?


Any idea if anyone plans on releasing a new book?

Paul said...

on facebook he has got 4500 fans, but I would love to see it get to 10,000! http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/pages/Andy-Capp/31411402618?ref=ts

Paul C said...

According to immges on your own blog, the central character of the long-running "Buster!" comic was still being billed as "Buster Capp" as late as the early 1980's.

I can't help reflecting that when the Daily Mirror started running the "Mandy..." strip in the early 1980's, it was originally billed on the premise that the lead character's full name was Mandy Capp, and that she was the grand-daughter of Flo and Andy. Unmarried and surnamed "Capp", Mandy must evidently have been daughter of a Capp son...


the conclusion being: Buster Capp (no longer a going concern as a kids' comic)finally grew up, married, and had a daughter?
It'd be fun to be a fly on the wall at a Capp family gathering...

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