Monday, August 10, 2015

Post-War Joke Books: "The kind that men like"

Post-war Britain. A nation needing to forget the horrors of the blitz and the battlefields. One antidote: new magazines featuring cartoons about women drivers, voyeurism, infidelity, curvy secretaries, leering drunks, dizzy blondes, the 'battleaxe' wife, and newlyweds. Yes, it's the boom period of the 'joke book' for men that proliferated in the late 1940s and 1950s. Not the pornographic and illegal 'Tijuana Bibles' comics that were secretly exchanged in pubs, but professionally produced mags that were just a little risqué. This was the humour of the seaside postcard and 'end of the pier' show turned into a format for national distribution.







The joke books advertised themselves as "the kind that men like" but was it just a bit of fun or was it (subconsciously or otherwise) part of the cultural shift to reassert the role model of man as the dominant partner/breadwinner and to objectify women as the passive 'dolly bird'? 


The joke books were well distributed to newsagents and bookstalls and, for a modest price these slim pocket-size periodicals would contain a mixture of anecdotes, cartoons, and pin-up photos of glamour models in various states of undress. (But only a hint of a nipple, if that.) The cartoons would often feature glamourous women too, with as much ample cleavage and bare thigh as the publishers could get away with. 


Men in the cartoons didn't get off lightly either, often shown as drunk, incompetent, stupid and unfaithful, and receiving their comeuppance for it, but more often than not it was women who got the raw deal. Not all the cartoons involved women, but many did, and usually as sex objects.
One of the earliest magazines of this type was Blighty, which launched in 1916, long before the 1950s boom in such publications. Blighty was quite innocent in the beginning but, like its rivals, gradually shifted its tone to move with the times, and in the late fifties became the top shelf 'glamour mag' Parade, with jokes eventually making way for photos of nude models. 


These 'joke books' may seem very chasté and innocent today, but they were considered a bit daring at the time; swapped amongst readers with a nod and a wink, or read under the bedclothes by teenage lads. The humour was risqué but not explicit or vulgar. That said, the editorial in Basinful of Fun No.72 (Nov/Dec 1951) asking 'lady readers' to send in glamour shots of themselves borders on the sleazy. "Remember ordinary snapshots do not always do you full justice". In other words, we're not interested in your face, luv.
Some well known UK comic artists contributed to these mags, such as Sparky's Les Barton and Phil Millar. However, from what I've seen, a lot of the joke books featured American reprint, no doubt to save on costs. Such was the case with Laugh Magazine and Carnival in the 1960s. Another budget mag was the Weekend Book of Jokes, which recycled gags from Weekend magazine. The coy 'glamour' shots decreased and vanished in the sixties, probably because if that's what readers were looking for they could find more revealing poses in plentiful supply in Fiesta and Mayfair




By the time the 1970s arrived, society was becoming more cynical, and humour more blatant. The result was Funny Half Hour, a fortnightly published by Top Sellers in the same format as their UK edition of Mad. This also contained a lot of American reprint (some by the marvellous Bill Ward) and its level of humour was far cruder than anything seen in the joke mags of previous decades. Any attempt as subtlety was gone in most of the material it featured. Here's a selection of some pages, and believe it or not this is some of the tamer stuff. The rape joke is particularly repugnant, and the one about the boy and his sister is unsettling to modern sensibilities too...



Today, joke mags such as these are no more. 'Blue' jokes and hardcore images are exchanged by instant messaging instead. Is society better for it? Not really. Amongst the sexism and titillation there were some good jokes too. Their decline meant a lot less work for cartoonists, that's for sure, so that's not good. On the negative side, the mags perpetuated a sexist, misogynistic attitude towards women that became increasingly tasteless and not 'only a bit of fun' as its defenders would have it. Basically, such joke mags reflected the attitudes of the times, but it was inevitable it wouldn't last forever. 
All of these images are scanned from my collection with the exception of the two full colour Blighty covers which were sourced from other websites.

12 comments:

John Pitt said...

Great post, Lew. Nothing like a step sidewards! I was reading FHH as early as '69! ( tut, tut!)

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, I think it was launched in 1969. The earliest one I have is No.21 from 1970 I think. I bought a bunch of them on ebay last year for a couple of quid. I never liked them to be honest. Give me Laugh Magazine any day.

John Pitt said...

Yeah, the humour was very American, so, at times, I didn't get the joke/ slang.
There was also a very similar mag in the spinner racks which was about half the width and came in a stiff card cover, but I cannot remember the name of this publication.

Lew Stringer said...

Half the width? Sounds like a strange format, but I don't remember that one. There were loads of various publications around at the time and before Smiths had virtual control of distribution all kinds of odds and sods would turn up in different newsagents. These days everyone has the same stock unfortunately, and independent publications have no chance of being stocked.

Lew Stringer said...

A lot of these things seemed more in abundance at seaside resorts. I remember buying Laugh Magazine in the late sixties in Blackpool, possibly from a shop on the Central or South Pier that sold American comics. (Bought Avengers No.52 from there too.)

Colin Jones said...

The cover of the 'You've Had It' Summer Special would never be allowed now either as it would be considered insulting to Islamic culture no doubt. I remember those Charles Atlas ads in Marvel UK's weeklies - it seems a bit strange to have bodybuilding adverts in comics aimed at kids.

John Pitt said...

That figures. With saucy seaside postcards and all!

Lew Stringer said...

I don't think any of these joke mags would be allowed today, Colin, as they're so demeaning to women. Good point about the bodybuilding ads in the Marvel UK weeklies but perhaps it just proved that their target audience included teenagers. They certainly played on the anxieties of the 'skinny teen'.

paddykool said...

Those Charles Atlas ads were everywhere during the 1960's....probably in the 1950's too.Comics were read by teenagers too and just like the young women were targetted for their insecurities , so too were the young men. God knows how old "Charles Atlas" was at the time because he'd been on the go forever. That kind of misogynistic humour was all there was too. It was the same on tv and in the movies.I dare say if you wanted to get a cartoon into print back then , you'd have to emulate that sort of thing .I remember even in the late 1980's , myself and John Dakin were trying to sell a Paddy Kool strip to the nationals and some of the stuff we had to knock out featured a sexy secretary whose only assets were those that could be seen. We thought we'd have to go down that line. Things are certainly a lot different these days.

Jim Barker said...

The South Pier at Blackpool was where I bought my copies of CONAN 1 and 3. I remeber picking up copies of This is it! and the like, usually from cardboard boxes outside various newsagents along the seafront.

Hibernia Comics said...

I recently got a couple of similar mags in a collection I bought published by 'Curtis' a name Marvel published its Mags under and one by Carlton. Ill have a dig and see it I can find the titles.

Lew Stringer said...

So it was the South Pier where that shop was. Thanks for confirming that, Jim! I remember a copy of Mighty Crusaders at the front of the rack, bleached by the sun.

Paddykool, Charles Atlas ads in comic books and magazines date back to the 1940s. They still appear today sometimes, even though Charles Atlas died in the 1970s.

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