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Friday, December 21, 2007

40 Year Flashback: Annuals for Christmas 1967

By the 1960s the hardback comic annual was a well established Christmas present for British kids. From late August onwards stockists such as WH Smith and the Co-Op would have waist-high piles of annuals of every title. The buzz of excitement at walking into a store and seeing that year's latest books stacked high was the moment for many children that Christmas was on its way. (And how the weeks dragged by until Christmas morning when those anticipated annuals - and some surprise ones too - were unwrapped.)

Almost every weekly comic had its own annual, and there were many others too (such as spin-off annuals or one-off titles based on cartoons or tv shows). Numerous publishers produced these much loved books, including Fleetway, DC Thomson, City Magazines, Odhams, and World Distributors. Here's just a few of the best annuals that children would have enjoyed on Christmas Day 1967...

Smash! Annual 1968
Published by Odhams, this was the second annual based on their popular Smash! weekly. Although the Odhams books were relatively slim at 96 pages, every page was either in full colour or red spot colour. Unusually, this annual kicked off with a comic strip on its covers, which in itself drew attention to the book. (Some earlier Dandy Books had also featured cover strips but I believe this Smash! Annual was the only book that year to do this.)

The cover strip, a funny but self-indulgent promo for the annual itself, featured a selection of Smash! characters including Grimly Feendish, Bad Penny, Fatty (from The Nervs), Tuffy McGrew, Charlie (of Charlie's Choice), Ronnie Rich and a few of The Swots and The Blots (with Teacher). The artist was Graham Allen, a talented regular with a genuinely funny style but whose work has unfortunately often been mistaken for Leo Baxendale. (Allen could also turn his hand to a "straight" style, and later drew Please Sir! for Look-In and Typhoon Tracy for Tiger and Jag.)

At the time, Graham Allen was also the regular artist on The Nervs and Tuffy McGrew and also illustrated those strips for this annual. Other regulars included Gordon Hogg on Ronnie Rich, Artie Jackson on Danger Mouse, Mike Brown on Bad Penny and Stan MacMurty on Percy's Pets.

The annual also featured new stories of Smash's resident adventure strips The Rubberman and The Legend Testers, along with adventure strips created specifically for this book The Curse of the Ka and Joe Innocent. Curiously, although the companion Odhams annuals such as Pow! Annual and Fantastic Annual featured Marvel reprints (as did their weekly editions of course) no American reprint material appeared in Smash! Annual, despite The Incredible Hulk and Batman being some of Smash's most popular strips.

TV Century 21 Annual that year marked a significant change for the book. Now co-published with Century 21 Publishing Ltd the annual took on a larger format and a distinctive design throughout, utilizing the availability of full colour photographs supplied by the studio. (Also adopted by the other Century 21 annuals for 1968, such as Captain Scarlet and Lady Penelope.)

Although the colouring of the strips was quite garish (and sadly nowhere near as qualified as the colour art of the weekly) the strips were exciting, dramatic, and with a couple drawn by Ron Turner suitably proficient.

Contents included comic strip versions of Stingray, Thunderbirds, and Fireball XL5, alongside psuedo-news items for the year 2067. All in all, capturing the futuristic essence of the weekly.

Whist TV21 looked towards an optimistic 21st Century, traditional annuals such as The Beano Book 1968 continued with the usual high quality mixture of humour and adventure strips.

The book contained a number of interesting items including a Lord Snooty lead strip by Dudley Watkins which featured his version of The Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, and Minnie the Minx - characters not normally associated with him.

The book also included an adventure strip starring The Iron Fish. This popular series had been running on and off in The Beano for years and by 1967 the Iron Fish (dexterous submersible vehicles mastered by Danny and Penny Gray) had been equipped with the ability to fly. (With the tenuous reason they were flying fish, see?) This obviously gave the strip more scope outside battling smugglers in diving suits and the like. For the 1968 Beano Book, The Iron Fish encounter a flying saucer... although disappointingly it turns out to be piloted by mundane human crooks who had stolen a benevolent professor's invention.

The most intriguing item in the annual was a 16 page Bash Street Kids story. Within a framing story drawn by Gordon Bell, the Kids take over The Beano office and run the comic their way. The result - an issue of The Beano taking up 8 pages of the book itself - mixes up the characters, featuring Biffo the Menace, Roger the Minx, Lord Dennis, The Bash Street Bears, Punch and Rosie, Minnie Whizz and The 3 Plums. Bizarre stuff and great fun for readers.

There were of course many other annuals published for Christmas 1967. These were just three of the most distinctive ones. To see the rest of that year's offerings, and many more from other years, visit this link:


Peter Gray said...

thanks Lew you made my day...

dexterous submersible vehicles mastered by Danny and Peter Gray

Penny Gray wasn't well that day so I took over......great fun driving the Iron Fish I recommend it!
Peter Gray :)

Lew Stringer said...

Lol! Well spotted Peter! I've corrected it now.


Anonymous said...

great site i love it.

Anonymous said...

I'm feeling nostalgic for annuals I never had! In a way I'm sorry to have missed the Smash! Annual; I had the Pow! Annual cover-dated 1969 and missed out on most of the other Odhams titles. Odd that the Smash! Annual didn't feature any Marvel characters or Batman. The TV21 annual's cover was a different style, I remember thinking at the time. Can't have worked as wasn't the next year's annual a more conventional cover?

Anonymous said...

Annuals in general I remember from when I was a kid living in the UK. Don't recall if I ever owned or read any of these specifically. But that "Biffo the Menace" thing seems to ring a vague bell. I think.

Anyway, nice nostalgia as usual. All the best for 2008.

Mike Mittelstadt
Watertown NY

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