Saturday, December 23, 2006
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
While I'm being educational, did you know that before turkey the traditional Christmas meal in England was Pig's Head and Mustard? And did you know that mince pies in Victorian times were in fact filled with beef, and flavoured with spices? Of course today's sweet mince pies are fruit filled, but similar spices still remain....
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
The late northern club comedian Bobby Thompson included some sharply amusing memories of pit-village Christmas and New Year celebrations in his Little Waster routine. About seasonal hangovers he observed:"You're that dry you could sup ink...and your head's throbbing like a melodeon."
Quoting from the great man's Little Waster scripts doesn't give enough of the true flavour of Bobby's workshy, beer sozzled persona. Most of the magic was in his delivery and onstage demeanour: a short waiflike figure in flat cap and over-sized jumper, Woodbine cigarette permanently in left hand.
Bobby Thompson had two showbiz careers: his pre-1960s act which was curtailed by the disastrous TV series Wotcheor Geordie. Only a handful of viewers could understand his regional accent during that flop national TV series. As I've recorded in the above strip, Bobby hit hard times following his failure to crossover from regional comedy to a wider audience and could in later years only be found broke in betting shops or drunk and alone in seedy Newcastle pubs.
Veteran BBC Radio Newcastle DJ Frank Wappat claims he rescued Bobby Thompson's career by offering him unpaid comedy spots at his evangelical Byker Mission church nights. From these increasingly popular appearances Bobby's observations about debt, avoiding work and being hen-pecked hit a note of recognition and the second, more successful phase of Bobby's comic life began. He became one of the highest paid working men's club acts of the 70's & 8o's - a once thriving entertainment circuit which is now in decline. Not too much of Bobby Thompson's act remains: one DVD and a 3 Disc CD set, both of which are 100% recommended and most of which I can quote verbatim. His following is still active, every year Tyne-Tees TV runs ads for Bobby's DVD, but now his Woodbine is blacked out by some politically-correct editor. I've also seen posters locally for a Little Waster Tribute act, but not surprisingly have heard negative reports. Everyone round here knows there's only one Little Bobby.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Monday, December 11, 2006
It's not too pessimistic to say that we've lost Christmas to consumerism. Even if you're a strict Carthusian with no possessions spending 12 hours a day in solitary prayer, market forces would somehow and someway weedle their increasingly subtle way into your consciousness and hey presto, suddenly you'll find yourself desiring a Sky subscription for your hermitage.
Neither is the commercialisation of the season a new thing. As post-war rationing gradually relaxed we British became nearly as eager to consume and spend as our American cousins. Yet coming across this ravishing 1955 Fortnum & Mason Christmas brochure is the revelation of an infinitely more graceful way to peruse the purchasing of goods than flicking through 2006's blinkin' Argos Catalogue.
The primary reason is Edward Bawden. Yes, we're back to the Saffron Walden sage once again. Fortnum & Mason commissioned Bawden not only to paint the exquisite cover but to contribute the beautiful woodcut style spot illustrations you can see above. Bet those who could afford Fortnum & Mason prices had an absolutely spiffing 1955 Christmas....
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Most desirable Christmas gift this year by far - the 1939 facsimile edition of the first Broons Annual.
Launched in 1936 in Scotland's Sunday Post newspaper, The Broons is still one of Britain's most popular children's comics. The regular annual still sells over 100,000 copies. An original of the first annual will set you back £5,390 (2003 auction price.) The facsimile reprint costs only about £13.
I must admit I only discovered Dudley Watkin's great Broons stories when I moved to North-East England (not too far from the Scottish borders I suppose.) Being able to buy The Sunday Post from all local newsagents, I instantly fell in love with this lovable and skilfully characterised family strip - my favourite Broon being the portly daughter Daphne.
However, much as I'd like too, I still haven't found the right opportunity to use Broon's phrases like "Jings" and "Crivvens" in everyday conversation....
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Here we are once again in the season of Advent, hurtling toward Christmas. In the church calendar this day is dedicated to good St. Nicholas, otherwise known as Father Christmas or Santa.
But did you know Saint Nick once had a diabolical travelling companion?
This seasonal posting first takes us back to November when I uploaded my Prague holiday photos, in particular the above snap of what I thought were figures of the Devil and St. Nicholas on display side by side in Prague's Toy Museum. At the time I couldn't guess why the two should be associated....
Thanks to an email from Comics Comics magazine cover star and ace cartoonist Pshaw, I now know who the devilish figure from Eastern European legend is. "That's Krampus! He's my favourite Christmas character" Pshaw wrote. He explained further: "Over the centuries, the legend of the good St.Nicholas grew. As a friend of all children he would give them special gifts and food. In the past he rewarded only their good behaviour because he travelled with a cloven-hoofed demon who knew who had been bad. Stories vary, but typically Krampus was a dark, shaggy monster with horns, a tail and a long red tongue who rattled iron chains! St.Nicholas would arrive with a full sack of toys and Krampus brought an empty basket to carry away boys and girls for punishment."
Phew, personally I think it's only fair that kids should be deprived of their Playstation gifts if they've been wicked...don't you?
Friday, December 01, 2006
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
More old style Industry. This comic strip recalls the humiliating pranks that first-day factory workers would have inflicted on them by their experienced elders. Other joke tasks included being sent to the Parts Department and instructed to ask for "a long stand". This, of course, resulted in the innocent apprentice being left to wait for at least half an hour. Once these "rites of passage" had been endured (as the smug sociologist character in the last panel comments) the new worker was accepted as another one of the lads/lasses.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Comics as documentation?
About two years ago I drew this Industrial Estate page after discovering some unusually old fashioned buildings tucked behind some more modern local manufacturing units. These half empty brick structures really did deserve the title Industrial Estate, definitely not a Business Park or an Enterprise Zone. I could almost see ghosts of cig-smoking men in boiler suits and noisy machinery in use through the dusty windows. Sensing their inevitable demolition I took some digital photos of the buildings and then drew the silent comic strip. The above photo is how the site looks now. Even the modern factory units have gone. Next year there will be retail outlets built here and the promise of several fast food restaurants.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Want to see my holiday snaps?
The activity of blogging seems to appeal to the self-indulgent so I may as well go the whole hog and post some of my Prague holiday photos. Prague is certainly a beautiful city and there are hardly any buildings (in the old town) which could be described as ordinary. The display of devils and Santa figurines is from the city's excellent Toy Museum and the religious graphic above comes from a carrier bag bought in the Museum shop of the church of Our Lady Victorious. The famous Holy Infant effigy is housed in this interesting Carmelite church - no photographs were permitted but I'll treasure the memory of seeing the little tyke in all his baroque finery.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
This still from Paul Wegener's 1920 silent movie Der Golem is posted today not because it is Halloween. The reason is because I'm going on holiday tomorrow to the city where the legend of Rabbi Loew's Golem originates: Prague. Looking forward to seeing a bit of Eastern Europe and also the miraculous Infant Jesus of Prague.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
When I was at Art School Kenneth Rowntree was the Professor of Painting. He was a bluff and jolly old bloke with trade mark round horn-rims and pipe, but what few sightings I had of his art made me sneer at what I thought was very provincial, middle-class and irrrelevant art.
Needless to say I've now changed my opinion and it's with some shame that I only recently learned Rowntree died in 1997. I also discovered an Edward Bawden connection. From 1941 to 1947 Kenneth Rowntree lived in Great Bardfield near Saffron Walden, Essex. This was very near to Bawden's home and he became part of the Bawden's circle of artist friends. During this time Rowntree was employed on the Recording Britain Project - a scheme devised to make a pictorial record of Britain before the anticipated destruction of World War 2.
The first of these three Kenneth Rowntree paintings comes from this wartime period and is titled View Through A Window (1944.) The next two are both from 1953 and are titled Last Minute Decorations and Country Celebrations.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Post War British art, I just can't get enough of it. Here's another illustration by the wonderful Edward Bawden from a 1949 book: Flower of Cities - A Book of London. This is co-incidentally another collaboration by Bawden and John Betjeman, illustrating Betjeman's words about the long demolished neo-classical Euston Arch.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Simone Weil (1909-1943) is one of the most original writers on religion I've ever come across and her life was fiercely idealistic. I couldn't help myself from making light of her Gallic intensity in the above strip but if you want the full story I suggest you investigate her writings.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Friday, September 29, 2006
If the previous post has encouraged you to buy a television set then you would have normally needed to subscribe to the TV listings magazine Radio Times. This BBC-biased publication was once host to the cream of British illustrators (and even in the 90's included John Peel as a columnist) but is sadly now dumbed down to pitiful levels of Soap coverage. This cover (featuring good old Sid James) is from the Radio Times heyday.