As the “first edition” (well, and many subsequent reprintings) of Boys Will be Boys by E.S. Turner laments, British comics in 1948 were in serious trouble, as their audience was being stolen by the convenience, accessibility and sheer excitement of the radio adventure serial. Surely British comics were doomed, now that the wireless had a firm place in every home? Well, things didn’t quite go that way, and television didn’t seriously threaten the popularity of British comics, either. Apparently videogames and the internet will, though. Comics only thrive in Belgium, France, Italy, India, North Korea and Japan, all countries without videogames or the internet. …Well, okay, that is actually true in North Korea.
But anyway, comics of the 1940’s responded to the threat of the radio, by producing comics about the radio! Radio Fun was born, and with it came an annual:
Certain British comic collectors just let out a gasp, as they recognise that as the the infamous Tommy Handley cover. Who was Tommy Handley? He was a famous comedian on radio in the 1930’s and 40’s. He died unexpectedly in January 1949 which, as you can probably guess, had implications for his appearance on the cover of a 1950-dated annual (it also shows just how far in advance they were working on it! Unlike today, annuals in those days appeared around late September, to be bought for Christmas. These days, the following year’s Beano annual is out in May). Different people tell different tales of how a few editions of the Tommy Handley annual “escaped”. Some say they were a handful of printers’ proofs / copies for salesmen who went round the newsagents. Others say that the earlier cover appeared on editions sent out to the colonies, as these were sent out even further in advance. One website (I think it was the currently-defunct Comics-UK Family Tree) claimed there’s only three copies of this annual in the world! But, as this one cost me £50, I doubt it’s that rare. Still, it’s not in brilliant nick, either.
The inscription from the shop
But we’re not here to discuss values, we’ll leave that to fluff pieces in the Mail, we’re here to discuss stories! I’ve not really seen a copy of Radio Fun weekly (at least, I don’t own one. No doubt Lew Stringer’s put at least one in my subconscious before now, though), but I believe it to have been a mixture of comedy and adventure strips, along with comedy and adventure text stories, and maybe some factual content (though I should think that took up no more than half a page). The annual is much the same. Most of the strips and stories are based on contemporary radio shows, though some were created just for the comic / annuals. Others have only the loosest connection to “radio”.
It opens with an introduction from the editor, who writes as if he’s in a studio, about to begin a grand live variety performance. A faint “7/6” can also be seen, an old shop’s stock number? An old price? Or maybe both! The following page is a full-colour picture, and then we’re in to the “colour” comic strips. These only have red and white, as the ink shortages and style of the times dictates. Most of the comic strips are in “colour” like this, though some are also black and white. Colour is generally reserved for the comedy strips, to make them “more jolly”, I suppose.
Now, while I know more than most people about 1940’s British radio, that only amounts to having listened to a few episodes of Much-Binding-In-The-Marsh, so for most of these characters and stories I’m just going to have to guess what their shows were like. Mind you, a lot of the comedy strips just seem to be generic comedy strips of the time. The Wilfred Pickles one opposite being a case in point. He could easily have been switched for Charlie Chaplin, or some totally made-up character. A lot of British humour strips of the 40’s and early 50’s were not about their characters at all, they were just jokes about the life of austerity people led, and the pompously-inflated authority figures they ran up against. There’s a reason Dad’s Army was such a hit, 20-something years later! Oh, also, after Tommy Handley died, the replacement cover had Wilfred Pickles on it. Perhaps simply because he was the star of the first strip!
The next strip could, again, substitute virtually any woman as the main character. But as it is, we get Gracie Fields, today best remembered for that “sing as you go” song, which was actually the theme-song of a film about a factory worker, starring one Gracie Fields. Here she’s making a jelly in a children’s hospital.
This spread has a huge lump ripped out of it, but the first strip is Charles Cole and his Magic Chalks. He draws things which come to life! There’s several strips on the same theme, though I don’t know if he also had magic chalks in whatever radio show he appeared in. Though these radio stars appear in photos at the top of their stories, the artist has gone for only a rough representation of them in the strip itself. They are as detailed as the other characters, which works far better than the celebrity appearances in the Beano, when I was reading it. Usually, when a real person showed up in the 90’s Beano, they would have a super-detailed face, often too big for their body. It just looked bizarre next to the likes of Roger the Dodger or Ivy the Terrible.
There’s a few apperances of this two-page strip, called Our Brains Trust (which might even be the origin of that phrase?). I’m assuming it was a sketch that was part of a larger show, though I suppose the format of a panel of people telling funny anecdotes could itself be extended into a full half-hour. Here they talk about the relative merits of front or back brakes on a bicycle. I wonder if the actual show had “real” letters from the public, and the comedians had to improvise a story to fit?
Here’s some more general humour strips with radio characters. Actually, as there’s no picture of Vic Oliver, he might have been an original character, invented for the comic. I expect “Jewel and Warriss” were a cross-talk duo, like Morecambe and Wise. But you can’t really do crosstalk as a comic strip.
Issy Bonn and his Finkelfeffer Family was apparently a sitcom-type show about a Jewish family, with various stereotyped accents and exclamations. Naturally that’s been quietly knocked on the head, much in the same way as Love Thy Neighbour went, and Citizen Khan will go. Laughing at our differences must be stamped out, everybody must be the same. It’s the only way to preserve diversity! Anyway, this particular one is actually one of my favourite late 40’s / Early 50’s strips. Most of the gags in other publications of the era, like Comicolour, are pretty forgettable.
Another spread of radio characters. Jimmy Durante seems to be some gentleman adventurer telling tall tales about his adventures around the world. For some reason he speaks in what might be described as a “black” accent (the way black people talked in British comics at the time, anyway), even though he’s white. Avril Angers is, presumably, somebody whose innocent misunderstandings of simple instructions make other people angry. Or that might have been her actual name. Cool name!
Ethel Revnell and Gracie West are “radio’s chirpy cockney kids”, though there’s nothing very cockney about this particular strip. It’s another one that could easily be about anybody.
Opposite, we have one of the serious text stories. So let’s take this opportunity to move on to those. This one is called In The Lamp-Light’s Glow. Presumably that was also the title of the radio show on which it is based, dramatic stories, recounted by only one person. Perhaps as if meeting in a dingy pub? It saved on the budget, anyway. Only needs a writer and a reader, not a full cast!
Westerns were incredibly popular, at the time, so it’s no surprise there was western radio shows. I wonder how convincing the American accents were? Anyway, Big Bill Campbell’s Rocky Mountain Tales probably followed the same format as the show above, one man recounting a story, as if in a saloon in the wild west. Though this one might have had a bigger cast.
Targa The Untamed is one of those “white man in the jungle” stories. And is probably one that’s been written for the annual, rather than being based on a radio show. These had reasonable popularity at the time – Strang The Terrible was reasonably regular in the DC Thomson story papers.
The Haunted Tunnel is a detective story about Peter Wilmot, perhaps a radio-drama detective, or one created for the comic. It’s written as if he’s solved a lot of crimes down the years, so he must have been a recurring character, somewhere.
The Deserter is about a member of the French Foreign Legion deserting, thinking of ambushing an “Arab” (who turns out to be Irish), and being hailed as a hero for returning to warn the fort of an impending attack. It’s probably another one-off story, written for the annual, rather than based on a radio show.
Inspector Stanley “writes exclusively for Radio Fun!”. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t speak for the radio itself! I expect he had a show a bit like Dixon of Dock Green on the television, a copper telling stories of the crimes he has investigated. Perhaps as a warning to younger listeners.
As this is a unisex annual, it also has a few romantic stories, including some that are apparently “from the pen of” Vera Lynn. While she was an extremely talented singer, and maybe did write stories, too, I doubt her pen came anywhere near these. As I mentioned at the start, the fact these stories were supposedly written by a singer is all the connection they needed with “radio” to find a place in the annual XD.
There’s also some comedy text stories. This one is about Petula Clark, “radio’s merry mimic”. In this story, she replaces a famous Spanish guy who was going to visit her school, but had to cancel. Presumably she was an impressionist on the radio, though I don’t know if she was in a show set in a school, or if this is simply a fictional story about her schooldays. Mind you, she looks pretty young. Maybe she was a child star?
I’m sure I’ve heard references to Will Hay and St Michael’s before. Though The Magnet and Gem had both vanished in 1940, the boarding school story remained popular for years afterwards (Charles Hamilton wrote several books about the characters from those papers, after the war, too). This was, no doubt, the radio-based “replacement” for the weekly school story-paper.
Jerry Jones and Uncle Bones is a comedy story that appears to have been written just for the annual, it’s mostly about a boy and his parrot, which gets him into trouble. But I found this picture amusing XD
Now on to the serious strips. And here’s another western! This time it’s about Roy Rogers, who was an American western star with his own radio and TV show. I don’t know if the BBC just used the American recordings, or produced their own. Either way he also had his own annuals and comics on both sides of the Atlantic. “Brand identities” weren’t as closely guarded in those days (and things were so much the better for it- The Thing will never take on The Hulk in Hollywood), some executive in America probably rubber-stamped a “do what you like” license, and an Amalgamated Press team was given a brief to “tell any old cowboy story, but use these names for the characters”. No back-and-forth approvals of every little thing!
The Falcon was, I imagine, a full-cast radio drama, about a freelance crook-catcher who is a master of disguise. This appears to be the end of a longer story. Perhaps the whole thing was originally a serial in Radio Fun, and they’ve reformatted the final parts into one four-page story? Also “colour” has been added, if it was in the weekly, it was probably pure black and white.
Here’s a comedy adventure strip about some sort of colonial officer in Africa. The “bush telegraph” songs, explaining what is happening, were probably popular musical interludes in the actual show. There’s also some talking animals, and various stereotyped people of different nationalities. Much of the tracking of escaped crooks is actually done by an ape!
And here’s another comedy adventure, called Pitch and Toss. It’s about sailors, but the most interesting thing is the very plain-looking title. I should imagine it’s a reprint from the front and back covers of a comic (maybe Radio Fun itself, or maybe something else), the “empty space” would have originally contained that comic’s masthead.
There’s also some feature and puzzle pages. This is a combined code and treasure map puzzle, where you have to figure out a pirate’s directions, then compare them to a map to find the treasure!
Another, erm, “factual” feature
Some of the features were more serious than others! The Mutiny on the Bounty is also covered.
Cadbury’s had some sort of tie-up with Amalgamated Press, clearly. Bournville Cocoa was advertised on the back of annuals for years over the 40’s and 50’s. Still, it is just the thing for cold winter nights! Sweets were still rationed in 1949/50, maybe kids got a tin of that, instead of solid chocolates?
I’m moving to Japan soon, and I need every penny, so I am selling this book on Ebay… or I was, seemed like nobody wanted it, so I’ll keep it after all XD