Archive for November, 2003

DUDLEY D WATKINS

2 November 2003

[Picture of an Oor Wullie Annual]Dudley D Watkins is incredibly important to post-war Britain, and especially to his adopted home — Scotland.

He is the man behind “Oor Wullie” and “The Broons”, which makes him one of the most important cultural figures in Scottish history.  Watkins is far more widely read than Robert Burns or Sir David Lyndsey.

In case you don’t know, “Oor Wullie” and “The Broons” are full page comic strips — “The Funnies” in “The Sunday Post” published by DC Thomson of Dundee.

[Picture of a Broons Annual]“The Sunday Post” was so widely read just after the world wars, that it made it into The Guinness Book of World Records as having the highest per capita readership anywhere in the world. Amazon has The Broons and Oor Wullie: More Classics from the Fifties.

DC Thomson was a powerhouse of comic production — including legendary titles such as “The Beano”, “The Dandy”, “Jackie”, “Mandy”, “Sparky”, “Topper”, “The Beezer”, and “Commando” comics.

[Picture of The Broons with Baby David]

Baby David

Dudley Watkins was born and bred in Manchester and moved to Scotland when he was 18.  Glasgow School of Art recommended him to DC Thomson, and soon Dudley was working on “Rover”, “Hotspur” and other comics.

He invented “Lord Snooty”, “Ginger” and “Mickey the Monkey”, and worked on “Desperate Dan”.

“Oor Wullie” and “The Broons” were never in a comic, they were simply published in the centre pages of a Sunday newspaper, part of “Merry Mac’s Fun Pages”, so they reached a different audience.  The strips were collected together and produced as an “Annual” for Christmas.

Watkins — from Manchester — somehow managed to write these strips in Dundonian vernacular, which is a feat in itself! For example, he would have Wullie talk about playing Fitba’ — instead of football.  Now a Glaswegian would more than likely say this as footbaw, but in Dundee it’s fit-bah, and so while Watkins got it spot on, it was still easily read by Glaswegians — something Robert Burns never managed!

Thomson regarded Watkins so highly that he was — unusually — allowed to actually sign his own comics strips.

Now, being Scotland, there is no escape from sectarianism and bigotry. David Thomson himself was pro-Christian (as long as it was not of the Roman Catholic variety).  This informed everything published; they promoted clean, family values.

DC Thomson as a company was infamous for not employing Roman Catholic Christians or allowing trades unions.

I managed to get some work there as a lad — I started off at “The Weekly News” in Cowcaddens,  manning the phones through Saturday nights in case some important story broke. I cannot recall anything doing that, but at the time I was a bit of a freelance journalist — and this rather boring job gave me lots of time to work on submissions for IPC magazines!

Watkins was a devout protestant Christian who always had a Bible to hand and who gave talks and illustrated a lot of Evangelical Christian publications aimed at children, some of which were published by DC Thomson. (See www.christian comics international.org). Strange to think that he had this in common with Rick Griffin… who knows, maybe Griffin was influenced by Watkins. Now that’s a funny thought!

Although Watkins died back in 1969, in the middle of a “Desperate Dan” strip, “Oor Wullie” and “The Broons” continued each week, only with the old LSD currency references erased in favour of  “New Pence” sums. DC Thomson recycled the originals for a while before getting in a new artist — who was originally pretty bad.  The strips are still going strong, although I don’t know who is drawing them now, but they are every bit as good as the original Watkins’s.

These comic strips are so embedded in the Scottish psyche, they are far more authentically Scottish than tartan, shortbread, bagpipes and haggis!

In a nation of cartoonists and comic artists, Watkins is recognised as absolutely top notch!

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