A Brief History of The Beano

The Beano. It’s something of a British institution. And when you take a look at its history, it’s not hard to see why. Published by DC Thomson & Co, it began life on the 30th July 1938. During this brief pre-war period, The Beano, along with its sidekick, The Dandy, was a weekly publication lapped up by mischievous boys across the country. Accompanied by the first Beano annual in 1939, progress was sadly halted that same year when Hitler got his knickers in a twist. The resulting paper rationing meant the comic’s weekly cycle was forced to become bi-weekly. At this point, The Dandy and The Beano began alternating weeks.

Despite the obstacles, the comic’s early success was no fluke. Traditionally, comics like Illustrated Chips, Funny Wonder and Jester used a picture-and-narrative approach that characterised the Victorians’ efforts to reduce illiteracy. DC Thomson recognised that with improvements in educational standards, this rather staid approach was now defunct. As such, The Beano eventually did away with regimented lines of text underneath a corresponding picture. After all, why bother with that when a few speech bubbles would do the trick?

Mind you, it’s worth noting this ‘revolutionary’ approach did take time. In 1938, for example, a 28-page issue included seven full-text stories and six more in the style of Jester and the rest. It was only in the remaining pages that the speech-bubble approach was used. Nevertheless, the foundation for change had been laid. The Beano was laying down the gauntlet.

With paper and ink supplies up and running again by 1949, The Beano returned to its weekly slot. Big Eggo, an ostrich who had appeared on the first ever cover, had been ousted one year earlier in favour of Biffo the Bear, who was now accompanied by Lord Snooty and his pals, Scrapper, Rosie, Snitch & Snatch, Pongo the Dog, Polly and Mary the Mule. They were then joined by Big Fat Joe, Swanky Lanky Liz and Doubting Thomas, all of whom kicked off their Beano careers at the very end of 1950.

But they wouldn’t have the limelight for long. On the 17th March 1951, one Dennis the Menace debuted in his half-page strip. Billed as ‘The World’s Wildest Boy’, he would soon become the face of The Beano – a face that’s still recognised the world over, some 60 years on. Two months later, on May 5th, Dennis appeared in his customary stripy jumper for the first time. Sadly for Dennis, he’d still have to wait 17 years to team up with his trusty companion, Gnasher.

In the meantime, Roger the Dodger made his entrance in April 1953. Later that same year, both Little Plum and Minnie the Minx also took a bow – in October and December, respectively. And in February 1954, it was the turn of The Bash Street Kids. From here on in, these Beano characters continued to trailblaze their way through the psyche of young British lads. They carry on to this day.

As you’d expect, though, there have been various revamps over the years. The first came in the 50th birthday issue in 1988, when the decision was made to increase the number of pages, the amount of colour and the pages’ width. Five years later, the comic was printed in full colour for the first time. And five years after that, in 1998, we were introduced to a new logo, eight extra pages and, most notably of all, computer-generated speech bubbles and Dennis’ baby sister, Bea. Since 2007, there have been another five ‘revamps’, which have typically involved tweaking the logo’s design. The return of Billy the Cat, coupled with the introduction of the new Super School strip, were perhaps more noticeable changes to the everyday fan.

And last but not least, what of the people who’ve made The Beano happen? Well, given the comic is now over 70 years old, you may be surprised to learn there have only been five editors. The first was George Moonie who oversaw production from 1938 to 1959. He then handed over the reins to Harold Cramond, who was in charge until 1984. Euan Kerr then took the helm, before handing over to Alan Digby in 2006. Digby retired in 2013, leaving Michael Stirling to captain the ship.

So there we have it. It’s been around for more than 70 years. We’ve seen characters come and go. Editors come and go. We’ve seen tweaks, changes, books, annuals and gifts. The introduction of computers. And Dennis and Gnasher appearing on their own TV show… twice. Yet ask any Beano buff what they make of it all, and they’ll all tell you the same: "Long may it all continue!"