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The odd, the bad and the ugly
This section covers those strips that fail to live up to the wonderful
standard of the bulk of Frank Dickens' output as well as those strips
that jar in the mind and stand out, but for the wrong reasons
All of the strips listed below are examples of their kind - there are many others but there is little purpose in detailing all of them.
(note: The version published in the ES is assumed to be the original.)
You might expect an internationally syndicated cartoon strip to be published the same way everywhere. Any features specific to the country of origin, that may be unfamiliar to readers elsewhere, would surely be accepted as part of the strip's character. And whilst this is mainly true with Bristow, there are some fascinating examples of local editing to make references more relevant or understandable. These changes are not made consistently and, based on the differences in handwriting, were done at the receiving end and not by Frank Dickens.
Strip 6519, published in the ES on 21/10/83 has a direct reference to that date. The GET was a week behind at this time and it is clear that the date was altered to match. The SMH , even further behind on 11/11/83, did the same thing. The difference in style in the altered date is clear.
In strip 6561 (ES 20/12/83) there is a reference to the Christmas dinner and dance. The GET published on 29/12/83 and did not change the text but the SMH version, on 11/01/84, omits "Christmas".
3. Local references
In strip 6574 "St Mary's Mixed Infants" is mentioned in the ES (and SMH ) but is changed to "Smiths" in the GET. Why? St Mary's is a fictional school. What is the meaning of "Smiths Mixed Infants" to a Glaswegian reader?
In 6586 a reference to a commercial product well known in the UK, Snowpake, is changed to "Correcting fluid" in the SMH.
In 7179 a reference to the (real) London tube station Turnpike Road was changed to the (real) Glasgow station Byres Road in the GET version.
In 7121 (March 1986) this goes further. The SMH (and presumably the ES) lists Crouch End, Holloway Road and Islington. The GET has Hyndland, Partick and Charing Cross. These are all real stations.
In strip 3907 the word "Jankers" in the ES is also used in the MA but changed to "Pack drill" for the SMH.
4. Whoops, what a give-away
Dickens has always gone to great pains to obscure the real locations of East Winchley and the site of the Chester-Perry Building, and until 1980 there were no direct references to either being in London (although of course this was assumed). Then he became a little careless:-
7121, as shown above, links Bristow's journey to real stations, and suggests that Bristow lives in North London, possibly in (the real) East Finchley
In 5676 the shipping forecast actually mentions "East Finchley" instead of "East Winchley". The wording of the fishing areas was not changed by SMH
in 7743 (August 1988) Jones sings "Old Father Thames keeps rolling along". My source here is the MA which did not, thankfully, substitute Old Father Yarra.
In 6416b (May 1983 Bank Holiday (and therefore not actually published in the ES), a runner is seen bearing a T-shirt inscribed "London Marathon".
In a sequence 8353-55 Jones is taken ill and treated in the Royal London Hospital. Yes, a real hospital, not the East Winchley Cottage Hospital as one might expect.
5. Losing the Plot
In 1490 (November 1965) Fudge gives Jones what Bristow describes as a "Wall to wall carpeting". The SMH, misunderstanding the whole point of the joke, substituted "reprimanding".
Note to Antipodean readers "a carpeting" means a strict telling off, or reprimand if you will, and wall to wall carpets in the 1960s were the sign of a prosperous household who could afford full size carpets instead of rugs.
In strip 7057 Bristow, wishing to buy his ticket for the Christmas Dinner and Dances says he must go to Accounts for a "sub". The SMH changed this to "substitute", thus removing the joke and making it unintelligible
Note to Antipodean readers: sub in this context is short for subvention, a loan; it is not short for substitute
6. The strike of '71
A dispute at the ES in 1971 resulted in the loss of some issues. The strike sparked off a series of strips about a paper (the Morning Prattle) closing as a result. Either this was too sensitive for the editor or the unions refused to print them, so whilst the original story was published in other newspapers, a doctored version went into the ES. The story in the ES was about the Morning Prattle having to close but no reason was given - the uncensored version blamed closure on the strike. For example here is one of the ES originals and its SMH equivalent . Dickens has alluded to the difficulties he had with the truculent, overpaid and heavily unionised production staff at the paper. If he upset them by a direct reference to a strike, he risked the strip being "blacked", i.e. not appearing in the paper. At this time management had little control over the shop floor. Bill Bryson has similar comments about his time in Fleet Street in his lovely book "Notes from a Small Island".
7. Bristow in colour
The GET, and perhaps other provincial papers, had been carrying colour versions for some time but the first one in the ES was this one in November 1999.
The BadOver 14,000 cartoon strips there are bound to be a few duds. But there are some strips that are, in my opinion, so unfunny that I cannot understand how any cartoon editor could consider them for publication. In addition there are several recurring themes, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, based on depicting Bristow as moronic, totally unable to cope with office life, and either in a coma or in a deep depression and on the edge of suicide. I don't find any of these themes particularly amusing. Furthermore the repetition of the basic "jokes" was so blatant that it was though Dickens was desperate to have someone tell him that Bristow was no longer to be published.
Here are some of examples of each type
8691a 6549a 6551 7563 7596 and my vote as the unfunniest of all 7942
Bristow in coma/moronic
7486 7725 9061
Bristow refusing to work
8686a 8739 8774
Bristow depressed/ suicidal
6290 8609a 8611 8619
In the early years Bristow was ambitious, determined to get ahead of his fellow clerks, known as the man in touch with all the office gossip, always with a witty comment or clever put-down. The change in character is not in keeping; fortunately the tone improved considerably in the late 1990s and thence on FrankDickens.com.
There are a few examples of syndicated strips that defy belief - clearly redrawn by people who couldn't draw, did not know anything about Bristow or indeed anything about cartoons. I surmise that something went wrong with the transmission of the pictures so somebody dictated the text over the phone and the night porter, or some inebriated subeditor drew a cartoon at the other end.
6061 was published in the Evening Standard on 30/12/81 and a mangled version in GET on same day but with a different number (GET did sometimes change the numbers when they followed a different sequence.
7753 is not only drawn appallingly badly but the speech bubble in the first frame is pointing to the wrong speaker! And whoever drew this has never seen Fudge.
This beauty has a "signature" but it is not Dickens' own (unless he was not in full possession of all faculties when he drew it).
8691b and 8717 have identical text. Both were published in SMH, the second within a month of the first, (and by implication in the ES as well) Did Dickens drawn them both? It doesn't look like it. Even the signatures vary.