The opening programme of the BBC4 ‘Comics Britannia’ season – which focused on the DC Thompson humour titles – boasted a whole lot of inky fingered comic genius Leo Baxendale, creator of the Bash Street Kids, Minnie The Minx, Little Plum, Willy The Kid, Sweeny Toddler and many other classic strips.
The programme was better than I feared it would be, but alas fell short of what it could have been, especially in the way the final twenty minutes dashed through the late sixties onwards, giving only cursory mention to major players and omitting dozens of significant comics. But I’m sure we expected this.
Nevertheless, we did have Leo fucking Baxendale! Leo Fucking Baxendale!!! And doesn’t he speak so wonderfully? Is not his head screwed on properly? I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone who has had the immense pleasure of reading his autobiography, A Very Funny Business – in which his righteous anger, his creative passions, his humanity, are all projected across a history which most of us know only from one side, that of the reader – but sadly this book is not well known.
The documentary also featured Kevin O’Neill, who also gave a good, conscious account of himself. I’m not sure the likes of Jacqueline Wilson, Nick Park or Michael Rosen really added anything to the programme; I would have preferred to hear more from O’Neill and Baxendale. Such is life, though.
Anyway, I’m drifting… The programme spurred me on to dig out an old issue of The Big Issue South West (from July 1999!), which contains an interview with Leo Baxendale, who lives (or lived) in Gloucestershire.
I remember my friend Tony, who was the designer at TBISW back then, and a big fan of Leo’s work, getting very excited at the time, and tagging along with the photographer to Chez Baxendale, just to meet him and ask him some questions of his own. He was chuffed to bits, and said that Leo was a lovely chap, and told him some great stories (including about his hard fought for settlement with the Dundonian overseers😉 ).
I suspect Tony may have threatened to break the editor’s legs or some such (as was his wont, Tony being Tony, and this particular editor being the sort of person who would tend to drive you to wanting to break legs) in order to get the Leo interview bumped up to cover story instead of Tracey bloody Emin, because, well, the Leo interview was duly given the front page. I think you’ll agree, Tony did a great job with the ersatz Beano-style masthead.
In the end Tony was wholly vindicated for his leg-breaking threats, because that issue was for a long time – a very long time – the top selling edition of TBISW. It may well still hold the record, 8 years on, I don’t honestly know. But people responded to that cover, and to the Baxendale feature.
So, as a special treat for you, dear reader, I have uploaded a 4 page PDF of the interview and magazine cover for you to read at your leisure. I’ll also leave it in my Box (which is accessible from the sidebar on the right, near the bottom), too.
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