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The Perishers

The Perishers was a British comic strip about a group of urban children and a dog. It began in the Daily Mirror in 1958 and was written for most of its life by Maurice Dodd (October 25, 1922 - December 31, 2005). It was drawn by Dennis Collins until his retirement in 1983, after which it was drawn by Dodd and later by Bill Mevin. After Dodd's death the strip continued with several weeks' backlog of strips and some reprints until June 10 2006.

Its elements of eccentric British sense of humour, combined with its detailed art style (in its heyday, Collins produced some of the most finely-detailed artwork ever seen in a daily strip), sets it apart from many other strips.

Many Perishers strips are polyptychs - a single continuous background image is divided into three or four panels and the characters move across it from panel to panel. The story is set in the fairly drab fictional town of Croynge (sometimes spelled Crunge), which is apparently a south London borough - the name is derived from Croydon and Penge. However, visually the location often resembles an industrial Northern town.

Thematically, the strip draws upon nostalgic childhood experiences, and often has a static, almost limbo-like atmosphere, in a similar manner to its companion strip, Andy Capp. The main characters largely exist independently of 'the real world', and adults are rarely seen; for example, every year the Perishers go on holiday but always get thrown off the train home, forcing them to walk and arrive home several weeks late (a pun on how a short scene in comic book time can take several weeks when told in daily installments), yet with seemingly no repercussions.

Main characters

Wellington

An impoverished orphan boy who lives with his dog, Boot. In the early days of the strip they lived in an approximately 10-foot (3 m) diameter concrete pipe section in a seemingly abandoned builder's yard. In 1966 he and Boot moved into a small railway station that had been closed by the Beeching Axe, and they have lived there ever since.

Wellington is quite an intellectual and given to philosophical trains of thought. He can also be quite resourceful - he appears to support himself by selling hand made wooden buggies and pilfering food from sympathetic local shops, or convoluted schemes to create sudden crowds in order to celebrate his birthday on October 25 (which also happens to be Maurice Dodd's Birthday). Wellington can also be something of a worrier, always concerned that the world is going to rack an' rooney (rack and ruin). Over the years he has worried that the world is becoming clogged up with dirt, that people might get crushed by the weight of air above their heads, and that each new year might be the same old year recycled to save money. Actually there might be something in that; Wellington (unlike the majority of comic characters) has noticed that he and his friends never seem to get any older. On those rare occasions when he cheers up a small raincloud usually appears to dampen his spirits.

Boot

An Old English Sheepdog who lives with his boy, Wellington. Boot is a generally affable and mellow character, given to flights of fancy and daydreaming. Boot is also convinced that he is in fact an 18th century English lord enchanted into a dog by a gypsy wench (as he puts it, I knew I should have bought those damn clothespegs!) - the strip gives occasional hints that this is actually true as opposed to another fantasy. As a lord, he demands to be treated with respect, and often tells Wellington so to his face. Unfortunately Wellington only hears barking. Wellington thinks Boot is lazy and should help out with the household chores, but Boot usually manages to find some way to "accidentally" mess things up in the hope that he won't be asked again. He hates taking baths, and his bathtime struggles with Wellington usually turn into epic battles.

Boot was originally drawn with a short tail (on one occasion he met a bob-tailed sheepdog, and on hearing the name decided to call his own tail Fred), but Maurice Dodd later discovered that real Old English Sheepdogs' tails are docked, and so over the course of several years Collins drew his tail shorter and shorter until it vanished altogether - Boot still appears completely white, rare for the breed.

"Who is the Mother of Boot?" was a long-running mystery until a reader informed Wellington that Boot's dam was named "Cherry Blossom." ("Cherry Blossom" happens to be a brand of boot polish).

Marlon

Marlon is not very bright, but this has not dampened his ambitions. He once tried his hand at inventing. The fact that all of his inventions - fire, the wheel, the horse and cart and so forth - had already been invented by someone else did not deter him, because he felt he was slowly catching up. One of his culinary inventions did make a splash - literally: the inch-thick ketchup sandwich (subsequently renamed the 2.5cm-thick ketchup sandwich when Marlon decided to go metric). The splash in question occurred whenever he bit into one, caused by a huge dollop of ketchup hitting whoever happened to be standing nearby. The sandwich is used as a recurring gag, occasionally replaced with other types of filling for Marlon's variety.

Marlon also dreams of becoming either a brain surgeon (which he pronounces brane surgeon), or a bloke wot goes down sewers in big rubber boots - he considers either career to be equally prestigious. In the meantime he spends his pocket money on Wellington's buggies, which usually results in a battle between Wellington's persuasion skills and Maisie's desire for him to spend the money on her.

Maisie

An adorable little girl - at least according to her. In fact she is somewhat unfeminine and has a tendency to become violent if she doesn't get her own way, with a scream that can stun woodworm. She is scared of insects and spiders; on one occasion when Wellington tells her that the field they are walking through may contain thousands of hidden insects she is too terrified to move. She is in love with Marlon and continues to pursue him despite his continual resistance - their relationship has been described as a one sided love triangle. She imagines herself and Marlon as the heroine and hero of a romantic novel - he bold as a hawk, she soft as a dove. In reality, of course, she is as tough as nails and he is as thick as a plank.

Baby Grumpling

A toddler. In the early days of the strip he did not speak, because he knew that once he started he would be expected to keep talking all the time. When he finally began to speak he did so in lower case letters. In the early days of the strip he was not related to the other characters, but was later revealed to be Maisie's little brother (a retcon - in an earlier strip Maisie had referred to Baby Grumpling's parents as if they were not her own). He enjoys causing mischief by digging holes in the garden (which he always blames on worms or moles) and by putting insects into Maisie's underwear drawer. He used to think that school was a kind of prison from which the older Perishers were temporarily released each evening. He often discusses philosophy with the new baby (an unseen character in a pram).

Recurring characters

Not all of these characters appeared during the same time periods

  • The Crabs: The crustacean inhabitants of a seaside rock pool, visited by Boot every year during the Perishers' summer holiday. Some of the crabs believe that Boot's eyes peering down at them are a mystical visitation - "The Eyeballs in the Sky" - and this belief is exploited by a preacher crab who uses their appearance as an excuse to extort money from his congregation. His efforts are always opposed by a scientist crab who continually attempts to invent a device to break through the surface and see what the Eyeballs really are, despite the preacher's protests that he will rend the fabric of the pooliverse. The conflict usually ends up in a full-scale crab fight, and Boot is left none the wiser as to crustacean behaviour. Usually, one of the crabs claims that something is "bad fer y'r 'ealth".
  • Plain Jane: a friend of Maisie's, often seen selling potions and tonics from a home-made stall.
  • Fiscal Yere: a millionaire's son who always complains about the problems of being rich.
  • Fred Beetle and the Caterpillar: a pair of insects often encountered by Boot. Fred is a socialist who seems to be modelled on Fred Kite from I'm All Right Jack. The Caterpillar's chain-smoking habit has stunted his growth and prevented his metamorphosis into a butterfly. This is just as well since he doesn't like heights.
  • Adolf Kilroy: a tortoise shaped like a World War I German helmet. He thinks he is the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler and speaks in Fraktur. He often teams up with Fred Beetle and Caterpillar in an attempt to overthrow Boot, but the fact that Boot is much bigger always defeats them.
  • B. H. (Calcutta) Failed: an Indian bloodhound who lost his sense of smell in an unfortunate incident involving an elephant filled with curry - which exploded in the noonday sun. B. H. literally bumped into Boot one day, and they have been friends ever since despite B. H.'s frequent attempts to steal Boot's meat bones. One of the strip's odder elements is B.H.'s claim to be a reporter for "The West Crunge Clarion and Dubious Advertiser", a low budget and downmarket local newspaper. He has a journalist's ear for an attention-grabbing headline, but his career may be held back by his inability to remember how to make the letter "b".
  • Tatty Oldbitt (the Sailors' Friend): an amorous female basset hound who likes to chase sailors - although just what she intends to do if she catches one is probably best left unexplored. She also chases Boot from time to time, but since he considers himself a lord she never gets very far with him, and often ends up going off with B. H. instead.
  • Dirty McSquirty: the dirtiest boy in town, always accompanied by a cloud of flies.
  • Cousin Worsoff: an unseen character. Dirty McSquirty's cousin, he is the proverbial "person who is worse off than you". He lives in the sewer, and Dirty speaks to him through drain covers.
  • Poor girl: a girl who harasses Wellington with constant tales of poverty, despite wearing a fur coat and claiming to have a household full of equally impoverished staff.
  • Beryl Bogey: a large girl, or possibly gorilla, whose presence on Maisie's netball team gives them the ability to break down the opposition...literally. Her idol is King Kong.
  • The cat: an unnamed cat recently adopted by Wellington, much to Boot's annoyance. The cat and Boot are engaged in a permanent battle of wits.
  • The goldfish: another new pet of Wellington's. Contemplates philosophy while swimming around in his tiny bowl.
  • The water-snail: the most recent arrival, bought by Wellington to clean the goldfish's bowl. The snail considers this a demeaning job.

Catch phrases

This is a partial list of the phrases coined or made popular by the Perishers.

  • "Go-faster stripes" — Wellington's big selling-point on the buggies he tries to get Marlon to buy. It became a way of describing any useless or frivolous addition to a product.
  • "GRONFF!!" — The sound of Boot gobbling up something tasty, often something meant for another character, once the contents of a bird table. Also used sometimes when other characters eat.
  • " Parasite ! Trotskyite ! Marmite !" — Insults hurled at each other by the Beetle and the Caterpillar whenever they brawl, which is frequently. Marmite is, of course, not exactly a valid insult.
  • "Vilson Kepple und Betty!" — Kilroy the Tortoise's favourite exclamation. It derives from the stage act Wilson, Kepple and Betty.
  • "Need any help with that paper bag ?" — Maisie can detect the opening of a bag of crisps from far away, appearing almost instantly to help with the consumption, uttering this phrase as soon as she arrives.
  • "Yeuk!!" — Marlon's reaction to Maisie's perennial romantic advances. He responds to her in this way so often that Maisie has actually asked Marlon, "Is 'yeuk' the only word you know?"
  • "Ratbag" — The kids' favorite insult. Absent from the very early days of the strip, it quickly became a staple. Maisie is particularly fond of the word, and constantly uses it to refer to Marlon.

Final strip and editorial comment

A final, specially-drawn strip appeared on the Daily Mirror's comic page on Saturday June 10 2006. The strip depicts the silhouetted figures of Maisie, Baby Grumpling, Wellington, Boot and Marlon walking down a street into the sunset. Wellington says, "Well, dear readers, it's taken almost fifty years for you to see the back of us. In sayin' goodbye we hope that you remember us with the affecshun we feel for you." The tone of the strip is reminiscent of Charles M. Schulz's final Peanuts strip.

A paragraph headed "Imperishable" in the editorial "Voice of the Mirror" column reads: "ON Page 46 of today's Mirror we bid a fond farewell to Britain's oldest schoolchildren, The Perishers. Written and drawn by the late Maurice Dodd, the cartoon strip characters Boot, Wellington, Maisie, Marlon and Baby Grumplin' have been delighting the young at heart in the Mirror since 1957. But as Boot would say: Cripes, it's all over now."

The strip was initially replaced by the short-lived and highly unpopular Ronaldinho, which was intended to take advantage of the then-ongoing World Cup, but instead left most of the readers wondering why a British newspaper would print a strip idolizing the player whose goal had knocked England out of the previous World Cup. After the tournament ended, a more permanent replacement appeared in the form of American import Pooch Cafe which, while being better received overall than Ronaldinho, was felt by some to be too American-orientated in its humour, and left readers missing the typically British humour of Perishers.

Reprints

Over the years there have been a number of cheaply-printed reprint collections in paperback, all of which went out of print quickly. Given the quality of Collins' artwork, and the strip's extreme longevity, it is perhaps unfortunate that there are no archive collections available.

Animated version

In the 1970s, an animated version of The Perishers appeared on BBC One. Leonard Rossiter provided the voice of Boot.

Cast

Episode Listing

  • Magic Mirror
  • In the Cart
  • A Life from the Ocean Wave
  • A-Camping We Will Go
  • A Fool and his Money Aren't as Easily Parted as You Think
  • Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Bath
  • How to Train the Family Dog
  • The Ugly Duckling
  • Spring Fever
  • Look Before it Leaps
  • The Skateboard Champion
  • The Wheeling and Dealing
  • She May or She May Not
  • Noblesse Oblige
  • The War Games
  • Well Blow Me Down
  • Bone Champions
  • The Rehabilitation of BH (Calcutta) Failed
  • The Eye Balls in the Sky
  • The Inch-thick Ketchup Sandwich

Credits

  • Music: Trevor Evan Jones
  • Animation: Geoff Loynes, Ron Murdoch, Janet Nunn, Colin White
  • Layout: Gordon Harrison, Ted Pettengel
  • Backgrounds: Dean Spille
  • Production: Lucinda Ash, Tony Cooper
  • Checking: Roland Carter, Caroline Neale
  • Coordinator: Michael Hayes
  • Camera: Gary Knowelden, Nick Boisson
  • Editing: John Farrow
  • Produced by: Graeme Spurway
  • Directed by: Dick Horn
  • Presentation: FilmFair
  • Executive Producer: Graham Clutterbuck

External links

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