Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Xmas annual then and now...

Ian Jack at the Guardian on the annual's latest incarnation:

Long before I realised that "annual" was an adjective that could be applied to ceremonies or wages, I knew it as a solid noun. Annuals came wrapped in Christmas paper, and because of their width and flatness often provided the foundations of a small pile of less stable presents such as chocolate oranges. Usually, those flat parcels turned out to reveal the adventures of Rupert Bear and, since we were a Scottish family, Oor Wullie or the Broons. The last two, both drawn by the incomparable Dudley D Watkins and published in alternate years, were funny, whereas Rupert was, I suppose, charming and innocent - the qualities that, in the early 1970s, proved so blasphemously attractive to the countercultural Oz magazine when it gave him a penis. Rupert appeared in the Daily Express, which we didn't buy, so the stories told in rhyming couplets beneath the drawings ("The two chums part, off Rupert goes, / Then all at once, how cold it grows") were always new to me, as were the cartoons in my older brother's Giles annual, also first published in the Express, which kept us laughing in our pyjamas during the liquorice all-sorts hour before breakfast.

Man, that totally takes me back: our Scottish grandfather used to send all sorts of books at Christmas, some very much to my taste and some not so much (he had a particularly evangelical fervor about Scottish literature, so that it seemed like every year I got another copy of the strangely named Lewis Grassic Gibbon trilogy A Scots Quair--none of which I ever read, there was too much the flavor of something that was not so much good in itself as good for you, I have not read it to this day--and at least one novel by R. L. Stevenson), but there was always a good supply of Oor Wullie and the Broons. It was a not-very-covert plan, I think, to keep us in touch with our Scottish heritage, and we pored over those comics as if they were the guide to an actual place and culture rather than a strange semi-mythic fictional past (the But an' Ben!).

Bonus links: a bumper Broons and Oor Wullie website; Wikipedia entries on The Broons and Oor Wullie; and an interesting article by Rhiannon Edward about why Oor Wullie's stopped saying "help ma Boab".


  1. Though I'm not sure if you live with anyone... or typically have friends around Sunday morning... but I wanted to know: I go out and get the Sunday NYTimes like many New Yorkers... and god do I ever cringe when I'm in the company of known others who pick and nose around and beg for a section. I always end up giving them the Magazine, cause it's the easiest thing to find and it doesn't upset the order of the paper itself, but it feels as if I'm giving up a piece of - I don't know - Prime Rib... the best cut.. filet mignon.. juicy succulent and chalk full of facts and factoids and filler... and parting with it is like letting someone take a spin on my brand new car before I've ever taken a look at it.

    Know what I mean?

  2. I've pretty much given up on going out to get the Sunday paper--but in the days when I used to, I had it to myself--I quite see your point. At least in novels and films of a certain period, though I cannot imagine the practice was widespread, one of the servants used to iron the newspaper before it would be given in pristine condition to the master of the house--others got it only at second or third hand--and there's a fun ongoing trope in Austen's novels of rude gentlemen picking up the newspaper and reading it while paying social visits when they should be conversing. However I think usually there's a sort of division of labor--as you might imagine, as long as I get the book review, I'm not unhappy...