was set up over five years ago to promote Dundee and Scottish
based products. With the Dandy and Beano comics having their base
in Dundee it seemed only logical to stock a broad range of
associated products including, Dennis The Menace, Minnie The
Minx,The Bash Street Kids. The idea for the site is to appeal to
all ages and to present a light hearted look at life.
Digger talks to founder Martin Cleghorn about these iconic British
comics, The Dandy and The Beano, and about the thriving and fun
business he has created around them.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of The Dandy and The Beano
and their links with Dundee?
Martin: The Dandy and The Beano comics first came out in 1937 and
1938. The Dandy was first on December 4th 1937 and The Beano shortly
after that on July 30th 1938. The connection with Dundee is
via DC Thomson’s, which is a local publishing company which has
been here for generations. And they thought of bringing out two
comics for children and these two were in the vanguard, if you like,
of many comics that followed thereafter.
Digger: They’re not parochially Scottish though are they?
Martin: No, absolutely not.
Digger: Because when I grew up I was blissfully unaware of where
they came from, although I saw the occasional word and thought I
don’t know what that means. You just sort of accept it.
Martin. Absolutely. I don’t think a lot of people know they come
from Dundee in the first place. They’ve always had their comics
nearby and recognisable. And a brand name as well so to speak. And
they’ve just gone on and on. It’s definitely a part of
Dundee’s cultural heritage.
Digger: How did you get involved with these iconic comics?
Martin: Well, indirectly. I helped run the operational side of the
local visitor centre and there were a lot of people coming in and
asking if there was any shop or museum devoted to the comics. Which
there wasn’t. They were from Scotland, but much further afield as
well. So after being there for about five years at the visitor
centre, I decided to try and set up a shop which, although not
totally devoted to Dandy and Beano, had a fair selection of their
products within the shop. So I opened a shop in Castle Street in
Dundee and proceeded to trade there for the next two or three years
along with doing other Scottish gifts as well. I’ve always been
attached to Dundee to some extent – I was involved in the jute
business and it’s just something that’s in your blood I think.
The benefit is that Dundee’s always of interest to me – it’s
such a small place but it does tend to kick above its weight in so
many ways and the comic side certainly does that.
Digger: They’re icons and it’s amazing how long they have been
going for. Is there much competition between the two comics?
Martin: I think The Beano’s more popular, possibly because of
Dennis the Menace . Dennis and Gnasher have certainly increased in
popularity along with the television programmes and other things
that have been going on. So it’s always been perhaps in front but
The Dandy has its moments as well. Desperate Dan in The Dandy is
certainly a larger than life character but Dennis is certainly more
recognisable because of his red and black striped jumper and
Digger: And they’ve spawned lots of copycats and parodies as well,
such as those in Viz which I would suppose are based on characters
in the earlier comics.
Martin: Yes, I think what The Beano and The Dandy have done is that
they’ve created brands without knowing it. They are immediately
recognisable as are some of the other comics which have now expired
like The Topper, The Beezer, The Sparky. They all had their own
identities. And as you said, Viz have succeeded in carrying on to a
certain extent that brand.
Digger: What are your bestsellers and what items would you
Martin: Well, on the site, depending on the time of year, the
T-shirts always go well and lunch bags, particularly in the lead up
to new terms. Also drinking bottles and the new range out with
wallets. Sponge bags and all sorts of different types of games. But
probably the T-shirts stand out and things like lunch bags – the
more practical ones tend to do well. And particularly the ones
associated with Dennis the Menace. Some of the things that come out
are a bit strange. Like we had a bird box which was brought out by a
supplier which any self-respecting bird probably wouldn’t go
anywhere near because it was painted black and red. Certain
products, like the comic kits – that one has been a real winner
and I think it’s ideal for things like The Beano and there’s all
sorts of imaginative uses for children to put it to for practising
their colouring and template skills.
Digger: How have the comics and characters changed over the years?
Martin: They’ve changed quite a lot. There’s all sorts of
characters who have come and gone, or amalgamated. Like when The
Beazer stopped publishing, the characters went into the other
comics. Also the artists, who range from Dudley D Watkins who is
probably the most famous one. And there was also Leo Baxendale,
Charlie Gregg, David Law who created Dennis the Menace and there are
too many to mention really. It’s how the artist sees them and
portrays them and they all have their little feeling of how the
characters should be. In that sense they have changed right up to
the present day when you have things like Beano Max which is very
much an older feel to the comic than The Beano for instance. This is
to try and encourage perhaps slightly older kids and younger adults
if you like to keep up with the comics. And also video games and
racing Dennis video games and all sorts of stuff, so the characters
have evolved along with the products which have evolved with
technology. And obviously, along with the artists who
interpret them in slightly different ways.
Digger: Since they started the class system has changed out of all
recognition and we were very sexist in those days. And I suppose
they’re more PC these days and health and safety conscious too!
Martin: Yes, they have Dennis calmed down a little bit with his
outlook and he looks slightly smarmier than he did when he did even
a couple of years ago. Also the front cover of The Dandy was Korky
the Cat and then when Dennis the Menace came along in 1985 he ousted
him from that. And The Beano began initially with Biffo the Bear and
then eventually Dennis the Menace but Dennis didn’t appear to any
great extent until 1977. He’s not been around a huge time compared
to the comic itself. He started in 1951 and he developed. But things
like animals taking on human characteristics and the Bash Street
Kids becoming popular so the animals then go into the background a
bit. It’s interesting how they have evolved and gone in and out of
Bash Street Kids
Digger: What are the most enjoyable aspects about what you do?
Martin: Och! It is a hobby basically and I do it for the love rather
than the money, although the money certainly helps. Just trying to
get products out that people actually want and I try and make my
site a little tongue-in-cheek so they can probably have a little
laugh at it as well. If I can license a product it gives me a kick
too so if I can get repeat customers coming back year after year,
which I do, then that’s an immense satisfaction to me and it may
mean they’re bypassing perhaps bigger players in the world.
Any feedback I get I try to be practical about it. If it works, it
works but if it doesn’t then at least I’ve tried it. So it’s a
variety of things but I’ve always been customer-conscious and I
get a kick if my thought has gone into a product and the customers
Digger: How are you planning to develop Fine'n'Dandy ?
Martin: Probably along other comic lines largely. Now whether I
develop that out of the stable of DC Thomson comics or what have
you, I don’t know. There could be characters within The Dandy I
can develop in a retro way depending on the availability of artwork
from DC Thomson’s. There may be other ways in retro generally of
that period say from the 30s up to the 60s and 70s which I can
incorporate into the site. It’s actually a wide field and quite
difficult to pin the right subject down at times and it can be too
wide and you can digress too much. You can think that you’re
losing the essence of what you were originally trying to do, but
certainly the comic side is big business. The fact that it’s both
collectable by older people and usable by the youngsters of today
and particularly from the ages of seven to eleven then you’ve got
two bites of the cherry. If something doesn’t work then the
manufacturer doesn’t produce as many of them and they immediately
become very collectable,
Digger: Have you got some rare collectables?
Martin: Funnily enough, I did but I sold them all off. The one that
sticks in my mind is a Plug Royal Doulton jug which was not a
success story at all and they only produced probably a few hundred
and certainly they’re now very valuable. I did have a number in
the shop but I sold them all off. The other thing is the Robert
Harrop figurines which are now worth hundreds of pounds and I had
load of them in the shop and it doesn’t seem that long ago –
they were there as general merchandise and it’s funny how they can
really increase in value. I deal with a lot of the early editions of
The Dandy and The Beano and I’m sure hundreds of people had those
in their attics, although not the very first editions which are
extremely rare these days. If they’d held onto them for a little
longer they’d have been worth a lot of money, but you don’t know
at the time.
Digger: I’d like to be like Nicholas Lyndhurst and go back and
pick up a lot of bits from the past. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Well, thanks Martin for letting us know some more about Fine and
Dandy. It's fascinating and long may it prosper.
Martin: Thank you David.