Life on Tapp: Beano moving with the times by introducing new characters

Tens of thousands of copies of The Beano are sold every week. Photo: AdobeStockTens of thousands of copies of The Beano are sold every week. Photo: AdobeStock
Tens of thousands of copies of The Beano are sold every week. Photo: AdobeStock
Apart from warm, flat beer and an insistence on gravy with almost every meal, there is nothing quite as British as The Beano.

Blaise Tapp writes: It’s a comic which many of us – the publishers reckon the figure could be as high as 27 million Brits – have read at some point in our lives. Such is its place in the nation’s culture, signed copies of the publication were included in a shipment which was sent to the other side of the world earlier this year, to mark the signing of a trade deal with Australia and New Zealand.

Even though I haven’t thumbed its pages since the days of Thatcher and cigar adverts on the telly, the mere thought of theBeano evokes pure nostalgia. Just thinking about the tales of mischief and school pranks takes me right back to a simpler time, when there were only four channels and having Wall’s Viennetta for afters on a Sunday was the height of sophistication.

Ironically, the mayhem-endorsing Beano was something I usually got given for good behaviour such as keeping my room tidy and not throwing vegetables at my younger brother – actions that Dennis the Menace most definitely wouldn’t have approved of. I lapped up every story, including Minnie the Minx and my personal favourite Billy Whizz.

The appeal to nine-year-old me was its irreverence and its celebration of unruly, and sometimes downright mean, behaviour which, if repeated by us mortals, would undoubtedly result in at least a month’s worth of detentions in the headteacher’s office.

Times change of course, and the Beano looks a lot different to how it did when it launched in 1938. In recent years there have been a number of tweaks and changes made to some of the principal characters and now, to mark the publication’s 85th anniversary, five new characters have been added to the Bash Street Kids: Harsha, Mandi, Khadija, Mahira and Stevie Starr to better reflect Britain in the 21st Century.

One of the new characters suffers from anxiety while another wears a hijab and they have already been scrutinised by some sections of the media. Beano bosses are prepared for accusations of ‘wokery’ and yet another so-called politically correct assault on our heritage, but insist that we all have to move with the times and that, prior to the changes, all ten of the original Bash Street Kids were white and nine were boys.

This outdated picture, they quite rightly argue, doesn’t reflect the society that today’s Beano readers inhabit and, if they want to retain existing readers, not to mention attract new ones, they need to move with the times. It was the same motivation which prompted management at the comic to rename key characters Fatty and Spotty, Freddy and Scotty a couple of years ago.

While Freddy still looks like someone who wouldn’t ever say no to extra chips, there is no need for his old, outdated nickname, which quite frankly, has been outlawed in playgrounds across the land for the past three decades at least.

On reading the comments section of news websites that have carried the story about The Beano’s changes, there are some who strongly disagree, although I doubt whether any have picked up a copy since the late 1970s. The word woke crops up quite a lot in such posts and comments but, like the good people at The Beano, I don’t see it as an insult to be accused of being in-tune to the world around us.

If being respectful of others’ beliefs and feelings makes me woke then I’m guilty as charged and, quite frankly, I would be worried if I wasn’t considered to be as such.

Tens of thousands of copies of The Beano are sold every week which, in this digital age, is very impressive and is testament to its enduring relevance. We live in different times to those of our grandparents and recognising that fact is a strength rather than a weakness.