Smash! : The Odhams Years – Part 4: Crisis in 1968

Summary:

‘Smash!’ was the most successful of the five ‘Power Comics’ published in Britain in the 1960s by Odhams Press, a division of IPC. Targeted at boys aged 10 to 14, it was published from 1966 to 1971. This article is part of an analysis of the causes and consequences of the comic’s relaunch in 1969; a case-study of the economic pressures affecting the UK publishing industry in that period.

Closure of the Power Comics

Following the initial success of Wham in 1964, Odhams launched four more Power Comics during 1966 and ’67, including Smash, only to close them in quick succession: merging each in turn into the survivors, until by 1969 only Smash remained. Whereas 1968 began with all five Power Comics apparently flourishing, by the year’s end only Smash was still being published. Even the sleepiest of readers began to notice that something was seriously wrong, as the increasingly frantic series of mergers resulted in ever more ludicrous titles, culminating in the astonishing Smash and Pow incorporating Fantastic (commonly spoofed as Smash, Pow, Wham, incorporating Fantastic and Terrific).

The question is why, in a limited market such as the UK, they took such a big risk as to launch five titles (which in hindsight looks an unwise decision by the Odhams management), if it was so quickly obvious the market could only support one. The answer lies in the economic crisis of 1968 that hit the British economy, resulting in the devaluation of the Pound. The economic chaos began with a Sterling crisis in Britain in 1967, leading to devaluation in the November. There then followed a crisis for the U.S. dollar in March 1968 which had a cascade effect on the international economic system: sending first the French franc and then the West German deutschmark into devaluation, and culminating in a new Sterling crisis in Britain in November 1968.

The fall in the value of the Pound against the U.S. dollar significantly increased the cost of publishing the American superhero strips, which had to be paid for in dollars, and raised the daunting spectre of further increases if the Pound fell in value yet again. Increasing the cover price of the Power Comics to compensate was impossible because of stiff competition, so the fall in the value of Sterling made the American strips unaffordable.

The toughness of the competition is apparent from examining other contemporary titles. The first issue of its stablemate Fantastic, published in February 1967, cost 9d for 40 pages (due to its very high content of American superhero strips), a cover price which forced Fantastic to close within 18 months. Terrific, having the same high content of American material, also had a high cover price of 9d, and closed even quicker. By contrast, the comics Dandy and Beano published by the rival DC Thomson organisation sold at a cover price of 3d. Fantastic and Terrific cost three times as much, which (even with double the number of pages, compared to many DC Thomson titles) proved unsustainable. This is not surprising, given that Wham and Pow each peaked at a cover price of 7d, and even that proved unsustainable.

Smash had launched in February 1966 with a cover price of 7d for its 28 pages. By March 1969, although its cover price had not changed, circumstances had conspired to increase its page count, such that each issue now contained 36 pages. In fact the page count had jumped overnight from 24 pages to 36 pages (a fifty percent increase), with a consequent sharp rise in production costs, and hence a marked decline in profit-per-copy.

The tipping point was issue 144, in which Smash, Pow and Fantastic were merged into a single title. The recently created Smash and Pow lost its Daredevil and Spider-Man strips, which together had comprised a full third of each 24 page issue, but now had to accommodate both Thor and Fantastic Four from Fantastic, plus a whole slew of new British adventure strips (which were being added in preparation for the comic’s impending transition to solely-British content).

All this could not be achieved within the standard Smash format of 24 pages. So IPC now “bit the bullet” and increased the page count, in a single bound, by fifty percent — a necessity if they were to achieve their intention of reproducing with Smash the successful formula which was buoying-up their most popular titles, Lion and Valiant, both of which were 36-pagers.

The competitive nature of the UK’s publishing industry meant margins were thin: a minimum number of sales each week were needed to reach break-even point, and the lower the cover price, the greater was the number of sales needed to reach that point; but the higher the cover price, the fewer were the number of sales that could actually be achieved.

The juvenile readers (or their parents) might be able to afford two or three comics a week, but by publishing five Power Comics IPC were pricing themselves out of the market. For the situation in Britain was not like that in America, where, with comics published just once a month, a child might afford five titles. In Britain, comics were published weekly.

Under those conditions the Power Comics were effectively competing with each other (a factor IPC was certainly aware of, as the letters pages in Smash, in 1968, actually carried readers’ complaints that they couldn’t afford all five Power titles); and the Power Comics were also competing with IPC’s other titles, including Lion, Valiant and Buster, potentially dragging the Group’s entire line into bankruptcy. Rationalisation, by closing some of the titles, would produce an overall benefit, as it would dramatically cut IPC’s production costs. Although it would mean fewer titles, as IPC’s comics were actually competing against each other it ought to result in better sales for the survivors. In theory, there would be no overall loss of sales or revenue, provided readers switched from the closing titles to surviving IPC ones (rather than to rival DC Thomson ones).

Another factor Odhams had not anticipated was the distribution of American comic books within the UK. Although this had always been a consideration, the volume of such comics arriving in Britain had traditionally been small, and their distribution haphazard. In 1968, distribution and quantity suddenly underwent a marked improvement. Odhams’ black-and-white Marvel reprints in their Power Comics range suddenly faced serious competition from four-colour Marvel and DC originals, and this began to harm sales.

In the turbulent economic conditions, any part of IPC’s business which was loss-making had no future. Standard industry practice was to close a comic or magazine if its revenues dipped towards the break-even point; publishers did not wait for a title to actually incur losses, if they could help it. Hence, merely to anticipate losses on the other four titles (Pow, Wham, Fantastic and Terrific) was enough to doom them. And the closures represented a major cost-cutting exercise, reducing the ongoing production costs on the Power Comics line by four-fifths.

As for actual losses incurred due to the sudden and unexpected nature of the problem, and the inability to quickly terminate the long-term contracts with the Americans, Smash as sole survivor couldn’t hope to generate enough income on its own to meet these. But it didn’t need to. The fortunate circumstance that the Power Comics were all published by Odhams Press Ltd, a subsidiary company with limited liability, meant that it was possible to ring-fence all debts on the Odhams publications within that one company, thus preventing any losses affecting the rest of the IPC Group (since IPC’s other titles were all published by other IPC subsidiaries). Accordingly, with effect from 1 January 1969 Smash was transferred to IPC Magazines Ltd, a new IPC subsidiary formed during 1968, leaving Odhams Press with no continuing titles, and Smash started again from scratch.

Despite being the longest survivor, and inheriting many popular strips from the other four titles, Smash was only a limited success. It was plainly on shakey ground: for, hard on the heels of the closure of the other titles, in the spring of 1969 IPC quickly made extensive changes to it, dropping the last remaining Marvel superhero strips, to shed the expense of the licensing fee for using them (having already dropped Batman), and dropping many other strips too.

In consequence of the decision to discontinue the American reprints, as each Power Comic had closed its superhero strips were dropped. Only in the case of Fantastic, where the existing contract with Marvel had some months to run, were those strips transferred to the replacement, the merged Smash incorporating Fantastic, until the contract expired in March 1969.

Smash then introduced a new cover feature, new strips, and free gifts. In all but name it was a new comic. Even so, it required yet another major shakeup 12 months later, in the spring of 1970, when further changes of editorial policy were imposed by new owners Reed International, who had bought out IPC that year. This resulted, among other changes, in the dropping of the newly introduced ‘Warriors of the World’ cover feature in favour of a new lead serial: an adventure series entitled ‘The Thirteen Tasks of Simon Test’.

Within the British market, boys’ comics for the age group which was too old for titles such as Beano, Dandy and Sparky tended to focus around adventure, sport and war (in titles such as Lion and Valiant), or humour (in titles such as Buster). In abandoning its superheroes, Smash sought to attract readers of both types, by offering traditional adventure as well as humour.

To place these changes in context, the Power Comics were not the only casualties of the turmoil at IPC in 1969. Hulton’s long-running adventure comic Eagle was also cancelled, merging with Fleetway’s Lion from 2 May 1969. The merged comic was known briefly as Lion and Eagle, but quickly reverted to simply Lion. The humour comic, Giggle, aimed at the slightly younger market dominated by Fleetway’s Buster, was also dropped, being absorbed by Buster in the spring of 1969 to form Buster and Giggle. As ever, the name change lasted only long enough to absorb the discontinued comic’s readership, with the reference to Giggle failing to see out the year; by December the title had reverted to simply Buster once more. Buster, like Smash, also now became a publication of the Group’s newest subsidiary, IPC Magazines Ltd.

 

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Smash! : The Odhams Years – Part 3: Adventure

Summary:

‘Smash!’ was the most successful of the five ‘Power Comics’ published in Britain in the 1960s by Odhams Press, a division of IPC. Targeted at boys aged 10 to 14, it was published from 1966 to 1971. This article is part of an analysis of the causes and consequences of the comic’s relaunch in 1969; a case-study of the economic pressures affecting the UK publishing industry in that period.

 

Odhams Adventure Strips

As Smash was essentially a superhero and humour comic during the Odhams years, there were few traditional adventure strips in it; but a handful do bear special mention.

From issue 144 Smash was the only surviving Power Comic, as this was the issue in which Smash and Pow (as it then was) merged with Fantastic. Five British adventure serials were introduced in this issue, to plug the gap left by the loss of the withdrawn American superhero strips which had been major features of the four closed titles.

At Night Stalks… The Spectre is an adventure strip in which a crime reporter on the Daily Globe newspaper is apparently killed while investigating a news story. The world believes newspaperman Jim Jordan is dead, but he still carries on his crusade against crime… calling himself The Spectre.

He is now fighting crime, rather than merely reporting it, using an array of gadgets which make it seem he is the ghost of the missing reporter. Hence his opponents are terrified to find that if they shoot him he doesn’t die (a bullet-proof raincoat was the trick here). And he has a secret underground hideout beneath the statue erected in his memory, from which he would covertly and unexpectedly emerge, or disappear into, under cover of an artificial fog, to give the impression he was coming and going from the spirit world. His first case began in issue 144, in which he tracks down Black Murdo, the racketeer who the world believed had murdered him.

Destination Danger, a motor racing serial, also began in issue 144. This strip was about a feud between a young English racing driver, Jeff Jackson, who was working for Puma Motors in the USA, and his enemy Vic Stafford, the Puma team’s chief driver, who has taken a bribe to throw a forthcoming race.

Although new to Smash, the old-fashioned artwork in the strips At Night Stalks… The Spectre and Destination Danger marked them out as reprints. The use of reprints was a cost-cutting measure, indicating the straightened financial circumstances of Smash at this point – if any evidence were needed beyond the closure of all four of the other Power Comics.

Laird of the Apes was a science fiction strip, milking the popularity of the big budget Charlton Heston motion picture Planet of the Apes which was released earlier that year. In the strip, set in the 18th century, a young Scottish laird returns to the Highlands to aid his outlaw clansmen in their struggle with the English Redcoats, bringing with him a band of highly trained Apes.

An adventure strip with a sporting theme was the wrestling serial King of the Ring, featuring Ken King, who was a champion of the grunt-‘n’-grapple game (although in the earliest strips he had begun as a boxer). As was not exactly uncommon in the Odhams years, there was a tendency to give the characters very silly names. The most outrageous example in this strip was King’s manager, who was called Blarney Stone!

Blarney’s real name was originally Tim Stone, and Blarney was only a nickname; but this was soon forgotten. In order to fulfil Ken’s ambition to travel, Blarney agrees to manage him on a world tour, if he’ll agree to fight his way round the world!

The fifth was Brian’s Brain, an adventure serial with science fiction elements, which was continued from Pow. This featured two schoolboys: the eponymous Brian and his friend Duffy Rolls. Brian Kingsley possessed an electronic Brain resembling a human skull, which he carried about in a box. It could communicate with him telepathically, glowing when active; and it could control the actions of animals if they were within a few yards, which was the limit of its brain-wave transmissions.

All five strips commenced in issue 144; and all were serials, with cliff-hanger endings each week.

 

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Smash! : The Odhams Years – Part 2: The Funnies

Summary:

‘Smash!’ was the most successful of the five ‘Power Comics’ published in Britain in the 1960s by Odhams Press, a division of IPC. Targeted at boys aged 10 to 14, it was published from 1966 to 1971. This article is part of an analysis of the causes and consequences of the comic’s relaunch in 1969; a case-study of the economic pressures affecting the UK publishing industry in that period.

Odhams Humour Strips

There were typically a dozen British humour strips in each of the first 162 issues.

The initial line-up starred The Man From B.U.N.G.L.E., which usually occupied the front cover prior to issue 20, supported by seven other long-running humour strips (Charlie’s Choice, Bad Penny, Percy’s Pets, The Nervs, The Swots and the Blots, Ronnie Rich and Grimly Feendish – more about these below), and four humour strips which didn’t last, namely Danger Mouse, Space Jinx, Queen of the Seas and The Tellybugs.

Smash issue 152, 28th December 1968

As the popularity of the ‘Batman’ television series faded, Batman and Robin yielded the front cover to ‘The Swots and the Blots’, a humour strip in which the two rival gangs vied to outwit each other at Pond Road School, with “Teach” caught in the crossfire. In subsequent years this strip, one of the few to survive all the changes at IPC in 1969 and 1970, became Leo Baxendale’s greatest creation, but even during the Odhams years it had wit and a sense of style.

Its origins lay in Baxendale’s earlier classroom-based strip, ‘The Tiddlers’, which had run in ‘Wham’ from 1964 (and continued in Pow when Wham was merged with it in 1968, combining with The Dolls of St Dominics to become The Tiddlers and The Dolls).

The Swots and the Blots was one of the few strips in Smash to survive all the changes of 1969 and 1970, reaching a new standard of excellence when Leo Baxendale began drawing it for the new-look Smash from March 1969, but even during the Odhams years it had wit and a sense of style. In Baxendale’s hands it had similarities to his earlier classroom-based strip, The Bash Street Kids, in The Beano.

Leo Baxendale’s The Man from BUNGLE, spoofing the popular TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., was a spin-off from Baxendale’s Eagle-Eye Junior Spy strip in Wham (which Smash absorbed in 1968). BUNGLE was a secret spy organisation in Britain, organised along more chaotic lines than UNCLE, featuring a secret agent who employed a wide variety of hugely unlikely gadgets in his fight against his humorous opponents. Baxendale drew the first few editions, which appeared as large single illustrations on the early covers of Smash, after which Mike Lacey took over.

A second spin-off from Baxendale’s ‘Eagle-Eye’ strip was ‘Grimly Feendish’, the rottenest crook in the world. Feendish had been the most popular character in the earlier strip, thanks to his ghoulish appearance, which was based on Uncle Fester in the American television series ‘The Addams Family’.

‘Bad Penny’ was another memorable Baxendale creation. The strip’s title logo featured a portrait of Penny herself, alongside the ‘Bad Penny’ caption, and an illustration of a giant (pre-decimal) One Penny coin (this last suggesting the connection with the proverb from which the character’s name originated). She had some similarities with Baxendale’s earlier Minnie the Minx character in ‘The Beano’. However, Bad Penny was nevertheless so popular that she survived the changes of 1969, and continued to appear in the new ‘Smash’. When the strip was eventually dropped, in 1970, Bad Penny herself continued to appear, albeit infrequently, making occasional appearances in Baxendale’s The Swots and the Blots strip, as a new member of the Blots.

As had happened in Wham, artists such as Mike Lacey were commissioned from time to time to “ghost” Baxendale’s style. Baxendale was allowed to sign his work on Smash, so there is an easy way to distinguish which strips he personally drew before he left Odhams. After he had transferred to Fleetway, he still contributed strips to Smash, but now worked “undercover”, without signing them. He explained this in his autobiography, A Very Funny Business (Duckworth, 1978, page 91): “I was in a delightful situation. Working under my own name, a lot was expected of me. Publishers expected me to cram my drawings with funny detail. A double standard operated. Working undercover, I was able to reduce the layouts to the simplest terms. Backgrounds were minimal or non-existent – just a horizon line. And there was no ancillary comic detail – just the characters acting out the story line against an empty backdrop.”

The most bizarre of the Odhams humour strips was ‘The Nervs’, about a group of little characters inhabiting a schoolboy called Fatty: the strip showed them running Fatty like a group of workers running a factory. Drawn for the majority of its run by Graham Allen, in its final year of 1968-9 Ken Reid (who had earlier contributed the ‘Dare-a-Day Davy’ strip to ‘Pow’) drew this double-page feature. Reid turned it into an extremely surreal, even visceral, strip; achieving a rare level of hilarity and bawdiness, in a subversive presentation of comical horror – and in the process alarming IPC’s management!

The Nervs by Ken Reid, from Smash issue 144, 2nd November 1968

‘The Cloak’ was another secret agent strip, continuing in ‘Smash’ after the 1968 amalgamation with ‘Pow’ in which it had begun. The Cloak was the top agent for Britain’s Special Squad, nominally a part of Scotland Yard; but he usually operated from his personal headquarters, known as the Secret Sanctum. His ingenuity and never-ending supply of gadgets and secret weapons gave him the edge over his somewhat odd enemies (some were very odd, including Deathshead and various other agents of G.H.O.U.L.).

He had some equally odd colleagues. Assisted initially by Mole (the tall one with the bald head, big nose and specs) and Shortstuff (the short squirt with the hairy nut and big eyeballs), he then began having adventures in which he found himself also alongside the sexy and flirtatious Lady Shady, the shady lady. The strip benefited from the unusual, idiosyncratic drawing style of Mike Higgs, whose overt inclusion of pop culture imagery made the strip seem extremely modern.

Title logo for The Cloak strip, from the 1968 Fantastic Summer Special

‘Wiz War’, drawn by Mike Brown, had also begun in ‘Pow’, and would be one of the handful of strips to survive the changes of 1969. Brown seems to have been unaware of the house rule banning artists from signing their work, as the strip often bore his name. The “War” in the title referred to a feud between two wizards, Wizard Prang and his enemy Demon Druid. Being a humour strip, the editorial staff allowed the hero the very silly name of Wizard Prang, a piece of RAF slang from the Second World War.

Wiz War by Mike Brown, from Smash issue 144, 2nd November 1968

Other than the fact that Wizard Prang was robed entirely in white, befitting his status as the good guy, and Demon Druid was always in black, being the villain of the piece, their costumes were quite similar – a flowing wizard’s robe with stars, and a pointed hat. They would fly around on broomsticks, zapping each other with spells: which turned the other into a toad, or something equally amusing. Wizard Prang was alternately helped and hindered by Englebert, his pet bird. The best feature of the strip was the sign above Wizard Prang’s front door. This usually read “Wizard Prang is… In” (if he was at home) or “Wizard Prang is… Out” (if he was out and about); but if he’d had a bad time in the story, the sign would often make a humorous remark in the final panel, such as “Wizard Prang is… All At Sea”.

‘Sammy Shrink’ was a humour strip about a boy who was only two inches tall. Sammy had the most chequered career of all the characters in ‘Smash’, having originated in ‘Wham’, then moved to ‘Pow’ when they merged, arriving in ‘Smash’ when it in turn absorbed ‘Pow’, and would subsequently be revived in ‘Knockout’, finally ending his career in ‘Whizzer and Chips’ when it absorbed ‘Knockout’ in June 1973.

‘Ronnie Rich’ featured the richest kid in the world, who stands to inherit a fortune if only he can get rid of the money he’s got. Drawn by Gordon Hogg, each week Ronnie spent his every last penny, in some reckless or extravagant way, only to have his scheme backfire and make him richer than ever. He never did get his hands on the fortune.

Last, but by no means least, was ‘Percy’s Pets’ by Stan McMurtry (alias Mac) which would make sporadic reappearances from time to time in the new ‘Smash’, after March 1969. Percy was a small plump schoolboy, who filled his family’s home with his exotic collection of pets. These included (from time to time) an elephant, a giraffe, a hippopotamus, a snake, an ape – in fact almost every type of animal that might be found in a typical zoo – together with a dog, a parrot, a tortoise, a white mouse, and a hedgehog; thereby causing a predictable degree of chaos for his long suffering mum and dad.

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Smash! : The Odhams Years – Part 1: Superheroes

Summary:

‘Smash!’ was the most successful of the five ‘Power Comics’ published in Britain in the 1960s by Odhams Press, a division of IPC. Targeted at boys aged 10 to 14, it was published from 1966 to 1971. This article is part of an analysis of the causes and consequences of the comic’s relaunch in 1969; a case-study of the economic pressures affecting the UK publishing industry in that period.

The Superheroes

Marvel strips were first introduced into Smash in issue 16, when Incredible Hulk reprints began. One early issue of ‘Smash’ even printed an original Hulk story.

When the American run of Hulk adventures had been used up, Odhams turned to the Hulk’s ‘guest star’ roles in ‘Fantastic Four’ and ‘The Avengers’. These other Marvel heroes proved equally popular. From issue 76, in July 1967, Daredevil replaced the Hulk, as ‘Smash’ had exhausted all the original Hulk stories, from all sources, that Marvel had published in the USA up to that point.

Smash issue 75, 8th July 1967

Prior to that, however, a month after the Hulk’s debut DC’s Batman became the second American superhero to debut in ‘Smash’, crashing onto the front page of issue 20, in reprints from American newspaper strips, credited in-page to ‘Batman’ creator Bob Kane but actually drawn by Whitney Ellsworth and ghost-written by Al Plastino. This was a response to the sudden popularity of the Batman television series starring Adam West. The enormous impact of this hit tv series led to the Batman strip retaining the front cover of ‘Smash’, in colour, for better than a year and a half, entitled Batman, with Robin the Boy Wonder.

Initially, this syndicated newspaper strip adopted the camp style of the Adam West television series, with appearances by humorous guest stars such as American funnyman Jack Benny. In the later part of the run (which featured serious, rather than camp, stories) Batgirl, too, appeared in the strip, with Batman initially believing her to be a criminal rather than a crime fighter. Superman then co-starred in the strip, which was retitled Superman and Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder, as Batman and Robin attempted to save Superman from the diabolical Professor Zinkk who was secretly poisoning him with kryptonite.

In September 1968 the Fantastic Four began a brief six-month run, when ‘Smash’ incorporated ‘Pow’ (which had previously merged with ‘Wham’, in which the strip had initially featured). They were introduced to readers of ‘Smash’ with the wedding of Reed and Sue from FF Annual #3, as this also introduced just about every superhero and villain in Marvel’s stable.

The Fantastic Four saga then continued from the story ‘Defeated by the Frightful Four’, which began a multi-issue epic, recounting their defeat at the hands of the Frightful Four and the loss of their superpowers; their subsequent battle with Doctor Doom in which a powerless FF are led by Daredevil; and their final victory over the Frightful Four, in the appropriately named “Lo, There Shall Be an Ending”, which was the very last Marvel strip to appear in ‘Smash’.

The Mighty Thor in Smash #144, 2nd November 1968

Thor began a short run in November 1968, when ‘Smash’ absorbed ‘Fantastic’. The stories, continued from ‘Fantastic’, began with Thor battling the Growing Man, followed by The Enchanters, then defying Odin and refusing to return to Asgard, desiring to be with Jane Foster. So, by an odd co-incidence, the tales featuring Thor included If the Thunder Be Gone, featuring the Ringmaster’s Circus of Crime, where, in the same issues in which the Fantastic Four lost their superpowers, Thor also lost his (for defying a vengeful Odin). When the Marvel strips were discontinued the following Spring, the final Thor reprint had to have a new ending substituted, to resolve a continuing sub-plot.

The financial crisis which overtook Odhams in 1968, resulting in the closure of all the other Power Comics, now caused them to give up the expensive licence to reprint the Marvel superhero stories. This decision took effect in March 1969, when the licence came up for renewal, causing the final Marvel strips to appear in issue 162. The expensive Batman newspaper strip had already been discontinued, ending in issue 157.

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Power Comics – The History of ‘Smash!’

Summary:

‘Smash!’ was the most successful of the five ‘Power Comics’ published in Britain in the 1960s by Odhams Press, a division of IPC. Targeted at boys aged 10 to 14, it was published from 1966 to 1971. This article is the first part of an analysis of the causes and consequences of the comic’s relaunch in 1969; a case-study of the economic pressures affecting the UK publishing industry in that period.

The cover of the ”Smash!” annual 1969

Smash! was a weekly British comic, published in London by Odhams Press Ltd from 64 Long Acre and subsequently by IPC Magazines Ltd from (initially) 189 High Holborn and (latterly) Fleetway House in nearby Farringdon Street.

It ran for 257 issues, between 5th February 1966 and 3rd April 1971 (although, due to strikes and industrial disputes, publication was not continuous during that period). It then merged into Valiant. But the Smash! Annual continued to appear every year: the final Annual, cover-dated 1976, was published in October 1975.

Up until 1969, Smash! featured a mixture of American superhero strips alongside British humour and adventure strips. Thereafter, it featured only British strips.

During 1967 and 1968 Smash! was part of Odhams’ Power Comics line, absorbing its sister titles Pow! on 14th September 1968 (issue 137), and Fantastic on 2nd November 1968 (issue 144). As Pow! and Fantastic had themselves already merged with Wham! and Terrific respectively, Smash! in effect absorbed the best strips from all of the Power Comics lineup.

As with all of the Power Comics, Smash! included black-and-white reprints of superhero strips originally published in America by Marvel Comics and DC Comics. The last of these, the Fantastic Four, ended in issue 162 in March 1969.

Smash! was sized 9.75″ x 12″ (#1-162) and 9.25″ x 12″ (#163-257), and had a four-colour cover and black-and-white interior.

History of SMASH

Smash was owned by IPC, the International Publishing Corporation, a company formed in 1963 by Cecil Harmsworth King, chairman of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Pictorial (later the Sunday Mirror), through a series of corporate mergers. All the comics owned by it were published by one or other of the subsidiary companies brought together to form IPC, including Fleetway Publications Ltd and Odhams Press Ltd.

The Power Comics line, including Smash, was published by IPC’s Odhams Press division under a three-man editorial team known as Alf, Bart and Cos. Alfred Wallace (“Alf”) was the managing editor at Odhams, and Albert Cosser (“Cos”) was the editor directly responsible for Smash. Major changes of editorial policy occurred in 1969 for financial reasons, and again in 1970 when IPC was taken over by Albert E Reed to form the publishing giant Reed International.

Smash and Pow incorporating Fantastic’, issue 144, 2nd November 1968

Launched on 5th February 1966, Smash became part of the Power Comics line from December of that year. On 14th September 1968, with issue 137, it merged with Pow! (which had previously absorbed Wham). On 2nd November 1968, with issue 144, it merged with Fantastic (which had previously absorbed Terrific), to become Smash and Pow incorporating Fantastic.

On 1st January 1969 Smash ceased to be published by Odhams Press Ltd, and was thereafter published by IPC Magazines Ltd (an IPC subsidiary formed during 1968). On 15th March 1969 it was relaunched without its American superhero strips. Further changes followed during the course of 1969 and at the start of 1970. The final issue was published on 3rd April 1971. It then merged into Valiant, forming Valiant and Smash.

 

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Just A Minute – Does Sue Perkins bore the pants off the audience?

If Sue Perkins is going to hog the game, then it really behooves her to be funny!

Kenneth Williams springs to mind as somebody who tried in the past to hog the show. But he could talk endlessly without being boring. Not only was he always funny, but also he never simply trotted out drivel, in the way that Wendy Richard, for instance, did.

Williams always addressed the subject, rather than simply spouting bland and inane rubbish on the pretext of talking about the subject.

In my opinion, a sexy girl like Sue Perkins (humorously known as “Sue Perky”!) is completely wasted on a radio show. Everything from her cute smile to her cute figure benefits from being in vision, on some tv show such as ‘Mock the Week’.

But I don’t think she’s funny enough to be a disembodied talking voice on a radio show.

There’s a real problem when a panellist is too clever by half, i.e. too clever to commit any of the offences of repetition, deviation or hesitation (the cardinal sins within the rules of ‘Just A Minute’), but doesn’t know how to be funny with it.

Sue is in danger of boring the pants off the audience, because it isn’t actually a panel game; it’s really an improvisational comedy. She doesn’t seem to have realised, yet, that being entertaining is more important than winning.

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Just A Minute – Should Kenneth Williams be taken seriously?

The panel game Just A Minute has been running on BBC radio since 1967. Its most famous – and most contraversial – panellist was the late Kenneth Williams, who was a regular on the show throughout its first 21 years on the air.

He was noted for (even notorious for) his emotionally-charged performances on the show; but in reality he was a consumate professional, not the egocentric maniac his on-air “rants” sometimes suggested. The show was, after all, controlled by the BBC producer, not by the panellists; so whatever Kenneth might say during a recording would never make it onto the broadcast tape if the producer didn’t want it there.

In fact, the Producer had an arrangement with Kenneth, whereby if he felt a recording was becoming too dull he would give Kenneth a signal to raise his game, whereupon Kenneth would go into one of his rants. On receiving another cue, he would shut up again.

It was a measure of his ability that he could raise the show whenever it needed it, though this production trick could actually have the effect of making him look somewhat schizophrenic. He would be improvising off-the-cuff, so might attack Peter Jones in one edition only to praise him the following week. But he was not striving for consistency: the panellists were only trying to entertain.

The show, of course, is comedy. Panellists are free to say anything which will get a laugh, and boring the audience is the only sin. It isn’t a court of law, and their remarks aren’t given under oath; so Kenneth didn’t have to believe in what he was saying, and it didn’t have to be true. It was said merely to achieve a comic effect.

Paul Merton’s flights of surreal fantasy in later years were plainly only flights of fancy. Kenneth’s rants were not so obviously made-up. But it would be a mistake to treat Kenneth’s rants as being serious, when he was merely trying to be funny.

Kenneth knew how to get the audience going, and how to work them up to fever pitch; and no one else on the panel could do that – then or now. But Kenneth could make even the dullest subject funny.

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