Billy Whizz, Brassneck and Numskulls
During wet break a bulging brown box full of blotchy and colourful comics would be circulated to the disappointed junior school kids who, like me, were instead, dying for a game of Sticky Toffee, May I or bone crunching British Bull Dog. Here we met turbo charged characters like Beryl the Peril, The Numskulls, Biffo the Bear, Billy Whizz, Brassneck, The Bash Street Kids and Bully, Beef and Chips from a mythical, up North kind of place. It was from here, I confess, that I formed my comic book and magazine addiction.
Spiderman Comics Weekly
My Grand-dad was my first reliable pulp comic pimp, regularly supplying me with Spiderman Comics Weekly in glorious duo tones of red and black ink (the Americans got full colour, but nor us seventies Brits who had to make do with reprints and very grainy newspaper quality paper).
Shoot, Yettis and the big footed Sasquatch
After that I went bananas for men in shorts, every week in Shoot! the magazine to find out what Paul Mariner had for breakfast before playing for Ipswich Town F.C. Every week I’d also very carefully update my cardboard league ladder tabs because that was all I really had to do. I soon became a dealer myself, every morning delivering daily newspapers and weekly magazines like The Beano, Look and Learn and a very odd comic for the adults called The Joy Of Sex, where all the characters had beards, lots of hair in places I didn’t and never got out of bed for a game of football. Eugh! However, even more hairy, supernatural, creatures used to fill my mind too as the posh, weekly part-work magazine, The Unexplained, contained fantastical yarns about hairy Yettis, the big footed Sasquatch, more grainy photographs of Loch Ness and macabre black and white photo stories about Spontaneous Human Combustion with the odd charred arm and leg left by the side of a rather dangerous looking open coal fire place. No wonder I had nightmares and moved soon onto the more placid and calm full colour weekly footy magazine called, er, Football Weekly. Here I learned more about Archie Gemmill’s amazing world cup goal for Scotland and read about the mysterious world of tactics and discipline and special diets for footballers. Not just Paul Mariner’s favourite breakfast, but dinner, tea and supper too (whatever that was).
Rocking and reading with the NME
Sometime later I Moved On Up to the full glory and wonderful wacky world of weekly pop music magazines (see what I did there?) I went for the NME, though would often stand in WH Smith (AKA the other library) and check out Sounds, Melody Maker, Record Collector and sometimes Smash Hits. They mostly reported glamorous rock lives lived on the M1 in the back of a transit van with a drum kit, guitars and the customary mad musical magic and mayhem at some unknown pop Valhalla’s like The Hacienda in Manchester, Roadmender in Northampton, Leadmill in Sheffield and all kinds of other sweaty pubs and clubs in London heaving with sweaty pop kids and eager reporters ready to type and hype it up or gleefully burst the brittle pop bubble like a zit. Seething Wells seemed to be the best and most creative writer I read avidly every week with amazement. He stretched the language and expanded those vowels like long, howling guitar choooooooooooooooords! Boy, was he a shrewd, hot waxing lyrical pop tart!
The strange allure of The Readers Digest and Private Eye…
Occasionally I’ve experimented with other weekly magazines, for a while the New Statesman seemed to be quite sharp, witty and no so full of exceedingly nauseous Champagne socialists. They once heavily hinted at an affair the Prime Minister was having with a cleaner and soon got a crippling writ served upon them. Years later we all found out it was Edwina Curry in bed with the man who ran away from the circus for a very nearly proper job in politics. Private Eye also caught my attention, often in WHSmith’s before jumping on a train with a bottle of water and sad sandwich. Old Muck Spreader and HP Sauce always raise a laugh, then and now.
My Grand-dad sometimes tried to dampen and dilute my magazine addiction with occasional substitutions of The Readers Digest, but that came out every month so ‘building my word power’ and such like regular features could not steer me too far away from the glossier relatives of the NME, magazines like GQ, Esquire and the like. Sometimes, at a push and when needs must, The Radio Times can surprise and my doctors surgery waiting room offers the odd edition of The Economist which is an unexpectedly pleasurable fix and is also vaguely re-assuring - more so because the local supermarket only ever offers and sells the most popular, daily red top tabloids.
Take a leaf out of my book…
Of course beautiful pulp paper magazines and newsprint still hang over the racks of the news agents and super market stores across the UK, though compared with their new bright eyed and battery powered beaming tablets and smart phones sometimes these limp paper products look vaguely reminiscent of a beautiful late autumn branch of a tree, precariously set to fall and scatter its brittle orange, gold, lemon and lime coloured leaves to the ground. But not yet. Weekly magazines - very definitely one of my fifty fabulous things. Don’t keep taking the tablets, unless you’re reading this on one, of course!