April 2022 Books Monthly Review of books and stories magazine - on the web 24 years...
  books monthly
     The back page... The wonderful British comics that informed my childhood...


Previous Back Page features:
DECEMBER 2021 - Enid Blyton's Little Noddy
JANUARY 2022 - The Whiteoaks of Jalna
FEBRUARY 2022 - Leslie Charteris's The Saint
MARCH 2022 - The Passion Flower Hotel
April 2022 - The Tiger Comic

The year is 1954, it's two days before my eighth birthday, and I'm on my way to the post office in Ermin Street to get my hands on the first ever issue of the brand new Tiger comic, the companion to my beloved Lion comic...


...I am fortunate to have lived through so many Golden Ages in the 1950s-1980s... The Golden Age of children's literature (Enid Blyton); the Golden Age of British Traditional Jazz (Mr Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball, Chris Barber); the Golden Age of British popular music (the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Hollies, Jeff Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra...); the Golden Age of Crime Fiction (The Saint, Inspector West, Jane and Dagobert Brown, Dixon of Dock Green, PC49 etc.); the Golden Age of British paperback cover art (Pan, Four Square, New English Library); the Golden Age of Science Fiction and Fantasy (Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, J R R Tolkien, John Wyndham); the Golden Age of Classical Music conductors (Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, Andre Previn...) - and so on - so many Golden Ages, and yet, there's stil one, and it was one of the most important in my formative years, and one that kept me entertained throughout the 1950s and 1960s - the Golden Age of British Children's Comics - with the Lion, the TIger, the Hotspur, the Wizard, the Schoolfriend, the Girls' Crystal, the Eagle, and Girl. Although not all of these titles came into being in the 1950s - some had been around before the war - they reached their heyday when I started reading them, obviously!

My friends next door, the ginger-haired twins, took the Eagle, and I occasionally looked at it when I was in their house, or if they brought it to me to show me something. But for me, the Eagle looked too much like educational matter. I preferred there to be a distinction between what I read in ofrder to be educated, and what I read for pleasure, although the pages of the comics I read had some factual content as well, of course, in the form of quizzes and so on. I enjoyed reading the adventures of Dan Dare, and of PC 49, in the Eagle, in particular. But there were too many facts, too many diagrams for my taste. The Lion and the Tiger, in complete contrast, had page after page of comic-strip stories, interspersed with short stories in textual form - excellently illustrated, and often featuring school stories. School stories were my favourite stories. My father, although he would never have curtailed my reading of comics, didn't really approve of this branch of literature, although he did read the Gambols in the Daily Express, and he did allow me to look at the Rupert Bear comic strip, and the misadventures of Pip, Squeak and WIlfred. My Uncle Lesley, who came back from the second world war suffering with Malaria, had dozens of American adventure comics every month - Superman, Supergirl, Superboy, Batman, Tarzan etc., which he passed on to me when he had read them, and I lapped them up. But my absolute favourites were the Lion and the Tiger, together with their female counterparts (which my sister Jean took each week until she was considered too old for them) - the Schoolfriend and the Girls Crystal.

They represented the pure escapism that one could also find in Enid Blyton's books, in the form of the Barney Mysteries, which featured Roger, Diana, Snubby and Barney; and the Famous Five. Not school stories as such, but most of the "heroes" attended private schools, came home for the holidays and got together, and in those holidays, had fantastic, exciting adventures. The Lion and the Tiger were full of such stories, they were published every week, and there was always several days' reading matter in them, especially when I added Jean's comics to my pile, which I kept on one of the shelves Dad put on the wall for me. It wasn't long before I had more books on my shelves than Mum, Dad and Jean owned all put together, a fact of which I was immensely proud; and my pile of comics was the envy of all my friends. I occasionally got to see other Fleetway titles like Hotspur and Wizard, but they seemed to over-concentrate on the war stories. I always had the two annuals at Christmas time, and this was the Golden Age of Children's Annuals, too, because unlike the poor annuals that were published in the 1980s onwards, the Lion, the Tiger, the Schoolfriend and the Girls Crystal all had more than 150 pages of comic strip and text stories, weeks of reading in those superb annuals! I probably didn't debate the merits of comics with my Dad too seriously, I just got on with the job of reading all those adventure and school stories when I had finished my homework.

I probably didn't put enough effort into my homework, because my school report always, but always said that I could do better; but I don't recall ever being out of the top three in my school form, and that was good enough for me, if not for my teachers and my parents. There were always comics to read, and they were far more important than homework. Always. I'm not going to debate the merits of comics in this article, either. It goes without saying that a weekly publication with enough stories to keep a young teenager occupied for several hours and costing only three old pennies was superb value for money and didn't need to be defended by me! It truly was the Golden Age of British Children's Comics - and I lived through it!

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 24th year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me
here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.

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