Beano bonanza

12th April 1996 at 01:00
Jings! Crivens! Help ma Boab! Oops, sorry - wrong publication. The McManus Galleries in Dundee have an exhibition running until May 18 celebrating 40 years of the Bash Street Kids as well as Minnie the Minx and Little Plum, all created by cartoonist, Leo Baxendale, for D.C. Thomson's comic, the Beano.

Despite the fact that the McManus is only a stone's throw from D.C. Thomson headquarters, this is a touring exhibition originating in Preston, Baxendale's home, when the stars of this very attractive show first came to life.

The cartoonist, son of Lancashire weavers who were so pleased when young Leo showed an interest in drawing that they even let him doodle on the walls, was already working for the Beano when he came up with the idea of The Bash Street Kids in 1953.

Previously, kids in British comics were, according to this show, more likely to be portrayed as public school types with the "working classes" playing minor roles as semi-villains or slapstick comedians. The Beano editor was worried at first about Baxendale's "unprincipled and unruly" characters and told him to introduce "a posse of policemen to keep the kids in order" but they were soon dropped.

The cartoonist, who finally retired in 1992, admits that the stress of meeting three Beano deadlines a week eventually caused him to "blow up like an old boiler" and, in 1962, after almost 10 years with the company, he left.

The Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx and (from time to time) Little Plum lived on, however, and continue to cause havoc.

In theory, you could assume that any show about cartoon characters, especially ones as popular as The Bash Street mob, would be a hit with all schoolchildren. And while few could fail to respond to splendidly designed features such as a full-scale Bash Street classroom and Minnie the Minx on her improvised Everest ski slide (made from real desks, blackboard and chairs - don't try this at school, children!) as well as the Beano cartoon video and a box of Bash Street Kids dressing-up clothes, much of this exhibition will be over the heads of younger pupils - literally.

For the lengthy information cards which accompany the large selection of Baxendale's Beano artwork are mostly so detailed and placed at such a height on the walls that very few primary children will find them accessible.

Nancy Davey, schools education officer for Dundee art galleries and museums, agrees: "Despite the subject matter, this is really a specialist show illustrating how a particular cartoonist developed his characters and style over a period of years and is aimed at older pupils, students and adults. But it does look very attractive and can be tagged on to the end of a visit to the other galleries at the McManus, most of which are geared to the 5 to 14 curriculum."

Much more to the younger ones' taste, Mrs Davey reckons, is Claw, another touring exhibition in Dundee in the Barrack Street Museum of Natural History until June 15. It's all about cats, from the wild varieties right down to household pets, and features a full-scale model of a sabre-tooth tiger which not only moves in a very disconcerting way but roars so fiercely that toddlers are inclined to run screaming from the room.

There are lots of buzzers to press, questions to answer, puzzles to solve and dozens of cats to stare at, including some mummified ones found in an Egyptian tomb. Fascinating stuff.

If you have not visited Dundee City's art galleries and museums, you are in for a treat. As well as Barrack Street and the McManus (for which a children's guide, created by a group of Dundee primary school kids, is available), there is Broughty Castle where the whales collection is, Mills Observatory and the Victorian Classroom (for schools only) up in the attic at Ancrum Road Primary.

Mrs Davey sends a newsletter to schools three times a year. Contact her at the McManus Galleries on 01382-432049, for museum visits, planned activity time sessions and details of the schools' loans collection. She would also like to hear from teachers interested in helping with a children's guide to the fine art collections. The Beano's editor, Euan Kerr, will be giving a talk at the galleries on May 9 at 2.30pm.

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