21st September 2001 at 01:00
If you've got zero self-esteem then you might be able to identify with Teacher, the long-suffering foil of The Beano's Bash Street Kids

Isn't he the guy who looks like Adolf Hitler in a mortar board?

Actually, when Leo Baxendale first drew Teacher back in 1954 he was a clone of Minnie the Minx's dad. Same moustache, short-back-and-sides, V-neck sweater - just a pair of National Health glasses to distinguish the two. Don't read too much into the facial fuzz though. All authority figures had it back in the 1950s.

What about that mortar board? Did teachers really wear them back in 1950?

No, only on speech days. Baxendale wanted to give Bash Street a wide appeal. Mortar board said grammar school, but the fact that the kids didn't wear uniform suggested secondary modern.

So he's an everyman figure then? Someone all teachers can identify with?

Yes, but only if they have zero self-esteem. This guy is wholly ineffectual. Long and gangling he's easily tripped up by the kids and bullied by the head to whom he's obliged to lose at golf every morning. But Teacher did mark a significant development in the depiction of schoolmasters: he had a home life and nipped back to the family semi for bangers and mash at lunchtime.

So there was a Mrs Teacher too?

Oh yes, with National Health glasses and a moustache of her own. While Frank Richards was still churning out Billy Bunter and Tom Merry, The Beano was pioneering its very own kind of kitchen-sink-and-mortar-board drama.

A big step forward from Quelch and Mr Chips and all those public school housemasters then?

Well, more a pratfall than a step. Teacher had about as much control over his class as John Major over the Tories.

But he did represent progress, a move away from the cane-wielding martinets of Greyfriars and St Jims?

Yes and no. Whereas Quelch was "a beast but a fair beast", Teacher lashes out because he is angry or crazed. Or humiliated by the head. Or because the kids have trodden on his corns. Or because his wife has a bigger moustache than he has. Bash Street was the first cartoon to popularise the Blackboard Jungle, a world in which justice is in shorter supply than supply teachers. Teacher whacks the kids in 4:4 time during music lessons and during a power cut just to keep himself warm.

It all sounds very violent.

Yes, but this was a cartoon. Reality in 1950 meant teachers earning less money than Billy Bunter. pound;5, the average weekly pocket money at Greyfriars, was more than Teacher would have taken home. No wonder he lashed out at times.

Adrian Mourby

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