Beano: a cheery cover for grey days

Beano magazine was launched in 1934 by Nalgo, the trade union, to raise funds for members widows and orphans. Did it inspire the comic title?

Beano magazine was launched in 1934 by Nalgo, the trade union, to raise funds for members widows and orphans. Did it inspire the comic title?

Here’s a cheery cover for a rainy day (and I’m off to a funeral today for Tom Pride, a Times journalist I first worked with in 1980).

Beano comes from B ‘n’ O, the abbreviation for  Nalgo’s benevolent and orphan fund (B&O).  Nalgo – the National Association of Local Government Officers trade union – was founded in 1905 and is today part of Unison. It appears to have been produced in Scarborough, described as the ‘conference town’ because of the number of big meetings held there, such as political party annual conferences.

The NCTJ used to hold training courses there – on one of them, I met Tom Baker, the would-be monk and former Doctor Who star; the Yorkshire boxer Richard Dunn, who took on Muhammad Ali in 1976; and Brian Glover, the wrestler, teacher and actor best known for his role in Kes. All in the same hotel bar. What a night that was!

Winter's Pie, an edition of Printers' Pie, magazine cover from 1913. The cover is by John Hassall

Winter’s Pie, an edition of Printers’ Pie, magazine cover from 1913. The cover is by John Hassall

Producing special magazines to raise funds for charitable purposes was a popular strategy right into the Eighties. These included Printers’ Pie, where the funds went to printing charities, Christmas Pie, ‘All profits to King George’s Jubilee Trust’ in 1939, and Blighty, which raised money for the troops in both world wars. The most famous writers and illustrators would provide work for these and volunteer printers would produce them on Fleet Street presses.

The Nalgo Beano cover appeared in 1934, four years before DC Thomson launched the famous  Beano comic on 30 July 1938 in Dundee. And, of course, its most famous strip – The Bash Street Kids – was about the perils of a group of public service workers – teachers and janitors – in a state school.

The Oxford Dictionary relates the word ‘beano’ – a rowdy celebration – to the printing industry, going back to 1888:

CT Jacobi, Printers’ Vocab. 7 Beano, a slang abbreviation for ‘beanfeast’, which is, however, usually termed ‘goose’ or wayzgoose by compositors.

So, a trade union – Nalgo – was the inspiration for the Beano comic. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!

 


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

 

 


 

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