Pick up a magazine and you never know where you’ll end up next. A copy of the first issue of the 6-part Kitchener’s Army & the Territorial Forces arrives in the post. This was a part work published by George Newnes, probably starting in January 1915, though it does not carry a date. It was written by Fleet Street legend Edgar Wallace.
On the back cover is an advert for Fry’s Cocoa drawn by Ernest Noble, which carried the acknowledgement ‘by kind permission of the Northern Echo‘. A search on Noble and the Echo took me to a website about the comedians Morecambe and Wise – and a page dedicated to Ernie Wise and the Nignog Club! As it says:
It is a well recorded fact that Ernie Wise was part of a variety concert party in his youth. Its name has gone into Morecambe and Wise folk law, and is often spoken in hushed tones. It was known as the Nig Nog club, and in these days of political correctness and over-eager internet filters, it’s not a phrase you type into Google with carefree abandon.
The site explains on a page based on material from reporter Chris Lloyd that the club originated in County Durham and was launched by the Darlington-based Northern Echo in 1929 as the Nig-Nog Ring, a children’s club. The ‘Chief Ringers’ were Uncle Mac, BBC broadcaster Derek McCulloch who hosted Children’s Hour, and Uncle Ernest, the Noble of my query who it turns out was from Darlington.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites Beale Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang suggesting that the word was found in army contexts in the sense ‘fool’ from the late 19th century (a ‘nigmenog’) and as a ‘raw recruit’ from c1925. It also notes a possible connection with the Nig-Nog children’s clubs run by local newspapers, ‘following the model of the children’s page of a Birmingham newspaper’, the Evening Dispatch of 1 November 1929:
My Dear Children, I am sure you must be getting awfully excited … about becoming members of the Children’s Ring … The girls will be called ‘Nigs’ and the boys will be called ‘Nogs’ — and if any of you are twins there will be a special name for you. You will be called ‘Nig-Nogs’!
But this policy was changed a few days later:
After Uncle Ernest and I … talked yesterday … we made up our minds that you should all be called Nignogs, so that there will not be any distinction at all between girls and boys.
I leave the Northern Echo and the Evening Dispatch to argue over who came up with the idea. However, ‘uncles’ running children’s cartoons were a traditional form in newspapers – the Daily Mirror‘s ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ were incredibly popular from their founding in the early 1920s, for example.
The Northern Echo is a legendary paper, the place where Sunday Times and Times editor Harry Evans made his name, and before him Ted Pickering, a 1950s editor of the Daily Express, and WT Stead, who as editor of the Pall Mall Gazette was one of the great Victorian crusading journalists and who died on the Titanic. Unfortunately, the Evening Dispatch is no more.