Saturday, September 27, 2014

A brief history of Oor Wullie

Jings , Crivven's, and Help ma boab”, this is the centenary year of the Sunday Post which first appeared in 1914. In 1936 publishers, DC Thompson introduced a four page "Fun Section" which included two comic strips written in Scots vernacular. Little did they know these would still be running nearly eighty years later.

The Broons were a working-class Scottish family living No 10 Glebe Street, Glasgow; and Oor Wullie, chronicled the adventures of a mischievous young boy in an unnamed town. Much speculation prevails as to where Wullie actually lived; some think it was Dundee where the Sunday Post was published; whilst others believe it was Glasgow because in 1938, the characters walked to the Empire Exhibition held in Bellhouston Park: later in 1988 the family again walk to and from the Glasgow Garden Festival. In a later episode he even cycles to Loch Lomond. But as the decades have rolled by it became clear Oor Wullie lived in the imaginary town of Auchenshoogle (an amalgam of Dundee and Glasgow).

More controversy prevails as to what was Oor Wullie’s surname; some sources quote MacCallum whereas others cite, Russell. Wullie had an uncle Wattie Russell, a wartime private in one of the Scottish regiments. No one is quite sure however whether Wattie was related to Wullie's father's or came from his mother's side of the family. Oor Wullie was created by Scottish comic writer and editor, Robert Duncan Low who wrote word sketches which Dudley Dexter Watkins illustrated. Low insisted the characters be based on real working class people and Watkins took Robert’s son, Ron for inspiration. The wee lad had innocently accompanied his father to work one day wearing dungarees and carrying a bucket of potatoes. Watkins added the famous spiky hair and Oor Wullie was born.

Dudley D Watkins was an English cartoonist and illustrator who trained at the Glasgow School of Art before joining DC Thompson in the late 20s. The original Oor Wullie was drawn as a single panel and the character was aged about 5 or 6. Later he aged to about 10 or 11, but more recently, he has become slightly younger. The earliest strips had little dialogue but always ended with Wullie complaining ("I nivver get ony fun roond here!"). The artistic style settled down by 1940 and has changed little since. A frequent tagline reads, "Oor Wullie! Your Wullie! A'body's Wullie!" Watkins continued to draw Oor Wullie until his death in 1969, after which the Post recycled his work until 1974. In the recycled versions the original broad Scots dialogue was increasingly watered down. Other illustrators were commission to continue drawing Oor Wullie and all remained remarkably true to the original.

Our hero shares his home with his Ma and Pa, Harry the West Highland Terrier and Jeemy his pet moose. In the early days and for a short time he had a younger sibling (the bairn). The next door neighbour much later wasMoaning Mildew (modelled on Victor Meldrew from One Foot in the Grave). Our hero’s favourite food is mince and tatties and his Ma’s Roly-poly pudding. His three best friends are Fat Boab, Soapy Soutar and wee Eck and the gang meets in a caravan called Holly Rude. Wullie is the self-proclaimed leader a position which is frequently disputed by the others. The boys love to go fishing in the nearby burn (the Stoorie) or race their cairties (boogies) down Stoorie Brae.

"Oh. ancient bridge o'er River Stoorie ... ye'd be voted tops by ony jury”

The mischievous Wullie’s of old, loved to steal orchard apples and use P.C. (Constable) Murdoch‘s helmet as target practice with his catty (sling shot). However what was seen as youthful high jinks in the 1930s might be considered anti-social vandalism today so as the decades passed his antics have become a lot tamer. Otherwise its business as usual and Wullie’s unrealistic get-rich-quick schemes lead to mischief and continue to give his long suffering parents and local constabulary humorous concern. Come what may the strip always ends with Willie seated on his bucket procrastinating about the day’s events. Occasionally he rests on padding or cushions especially if he has had his bottom smacked.

During the Second World War the artists comic creations were considered too morale-boosting to allow him to be released for active service. The Sunday Post comic strips were used successfully as propaganda against Hitler. Throughout the war years Wullie continually poked fun at the Fuhrer and he even pelted suspected Nazis with catapults and cap-guns as well as forming a boys' national defence corps to take on the "Gerries". These disrespectful sallies against the Master Race did not miss the attention of Fifth Columnists, and it is widely believed both Watkins and Low's were on a Nazi death list in the event of an invasion.

By the 50s the Sunday Post was in its heyday but with its circulation was confined largely to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Sales were so high that it was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the newspaper with the highest per capita readership penetration of anywhere in the world. Oor Wullie and the Broon became ubiquitous and essential reading every Sunday.

Young Wullie generally does not like girls although Primrose Paterson sometimes features. Later pretty Doris Gow and her bruiser boyfriend the town bully, Basher McKenzie occasionally appeared. Truth be told Wullie prefers Doris which causes Primrose’s rathe as well as the unwanted attention of Basher. He used to have another friend called Ezzy, who has stopped appearing in the strips. From time to time various celebrities have featured in the strips including Lorraine Kelly and Colin Montgomerie. History was made in 2011 when Oor Wullie and The Broons appeared in the same strip spread over two pages to celebrate the Royal Wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William.

When The Topper launched in 1953, Oor Wullie appeared in the masthead, although not as a story in the comic. He often appeared sitting on his bucket, though other poses were used as well. The pose on Topper no. 1 had him wearing a top hat. He had the top hat in one hand and the other hand pointing at the Topper logo.


Apart from Oor Wullie and the Broons, Watkins drew Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty and a host of other characters for Thomson's many comics. He was a deeply religious man and intended to produce a fully illustrated version of the Bible. It is reputed in the pilot drawings, Joseph bore an uncanny resemblance to Pa, while the infant Jesus looked very like the Boy on the Bucket. PC (Joe) Murdoch is thought to be based on an actual policemen (Sandy Marnoch) that served with Watkins when he was a reserve constable in Fife.

The Oor Wullie Bucket Trail from Vivid Elements on Vimeo.

Interesting site
Oor Wullie Store
Oor Wullie's Scots Guide
Oor Wullie's Bucket trail

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Will Scotland be free?

They have all had their say from Paul McCartney to the Pope: Obama to Mick Jagger: and of course these other two fantasists; J. K. Rowling and Australia's Prime minister Tony Abbot . All say No. However I don’t know how much influence celebrities have in what has transpired to be one of the most interesting referendum .

Two telly debates later and there is a declared draw with Alec Salmond winning the last one on points, but is the electorate any better informed? Who knows? Still too close to call the final remains remains speculative at this time. To his credit Salmond is a skilled debater and master of performance but shrill exchange and shouting down the opposition may be normal business in parliament but it seems to have far less appeal to the undecided voter, according to the experts.

Asset wise Scotland does Scotland have enough finite mineral resource and thriving array of light industry to offset fiscal commitment to public spending on social policy, defense, pensions, policing and NHS is yet to be seen. As it stands the Scots make a significant contribution into the UK treasury which would be lost if Scotland went independent. The financial outcome for both Yes or No is rather critical for both countries which makes the result of the Referendum knife edge. No wonder then misinformation and lack of information has prevailed throughout the campaigns where claims and counter claims abound.

If Independence comes with full monetary union then The Bank of England would continue to control money supply and interest rates and thus control the Scottish level of national spending. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour currently would agree to full monetary union. A second option is if an Independent Scotland used sterling with but no monetary union. The fear is many banks and financial services would relocate south of the border and only maintain a small presence in Scotland. Should this happen the employment consequences would be devastating for Scotland. If an Independent Scotland were to introduce a new Scottish currency and float the Scottish Pound to find its exchange value it is unlikely to be the same value as Sterling. Scottish currency would not be able to be used outside the country and anything less than parity with the British pound would have a catastrophic effect on the current standard of living. Banks and companies reliant on trade have indicated they will relocate south of the Border.

What incentives have the UK Government given the Scottish No voters to stay with the UK ?

Remarkably little and either suggests there is nothing to give (which would favour the Yes vote) or Cameron and Co have played down separation and feel in their heart of hearts Scotland will remain in the union. At this time the general feel among the voters is Edinburgh and surrounding border area will be a significant No. Glasgow: a Yes , along with Central Belt and Highlands. Aberdeen appears to prefer No at present. This of course also depends on age with the over 50’ wanting to stay within the UK. Between 20 and 35 then there is very significant support for YES. Interestingly the new voters 16-18 seem to be well in favour of NO.

“ If we are better together , why are we not better off now?”

Since the union Scotland (Wales and Ireland) these territories have been a fief of England with their riches taken into the English treasury. That has not changed in 500 years. The Scots do feel aggrieved not only are they relieved of their resources they also have little say in how these revenues are spent. What adds further fuel to the fire are the people of Old Scotia feel the present voting system means the UK government elect currently does not reflect the choice of the Scottish vote. Ed Miliband has come somewhat late with a whimpish claim that Labor will return to Number 10, but I doubt whether that will sway many now.

Is it feasible for Scotland to go it alone?

Yes, but sadly the history of an independent Scotland quickly reveals the Scots are usually their own worst enemies and time after time powerful barons that should have supporting separation sell out their fellow countrymen for English favour. If history has anything to go by, that is likely to happen again.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Festival City In Motion

Festival City In Motion is ione of a series of short films showcasing Scotland's beautiful capital city. The idea behind the film is to not capture the Edinburgh International festival itself, but to capture the atmosphere of the city during the Festival: the streets, buildings and parks. There are some amazing views of Arthur's Seat (very rare and difficult to capture with photography), Edinburgh's beautiful streets and the majestic firework finale to the International Edinburgh Festival.

Festival City In Motion from walid salhab on Vimeo.