1966. `Big Klanky`, Willie the Woeful Wizard`, Davey Spacer, more free gifts, but a struggle to stay afloat.
1966 was obviously a critical period for Sparky comic as it presented two free gift and new story / Fun pal promotions that year. The scarcity of editions on E.Bay or other sources seems to bear out very low sales in 1966.
1966 saw an easing of the amount of fun strips in rotation. This meant the loss of `Flubberface`, and Minnie Ha-Ha` during the early part of the year, `Hockey Hannah` halfway through; and both `Jeff Ye Jolly Jester` and `Freddie the Fearless Fly, during the latter months of 1966. Other fun strips, `Joe Bann and his Big Banjo`, `The Slowdown Express` and the `Pansy Potter` were still rotated in what still must have been a puzzling way of presentation to readers.
The year also saw three new `fun` pals arrive, `Fireman Fred`, `Granny Cupp and her Flying Saucer` and `My Grockle and Me`.
The first issue of the year, No 50 dated 1st January presented the strip `Quest of the Wandering Wingates`. It was set during the time of the holy crusades. The father of Dickon and Norah Wingate was forced into Prince John’s army and their farm destroyed. The children ended up in the holy lands and their attempts to get home were the main body of the story. It was drawn very ably by the artist (unknown) who had drawn 1965’s `Gilpin, the lost, lost boy` tale. It ran to issue No 59, 5th March.
A surprise move in issue 53, 15th January, was the return of `Will O’ the Well`. This time it was as a picture strip. Personally, I felt it was a bad move as the imaginative text stories could never be matched in my opinion by pictures and it ran for only seven issues to No 59, 5th March 1966.
Early 1966 saw two `fun pals` now depart for good. Issue 55 , 29th January, saw the very final `Minnie-Ha-Ha` fun strip and issue 59, 26th February, was the final departure of `Flubberface`.
Issue No 56, 12th February 1966 gave readers an even shorter duration strip than `Will `O the Well`; `Pocahontas`. It was the supposedly true tale of the daughter of a Red Indian chief and her encounters with early `new world` settler Adam Smith. This not too enthralling – for me - affair lasted just five issues to No 60, 12th March 1960.
Issue No 57, 19th February, saw the return of the three page `Lonely Wood` strip, but this was very much a `blink and you’ll miss it` affair, only lasting all of three issues to No 59, 5th March. Surely, one of the briefest ever runs of an adventure strip! Issue 57 also saw the `Pansy Potter` strip rested to issue No 80 in late July 1966.
Sales must have been still struggling in early 1966 and so another two weeks of free gifts and new stories began on issue No 60 dated 12th March. Again, Television
adverts, Newsagent displays and `fliers` were utilised to publicize another promotion, though this one not of the same size of that of September 1965.
Here now, is the line up of issue No 60.
SPARKY No 60. (12th March 1966, 5d)
Above the title of the comic it announced the free gift inside: `The Sparky Spinner`. This was a plastic wheel that spun on a plastic stick, with thread and could fly if operated correctly.
`The Moonsters` The Moonsters hold a funfare.
Pages 4 & 5
New story-`Seven at One Blow` This was the loose adaptation of the old tale of the Tailors apprentice.
`Winnie the Witch`
Pages 8 & 9
New story- `Huffy, Muffy and Tuffy`. This strip was the `updated` version of``The Three Bears` (Not! The `Beano comic strip) from Dandy comic circa 1938/39. It featured the adventures of three South American bears. They dwelt at the foothills of the
. This strip was in the style of `Wee Tusky` and `Kipper Feet`. Artist was also Jack Monk. Andes Mountains
`Write to Sparky`
Top two thirds is an illustrated ad for next weeks `Crack-Bang!` free gift. The bottom third of the page is a preview of next weeks new story, `Children of the Secret Pool`.
Pages 12 & 13
New Story-`City Under the Sea` The futuristic adventures two children who are part of the community of an undersea city.
`Cuckoo in the Clock`
Pages 16 & 17
`Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora` Dave and Dora are in television advertising world.
Pages 18 & 19
`Pocahontas` This was the adaptation of the meeting between new world explorer Adam Smith and Pocahontas who was the daughter of a red Indian chief.
Pages 20 & 21
`Goldie` The adventures of a golden eagle. Goldie was the `pet of sorts` to Steve and Betty Martin.
`The Slowdown Express`
Top ¾ `Sparky`. Bottom ¼ Three panel ads for next weeks free `Crack-Bang!` gift (left panel) and new story `Children of the Secret Pool` (middle panel). The right panel was a showcase of the comic’s fun characters.
Here is the list of new strips (and those departing) over issues 60 and 61. As with issue 35 and 36 in September 1965, the turnover is of adventure strips: no `fun pals` affected. It wasn’t such a big overhaul as the 1965 changes with no change to the Sparky logo.
New Strips Introduced Issues 60 & 61, 12th & 19th March 1966.
`Seven at one Blow` (2 Pages)
`Huffy, Muffy and Tuffy` (2 Pages)
`City under the Sea` (2 Pages)
`Children of the Secret Pool` (2 Pages)
`Pocahontas` (2 Pages)
`The Year of the Vanaks` (2 Pages)
`Will O’ the Well` (2 Pages)
`Quest of the Wandering Wingate’s` (2 Pages)
First of the new stories were `Huffy, Muffy and Tuffy` the updated 1938/39 Dandy comics `The Three Bears` which was in the same vein as `Wee Tusky` and `Kipper Feet` and drawn by the same artist, Jack Monk. It did not appeal to me at all. `Huffy, Muffy and Tuffy` were three bears (where have I heard that title before?) who lived in the foothills of the
Andes Mountains. Their `adventures` were every bit as daft as `Wee Tusky` or `Kipper Feet`. They departed in issue No 74, 18th June 1966.
Then there was `Seven at One Blow` the adaptation of the tale of the tailor’s apprentice, which also began in issue 60. Peter Pretzel (who thought that name up!?) who made his fortune by his wits rather than brawn. Many of the `ruses` or `ploys` he came up to beat his opponents or to solve a problem seemed utterly ludicrous to me even in 1966 let alone reading it now. One example is where Peter (who wishes to marry a Princess – as you do!) is ordered by her father (The King) to remove a mountain that blocks the view on one side of the castle, overnight! How does our hero do this? Simple, he plants a few gold coins in the soil in the foothills and by a ruse gets the greedy townsfolk to dig the whole mountain up, in one night. Is it any wonder I soon lost interest in the strip. It ran to issue No 72 date 4th June.
Best of all of the new strips commencing in issue 60, and occupying the centre pages in full colour, thus demoting `Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora` once more to two black and white pages, was `City under the Sea`. This futuristic tale featured John and Janet Lowe who lived in a great underwater metropolis we presume was in the near future, that was the centre of a huge fish-farm. The children assisted their father in his duties at the `farm` having many exciting undersea adventures.
This strip was very similar in artwork to the `Year of the Vanaks` strip the previous year, and similar to that story, most enjoyable. There were some very inventive episodes such as the time that huge rocks started raining down upon the huge domed enclosure. Investigating this seemingly impossible phenomenon it was discovered the reason was a fleet of colossal icebergs that had floated south and over where the dome was situated. The bergs it was surmised were once part of a huge glacier and part of their bulk was made of trapped rocks and stones that are gathered up when glaciers move slowly cutting a swathe through the land. The warmer southern seas were now melting the icebergs slowly to release their `cargo` of rocks upon the people below.
Sometimes the episodes were very far fetched such as one story which featured a tremendous tussle between a huge sea serpent and an enormous giant squid! Reading it today, the science of many of the stories is pretty suspect, but it is still a very enjoyable tale. It had a good run of 20 issues to No 79, 23rd July 1966. When it
finished, `Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora` then returned to the middle pages (in full colour).
In the second issue of the new stories / free gift promotion, No 61 dated 19th March, began another intriguing story. This was `Children of the Secret Pool`.
Young Jack and Jill Hardiman’s parents had been killed in a car crash in
(where they lived), and the two toddlers were sent to an orphanage. Scotland
Undaunted, the grandfather returned at night and took the children. He took them to his home in the mountains. There, he told the children that the waters of the pool and stream that ran past his home had special qualities. Over the weeks, the children bathed and drank the waters. Like their grandfather, they became super fit and robust. They had many exciting adventures. Edward Drury was the artist on this strip.
It does read in print as a dubious story and child abduction no matter how benign the intent is today not good subject matter for a comic strip, but in actuality it was pretty innocent. But, to stress a point I don’t think such a story would ever see publication these days. It ran to issue No 76 dated 2nd July 1966.
Issue No 62, 26th March, saw the first serious animal story since 1965’s `Watch`. This one was titled `Rory, the Horse of Many Masters`. It was set in early 20th century, 1900 to be precise. It told the story of `Rory` a horse that swapped ownership many times. His first owner, Farmer Charles Oakham decided he preferred the new `horseless carriages` (Cars! To the uninitiated) and sold Rory.
Some of his owners were kind, other-not so! I didn’t recall much of this strip when first reading it in 1966 and have had to catch up on it when getting the comics again. The story is a series of vignettes as the horse, `Rory` goes through various owners finally ending back with Charles Oakham who had become disillusioned with motorised transport. It never stuck in my memory first time around so it couldn’t have been very special. It ran to 18th June 1966, issue 74. It was drawn by George Radcliffe.
Issue No 63 dated 2 April 1966, introduced the first new `fun pal` since 1965. This was `Fireman Fred` who was drawn by artist Bob Webster who drew `Joe Bann and `Slowdown Express` strips.
Fred was a very enthusiastic, but hopelessly inept fireman who for example, the extinguishing of a burning match would have likely led to a catastrophic conflagration of `great fire of
` proportions! The strip was very dynamic with many crashes, bangs, and assorted mayhem. It was a wonder there were any buildings left untouched in Fred’s city/town. One lovely panel came in the episode where Fred and his fellow fire fighters? Were lining up for inspection by the regional fire chief. As well as the sight of Fred, there was a very `goofy` fellow, a right scruffy individual, an utterly too short specimen and a literal `knuckle London
dragger-quite Neanderthal! It was a most underrated strip which deserves revaluation today.
`Fireman Fred`, was a regular weekly strip until mid 1967 issue 127, 24th June. It popped back for two weeks 15th & 22nd July 1967, issues 130 & 131, and then it was gone for good.
Issue No 73 dated 11th June, saw a rather strange entry titled `Boy in the
`. This told of a feral boy (name never given) who experienced hostility from forest creatures as he tried to make a home there. Eventually `Boy` befriended the animals and settled with them. The story seemed to be set in the 1920s by the look of it. I must admit it is a rather bizarre story to me as readers were given absolutely no clues as to why the lad wanted to live in such a way, or any background to him. It ran to issue No 83, 20th August 1966 and was drawn by George Radcliffe. Forest of Fear
The following week in issue No 84 it was replaced, in a very unusual move, by a one-off complete story titled `Prentice Pete` which I think was drawn by Andy Tew. Pete was an incredibly thick workmate to a builder and was more hindrance than help. Though just a single week offering this time, `Pete` would return in spring 1967 for a longer run.
Back-dating a little now, and replacing `Rory, the Horse of many Masters` on 25th June 1966 (issue 75) was a new character who would become quite a firm `Sparky` favourite over the next few years. This was `Big Klanky` drawn by Bob Webster for this, and his second run in 1967. This initial series of the two page strip was titled `Big Klanky`. Subsequent outings were reduced to just `Klanky` thereafter.
Klanky had been sent to Earth by his creators (who were not shown to readers in this initial series) to `help mankind`. This he did most ably, often thwarting various wrongdoers in his adventures. He befriended the Huggins family, in particular youngsters Ernie and Sis. It was they who gave him the name `Klanky` due to the klanking noise he made as he walked.
The first two episodes (which were at three pages length) were a little more serious in tone as the authorities tried to deal with what at first seemed an indestructible menace. Klanky was impervious to everything `thrown` at him; rather in the same manner as Victor comics “The Smasher” robot – (of course, not to be confused with the `Dandy` comic fun character) which was an indestructible `killer` robot. Klanky though turned out to be most friendly and the strip then became very much lighter in tone from the third episode onward (now at just two pages).
Klanky was very powerful and almost indestructible. Most of his adventures with his adopted `masters` the Higgins family were themes where he often thwarted wrongdoers or sometimes when enemy foreign agents wanted to kidnap him.
The Klanky strip did sometimes become repetitive; but never on the scale of tediousness that the comics updated `Invisible Dick ` strip conveyed. This first series ran to issue No 87, 17th September 1966. Klanky would return a number of times over the next few years with his real identity revealed in series three in 1969.
Another animal based story beginning in issue 75, 25th June 1966 was `Police Horse Hadrian` drawn by Andy Tew. This was about a horse `Hadrian` who trained to be a police horse. His owner, Farmer’s daughter Joan, couldn’t afford to keep Hadrian and sold him to the Police. His trainer/rider, P.C Don Harper, taught Hadrian all he could about being a successful Police horse. It is another story that I just don’t recall from 1966 and have had to `catch –up` on it recently, which says a lot! It too ended on issue 85.
Another `fun pal` now said a final farewell as Issue No 76, 2nd July 1966 was the final `Hockey Hannah` outing. `Joe Bann and his Big Banjo` took a long rest (over a year) from issue 77, 9th July 1966 to No 138 on September 9th 1967.
The summer of 1966, 9th July, issue 77 introduced `The Balloon Family Robinson` Set in the 19th century, it told of the Robinson families adventures in their wooden home that was held aloft by hydrogen balloons. It ran to issue 85, September 3rd 1966. It would return (very briefly) in 1967. Tony Speer was the artist.
As stated earlier, the `Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora` strip continued in its wonderfully surreal way. They actually met most of their fellow `Sparky` pals in one mid 1966 adventure which was very interesting. Later in 1966, James Malcolm joined those who drew the strip. His first story saw the twins encounter intelligent Loch
Ness monsters! Sadly, many of the James Malcolm stories never seemed, at least to me, anywhere as inventive as those `Dave and Dora` entries by his fellow artists who drew the strip in rotation with him.
Issue No 80, 30th July 1966 now saw the arrival of a truly mind bending new `fun pal` namely `Granny Cupp and her Flying Saucer`. This was a two page `fun` strip and even in a surrealistic comic such as Sparky this was firmly at the very outer limits of weird premise conceived for such fun strips.
One day a flying saucer (from Mars) landed in Granny Cupps garden, it was having control trouble. The Martians were rather robotic looking, but quite friendly and most grateful for Grannie’s help.
While the Martians carried out repairs, Granny served the creatures cups of tea with cake and biscuits. The craft was soon repaired and the friendly fellows headed by their Emperor left Granny the Emperors own small personal saucer in gratitude. The saucer had many devices which helped Granny quite a bit, and got her into some scrapes too in a series of very, very batty adventures for her and her pet cat `Snowball`.
The artwork I thought seemed rather sparse and took some getting used to (artist unknown) but once you got used to the style of drawing it was actually rather quaint and did complement the strip. Granny finished her ride in issue 85, 3rd September 1966, but she would return in summer 1967.
No 80 also saw the return of the `Pansy Potter` strip which was now a full page offering. Both Bill Hill and Bob Webster now took turns at drawing the strip until Bob Webster took sole duties from late 1966 onward. Webster then began to bring in Pansy’s mom and dad more over the next few years (Bill Hill hardly ever
featured her parents). By 1969 Bob Webster really got into his stride with `Pansy` making it one of the highlights of the comic from that period.
Another old character also returning to the comic after dropping out back in issue 29 on 7th August 1965, was `Nosey Parker`. He returned in issue No 83, 20th August 1966. The strip would rota in that many Sparky artists took turns on it, losing something in continuity to my eyes. Two whose style I recognise, were Albert Holroyd and Michael Barrat. It would sometimes only be a half page strip as it was in every 1965 outing; but at many instances expanded to a full page, especially in early 1967.
The comic certainly went through a heavy turnover of stories, both semi-serious and purely fun strips in 1966. It seemed to be struggling for continuity in its effort to garner a loyal readership and it must have still been struggling to improve circulation. Hence, by September 1966 yet another two weeks of free gifts and new stories was offered to readers in a bid to increase sales. Once more, Telly ads, newsagent displays and `fliers` came in to play, all paid for by D.C Thomson in another effort to publicise their new promotion.
As this was again not deemed one of the more radical re-jigs to the comic there was no logo change again this time. Anyhow, here is the line up for issue No 86 dated 10th September 1966, which was the first of the two weeks minor re-launch.
SPARKY No 86. 10th September 1966, 5d
Top of page announces the free gift of the `Tweek-Squeak` balloon.
`The Moonsters` The moon creatures hold a fun-fare.
Pages 3, 4 & 5 (this week only)
New story `My Grockle and Me` Young Jimmy Johnson receives a large egg posted by an uncle residing in
Africa. He warms it in the oven and it hatches out into a small dragon-like creature which makes the noise “Grockle”. Deciding to name it Grockle, Jimmy keeps it as it grows to the size of a small horse. I didn’t know at the time that this was an updated 1920s `Rover` comic strip called `Jimmy Johnson’s Grockle`. I consider this George Drysdale’s best work in the comic.
Top half, `Pansy Potter` Bottom half, `Nosey Parker`.
Pages 8 & 9
New story, `Willie the Woeful Wizard`. This was the fun adventures of the court wizard to the king of Pom. It was a truly superb offering.
`Write to Sparky`
Advert for next weeks free gift, the `Bizzy Buzzer` plus a preview of next weeks new story, `Nine Hundred Years Ago`.
Pages 12 & 13
`Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora` Now back in the centre colour pages, the couple visit `
`. Census Land
Pages 17, 18 & 19
New story `Terry Had a Little Pig` What I do recall of this was that it was very dull indeed to me.
Pages 20 & 21
`Big Klanky` Klanky has been sent to earth by his masters to aid humanity. He aids the Huggins family which is a start.
`Winnie the Witch`
`Cuckoo in the Clock`
Top ¾ `Sparky`. Bottom ¼ of page is another preview of next weeks `Bizzy Buzzer` free gift and `Nine Hundred Years Ago` new story.
Here is a list of the strip turnover / changes of the weeks of 10th and 17th September. For the first time a new `fun pal` strip was introduced in these changes, this was My Grockle and Me`.
New Strips Introduced, Issues 86 & 87, 10th & 17th September 1966.
`My Grockle and Me` (2 Pages)
`Willie the Woeful Wizard` (2 Pages)
`Terry Had a Little Pig` (2 Pages)
`Nine Hundred Years Ago` (2 Pages)
`Prentice Pete` (2 Pages)
`Granny Cupp and her Flying Saucer` (2 Pages)
`Balloon Family Robinson` (2 Pages)
`Police Horse Hadrian` (2 Pages)
The `Willie the Woeful Wizard` strip was not especially unique as magic based stories were common in fun comics, but the artwork and plots were just superb! Bill Mainwaering drew it to finely detailed precision, which very much complemented the surreal flavour of the storylines. I can honestly state, that in my opinion Bill Mainwaerings artwork on the `Willy` strip is the finest I have ever seen in any `fun` comic.
Willie was a tall thin, wiry bespectacled fellow who had long blond hair and slightly prominent teeth. He had a rather `scatty` personality and often got himself into awful muddles. Early on in his adventures he got around on a broomstick which was most unwizard like until he acquired a second hand magic carpet from one `Genie Kelly`.
Willie worked for the king in the land of `Pom`. He carried out many varied tasks which presented readers with wonderfully innovative storylines. His magic didn’t always go as planned, otherwise the `scrapes` he got into would have never happened! Of course, when things really mattered, Willy always came through.
The individual stories that consisted of the 31 week run were usually either three or four episodes long, apart from one of five parts and another of just two.
Willie’s first task was to acquire some dragons to help Pom fight off their aggressive neighbour’s army. Pom’s enemy was the nation of Quagar which was ruled by a czar who had visions of conquest. Willie needed help from the `With it Witch` who sent him on an errand before she would help him. It was while on the errand for the witch that Willie first encountered `Genie Kelly` (an actual genie who lived in a tree) they became friends.
The next adventure saw Willy under orders to cheer the people of Pom up a bit by the king (who didn’t like sad faces) Sadly, Willie’s spell misfired and everyone (including the king and Willie himself) couldn’t stop laughing! Willie needed help from a young pretty maiden called `Ally Lulia` before he set things to right. She too became a good friend. Part of the story saw very daring references to 1960s drug culture by mentioning `Junk` being smoked and `Mescalweed` which was a thinly disguised reference to the actual hallucinogenic drug, Mescaline; very daring indeed!
Next up was the `Bongovian Cup Competition` where Willie encountered old enemy, one `Aldofini` who was court wizard to the Czar of Quagar. Willy entered the competition hoping to win the cup for Pom and put one over on the czar of Quagar whose entrant was the villainous `Adolfini`.
Unfortunately for Willy the union of magicians realised he had used up his quota of magic for the year and withdrew his powers! Willy made his way to Bongovia after entering the `
Palm Court hotel which was a mirage.
Willy rode an imaginary camel he hired at the hotel but it disappeared once he forgot to believe in it! He finally made it to Bongovia but his chances at the
competition were hopeless with no powers. Seeing Willy’s plight the evil Adolfini ordered his henchmen to abduct Willy out in the desert and kill him. Luckily for Willy, the king of Pom on hearing how his powers were `taken away` ordered the magicians union on point of execution to restore them.
With his powers restored Willy duly won the competition but Adolfini went and stole the cup from under his nose.
The next story went into outer space where Willie and the court scientist, flew by rocket to the planet `Pars` to search for a rare metal needed for Pom’s Marmalade mining process. Willie once more encountered the evil Aldofini on Pars. The evil Adolfini was forcing the Partians to work for him. Happily, Willy freed them and a grateful people gave him as much metal as he could carry.
We next see Willie tasked to fetch back royal princess Sophie for an arranged marriage from her finishing school in `Twitzerland` only, Sophie wants no part in it. This story featured some very funny scenes involving a giant and a crooked innkeeper, both of who had stolen Willie’s flying carpet and tried to ride it with disastrous results. Both the `With it Witch` and `Ally Lulia` appeared in this story.
The next tale was that of a `Slimming Potion` for the king. The King of Pom is fed up of being so fat, but can’t keep to a diet, so he orders Willie to make him a slimming potion. Knowing his own shortcomings with such concoctions, Willie wisely tests it out on the royal elephant first. He is right to as though the elephant certainly loses weight it doesn’t decrease in size at all! In fact, the poor pachyderm floats up into the sky, taking its keeper along for the ride.
Willie gives chase on his flying carpet and soon catches them up. Eventually the elephant’s weight begins to come back and it floats down into the crater of an extinct volcano. This is inhabited by Henry the Horrible Hermit who resents `intruders` and begins lobbing rocks at Willie and friends. Thanks to the elephant,
Henry is repulsed and with another dose of the potion, Willie floats the elephant back to Pom. He finds that the king has paced up and down so much in worry that he has lost enough weight this way to satisfy him.
Perhaps the lesser of Willie’s adventures, this tale of a flying elephant and an unfriendly hermit, perhaps didn’t quite come off.
My favourite was the next story, the task for Willie to find `Old Tom’s Almanac`. The sheer levels of surrealism in this particular story were awesome and it has been one of my very favourite tales of all time.
The story commenced with the naughty `With it Witch` who was holding Willie’s friend, Ally Lulia` hostage (because Ally could not locate the tome) and would only let her go if Willy could locate the Almanac. For this, he had to climb an Indian rope to a land above the clouds (called `Nohow` land) to a library set in the cloudbanks which held the book. Here, he encountered old friend `Genie Kelly` again and both set out on the task.
`Old Tom` who compiled the book was a giant who enjoyed Wizards and Genies for breakfast which was a bit of a problem for both and they barely escaped his clutches. Another obstacle was the dreaded `Seven headed Serpent` whose gaze turned all those it looked upon to treacle! Willie’s reflective glasses turned the serpent’s glare back on itself and it ended up as a sort of `treacle pudding`.
With aid from `Genie Kelly` Willie gained the Almanac where it was held in a library up in the cloudbanks and freed `Ally Lulia`. The concept of another world (`Nohow land`) above and amongst the clouds was truly innovative indeed and quite superbly realised by Bill Mainwearing’s delightful artwork.
The final adventure was in two sections. The first four episodes began with the streets of Pom troubled by the nasty `Van-Dal` ` Hooly Gan` and their gangs of `beat hicks`. Though Willy put temporary paid to their ways a permanent answer was needed. Hence, Willy goes on another mission on advice from the `With it Witch` to get `Doraymee` seeds which would cure the troublemakers for good.
On his journey, Willie encounters `Prince Vince` who is being sent on impossible tasks by a Caliph whose daughter he wishes to marry. Willy helps all to a happy resolution and gets his Doraymee seeds. Unknown to Willy a great change has come over `Van-Dal` and `Hooly Gan` who are now married and have become solid citizens. A wandering minstrel, one `Robin Cupid` gave the louts some rather magical advice and they married and settled down. Due to a mishearing of partial conversations, Willy thinks `Robin Cupid` has replaced him and leaves the
with all his possessions in belief that he is of no more use. kingdom of Pom
The final two episodes see Willy encounter wandering knight Sir Hardy of Bongovia, whose king had sent him on a task to catch a `Snole` for the Bongovian zoo. Hardy rescued a dozing Willy from one of these fierce fellows and the two became friends. Snoles, by the way, are a sort of cross between a grizzly bear and a crocodile...the mind boggles!
Back at court, the `With it Witch` asks for Willie’s job which puzzles the king. It then becomes clear that Willy has left on a misunderstanding and the king is distraught. Robin Cupid and postman `Jeepio` set out to search for him.
Meantime, and after Willy has rescued Sir Hardy from a whole bunch of `Snoles` they come across Robin Cupid and Jeepio and all is explained. Willy heads back to court to a tumultuous reception!
Just wonderful! The whole series was a wonderful tour-de-force in surrealism and innovative storylines. But; after seven months, or to be more precise, 31 weeks, that was it for Willy; gone, never to return! It is one of the most puzzling decisions in the comic’s history; or perhaps, am I really the only reader who adored the strip?
As I stated earlier, in the second story the strip actually got away with a couple of drug references in that segment of the story by mentioning a character smoking `Junk` and `Mescalweed`(a nod to Mescaline) which was incredibly daring for a children’s comic. The strip often put in references to present day culture and `pop` songs for readers to spot which gave it a very topical flavour.
Characters such as the `With it Witch` (who played a modern day electric guitar) and `Genie Kelly` (only film musical buffs will catch on to the association of that name) inhabited his world. There was `Ally Lullia` a pretty young lady who aided Willy on some occasions. The local postman was called Jeepio (G.P.O). The king of Pom was a portly fellow of uneven temper. At times, he jailed Willy, once on point of execution. Under this `crusty` exterior though, he actually liked Willy a lot and was awfully upset on thinking Willy had gone forever in the final story.
Yes! I adored this strip with its delightfully bizarre nature and wrote my first letter to the comic in March 1967 saying how much I enjoyed it. The result being the following month (8th April 1967), issue No 116, was that the strip ended forever. Ah well, So much for reader feedback.
The week of 10th September 1966 saw the introduction of another updated old fun strip that I mentioned earlier; titled `My Grockle and Me`. Jimmy Johnson grew Grockle from an egg sent to him from an uncle in
Africa. Grockle had an amazing appetite, even eating metallic objects, he even drank petrol with apparently no ill effects. `Grockle` acquired his name from Jimmy by the `Grockling` grunting noises he frequently uttered.
Grockle was prone to bouts of temper, often belching out flame when in a fit of pique; he was also very accident prone, but had a certain level of intelligence. Grockle often got into fights with other creatures, once even badly beating up a Lion! He was a loving pet to Jimmy and, when things very occasionally went well; could be very helpful to him.
At the time I had no idea this was a contemporary version of the old 1920s `Rover` and `Dandy`(1937-39) comic strip, `Jimmy Johnson’s Grockle`. It was a very enjoyable fun strip which ran to the big overhaul of September 1967, issue No 140. It featured some of artist George Drysale’s best work.
The other new adventure strip, which was more serious in tone, was titled `Nine Hundred Years Ago` commenced in issue No 87, 17th September. It was set just before the battle of
. A convoluted plot saw the blacksmith Father of Mildred and Edgar jailed by King Harold’s men. The children were made homeless and worked their way to Hastings to try and raise help!? (I know! It is `most` confusing). France
Anyway, it cumulated in William the Conqueror winning at
and freeing the children’s Father. As well as confusing, it was rather dull to me; but saved somewhat by artist Bill Mainwaerings superb work on it. `Nine Hundred Years Ago` ran to issue 94, 5th November 1966. Hastings
`Terry had a Little Pig` another Andy Tew drawn strip and the last of the September 1966 intake was, for me, an awfully tedious affair indeed. Terry Hicks won a small pig at a garden fete (as you do!) the strip outlined his efforts to keep the pig a secret from his perceived, disapproving parents. This too ended in November 1966, the 26th issue 97 to be precise, and not a moment too soon.
Also in September 1966 the first` Sparky Book` with cover date 1967` was issued (all D.C Thomson annuals were dated for following year by mid 1960s). The Sparky books were actually compiled more than a year in advance of the year they came out which meant that in some years, particularly in the 1970 book, the strips in the books had ceased in the weekly comic more than a year before!
The fun animal based adventures strips such as `Wee Tusky` and `Kipper Feet` were represented in this first Sparky book, but the only one of the more serious in tone adventure strip to feature in it was `Floating Along, Singing a Song`. This was titled in the book `The Canal Kids` the name the children called their musical group in the comic strip.
The first Sparky book had 128 pages with 48 of them in full colour. It is not too common today, but isn’t as expensive as either the `Dandy` or `Beano` annuals 1967. The cover features the `Moonsters` Fire Brigade and is light blue in colour.
Here is the line up of the first Sparky book.
Sparky Book 1967, Contents.
`The Canal Kids` (this was titled `Sailing Along, Singing a Song` in the comic)
`Jeff Ye Jolly Jester`
`Dotty Daydream` # (This was a non-comic story, only appearing in the Sparky book.)
`Freddie the Fearless Fly`
`Young Ben` # (text and another non-comic story)
`Winnie the Witch`
`The Slowdown Express`
`Dolly Dimple` # (another non-comic strip)
`McGinty the Goat`
`Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora`
`Joe Bann and his Big Banjo`
`Will O’ the Well` (text)
`Cuckoo in the Clock`
` # (non-comic adventure strip) Wilsons
The # sign by a strip means that the strip never featured in Sparky comic, only the book.
Back to the comic itself and Issue No 88, 24th September 1966 saw `Dreamy Dave and Dozy Dora` bumped off the centre pages again (back to two B&W pages) to make way for the adaptation of Pegasus the winged horse titled `The Horse With Wings`.
It was a fairly interesting and enjoyable strip which certainly took some wild `flights of fancy`. Two episodes featured the lost continent of Atlantis whose citizens had devised weapons more advanced than 20th century technology. They were most warlike indeed and had made plans to conquer the rest of the world. The planet was saved from their warlike ways when the continent of Atlantis was destroyed by a huge earthquake, with our heroes escaping astride Pegasus just in time. Another couple of rather way out episodes featured a creature called a `Chimera` which was half lion, half dragon, and which was quite a sight to behold. The strip lasted to issue 106, 28th January 1967 and was drawn by Edward Drury, whose style of artwork looked very effective in full colour.
The final `fun pal` departures of the year, and for good, now occurred; these two old pals now departed in quick succession. They were `Jeff Ye Jolly Jester` who bowed out in issue 89, 1st October, followed shortly by `Freddie the Fearless Fly` in the 15th October issue, No 91, gone, never to return.
In late 1966 a popular adventure strip character that would have three series in Sparky circa 1966 to 1969, was introduced. This first outing was titled `Little Davey Spacer`. It commenced in issue 95 dated 12th November 1966. The first two series were loosely based on Jonathan Swifts “Gulliver’s Travels” with Davey as a sci-fi Lemual Gulliver.
Davey West was a pilot for the Earth space fleet in the year 2084. Earth forces had battled with the `Invaders from the Rim` (I presume this meant the `Galactic rim`) in the region of the solar system close to the planet Saturn; and Davey’s ship was
badly damaged. He had to eject from the crippled ship and bodily landed on a small asteroid that readers learned was called `Astera` and populated by six inch tall peoples called the `Asterites`
The Asterites looked human enough except for their elongated, pointed heads, which made it awkward for their Emperor who wore a crown! `Astera` was in orbit around Saturn. The Asterites mostly lived inside its honeycombed interior and had progressed to creating quite a civilised society.
Davey was `sort of’ captured by the six inch high Asterite populace who could not be sure whether the unconscious giant might be hostile, or not. As with Gulliver, he was secured to the ground by many ropes. Once he regained consciousness Davey managed to persuade the Asterites that he was friendly and was released.
The Asterites then set up an oxygen supply for Davey to keep him alive. He was later joined by space dog, Puff` (whose very limited vocabulary was mostly based on the word “Boogle!”) who arrived in an egg that had floated on to Astera. Puff was a very friendly creature that resembled a poodle a little, except he had `three ears on top of his head rather like horns! Readers would only find out `Puff’s` world of origin in the `Davey Spacer` strip in the Sparky book dated 1970. Apparently it was “Planet Puffball” occupied by creatures similar to `Puff``. So, why on Earth was he floating in space in an egg then if he had a planet of origin? Oh well! never mind.
Anyway, back to the strip itself, and one Asterite who wasn’t at all friendly towards Davey was Rann Cid (I never twigged this name back in 1966) whose factory had been damaged when Davey landed. Rann Cid tried to kill Davey on more than one occasion. He even tried overthrowing the Emperor in order to get his way. Davey and Puff saw him off and he was jailed for life. Davey’s closest friends, apart from Puff, were `Gog` and `Yak` two redoubtable Asterites who Davey helped to construct an Asterian space fleet.
Davey then helped the Asterites when they were invaded by one of `The Raiders from the Rim` ships, the same raiders that Earth forces had been at war with. The `Invaders`, when they alighted from their craft, were three human sized intelligent chicken-like creatures who were more prone to firing their ray guns rather than peaceful contact. The hostile creatures led by their cruel commander Oswan, set about capturing the Asterites.
These three `Raiders` were soon driven off Astera but their full space fleet was set upon a massive battle with the Earth fleet. The Asterites and their new space ships aided the Earth forces by delivering (undetected as they were so small) limpet bombs to the raiders ships hulls, thereby eliminating the threat. A grateful Earth commander set up an alliance with Astera and towed the asteroid into orbit around the Earth. This first series ran to issue 107, 11th February 1967 and was very popular. I certainly enjoyed it a lot.
The strip `Island from the Past` commenced in late 1966 issue 98, 3rd December, it carried onto 18th February 1967, issue 109. It was the story of the island of Moa which had somehow reverted to prehistoric times with animals, plants and humans all de-evolved to that period.
Two modern day children, Hope and Rodney Murdoch became part of an expedition by their Grandfather who had first discovered the island many years before. It seems the island then sank and he only just got off it in time. Now it has `surfaced` all these years later and three generations of the family set out to re-discover it all over again. As luck would have it, they get temporarily shipwrecked there and the strip conveyed their adventures.
It was a most exciting premise for a story. The major drawback to the strip was what I regard as poor artwork that just does not do the story justice. As stated, it ended at issue No 109, 18th February 1967.
In the `Peter Piper` strip there was a change of artist through the year. The change was gradual with both original artist and newcomer rotating duties through spring / summer 1966. By late summer 1966 the new man took over full duties on the strip to autumn 1968. I can’t be certain, but I think this new artist was Bill Holroyd (Albert’s Brother) who drew the Peter Piper strip superbly in his tenure on it.
1966 had been certainly been a grim struggle by the comic for sales with two lots of free gift, and new story promotions. Despite such progressive offerings as `Willy the Woeful Wizard` `Klanky` and `Little Davey Spacer`, the comic was still looking somewhat archaic compared to the likes of `Wham` and `Smash` from rivals Odhams, and especially against City publications `T.V 21` offering. Even fellow stable mates `Dandy` and `Beano` seemed more contemporary in comparison. 1967 loomed ahead, would Sparky fare better?
EVENTS OF 1966.
In Politics the current Government (Labour) won an increased (to 96) majority in the general election held in March. The terrible Coal slag tip, Aberfan disaster occurred in October 1966, perhaps the most traumatic
disaster of the 1960s. Also harrowing were the details of the notorious “Moors Murders” as the trial of Ian brady and Myra Hidley unfolded. UK
Liverpool became league champions with Leeds Utd again second. FA cup winners were Everton who beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 in a thrilling final. Biggest soccer event was that year’s world cup which England won on home soil beating 4-2 after extra time. West Germany
In formula one, due to new rules on engine litre classification, 1961 champion, Jack Brabham regain the title. Graham Hill won the
500 in 1966. Indianapolis
UK singles seller was by Tom Jones at year’s end with the only million plus seller, “The Green, Green Grass of Home” Biggest selling UK LP was the soundtrack to “The Sound of Music”. UK
It was the year when the “Dave Dee” group, “Spencer Davis” outfit, and the “Troggs” dominated the
singles charts. 1966 was a year of very influential LP releases such as The Beatles “Revolver” the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” and the first ever rock double, UK
Bob Dylan’s “Blond on Blond” set. Sadly October 1966 saw the deaths of Alma Cogan (Cancer) and Johnny Kidd (Car crash).
The Beatles curtailed touring after August that year, though never `officially` announcing they had. It didn’t stop media speculation by the close of 1966 that perhaps the group were no more!
Biggest US selling single was Sgt Barry Sadler’s pro Vietnam “The Ballad of the Green Berets” Biggest selling US LP was the debut eponymous “The Monkees” at over two and a half million sold to years end.
Also in the US towards years end, the word `Psychedelic` began cropping up in connection with experimental pop music, sometimes associated with the drug LSD.
Notable films were, “Dr Zhivago” “A Man for all Seasons” and “Alfie”
Interesting TV offerings were “Thunderbirds” Supernatural anthology “Mystery and Imagination” and the surreal adaptation by Jonathan Millar of “
in Wonderland”. On a darker note, a play highlighting the plight of the homeless “Cathy Come Home” actually caused questions in Parliament and a change in the laws on accommodation! Alice
colour television was introduced from the summer season causing the cancellation of many shows that couldn’t afford to film in colour such as long running western series “Rawhide” and horror spoof “The Munsters” US
In September 1966 on US TV both “The Monkees” and “Star Trek” debuted. Neither were truly high rating’s scorers but became very influential years later.
November saw the death of popular entertainer, Arthur Haynes from an unexpected heart attack.