Tag Archives: satire

➤ Mad man dies after skewering the American Dream and bequeathing us Alfred E Neuman

Al Feldstein , Mad magazine, Alfred E Neuman , comics, satire, American Dream,

Al Feldstein in 1972 © Photograph by Jerry Mosey/Associated Press

❚ THE CREATIVE GIANT WHO EDITED America’s most influential satirical magazine has died. From 1956 Al Feldstein took the circulation of Mad from 400,000 to a peak of 2,850,000, and spent 29 years not only making a young generation laugh but fearlessly challenging sacred cows and urging scepticism about the American Dream and its furshlugginer advocates (a not-Yiddish word invented for the purpose). One issue a few years ago contained contributions from ten Pulitzer-winning cartoonists. In creating an American institution, Feldstein paved the way for National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, South Park, The Onion – and for Britain’s Viz magazine, according to its editor Graham Dury, creator of the Fat Slags…

Al Feldstein , Mad magazine, Alfred E Neuman ,

Mad magazine’s trademark, the grinning gap-toothed Alfred E. Neuman created by Feldstein: as an American icon, he is the face of every cover star

➢ The soul of Mad magazine dies at 88 –
by Bruce Weber in the New York Times:

The founding editor, Harvey Kurtzman, established its well-informed irreverence, but Al Feldstein gave Mad its identity as a smart-alecky, sniggering and indisputably clever spitball-shooter of a publication with a scattershot look, dominated by gifted cartoonists of wildly differing styles.

In his second issue, Mr Feldstein seized on a character who had appeared only marginally in the magazine — a freckled, gaptoothed, big-eared, glazed-looking young man — and put his image on the cover, identifying him as a write-in candidate for president campaigning under the slogan “What, me worry?”
At first he went by Mel Haney, Melvin Cowznofski and other names. But when the December 1956 issue, No 30, identified him as Alfred E. Neuman, the name stuck.

He became the magazine’s perennial cover boy, appearing in dozens of guises, including as a joker on a playing card, an ice-skating barrel jumper, a totem on a totem pole, a football player, a yogi, a construction worker, King Kong atop the Empire State Building… Neuman signaled the magazine’s editorial attitude, which fell somewhere between juvenile nose-thumbing at contemporary culture and sophisticated spoofing… / Continued at NYTimes

Click any pic to launch slideshow

➢ He was not a warm and fuzzy guy –
David Colker in the LA Times:

The goofy, cartoon face of Alfred E. Neuman looked out from the cover of Mad magazine for decades in various guises, always with the same message: “What, Me Worry?”

“He looked like a boob, but he had a very interesting philosophy,” said Al Feldstein, who as editor built Mad from near-obscurity in the 1950s into a satirical powerhouse, “meaning no matter how bad things get, if you maintain a sense of humor, you can get through it.” Under Feldstein, who edited Mad from 1956 to 1984, the magazine skewered presidents, the Cold War, the tobacco industry, Madison Avenue advertising, Hollywood and numerous other targets. And its legacy from that time lives on.

“Basically, everyone who was young between 1955 and 1975 read Mad,” comedy writer/producer Bill Oakley said in the book The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History. “That’s where your sense of humor came from… / Continued in LA Times

Mad magazine, Alfred E Neuman, Lego issue ➢ Today, Mad is published by DC Entertainment – The latest issue No 526 is the Lego issue (right), after the number one movie in America.

➢ 15 things Mad magazine gave the world:

Comics in the 50s didn’t encourage people to question anything – everything was more about being pleasant and not rocking the boat. Mad came along and started picking holes in the American Dream, suggesting the products Americans were buying were crap, their leaders were clueless and that the people were being treated like dicks. These days everyone’s a cynical bastard, but Mad invented it… / Continued at Anorak online

➢ The UK edition of Mad Magazine, published by Thorpe and Porter, began in 1959 – Over the years there were a number of UK sourced covers and sometimes UK produced interior stories. View a few Mad UK covers from the 1970s with such topics as British Rail, Doctor Who, the Royal Family… even the long-running TV soap opera Coronation Street.

Mad magazine, Alfred E Neuman , comics

Feldstein’s spirit still alive and well in recent issues of Mad


➤ David Frost salutes TW3, the TV show that pioneered satire 50 years ago tonight

Hugh Carleton-Greene, David Frost, TW3, BBC, satire, 1960s,Private Eye, Bernard Levin, JFK, Christopher Booker, Millicent Martin,

Satirists on their firing range: at left, David Frost leads the TW3 team in the studio

❚ THE MOST INFLUENTIAL TV SERIES in British history – the lodestar for all future comedy, and more – won no fulsome retrospective from the BBC on its 50th anniversary today. Only a brief item on the Today show reminded us how the earth tilted at 10:30pm on this night in 1962 with the launch of TW3 – the adopted shorthand for That Was The Week That Was. New research reveals that this politically insolent television voice of Britain’s nascent satire movement attracted complaints by the thousand. “No other programme has so many files in its correspondence section,” we were told this morning by historian Morgan Daniels on the Today programme. What it had done, according to Private Eye’s first editor Christopher Booker in his landmark 1969 book The Neophiliacs, was finally to break free from the Presbyterian straitjacket of Lord Reith, the BBC’s founder. Within weeks pubs started emptying on Saturdays as the nation made a ritual of rushing home to catch TW3’s 37 broadcasts which grew an audience of 12 million in less than a year.

A galaxy of leading “Northern Realist” writers and national newspaper journalists contributed razor-sharp sketches and what little remains available on video makes today’s comedy seem lily-livered. TW3 made the career of Sir David Frost who was its “classless” front-man at the age of 23. Though many satirists say they achieve no lasting change, on tonight’s Loose Ends radio show, Frost insisted that satire does have a knock-on influence in its day, even if it may not reform legislation in the long term. TW3’s second series was curtailed on December 28, 1963, for fears it would unbalance the general election campaign of 1964.

Roy Kinnear, David Frost, Lance Percival, TW3, satire, 1960s

At the TW3 bar: Roy Kinnear, David Frost, Lance Percival

TW3 captured a zeitgeist unique to the 60s before they began to swing. Booker argued in The Neophiliacs: “It was a final drawing together of almost all those threads which had been working for ‘revolution’ and sensation in the England of the previous seven years.” [Namely, since the election of 1955 when slippage of the tectonic plates supporting Britain’s centuries-old class system saw the subsequent rise of the “unposh” intellectual and of John Osborne’s “angry young man”] … “[TW3] brought the destructive force of the satire craze to a mass audience.”

Britain was changing. Deference was on the way out, The Beatles were on their way in. The satire boom was in full swing…/ Continued inside

➢ Read on inside for a fuller analysis by Shapersofthe80s
of the 60s satire boom – plus a gallery of rarely seen images from TW3, and more vintage videos

❏ Year-ending round-up of TW3 highlights, Dec 1963 (above) – includes notorious Mississippi number with black-and-white minstrels in the week a white protester walking from Alabama to Jackson was shot dead by the road … The consumer guide to religion … Timothy Birdsall draws the Duke and Duchess of Eastbourne … MPs who have not spoken in Parliament are named and shamed … Bernard Levin harangues a pride of lawyers with their failings.

➢ Click through to compare and contrast the satirists of the 60s with the “alternative comics” of Alexei Sayle’s generation when they formed the Comic Strip – Analysis by Shapersofthe80s from 1980


➤ Happy golden anniversary to Lord Gnome, Glenda Slagg, Topes, O’Booze, Knacker, Knee and especially Gnome-Mart’s theme tune

Private Eye, First 50 Years,magazine covers,satire
❚ HOW ONE MAGAZINE has enriched a nation’s vocabulary over 50 years is evidenced by the enormous page at Wikipedia, detailing euphemisms for sex (“Ugandan discussions”) and drunkenness (“tired and emotional”), and the eternal cast of daft characters from public life, as headlined above.

October 25, 1961, saw the first issue of Private Eye as a silly-jokes threat to the ancient humourous periodical, Punch. The Eye was quickly given a worthy role by the nation’s thirst for incisive satirical critiquing of all aspects of the British Way of Life, the irony being that today the Eye itself has become an institutional beacon in the democratic process. As editor for the past 25 years, Ian Hislop’s best boast is that he is the most sued man in Britain, libel writs being substantially provoked by the rear-end pages of sound investigative journalism. Not a bad metamorphosis. Is it then churlish to mention that what some of us really, really miss are the hilarious sketches once enacted on 7-inch flexi-discs attached to the cover and given away with the Christmas issues? [See below]

➢ Private Eye’s own library of epochal covers

➢ Bags of Private Eye memorabilia as Creative Review previews the new V&A studio display paying homage to the magazine’s humourists

➢ Direct link to the V&A’s video and display Private Eye: The First 50 Years, running October 18 to January 8

Private Eye, First 50 Years,magazine covers,satire,humour
❏ Back in the 1960s the then new technology of offset litho encouraged cut-and-paste techniques such as the DIY speech balloon photograph (one Queen and a bevy of prime ministers, above). This didn’t stop the Eye from becoming a prominent outlet for the nation’s leading cartoonists (the Thompson effort below appears in the V&A display).
Private Eye, First 50 Years,satire,V&A exhibition,humour, cartoons


Private Eye, 50th anniversary, issue No 1300, Gnome-Mart,satire ➢ The Eye celebrates its 50th anniversary with issue No 1300 and at its website a page of unfunny audio recordings that simply don’t come close to the efforts 40 years ago of Peter Cook, Willie Rushton & Co.

➢ Update Nov 5: Fortunately The Grauniad has released an exclusive CD of classic audio sketches made by Private Eye legends Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron, Willie Rushton, John Wells and Richard Ingrams — 34 excerpts spread over 40 minutes include Grocer Heath, E J Thribb, Farginson, I Musicci di Neasden, Inspector Knacker and many more favourites.

➢ The full archive of Private Eye recordings made by Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Barry Humphries, John Wells, John Bird, Barry Fantoni, Richard Ingrams and Spike Milligan – plus rare photos, video clips and historical notes – can be found at privateeyerecords.com. The whole catalogue of Golden Satiricals is due for release on CD in January 2012.

➢ Whistleblowers and those with a social conscience can download past Eye investigations into subjects such as NHS whistleblowers; How Britain’s poverty relief fund abandoned the poor; full background to the ACTIS-CDC sell-off; How Blair’s government blew £12.4bn on useless IT for the NHS; deaths of four young recruits at the Deepcut army barracks, etc.

Private Eye, 50th anniversary, privateeyerecords, Gnome-Mart,satire,CD,Golden Satiricals


What larks! Festive fun and games and British ways to make merry

Bobbin’ about to the Fiddle ,Charles Williams, 1817,Thos Tegg,caricature, Almack’s,quadrille,dancing,Lady Jersey,

Bobbin’ about to the Fiddle — a Familly Rehersal of Quadrille Dancing, by Charles Williams, May 1817: published by Thos. Tegg No 111 Cheapside

❚ UNLIKE 21st-CENTURY DANCING, when the quadrille was introduced at Almack’s Assembly Rooms in 1815, its steps were notoriously difficult to perform correctly. This luxurious salon in King Street, St James’s — where the ballroom was partitioned off by crimson ropes — was governed by a committee of despotic lady patronesses who ruled over a “magic list” of those who may or may not be admitted to their weekly balls. Studio 54 had nothing on the power of these women: they effectively decided who belonged to “society”… “All on that magic list depends/ Fame, fortune, fashion, lovers, friends…/ Banished thence on Wednesday night/ By Jove you can do nothing right.

Yet even at Almack’s after Lady Jersey, wife of the 5th earl, brought the quadrille over from Paris as an energetic French precursor to traditional square dancing, wallflowers would sit sniggering as they watched the beau monde’s finest stumbling through the intricacies of its steps and twirls and changes of partner. The quadrille nevertheless soon became all the rage, so required determined practice.

Breeding counted for more than money at Almack’s and the prime role of the magic list was to exclude “cits”, precisely the kind of nouveau riche city-dwellers depicted above by caricaturist Charles Williams, in May 1817. This bourgeois family are preparing for their seaside vacation in Margate by practising their dancesteps at home.

The father is saying to the French dancing master: “I say, Mounseer Caper! Don’t I come it prime? Ecod, I shall cut a Figor!!” [ie, figure], and one of the daughters says “Law, Pa, that’s just as when you was drilling for the Whitechaple Volunteers — only look how Ma and I & sister Clementina does it!!” while the dancing master says “Vere vell, Sar, ver vell, you vil danse a merveille vere soon!” Nobody was spared from the satirist’s pen.

Tom Jerry and Logic, Making the Most of an Evening in Vauxhall,Vauxhall Gardens,George Cruikshank, Jonathan Tyers,Roger de Coverley ,Pierce Egan, Life in London,1821

Tom, Jerry, and Logic Making the Most of an Evening in Vauxhall: by Robert and George Cruikshank, from Pierce Egan’s Life in London (1821)

❚ FOR 200 YEARS THE VAUXHALL GARDENS were the most notorious and important of London’s many pleasure gardens, immortalised in Fielding’s novel Tom Jones by the description “where people come to undo others, and others come to be undone”. Vauxhall lay on the south bank of the Thames, up-river in a rural setting beyond London’s city limits, where the gardens opened before the Restoration of 1660 and closed finally with a fireworks display in 1859. Today all that remains is a small park bearing the name of the original Spring Gardens, while nearby streets do likewise for the enterprising proprietor, Jonathan Tyers, who from 1728 invested in enhancing the grounds so that in their heyday he could charge a guinea admission. (That would be £173 or $267 in today’s money!) He commissioned Roubiliac to make the great statue of the composer Handel for the gardens and added an orchestra pavilion, fountains and temples. Frederick Prince of Wales was his most prestigious patron.

Over several acres Tyers introduced formal plantings which offered attractive paved walks lit by thousands of glass lanterns in the arbours by night, and shrubberies for the making of mischief. Fireworks, hot-air balloon rides and circus performers provided entertainment along with music such as Handel’s from the bandstand.

Vauxhall Gardens, 1732,James Boswell, Dr Samuel Johnson,Rowlandson

Vauxhall, 1732, engraving after a watercolour by Thomas Rowlandson, published by Richard Powell: In the lower box is a supper party of James Boswell, Dr Samuel Johnson, Mrs Thrale and Oliver Goldsmith. Mrs Weichsel sings from the front balcony while Mr Barthelemon leads the orchestra (Princeton University Library)

Elegant painted booths afforded privacy while dining and the ornate Rotunda and other rococo pavilions became famous London attractions. An audience of 12,000 attended Handel’s Fireworks music at Vauxhall which brought together “persons of all ranks and conditions”. The 19th-century history of London Old and New observes “the English assert that such entertainments as these can never subsist in France, on account of the levity of the people”.

By 1712 Sir Roger de Coverley is supposed to have said that he’d have been a better customer to the gardens “if there were more Nightingales and fewer Strumpets.” So it was inevitable a century later that the rakish Tom and Jerry would pay their guinea for admission to Vauxhall. Their rip-roaring “sprees through the Metropolis” would one day give their names to Hollywood cinema’s cartoon cat and mouse, and in their own day they were no less famous.

“Jerry Hawthorn Esq, and his elegant friend, Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian” were young London clubmen created in 1821 by the sports-writer Pierce Egan in his monthly journal, Life in London, which became a runaway success. It was illustrated by the leading satirist of urban life George Cruikshank and its trio of hellraisers became contemporary pinups much copied by other engravers.

The topmost Cruikshank print is not among the best to record the showy splendour of Vauxhall Gardens but it is one of the few to locate Tom and Jerry, their journalist creator and the graphic satirist at London’s hedonist destination — five Regency legends in one image.

Twelfth Night,Isaac Cruikshank, Thomas Tegg,etching,parlour games

Twelfth Night by Isaac Cruikshank: published Jan 10 1807, by Thomas Tegg, Cheapside

❚ BEFORE TV RULED OUR LIVES, playing parlour games was how families amused themselves at the annual Christmastide gathering and Twelfth Night was the traditional day for games, merriment and feasting. The punch called wassail was the drink of choice, and in the Regency era a grand masqued ball often heralded an end to the solemnity of religious observance. Twelfth Night concludes the 12 days of Christmas and precedes the feast of the Epiphany on January 6 (though these dates vary under different sects of Christianity). It was not until the Victorians, influenced by the monarch’s Germanic roots, that we shifted celebrations to Christmas Day itself, which had previously been only a religious holiday.

Cruikshank’s hand-coloured etching from 1807 (above) shows three couples playing the traditional Twelfth Night game of acting out the character depicted on the tickets they have drawn from a bag held by a fat squire seated at left who sings the praises of “good old English customs”. Each ticket is inscribed with a portrait and description. Only two players are happy with their choice: on the left The Queen of Love has been drawn by a self-satisfied lady with a long nose, and on the right The Lovely Hostess by a jolly lady who smiles. The others have drawn unflattering or sarcastic tickets and regard them with expressions of dismay: the dandy in green is affronted by being perceived as a “man of fashion” while the fat woman in yellow has drawn “Miss Higginbottom” and remarks “Put in the bag on purpos to affront me I dare say”. We see a decorated Twelfth Night cake and candle on the side table.

Isaac Cruikshank is one of the four celebrated British illustrators (along with his son George, Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray) who established satirical caricature as a powerful medium of social comment at the dawn of the 19th century. The Private Eyes of yesteryear.

The Plumb-pudding in danger, James Gillray,  Humphrey, Library of Congress

The Plumb-pudding in danger: by James Gillray, published London H. Humphrey, 1805 Feby 26 (Library of Congress)

❚ PLUM PUDDING IS THE ESSENTIAL CONCLUSION to a traditional Christmas feast. It is made not from plums but dried fruit and for good luck every member of the family should have a hand in stirring the mix before it is steamed or boiled. Since medieval times, the pud has become as symbolic of Britishness as Britannia and John Bull. This political cartoon was drawn by James Gillray in 1805 as a response to one of the most traumatic periods in Britain’s history.

It is titled The Plumb-pudding in Danger and shows William Pitt, Britain’s youngest prime minister, wearing a regimental uniform and sharing a table with the French emperor, Napoleon. A plum pudding represents the world as a globe and each leader is carving himself a slice. Pitt takes possession of the seas with a slice considerably larger than Napoleon’s, who carves off Europe where the French are the dominant military power. The previous year war had been renewed between Britain and the First French Empire that had followed the Revolution of 1789 and a period of continual warfare. With Napoleon intent on invading Britain, Gillray produced many prints in which he imagined the horrors of a successful invasion. By 1805 a British naval blockade on France was successfully frustrating French sea-trade and naval retaliation, so that January the emperor sought a reconciliation with England. Presciently this cartoon was published only months before the decisive British naval victory in the Battle of Trafalgar.

W Belch,January,engraving, ice-skating,1810,Henry Raeburn,Coleridge,Georgian England

January, one of a series of prints depicting the months, c1810: printed, published & sold by W. Belch, Staverton Row, Newington Butts, London

❚ THESE YOUNG BUCKS ARE FLOUTING THE RULES of ice-skating in the Regency period. Among outdoors activities in Georgian England, skating was so hugely popular that the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge waxed exceeding florid in a prose essay about the pastime for The Friend magazine, where he noted “the melancholy undulating sound from the skate”. Inevitably society proposed “a proper attitude for genteel rolling”, the posture illustrated most famously in Sir Henry Raeburn’s painting of the Reverend Robert Walker, who as a member of the Edinburgh Skating Society is seen serenely gliding with arms crossed over his chest. Evidently, the two January bucks above were only too keen to flaunt their own style to catch the attention of their female admirers on the riverbank.

➢ The Republic of Pemberley and all things Austen
➢ 500 articles in an online magazine dedicated to Jane Austen’s Regency world


1980 ➤ Rik and pals detonate a timebomb beneath another kind of strip for Soho

On this autumn day 30 years ago, a handful of comics in their twenties broke free from the bear-pit formula of the Comedy Store, which had opened in London in 1979, modelled on its Hollywood precursor. These soon-to-be-famous clowns were angry with Britain’s complacency in the face of recession and decided to define a new kind of comedy. First news of the breakaway faction that would eventually make household names of French & Saunders, Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson and Alexei Sayle appeared in the Evening Standard’s On The Line page …

Comic Strip, Rik Mayall, Alexei Sayle,Michael White

First published in the Evening Standard, October 2, 1980

❚ SOHO HAS LONG ENJOYED A GOOD GIGGLE and now, cheek to cheek with the king of strip Raymond’s Revue Bar, the Comic Strip opens on Tuesday in the tiny Boulevard Theatre off Brewer Street. Billed as London’s “newest anarchic cabaret”, it could be called Son of the Comedy Store, a nightspot already well established as a Gong Show for would-be comedians.

“The Comic Strip’s going to feature the best of the Comedy Store and more,” explained Peter Richardson, one of a comedy duo called The Outer Limits, who are launching the enterprise with West End impresario Michael White (the man behind the musical Annie). “There was too much experimentation in the Comedy Store. We want to establish a certain standard at the Comic Strip.”

alternative cabaret,comedy, Soho, Comic Strip,1980,Rik Mayall

Angry Feminist Poet: Rik Mayall at the Comic Strip, Nov 1980. Photographed by © Shapersofthe80s

He and the comedians he has brought with him — including the Comedy Store’s acerbic compere, Alexei Sayle —believe the traumas of the 1980s have brought a sharper cutting edge to comedy comparable perhaps to the satire Germany fostered in the 30s. “Who wants to see Kafka on a stage when it’s all round us in real life? People want to laugh,” said Rik Mayall, one half of an act called 20th-Century Coyote. “There’s a growing interest in political cabaret too.”

This self-styled “alternative” comedy isn’t all heavy social comment by any means, its roots going back more to clowning. What these comics are attempting is deliberately to shake off the influence of the Footlights clan who have shaped British humour for the past 20 years. Mayall himself has a talent for the merciless lampoon. One of his sketches, a punk commuter lamenting his daily lot, is the funniest invention since John Cleese’s Ministry of Silly Walks.

Last weekend he and The Outer Limits were playing to packed houses at the Three Horseshoes, a pub theatre in Hampstead, as if to prove that alternative humour is booming. The Comic Strip promises a varied line-up which this month includes Pamela Stephenson from BBC-tv’s Not The Nine O’Clock News. Entrance will cost a flat £3.

➢ 1980, A new decade demands new comedy
— Birth of the Comic Strip