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Time to Remember: Golden age of Christmas kids' annuals.

Byline: Dan O'Neill

BROWSE through the kids' section of any bookstore today and you will come across what the trade calls Christmas annuals.

Do not be fooled. Annuals they ain't.

Apart from, perhaps, Rupert and the Dandy and Beano, these pathetic picture books, featuring prepubescents' pop idol pin-ups or soccer stars' publicity puffs or even, Gawd help us, Action Man and Barbie, these flimsy flip-throughs are to REAL annuals what Linda McCartney veggieburgers are to raw red beef.

A real annual weighed about three pounds and was always a cherished gift rather than a stocking-filling afterthought. One of the greatest of all was Chums Annual, about as big as a traditional Welsh Bible; a feast, as they say, of Fun, Adventure and Thrills which, if started on Christmas Day, might be finished by the following Christmas Eve.

Only nostalgic nonagenarians will recall getting Chums for Christmas. It was among the earliest annuals, offering everything from villains who might have been Ernst Blofeld's great grandpa bent on world domination, only a Boy's Own Bond to stop him, to a couple of kids flying round the Himalayas years before Orvil and Wilbur made it to Kittyhawk.

But well before Chums came the first annual of all - The Christmas Box - packed with tales of tragic orphans which the 16-year-old Dickens might have read. Bet he pinched Oliver and Little Nell from The Christmas Box, out in time for Christmas, 1823.

But the most famous of all, its very title giving us the eternal stiff-upper-lipped heroism, was the Boy's Own Paper - 588 pages trumpeting the glories of Empire and the superiority of all things English (not Welsh!). There were plenty of BOP clones, but the golden age of annuals arrived during the years between the wars. What a selection for small children: Playbox, Tiger Tim and Rainbow, Butterfly and Bubbles, anthropomorphism running amok asschoolcapped tigers and hippos worked away under the eye of Schoolteacher Dame Bear.

Older kids got Funny Wonder and Jester and Jingles and the venerable Chips, home for half a century for Weary Willie and Tired Tim, tramps whose name became part of the language, even used in the Commons as shorthand for workshy layabouts.

There were annuals based on newspaper strips, names that chime down the years: Bobby Bear, the Mail's Teddy Tail, Uncle Oojah, Japhet and Happy (Noah's kids), the Daily Mirror's Pip, Squeak and Wilfred - but of them all only Rupert still ambles around Nutwood 82 years after he first appeared in the Daily Express. The movies brought a rash of comics based on silent stars, but the great survivor was Film FunAnnual where you would find the immortal Laurel and Hardy (or Old Mother Riley) sitting over a turkey the size of an ostrich in the Hotel de Posh, little old Lord Loadsamoney waving wads of white fivers at the pair who had saved him from a pickpocket, while waiting to be scoffed, a perfectly spherical Christmas pudding topped by a sprig of holly.

Billy Bunter ambled through the pages of the Greyfriars Holiday Annual, but the starriest, the most desired of all annuals came from the D C Thomson stable and their names alone are enough to evoke that golden age. The Skipper Annual, Hotspur and Wizard, Rover and Adventure. Harry Potter never offered as much escapism.

Here were schools run by gangsters for the sons of gangsters and schools transported to far-off planets.

There was a Britain invaded by wasps the size of jumbo jets, there were invisible boys, boys who discovered magic lamps, soccer teams whose centre forwards were murdered at half time, and, of course, Wilson the Wonderman , the first three-minute miler.

And let's not forget the gor-illa who straps on six guns when his master is killed and goes off on thevengeance trail ...

You'd find 'em all in those DC Thomson annuals and, guess what, boys actually READ the stories - drawings were used in Knockout, a sadly blurred copy of the original.

Blurred copy? Just like the ``annuals'' you find today.

simply to illustrate them. Maybe the decline began when text went out and pictures came in. Or when annuals began to be based on pop stars and sportsmen. Can you believe theKylie Annual? Or, ughhh!, The Gazza Annual? They happened.

Dumbing down?

Over the years, for instance, Billy Bunter of the Holiday Annual's densely printed pages, became hero of a comic strip
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 19, 2002
Words:731
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