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Leo Baxendale and the Badtime Bedtime Books

I first got to know the name Leo Baxendale in 1976 when I was a small boy, and our parents bought for me and my brother (I think technically for my brother alone, but you know how it is) a cartoon book called Willy the Kid. It was anarchic, rude, mischievous, and very funny. A second book came out the following year, with a promise of being an annual for the foreseeable future, but after that it seemed to disappear. (In fact, there was a third book, but it hardly got any distribution at all and I only learned about it a couple of years ago. I have a copy; it’s meagre fare after the first two.)

Baxendale – a stalwart of The Beano, Wham and other comics from the 1950s onward, creator of the Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx and others – had taken a conscious decision in the 1970s to develop a new, more “crazy” style. He explained in his autobiography A Very Funny Business (1978):

“It seemed to me that the world had changed out of all recognition during my time in comics, and that I had changed with it. My own 22 years in comics had coincided exactly with the growth and dominance of television. From my experience, children of comic-reading age watch telly right through the evening. With their standards of humour set by Monty Python, Steptoe and Son, Fawlty Towers and Porridge, children must find today’s comics pretty slow stuff…. I was equally convinced that the times had changed, that I had changed, children had changed, and that the humour in comics should change. I was sure that my ideas were right, but I knew that I had to check. I intended to use the Bad Time Bed Time Book as a test bed.”

These Badtime Bedtime Books were inserts in a new comic called Monster Fun, founded in 1975. The BBBs were funny-scary stories intended to be read by children in bed under the covers:

I am pretty sure we must have read Monster Fun from the beginning, though I don’t remember much about it, except for a rubber skeleton which came with one of the early issues. Recently buying copies of some of the BBBs, they came to me as if completely new. Their freewheeling silliness is wonderful, and they have an undercurrent of subversion which is irresistible:

It would be easy enough to trace the influence of Monty Python, Porridge and the others in these little books. They mock authority, and even overturn the rules of comics, with complete disregard… as in the moment in “Jack and the Beans in tomato sauce Stalk” when a character tells a cow: “You can’t jump over the moon! It’s 250,976 miles seven feet two inches away!” and suddenly:

Upon which we are given an immediate and convincing explanation of exactly how the fact was checked:

There’s lots of stuff I’d like to say about the BBBs, too much, I think, for one blog. Sometimes they really do have the feel of Monty Python for kids, in comic form. They can be genuinely scary on occasion (some have a creepy atmosphere which also gets into the Willy the Kid books). I like the recurring header showing a small boy in bed while terrible things happen around him, and this one genuinely reflects how I feel many mornings:

You can read lots more about the BBBs here.


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  1. Rebellion are releasing a collection of Badtime Bedtime Stories in September 2022 as part of their Treasury of British Comics line. Hooray! It’s “only” the Leo Baxendale ones and will be 96 pages. Also, it sounds like they will keep the volume A5 size in keeping with the miniature nature of the originals. Very happy to hear this today.


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