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ODHAMS PRESS

DIED - 03.04.71


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A Smash issue 1 with the free gift of a "Big Bang Gun" would be worth around 80 today.

Odd that you'd chose "Erik the Viking" as a representation of this comic, as "Erik" was only a reprint of an old LION strip called "Karl the Viking" with the name changed! IPC tended to do that with a lot of their strips, hoping that their readers would be too dim to notice! - Lew Stringer

Don't remember Erik the Viking, but have strong recollections of 'The 13 Tasks of Simon Test' and 'Master of the Marsh' (how did that serial end? was the hermit really a reincarnation of Hereward the Wake?). Does anyone know who illustrated those strips - it's been driving me nuts for years?

I vaguely remember the Spectre and quite liking the strip, after initially being disappointed that it wasn't the same character as portrayed in DC Comics' namesake title. King of the Ring I found tedious, but the story about the paratrooper (Sgt Storm?) was ok.

Of the humerous stories I recall liking the Man from Bungle and its spinoff, Grimly Feendish, but neither were as good (nor as goofy) as the Cloak in companion comic, 'Pow!' (remember his adversaries Deathshead and the Road Hog?). Other humerous strips were the Swots and the Blots and Bad Penny - not dissimilar to the Beano's Bash St. Kids and Minnie the Minx. there was also a strip titled the Nervs (sic, i think), which had a similar concept to the Numbskulls (once in the Beezer, now a regular in my son's comic of choice, the Beano), of tiny characters inhabiting and 'running' the body of a schoolboy: a grotesque concept! Originally drawn in simple line illustrations, it was taken over by an artist of more sophisticated style, whereupon the stories became both more amusing and more visceral! . - Richard

In answer to my own question (!) the illustrator of Master of the Marsh was good old Francisco Solano Lopez (the question being: "strong recollections of the 13 Tasks of Simon Test and Master of the Marsh. does anyone know who illustrated those strips?"). I guess he also drew Janus Stark.

I also now know that the Nervs (featured in same comic) was illustrated by Ken Reid (thanks to Alan Clark's the Best of British Comic Art for that one). cheers - Richard

Until the spring of 1969, Odhams Press had the rights to all of Marvel Comics superhero strips, and they published various of the Marvel strips in their "Power" comics range, of which "Smash" was one.

At Odhams' height, in 1967, they were publishing five "Power" comics each week, and "Smash" was the last survivor. "Pow", "Wham", "Fantastic" and "Terrific" were all merged with "Smash" during 1968, and in the spring of 1969 the last surviving Marvel superhero strip, "The Fantastic Four", was withdrawn from "Smash".

"Smash" then ran a mixture of new British strips (mostly humorous, and strictly no superhero strips) and reprints from Lion (such as "Eric the Viking").

In 'Master of the Marsh', Patchman, an old hermit who lived in the East Anglian fens, became sports master at Marshside Secondary School. He wasn't a reincarnation of Hereward the Wake, who fought the Norman invaders in the fens during the 11th Century, but he was secretly the guardian of certain relics which Hereward had left behind.

I, too, found the boxing strip, 'King of the Ring', rather tedious. It also suffered somewhat from the fact that Ken King's manager had the extremely dubious name of Blarney Stone (geddit?) - and even the "Smash" editorial staff must have thought this was a bit too much, as they booted Blarney out of the series part-way through its run, and substituted a new manager for King with a less silly name.

The paratrooper strip was "Sgt Rock - Paratrooper", one of the strongest strips in "Smash" (and one of the few non-humorous strips). Sgt Rock ran for years, I believe even surviving the demise of "Smash" in 1971. Set in World War Two, it was the setting for a lot of war stories featuring paratroopers. Much of the time Sgt Rock only served the strip as a narrator, opening and closing the stories, which actually featured other characters. It was more tales-of-the-parachute-regiment than it was tales of Sgt Rock himself.

'The Man from BUNGLE' was a thinly veiled spoof of the popular TV series of the time, "The Man from UNCLE". BUNGLE was a secret spy organisation for the British Government, organised along similar lines to UNCLE, and the secret agent employed a wide variety of (hugely unlikely) secret gadgets in his fight against his humorous opponents.

'The Nervs' inhabited a schoolboy called Fatty, and the strip was Odhams-only. That's to say it was one of the strips which was lost from "Smash" when the comic changed over from Odhams to IPC in the spring of 1969.

Not only were all the Marvel superhero stories lost in the changeover, the comic itself changed utterly. As a symbol of the change, a new cover feature appeared, "Warriors of the World". Up until then, "The Swots and the Blots" were the regular cover strip for "Smash".

After fifty or so weeks, the "Warriors of the World" feature was ended and was replaced by "The Thirteen Tasks of Simon Test" (which took over the front cover, each week featuring a full-page splash advertising that week's Task). Simon Test proved sufficiently popular that after he had completed the 13 week series (one task each week) he was given a new series of adventures, which extended his hold on the cover indefinitely.

Other new features of the re-launch included the very popular humour strip, "His Sporting Lordship". Henry Nobbins was a labourer on a building site until he inherited the title of Earl of Ranworth and Five Million Pounds. Before he could touch the money, however, he had to perform a number of sporting feats... He also had to evade the nefarious attentions of Mr Parkinson (a rival claimant to the fortune) and his villainous henchman Fred Bloggs.

The adventure serial "The Amazing Adventures of Janus Stark" was also a new strip arising from the 1969 relaunch. Janus Stark was an escapologist in Victorian London, who appeared to be simply a unusual act on the music hall stage, but who also used his extrordinary abilities to investigate crime. He had an unusually flexible bone structure, and could get out of an astonishing variety of tight situations at need, thanks to training he received in childhood from his mentor, Blind Largo.

The similarity of 'The Swots and the Blots' to the earlier strip 'The Bash Street Kids' (in "The Beano") is explained by the fact that both strips were created and drawn by the same artist, Leo Baxendale.

Like 'His Sporting Lordship', 'The Swots and the Blots' had the distinction of surviving the destruction of "Smash" itself in 1971 (when a handful of strips either survived the merger with "Valiant" or continued to appear every Christmas in the "Smash" Annual - which, strangely, continued to be published for some years after the demise of the comic itself).

Sadly, some strips didn't survive the 1969 relaunch of "Smash". One noteable loss was 'The Cloak', and another was 'The Man from BUNGLE', as the popularity of spy spoofs faded (in 1968, even the "Man from UNCLE" tv series was cancelled). 'The Spectre' was another spy series that was lost in the "Smash" reshuffle, as was the horror spoof 'Grimly Feendish' (a cross between the popular tv comedies "The Munsters" and "The Addams Family").

I was particularly saddened by the loss of 'The Cloak', who's ingenuity and never-ending supply of gadgets and odd weapons were matched by the odd (and some were very odd) enemies he fought, including not only Death-Shed (well, that's what it sounded like!!) but also Lady Shady the shady lady. This strip also benefited from a very unusual, idiosyncratic, drawing style.

Whereas 'The Cloak' was purely humorous, 'The Spectre' was an action/adventure strip, in which a secret agent (who's cover was that he had apparantly been killed during a mission) fought crime by using an array of gadgets to make it appear that he was the ghost of the missing agent. So his opponents were terrified, when they found that if they shot him he didn't die (a bullet-proof raincoat was the trick here). And he had a secret underground hideout, from which he would covertly and unexpectedly emerge (or disappear into), under cover of an artificial fog, to give the impression that he was coming and going from the spirit world.

Other strips which didn't survive into 1969 included "Sammy Shrink", a humour strip about a boy who was only two inches high, and "Ronnie Rich". This latter strip concerned the richest kid in the world: he stood to inherit a fortune, if only he can get rid of the money he's got. Each week Ronnie Rich would spend his every last penny, in some reckless or extravagent way, only to have his scheme backfire and make him richer than ever. (He never did get his hands on the fortune.)

There were some new humour strips brought in with the relaunch, of course. One which I enjoyed was 'The Touchline Tearaways', featuring three characters who were mad keen on Grimshaw Rovers, a totally useless professional football team, which was perpetually in danger of being relegated, as it was made up entirely of ailing and decrepit players. Each week the Tearaways would execute some scheme from the touchline to help the team win that week's match, usually involving a battle against officials from the League (who, not unnaturally, wanted to put a stop to the Tearaways well-intentioned cheating on behalf of the Rovers).

Sporting strips were the order of the day in 1969. New strips introduced in the relaunch that added a sports theme to "Smash" included 'The Touchline Tearaways' and 'His Sporting Lordship' (above), but also, to emphasise the football theme, there was the humorous strip 'The World-Wide Wanderers', (possibly not so funny today) about a League football team composed of eleven players drawn from all over the world.

Football manager Harry Kraft was a passenger on a ship that passed through the Suez Canal. He found that ships from all over the world called there, and that their crews conducted impromptu football matches to while away the time in port. Due to some foul-up or other, some of the crews had been stranded there, and constant football practice (as there was nothing else to do) had caused them to develop fantastic footballing skills. He shipped eleven of them, from as many different countries, back to England, and they used their highly unorthodox individual skills to play as a team in the old First Division.

A very short-lived strip, which featured in "Smash" for only a few weeks after the 1969 relaunch, was the spoof World War Two strip, 'Nutt and Bolt, the Men From W.H.E.E.Z.E.' I seem to have heard somewhere that this was a reprint of an old strip, possibly from Lion. Its title certainly suggests it was one of the strips born out of the earlier popularity of "The Man From UNCLE". It featured an English scientist, Professor Nutt, and his Army "minder", one Sgt "Lightning" Bolt. The Professor was a boffin, who invented secret weapons for use against the Germans in World War Two.

One long-running success (although I was never all that keen on it myself) in the relaunched "Smash" was 'Bunsen's Burner'. This was an adventure yarn with humorous overtones. Ben Bunsen was the owner of a vintage car, which was known as "the Burner" because it was so old it was steam-driven! Like an old stream train, it had a boiler that had to be stoked, and it ran on coal.

Ben and his pal had to drive the Burner around the world as a condition of Ben inheriting his uncle's fortune, but a rival claimant (shades of 'His Sporting Lordship' again!) was secretly out to stop them.

The other significant, long-running, strips were "The Battle of Britain" and "The Rebels". In "The Battle of Britain", secret agent Simon Kane and his assistant fought against a usurper, Baron Rudolph, who had seized control of Britain by the use of a secret weapon (which emitted a sound wave that paralysed anyone who wasn't protected against it) and had set up a police state. Baron Rudolph's organisation was similar in structure and uniforms to England in the Middle Ages, around the time of King John.

'The Rebels' was initially an adventure story about three boys (three brothers who's surname was Rebel) who ran away from an orphanage to avoid being split up and sent to different orphanages. But after a few months on the run, the strip took an astonishing turn and became a science fiction serial, the boys discovering that their late father's mind had been preserved within the brain of a robot. It became the boys' unofficial guardian, and they embarked with it on a quest to track down the criminal who had murdered their real father in the course of a mission (he had turned out to be an undercover agent for the government).

I was disappointed when "Smash" merged into "Valiant", in 1971 (even though the "Smash" Annual continued to appear for some years afterwards). Some of the strips did survive in the new "Valiant", but most were lost. - Regards, Stephen Poppitt

My memory could be playing tricks but I seem to recall The Nerves strip in the 1969 annual featuring a superb picture in (I think) a doctor's surgery of a tongue with mushrooms and all manner of other things growing from it with the message, "If your tongue looks like this see your doctor." I have laughed for the intervening 30-odd years. Christopher Clarke

I think the Swots & the Blots were the funniest strip I've ever read. The inventiveness of the situations that the pupils got themselves into were amazing. I still laugh at an old annual from 1967 featuring the Swots & the Blots Alf-abet, along with an all-out battle between both protagonists, who eventually join forces to take revenge on the instigator of the conflict. All great stuff drawn by Leo Baxendale. Jim Skinner

Simon Kane was a reprint of Victor Gunn and the Battle of Britain. I remember seeing Kane's doorbell labelled "Gunn", where the editors had forgotten to change it. Stephen Haigh.

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