Andy Capp

It now takes three (so credited) to come up with something that Reg Smythe on his own would have rejected as feeble. The Mirror should have let it be and just recycled 40 years worth of material. Here is the best article I’ve found on the Smythe/Capp story: Cigarettes and Alcohol: Andy Capp by Paul Slade.

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“[Smythe], does not own the copyright in the cartoon strip,” Rule writes. “He signed it over to the Daily Mirror when he first started drawing Andy”.

Well that explains the dumb perpetuation of the franchise. They have watered down our favorite good-for-nothing slacker, boozer, smoker, bird fancier (feathered and floozy), track man (whippets and the ponies), snooker and darts player, debt dodger, brawler, and moocher.

“Flo is the responsible one,” Hiley agrees. “She knows what should be done and tries to do it. Whereas, he knows what should be done and tries to avoid it. Like a lot of couples all of us know, it’s difficult to figure out why it works, but it does work. They seem to take refuge in each other for some reason. She needs a man, and he needs someone to rescue him when he needs rescuing.” In one sense, Andy rescues Flo too – if only from boredom.

Yes, the domestic violence was not funny (it nevertheless reflected a certain sub-socio-economic class not dissimilar to the kitchen sink realism films of the day) — but why get rid of his dangling fag? Smythe equivocates:

Turning to his own decision to give up the weed, Smythe adds: “I doubt Andy would have stopped on his own.” Health groups such as ASH (Action on Smoking & Health) declared themselves delighted at the move, but Smythe was quick to reassure fans that all Andy’s other bad habits remained firmly in place. (85)

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A year later, plans for the statue were shelved. “Beer-swilling, chain-smoking womaniser Andy Capp is thought by some to be politically incorrect in this day and age,” the Hartlepool Mail explained. (91)

Now there’s a surprise!! The statue did eventually see the light of day. Fortunately it didn’t offend the mind’s eye as Ignatius’ statue does in New Orleans, who looks more like a well-upholstered Lee Van Cleef.

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I suspect that the Andy Capp memorabilia market is quite firm. I did manage to find a t-shirt with fag but with no pint.

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McGeachy splits his analysis into two chapters, tackling first Andy the Sinner and then Andy the Saint. “Andy enjoys his sins, and doesn’t intend to change,” he writes in the first of these. “This does not mean, of course, that Andy doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. If that were so, he would be a purely amoral being, like the beasts of the field, and his behaviour excusable on that basis. But, more important, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. Stolen melons are sweeter. For sin to amount to anything, it has to be deliberate.”

Hiley made a similar point when I asked him how far Andy could be allowed to reform without losing his soul. “It’s rather like those little cartoon figures indicating people’s conscience that always pop up – there’s a devil on one side and an angel on the other,” he says. “We want Andy Capp to be the devil. We don’t want him to suddenly put wings on and be the angel on the other side. Somebody else can do that job.”

McGeachy turns next to Andy the Saint. “Good or bad, there are few men who can attack life with genuine joy, live it for its own sake, and come off a winner,” he writes. “There is Andy, philosophically and theologically crying both to God and to man, ‘Leave me alone!’ Let me survive in the least noticeable kind of way. I don’t ask to be famous. Don’t try to sell me a Calvinist work ethic. Don’t expect me to be an evangelist or a change-agent or anything else that is my neighbour’s. Just leave me alone!” A little later, he adds: “There is a kind of celebration about Andy, a sacramental view of life that views it as a gift not to be tampered with.”

But transforming the strip into a soapbox, he believed, was not the answer. “I try never to draw things about which I am serious,” he tells Lilley. “As far as I am concerned, passion and humour are bad mixers. Maybe it’s just me, but I believe things are only funny if they’re said in fun. I never try to teach lessons in my cartoons.” (70)

Yes Reg, that’s what made you such a great artist. Aside from the smoking issue, you tried to maintain the integrity of your creation.

Sadly, back in 1988, not enough viewers agreed. Despite being launched with the fanfare of a TV Times cover, the show lost about a third of its viewers during the six-week run, and was never granted the second series everyone involved had hoped for. “I loved doing it so much,” Bolam says. “I was really looking forward to doing the next series.”

What no-one could agree on in the post-mortems was whether the series’ mistake has been making Andy too nasty or not nearly nasty enough.

It’s always dumb transposing something from one modality to another. The audience knew full well that it was a mistake. I recall that it was so flat and disappointing. Think A Confederacy of Dunces . . .