Lost in Translation 417: Andy Capp

The comics page in newspapers tend to be loaded with long runners. It is possible for a new strip to make a debut, but that tends to happens if a strip ends or the strip is in a local paper. Of course, with the Internet today, newspapers are no longer needed and it is possible to check out comic strips direct from the syndicator. The sites for various newspapers will include links to where the comics can be found online.

Among the long-runners is Andy Capp. Created in 1957 by Reg Smythe for the Daily Mirror, the strip follows the title character’s slice of life in Northern England. Andy himself is not really a likable character; he’s a womanizer, a boozehound, a layabout, short-tempered, a gambler, and selfish. Yet, he has a wife, Flo, and a following, appearing in about 2000 newspapers globally. While Andy might not be likable, he is a sympathetic character, to a point. Sometime readers root for him; sometimes they get the schadenfreude of seeing one of his schemes backfire.

The early strips did have domestic violence, though that toned down quite a bit, especially through the 70s. Florrie, though, could give as good as she got. Andy lost his cigarette habit in 1985 after Smythe have up smoking in 1983. Beer, however, is still his preferred intoxicant. Smythe continued to be the writer and artist for the strip until his death in 1997. The quality of the art dwindled in Smythe’s final days, but he had a large number of unused strips. This gave Mirror cartoon editor Ken Layson two years to find someone to take up the mantle. Roger Mahoney took over art duties and Roger Kettle became the writer. Kettle ended his run on the strip in 2011, and was replaced by current writers Lawrence Goldsmith and Sean Garnett.

The length of the strip’s run has meant a few changes had to be made to characters. In 1957, Andy and his friend Chalkie White were veterans of World War II. As WWII fell into history, Andy and Chalkie became Royal Army veterans, having served in an unnamed conflict. Andy acts as a way to comment on technological breakthroughs, especially consumer electronics. In Andy’s world, change comes slowly, but even Andy has changed.

In 1988, Thames Television produced a six episode series for ITV based on the comic strip. The series wasn’t well received, so it didn’t get a second airing. It did eventually get released on DVD in the UK in 2012. The series starred James Bolam as Andy, Paula Tilbrook as Florrie, Keith Smith as Chalkie, Susan Brown as Ruby, John Arthur as Jack the bartender, Keith Marsh as Percy, and Ian Thompson as the Vicar.

The striking thing about the first episode is the casting. Everyone looks like their comic counterpart. Some of it is makeup and costuming, but there was an eye to making sure that everyone was recognizable. Sure, the Vicar is easy to spot, but Chalkie, Jack, and Percy are obvious before anyone addresses them by name. The series’ setting reflects that of the comic strip, and was filmed on location, at least for the scenes outside. Given that Andy Capp is set in a city in Northern England, getting a location that matches isn’t difficult.

The first episode, “New Leaf”, has Andy coming to the realization he has gone too far, risking losing Florrie forever, and trying to mend his ways. The first act shows Andy in all his glory, straight from the comic strip and the pub. He puts in an effort to the point that everyone else thinks he’s up to another scheme. It’s when he pays Percy all the rent arrears that people start taking Andy seriously. Of course, he goes a little too far, resulting in Florrie bringing him to the marriage counselor.

The episode feels like the strip. There are asides, with characters talking to the audience, and winks and nods to Andy’s habits. All of his bad habits are on display in the first act. Classic poses, such as Andy napping on the couch or being tossed out the pub, are there. “New Leaf” is authentic to the character and the comic strip. Even the “new” Andy slips here and there and the old one peeks out.

The poor reception may have come because, while Andy is easy to take in small doses in a daily strip, a half hour with him may be too much. Andy isn’t a comfortable character, even in 1988. What can be overlooked in a comic strip can’t be when it’s on the telly. However, the series did accurately reflect the characters and their setting.

This article was originally published at THE REMAKE ZONE.

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