MGM 2004 - Bash Street Kids Take Over Ballymena Museum

| 07 May 2004
Shows a photograph of a cartoon image, depicting a man driving a car, which is being held back by a gang of kids. In the background there is a sign for a circus and a dancing elephant.

Photo: making teacher's life hell as always, the Bash Street Kids. Courtesy Leo Baxendale.

They’ve been defying the establishment for 50 years: plotting the downfall of their teacher, wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting school and picking up fans of all ages along the way.

Led by Danny, Toots, Smiffy and Plug, the Bash Street Kids are perhaps the most famous characters created by artist Leo Baxendale and alongside Minnie the Minx and Little Plum are the stars of Ballymena Museum’s latest show, on until June 19.

Museum Curator, Jayne Olphert told the 24 Hour Museum how despite being an exhibition of comic book art, the show has attracted its fair share of nostalgia-hungry grown-ups.

"I think people thought it would be more child orientated, but it’s more middle brow," said Jane. "Children find it interesting, but it’s probably more for an adult audience."

Leo Baxendale was born in Preston in 1930 and after completing his National Service in the RAF got his first job drawing cartoons and adverts for a local newspaper.

Shows a photograph of a cartoon image, depicting the character Minnie the Minx. A young girl, Minnie is dressed in a red and black striped jumper and is wearing a black hat with a red bobble.

Photo: Minnie the Minx - girl power before the Spice Girls were even a twinkle in their daddies' eye. Courtesy Leo Baxendale.

Soon enough he was itching to stretch his talents and when an encounter with his brother’s copy of the Beano brought the antics of Dennis the Menace to his attention, he found his direction.

This was in 1952 and a couple of idea submissions later Baxendale was producing work for the ever popular comic. By 1953 his creations, the luckless Little Plum and daring Minnie the Minx, were star attractions.

Later that year, Beano Editor George Moonie travelled down to Preston for a meeting with Baxendale to discuss an idea for a new strip inspired by a sketch he had sent in the year before.

The result was first published by the comic in 1954 and went by the title of When the Bell Rings. The unruly pupils of class 2B soon became known as the Bash Street Kids and helped increase the Beano’s readership from 400,000 to two million in just four years.

Leo Baxendale left the Beano in the early 1960s and went on to create characters for other children’s comics, as well as producing full-length books and a strip for the Guardian.

Shows a photograph of a black and white cartoon image. One native American is holding a measuring tape around the chest of another, who is standing with his arms held up in the air. The first character is saying 'Biceps 2" Chest 12"', while the other is saying 'Puny that's um word for me'.

Photo: yet another Beano stalwart - Little Plum. Courtesy Leo Baxendale.

But it is his much-loved contribution to the Beano that is celebrated by the current exhibition in Ballymena.

Created by Cartoon County in Brighton and marking the 50th anniversary of his creations, the show offers the opportunity to get a close look at Baxendale’s original artwork.

Featuring an all-star cast of Little Plum, Minnie, Plug, Smiffy and the rest of the Bash Street gang, it’ll offer a welcome blast of childhood memory to some and the chance to make a new discovery to others.

"It has been something different," added Jayne Olphert, "and it’s nice that we can bring exhibitions here to Northern Ireland that we don’t always get."

A touring exhibition, 50 years of the Bash Street Kids - The Cartoons of Leo Baxendale heads off to Hartlepool from June 26 until August 22, from where it goes on show at Hove Museum in February 2005.

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