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Dundee law maker pays homage to a famous Dundee rule-breaker: Chris Law reviews 'The Beano: The art of breaking the rules'

Dundee law maker pays homage to a famous Dundee rule-breaker: Chris Law reviews 'The Beano: The art of breaking the rules'

Two fingered salute: Chris Law pays tribute to curator, Andy Holden, pictured in cartoon form

3 min read

Evocative and powerful, Somerset House’s exhibition not only captures the nostalgia of The Beano, but also its spirit of challenging authority – and standing up for what is right

Thursdays, 7pm. My father arrives home from working his shift as a grocer, a Beano in hand, ready for my younger self to pour through – a guaranteed few hours of peace for my parents in another wise hectic week.

For hundreds of thousands of young children all over the country, and not just of my generation but for generations of kids across the UK, it would be no different.

Andy Holden, curator of this exhibition at Somerset House, has magically captured that feeling whilst demonstrating the wide influence the Beano has had on our music, our politics, and our culture.

It was only upon first entering the exhibition that the true realisation of the part the Beano played in my childhood and the influence it had on me in my formative years truly began to take shape.

Getting your copy of the Beano was a bit of affordable escapism – often twinned with prising the toy off the front page to take into school with you the next day.

It captured the good and the bad – from the wide-variety of food that featured in the comic, the piles of bangers and mash and the ubiquitous scotch pies, to the ever-present threat to young children of slippers and belts (or in my case, the Lochgelly Tawse) that were so dreaded in the ‘60s and ‘70s, all presented in brilliantly-realised ceramic interpretations by contemporary artists.

And just like for so many others, it was not Christmas without your copy of the Beano annual waiting for you under the tree.

I was thrilled to see an original Dennis the Menace Fan Club badge, mine having been lost long ago

Not only did this exhibition bring all these memories flooding back – I was particularly thrilled to see an original Dennis the Menace Fan Club badge, the one I originally owned having been lost a long time ago – but it demonstrated the true importance of the Beano.

For the Beano taught kids to be independently minded – Dennis the Menace showed the value in sometimes breaking the rules – and the importance of challenging authority. Minnie the Minx taught children that it did not matter your gender, you could still be empowered. 

And probably the most important message of all: it does not matter your background, anyone can be the hero of their own story, even if you are the underdog or, like me, were the Plug!

In what is an evocative and powerful exhibition, Andy Holden and the team at Somerset House have managed to capture not just all the nostalgia that the Beano brings, but the powerful effect that has rippled through since it was first published in my city of Dundee in 1938.

This exhibition reminded me of the importance of using your voice to stand up for what is right and to challenge authority – something that is really the true values and ethos of the Beano.

Even as adults, we can all still learn from the likes of Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and Roger the Dodger – so head along to Somerset House and re-discover your inner Beano!

Chris Law is SNP MP for Dundee West

'The Beano: The art of breaking the rules'
Curator: Andy Holden
Venue: Somerset House, London
Dates: until 6 March 2022

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