Crivens, it’s ‘Oor Wullie’ and ‘The Broons’

Famed Scottish comics character Oor Wullie. PHOTO: NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND
Famed Scottish comics character Oor Wullie. PHOTO: NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND
Yesterday I found myself, yet again, boxing up all my books in preparation for moving house.

As I picked up each book, I carefully dusted it and placed it in an old banana box, making note of the author, and discarding the ones I knew I would never get around to reading.

I happily moved this way through all my novels from A to Z; from Atwood to Carter to Kingsolver to Rushdie to Zola, until I came to the "miscellaneous" section of my bookshelf; the recipe books, photo albums, poetry anthologies, and annuals.

It was here I found a delightful discovery — several old Broons and Oor Wullie annuals.

For those unacquainted with Oor Wullie and The Broons, let me describe to you some of the joys of my childhood.

Oor Wullie is a beloved Scottish comic strip showcased in The Sunday Post, a weekly newspaper published in Dundee.

The comic centres around a character named Wullie, a small cheeky boy with distinctive spiky hair, dungarees, and penchant for using an upturned bucket as a makeshift seat.

Similarly, The Broons is another comic strip published in The Sunday Post, featuring the 11-strong Brown (Broon) family who live in a tenement flat at 10 Glebe St in the fictional town of Auchenshoogle.

The Broon family comprises Paw Broon, Maw Broon, and their eight children: long-suffering Hen, handsome Joe, dowdy Daphne, glamorous Maggie, pompous Horace, the naughty Twins (identical twin boys), and the effervescent, strong-willed Bairn.

Both comic strips, authored by writer/editor R.D. Low and illustrated by artist Dudley D. Watkins, debuted in the publication dated March 8, 1936.

The Broons and Oor Wullie inhabit the same world, although they rarely intersect.

This world is a distinctively Scottish, working-class, charming one, full of mischief, wild escapades, and familial joy.

Dad brought his precious collection of annuals with him when he travelled all the way from Glasgow to Papakura via the SS Canberra at the age of 10. They were well-loved and well-read by my father and his siblings before being passed on to me and my siblings, who proceeded to read the comics with such frequency and enthusiasm that the binding soon disintegrated, leaving us with a higgledy-piggledy stack of pages.

My father also collected a plethora of other comics; Batman, Superman, Spiderman, the Green Lantern.

My brothers and I pored over these comics, marvelling at the muscles and moral complexities of these lycra-clad superheroes and wishing we had just an ounce of their strength and agility.

However, we were not drawn to the worlds of Gotham City, Metropolis, or New York City.

Their darkness and grit, their towering skyscrapers, crime-ridden streets, and Gothic architecture held no charm for us.

Instead, we were drawn to the cheerful working-class atmosphere of Auchenshoogle— the tenement buildings with their well-worn, well-scrubbed steps, the country lanes, the "but and ben" in the Highlands.

We loved the funny, familiar characters — Fat Bob, Soapy Soutar, Wee Eck, Primrose, and poor old PC Murdoch.

Together with my father’s memories of Glasgow, The Broons and Oor Wullie provided us a glimpse of the glorious world of Scotland, the land of our ancestors.

Through Oor Wullie’s famous sayings ("Jings!", "Crivvens!" and "Help Mah Boab!") we learned the Scots language, and were better equipped to understand our own grandmother’s broad Scots whenever we visited her.

We were introduced to delicacies such as bridies, clootie dumplings and vinegar-laden "fish suppers", and grew hungry as we turned the pages.

I think we also saw a lot of ourselves in the Broon’s family dynamics.

Like us, they were a large family confined to a small space. Like us, they fought over second helpings, bickered throughout family gatherings, avoided household chores, and played pranks on each other.

Like Maw and Paw Broon, my parents stretched their money as far as possible, and often fell short of impressing their social "betters".

I related to the older children’s desire for peace, privacy and freedom, but I also saw myself in the mischief and exuberance of Oor Wullie and the Twins.

The Broons captured the joy, warmth, and authenticity of a large working class family, and for this, we loved them.

Although The Broons and Oor Wullie span decades, there’s something steady and timeless about them, with the outside world very rarely filtering into the comic strips.

Wullie will forever be a small boy; the Bairn will never grow up; Hen and Joe will never leave home; Maggie and Daphne will never get married.

There’s a certain magic to this stasis — I feel almost wistful over the agelessness and innocence of these comic strips. Oor Wullie will never know the burdens of ageing or the complexities of adult life, with its damned bills, unstable career ladders and dentist appointments.

It’s reassuring to know that wherever I move to, should I ever feel the need to return to my childhood, all I have to do is open an Oor Wullie or The Broons annual.

 Jean Balchin is an ODT columnist who has just started a new life in Edinburgh.