The former editor of the Beano has revealed that during the late 1980s, publishers D. C. Thomson & Co decided it would be best if Dennis the Menace laid off Walter the Softie lest he be accused of “gay-bashing” his apparently less than robustly heterosexual enemy.
Euan Kerr was at the comic's helm between 1984 and 2006, and has explained to the Times how D. C. Thomson & Co execs "decided that the victimisation of Walter could be interpreted as offensive". He said: “I definitely felt a sense of responsibility in making sure the characters did nothing that was easily imitable. The evidence is that kids understand a comic is a comic and that it isn’t anything like real life. But the relationship between Dennis and Walter was always one that worried me.
“We decided the best way to approach it was to make sure that, even though he and Dennis didn’t get along, Walter was completely happy about who he was and a confident, likeable character in his own right. We eventually gave Walter a girlfriend too, as a measure to combat any further criticism.”
Kerr noted that the Beano has over the years reflected changes in public attitudes, explaining: “For example, every strip used to end with the rogue of the piece being punished in some way - usually a smack across the head or a slipper across the bottom. This sort of corporal punishment became outdated and eventually it was phased out.”
Kerr did, though, suggest that "the panic over political correctness has not taken the edge off the antiestablishment roots of the comic, and there are already indications that the balance is slowly turning against PC culture".
The Times cites as an example of this a recent Beano strip entitled "The Neds", which presented " the misadventures of a work-shy family, including characters called Asbo and Chavette".
Kerr concluded: “Luckily for us, I think there is a real resistance to the overt political correctness creeping into British life and the Beano can hopefully use this to its advantage.”
The Times wraps its piece by wheeling out the traditional anti-PC voice of Middle England - John Midgeley, the co-founder of the Campaign Against Political Correctness - who thundered: “It’s a great shame that in recent years this national institution has been watered-down to placate a tiny minority of humourless, do-gooding adults.” ®