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The reason for the Bristow website is my love for this cartoon character. It started in the late 1960s when my father used to bring home the Evening Standard that he read on the train from work. There was just something so wonderfully subversive about a humble buying clerk who so often manages to emerge on top. Of course it is now looking dated but the humour, both of the clever drawings and the brilliant dialogue, is timeless.
During the 1970s I cut out over 2200 of the strips and stuck them in albums, never dreaming that one day it would be possible to share them with the rest of the world. I developed the first version of the Bristow website in 1999 (two years before the Big Big Big Bristow Book had the same idea of exploring the strip by theme). In 2006 the British Newspaper Library granted me special permission to photograph their microfiche collection of Evening Standards - I made over 3700 photos of strips from 1962-82. Most have been superseded as explained below, but the work was useful in establishing what was published when. I own 11 of the collections published in book form and have also collected some 2000 strips published on Frank Dicken's website. I owe huge thanks to Graeme Smith who, in March 2010, informed me that many back issues of Melbourne's The Age (Bristow started there in 1967) were available online through Google's News archive service. I then found that the Sydney Morning Herald (where Bristow began in 1965) and the Glasgow Evening Times were also available and in 2012 found that the SMH had its own online archive, much more complete than Google's and going up to early1995. Many of these scans are very high quality and are gradually replacing my own scans of the cutouts. Since I started many of the Google scans have improved greatly in quality and previously blurred pictures are almost perfect, so I am having to go round again. Equally some issues of the papers that were available first time round are no longer there - let us hope this is because they are also being improved and will be restored in due course.
I suppose I should add that I own 10 originals -2 purchased in Chester and 8 from Ebay and having the original penmanship on my study as I work on this website is a constant delight.
I have also copied the text, but not alas the pictures, from the Aberdeen Press from September 1961 to June 1962. Many of these were never published in the Standard. They were probably syndicated to other regional newspapers in the UK. See Origins for a little more about the very beginnings of Bristow.
All non-digital strips are scanned, and the whole collection is indexed on a database with references to date of publication, themes and characters. Perhaps this is the best collection in the world other than Frank's own - I don't know but no comparable fan site exists on the Internet as far as I can tell.
Then and now
Anyone new to Bristow will be amazed to see the early strips. They typically consisted of 5 or 6 drawings and the dialogue was almost always Bristow talking directly to the reader. Many of the now familiar characters were unknown - there was no Mrs Purdy the garrulous tea-lady, no scheming post-boy, no East Winchley railway station. The canteen was yet to be adorned by Mr. Gordon Blue. Temps were rarely employed. The rich supporting cast of people from outside the Chester-Perry organisation - Blondinis, Walters (and son), Park-keepers, school-leavers desperate to become buying clerks, shifty holiday agents and irritating traffic wardens - these were to arrive later on. Even Sir Reginald did not feature until the strip was about a year old.
In those early days the buying department is a battleground. Bristow is consumed by ambition and jealousy. He is oppressed and humiliated by Fudge (so nothing changes there). He conspires both with and against fellow clerks Hewitt and Pilkington as well as Jones. He is mortified when a youngster, Barker, is promoted to assistant buyer. He is keen to write for the House Journal (rejected, of course) and expects both pay rises and the occasional bonus (he doesn't get them but bitterly resents Pilkington getting a small increment). He is obsessed with a self help book - not Brain Surgery for Beginners but a manual for would-be executives called Space at the Summit. (Older readers may recall John Braine's novel Room at the Top enjoying some success at this time).
The other great early theme is romance - Bristow's unrequited lust for Miss Pretty of Kleenaphone, and Miss Sunman's sublimated affections for him. Dickens drew Sunman as distinctly ugly in those days - I think he has grown rather fond of her and she appears to have blossomed just a little since.
During the 1970s Dickens reduced the number of drawing per strip to four and then to three. Dialogue in speech bubbles replaces Bristow's musings and commentaries. And the latest strips take this tendency to an extreme, with two or even one frame drawings predominating. It is not for me to criticise Dickens who has given me so much pleasure. But I find that I do prefer the earlier strips. The range of expressions and emotions that Bristow conveys in those six frame drawings make him live in a way that the one or two frame strips cannot do. The dialogue itself is funnier, with much greater emphasis on word-play, including puns, mangled proverbs and the occasional literary quotation.
This website is not meant as literary criticism. It is an aide-memoire for fans who may not be so familiar with the world of Chester-Perrys, and an exploration of some of the enduring themes that Dickens exploits with such wonderful results. It is being researched and rewritten continually, though sadly, since around November 2010, Dickens no longer publishes 5 new strips a week on his website and it seems unlikely that he will resume in the near future.. And there remain around 1000 strips that exist only in newspaper libraries and which will be added to my collection if they ever become easily available.
Some cartoon strips have their characters experience time - they grow up, age maybe even die off. Others exist in a "continuous present" where nothing ever really changes and events become assimilated into a rather unspecific and usually inconsistent background. Bristow is such a strip. He has always worked for C-Ps for 8 and a bit years. The Great Tea Trolley Disaster always happened about 6 years before the present. The post-boy is still a post-boy. And so on. There are major events that ought to create a history - such as Fudge's replacement for a while by a Lady Chief Buyer - but these don't really change the landscape.
The problem for the writer (me, that is) is how to write about these one-off events - Does one use the tone of the continuous present for something that happened in the recent past (as far as the internal logic of the strip is concerned) and may have been published thirty years ago (in real time)? Take the vexed case of Living Death in the Buying Department. Bristow is shown actually writing this wretched diatribe in 1962 (when he had been with the firm for about 8 years). Then some time later he apparently finds the manuscript and we are told that he started it just after he started work at C-Ps - 8 years previously. And during the 1970s we find him furiously writing stories, poems, works of reference - but he still has only been with C-Ps for 8 and 2/3 years. So which is the now of the strip?
Well I'm not going to try to answer this one. I just use the terms early and late to distinguish things that happened before and after each other but where relevant I will also give the date of publication and the strip number. Knowing when a particular strip was written can be helpful - otherwise jokes about Easter issues of the House Journal appearing in May or the Committee of the Sports and Social Club cunningly inviting Sir Reginald - in February - to attend the Annual Christmas Dinner and Dance don't work. Also Dickens likes putting in topical references. Comparing C-Ps to Guantanamo Bay has no meaning at all unless you know it was published in 2003, or that the startling promotion of Mrs Fletcher as Head of Accounts just happened to coincide with the election of Mrs Thatcher as leader of the Conservative Party in 1975.
The earliest Bristow strips were in the Aberdeen Press and Journal (see origins) and were neither numbered nor carried the identifying masthead (but did have a tiny Dickens signature).
The strips in the Evening Standard were numbered from the start but not consistently. Sometimes they were published in a different order - usually making more sense than if they had been published in strict numeric order. The last strip in October 1962 was numbered 215 and the next one published was 534. Strips published on frankdickens.com in early 2001 had no particular numbering scheme - there was a group marked "na" ; others seem to be randomly numbered between 1 and 10 with many repeats, but from May 2001 onward they were numbered consecutively.
Bristow was syndicated in many countries and publications. I believe that the source of all the strips were those published in the Evening Standard and therefore take this as the benchmark. (This is not strictly true for those strips published in the Aberdeen Press and Journal first but I don't have enough information to say anything definitive about them.)
As mentioned above, the Melbourne Age is available online. That paper took the strips about 4-6 weeks after they were in the Standard, which must have confused readers who wondered why the firm's Xmas dinner was held in mid January. It was very inconsistent, sometimes reprinting strips from 10 years earlier, and when it printed strips drawn for those papers with Saturday editions, but which were not published in the Standard, they were published with the "a" suffix to the number.. Some of the strips carry a copyright notice in the name of the Standard. Strips also had a "b" or "c" suffix when drawn for a UK bank holiday and therefore not published in the Standard.
The Sydney Morning Herald replaced the normal strip numbers with a number that merely designates the date of publication.
The Glasgow Evening Times was similar to the Age, though often publishing very closely behind the Standard and now and then actually publishing a day or two ahead. This usually happened when they printed strips out of order so it seems they did not look too closely at the numbers when the weekly batches arrived.
Strip numbers used throughout this website refer to the number as published in the Evening Standard, whether or not this was relevant to the order of publication. If I don't know the actual publication number then I have assigned a dummy number. This is a particular problem with strips from The Big Big Big Bristow Book. The real numbers will be allotted as further research is done. If a strip was also published in a book in the UK, I have given the reference to that book.The first three books were each called Bristow so these are distinguished by the dates of publication, being in 1966, 1970 and 1972. Some strips are published in other newspapers that clearly ought to have been in the Evening Standard on dates when the paper did not appear due to strike actions by its aggressive and ultimately self-defeatingly greedy unions.I therefore give these the numbers they would have had, had they appeared in the paper.I have not referred to the books published elsewhere.
Scans from the original newspaper cuttings reproduce fairly well. I made the mistake of using sticky tape to put them onto a paper backing and after thirty years the tape has darkened the newsprint, but by playing around with the histogram adjustment and eraser in PaintShop Pro I have been able to take out much of the distortions.
The quality of the photo reproductions from microfiche varies greatly. Sometimes the source is appalling grainy and grimy, looking as though the paper was attacked by mould before it was originally photographed. Either that or they spilled coffee on the camera. There is only so much I can do to restore these to a reasonable black and white. But where the microfiche is sharp I can usually get a reasonable digital image.
The scans from the Evening Standard from 1997 onwards have come out sharp and clear - not enough time for the newsprint to deteriorate, and I have used scans from the books whenever the newspaper or microfiche original was not good enough. The pictures taken directly from Frank Dickens website are normally excellent, being scans taken directly from the original artboards that Frank draws on.
Some of the Google scans are excellent, some are almost unreadable. As noted above, the actual quality of some has changed since I first copied them in 2010, as if better images have become available, so there is always hope for the poorer ones.
The copyright of strips originally published in the Evening Standard is owned by Associated Newspapers Ltd, who have kindly given me permission to make reproductions on this website. I assume that this copyright applies to any images accessed through Google News since it was the Standard that permitted syndication to other newspapers.
The copyright of strips published since March 2001 on his website rests with Frank Dickens.
All strips reproduced on Guter.Org remain copyright as shown above and are reproduced here by way of supporting the text, which (other than the direct quoting of strips) is copyright Anthony Guter.