70 years of Dennis the Menace: A timeline

1951: Dennis the Menace first appears in The Beano, drawn by Scots cartoonist, Davey Law. There is no Gnasher yet and Dennis’s distinctive stripy black and red jumper do not appear for some weeks. He is not yet on the cover but has a half-page black and white story inside the comic. The character and strip have a more real-world feel than many Beano strips which makes it instantly popular. Biffo the Bear remains on the cover where he has been since he knocked The Beano’s original cover star, Big Eggo off in 1948. Eggo (an ostrich) had ruled the roost since The Beano started in 1938.

By a staggering coincidence, a new American comic strip also called ‘Dennis the Menace’ created by Hank Ketcham appears in US newspapers almost exactly simultaneously. The first Beano featuring Dennis was dated 17th March although in practice wold have been available five days earlier: the exact same day the US Dennis debuted! The American Dennis is blonde, has a dog and a neighbour called Mr Wilson. He too, is still going strong as of 2021. He is usually referred to as just ‘Dennis’ when he appears in the UK while the UK version is called, ‘Dennis and Gnasher’ in the US to avoid confusion. Just to be clear, this feature is only about the British Dennis the Menace, although both are now seventy.

1953: Dennis has now been promoted to a full page colour story on The Beano’s back cover. Dennis’s enemy Walter also makes his first appearance (Dennis’s friends, Curly and Pie-Face have already arrived).

In the same year, Minnie the Minx and Little Plum first appear in The Beano while Beryl the Peril appears in the new title, The Topper. Beryl and Minnie are clearly intended to be female versions of Dennis. Beryl and Dennis are both drawn by Davey Law for much of the 1950s. Leo Baxendale, the creator of Minnie and ‘Redskin’ Dennis, Little Plum (amongst many other strips, including The Bash Street Kids) credited Dennis with inspiring him to join The Beano.

1955: The first Dennis the Menace Book or annual appears. Of all the many characters to appear in The Beano over the years, only The Bash Street Kids have been granted the same honour.

1968: Abyssinian Wire-Haired Tripe Hound, Gnasher makes his first appearance as Dennis’s canine companion. The story becomes known as ‘Dennis the Menace and Gnasher’ and later just ‘Dennis and Gnasher’.

1970: Davey Law retires (he dies in 1971). David Sutherland takes over as Dennis’s artist.

1974: Dennis the Menace replaces Biffo the Bear as The Beano’s cover story. He remains there to this day after nearly 47 years, well over half the duration of The Beano’s 83-year run. Increasingly old-fashioned, Biffo ceases to appear regularly in The Beano at all after 1987.

1976: The Dennis the Menace Fan Club begins.

1977: Gnasher’s Tale, a spin-off story begins.

1979: Dennis’s pet pig, Rasher makes his debut appearance. He appears in his own story from 1984 until 1988 and intermittently afterwards.

1986: In a well-publicised storyline, Gnasher briefly goes missing and (though male) returns with a litter of puppies including Gnipper, a puppy with a single large razor-sharp tooth. Gnasher’s Tale is replaced by a new story, Gnasher and Gnipper.

1996: A Dennis the Menace cartoon appears on TV. Voices include Billy Connolly and Hugh Laurie.

1998: Birth of Dennis the Menace’s sister Bea.

2004: Dennis the Menaces surpasses the record previously set by Lord Snooty to become the longest running Beano character ever. Only Minnie the Minx and Roger the Dodger come close to rivalling his longevity.

2009: Another new TV series, Dennis and Gnasher begins. It continues until 2013.

2021: Dennis the Menace celebrates his 70th birthday.

History of British comics timeline: The 1960s

1960

Buster comic begins. The title character is originally described as ‘the son of Andy Capp’ although this is soon forgotten about.

Pre-teen girls’ comic/magazine Judy begins.

Corporal Clott enlists in The Dandy, just as National Service comes to an end. He serves the comic loyally until 1970.

1961

Winker Watson ‘the world’s wiliest wangler’ debuts in The Dandy.

The Dandy and The Beano both celebrate their 1,000th issues.

The Victor is launched.

Commando War Stories in Pictures is launched, later known as Commando. It is still going today.

June comic begins.

Send For Kelly (about an inept special agent) begins in The Topper.

1962

The Numskulls debut in The Beezer.

Valiant begins.

Film Fun (est: 1920) ends. Radio Fun (1938-61. merges into Buster) and TV Fun (1953-59) all end during this period.

1963

A Dandy-Beano joint Summer Special appears. The first separate Dandy and Beano Summer Specials appear in 1964.

The original Knock-Out ends. having started in 1939. The title is revived in the 1970s.

Swift merges int The Eagle.

The Hornet begins.

1964

Billy Whizz races onto the pages of The Beano.

‘Rollicking robot’ Brassneck debuts in The Dandy.

Girls’ comic/magazine Jackie is launched.

The Big One is launched, merging into Buster the following year.

Girl ends, after fourteen years, merging into Princess (1960-67). it is revived in the 1980s.

1965

Sparky comic ignites. Keyhole Kate (once of The Dandy) is amongst those appearing.

TV21 begins.

School Friend (est: 1950) merges into June.

1967

Bully Beef and Chips first clash in The Dandy.

Pup Parade, a canine version of The Bash Street Kids, arrives in The Beano.

The long-running Mandy begins.

Giggles starts. Like an actual giggle it only lasts briefly, merging into Buster in 1968.

TV Tornado comes and goes quickly, becoming absorbed by TV21 in 1968.

The Eagle is by now and clear decline. New Dan Dare stories stop appearing in the weekly comic.

1968

Dennis the Menace gets a new pet dog, Abyssinian wire-haired tripe hound, Gnasher

Twinkle is launched.

Jag is launched. It merges into another big cat, Tiger in 1969.

Buster’s Diary is replaced by Buster’s Dream World.

1969

‘Two-in-one, two times the fun!’ Whizzer and Chips launches with an unusual double-headed format. Sid’s Snake stars in Whizzer, amateur pugilist Shiner in Chips. Wear ‘Em Out Wilf, Champ and the long-running Odd Ball are all in the first issue.

Robin ends, after sixteen years. It was the most enduring of The Eagle’s sister titles.

After a decade of decline, The Eagle itself ends, merging into Lion. It is the end of an era.

Chris Hallam is a freelance writer. Originally from Peterborough, he now lives in Exeter with his wife. He writes for a number of magazines including Yours Retro, Best of British and Comic Scene – in which he wrote about Judge Death, The Ballad of Halo Jones, Dan Dare, The Eagle and Alan Moore’s Watchmen (amongst other things). He co-wrote the book, Secret Exeter (with Tim Isaac) and wrote A-Z of Exeter – People, Places, History. He was also wrote the 2014 annuals for The Smurfs, Furbys and Star Wars Clone Wars annuals as well as the 2015 Transformers annual.