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Cheeky Weekly ™ REBELLION PUBLISHING LTD, COPYRIGHT ©  REBELLION PUBLISHING LTD, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED was a British children's comic with cover dates spanning 22 October 1977 to 02 February 1980.

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Thursday, 20 February 2020

The Whoopee Years – Stage School

Art: Robert Nixon, as is all the art in this post unless noted otherwise

Having appeared in just 26 issues before the demise of Cheeky Weekly, Stage School was a mere stripling compared to its fellow transferees into Whoopee; Cheeky had of course featured in all 117 issues of his own comic, each edition of which saw him make multiple appearances, while 6 Million Dollar Gran and Mustapha Million had appeared (albeit less extensively as the toothy funster) in 114 editions each. Charlie Counter and his number-crunching prognosticator pal, the stars of Calculator Kid, had shown up for 78 issues, and Paddywack had caused consternation and not a little confusion over 77 weeks.

It may be that by the time Stage School joined the ranks of Cheeky Weekly funny folk (in 'new look' issue number 87 dated 07 July 1979), the decision had already been made to bring the title to an end the following February. We can further speculate that Stage School was created specifically to transfer into Whoopee (it was the final entirely original strip to join the Cheeky Weekly stable - Snail of the Century, a spin-off from the Cheeky strips and starring a long-established character, made its slithering debut a week later). If this was the case, Group Editor Bob Paynter made an astute choice of subject, as Stage School was a cracking strip, and became a Whoopee stalwart, continuing not only until Whoopee itself expired, but slightly beyond.

The premise of the strip in its new home remained the same as it had in its comic of origin – our young heroes’ showbiz aspirations were viewed with disdain by their teacher who despised all things entertainment-related. The peevish pedagogue would try to prevent the kids from pursuing their showbiz studies, but the strips would often conclude with the pupils, having thwarted their schoolmaster’s ploys, streaming delightedly across the playground from ‘real class’ to ‘showbiz class’.

Stage School in the first combined Whoopee! and Cheeky set the scene for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the set-up (Stage School was not among the Cheeky Weekly strips to appear in Whoopee! the previous year as part of IPC's Star Guest promotion, probably because the showbiz wannabes had made their debut only 3 weeks before the promotion concluded)...

The first Stage School of the Whoopee era - 09 February 1980, including a nice rendition of the cravat-sporting showbiz teacher

Initially the pupils were the same as those featured in the strip’s Cheeky Weekly run, although some of their names were changed after their move into Whoopee! -

The junior ballerina named in Cheeky Weekly as Olga became Margot Fountain (cf. Margot Fonteyn). The aspiring classical actor known in his Cheeky Weekly incarnation as Shakespearian Sam was in his Whoopee career referred to as Hammy (referencing of course not only Hamlet, but also the derogatory description of a performance by a thespian with a tendency to overact). The mini magician who was referred to once in Cheeky Weekly as Tony became known as Marvo. Strongo first appeared in Cheeky Weekly dated 29 December 1979 when he went un-named, but in the final Stage School in the toothy funster’s comic, drawn by Barry Glennard, a character referred to as Strongo had a different, less muscular, appearance than that of the same name in Whoopee!

The strip was given a boost on the cover of the third combined issue of Whoopee! and Cheeky when a scene from that week’s story (specially drawn for the cover by Robert Nixon) was featured on the front page. The kids and Sir were back on the cover of the 05 July 1980 edition, although this time the image used was lifted from the episode inside, albeit with a little trimming.

Stage School initially inherited the same title panel that had been used for the strip in Cheeky Weekly since November 1979. This design persisted until Whoopee! and Cheeky dated 27 December 1980, when Robert Nixon provided a special festive title, including holly and of course the traditional snow-covered text. A week later a new title panel was introduced, featuring Sir raging silently at an illuminated Stage School sign looming over him.

The comic dated 01 May 1982 saw yet another new design, this time showing a dressing room mirror on which the name of the strip had been written in lipstick/makeup, and a selection of showbiz accoutrements.

29 May 1982's episode had a new title panel design, the searchlights making it reminiscent of the 20th Century Fox logo, which was relevant to that week's story concerning Sir's apparent change of career (it was of course all a ruse to get the kids to work harder at their real studies)...

The dressing room design then resumed until the issue dated 03 July 1982, when the above 'Fox' design returned until the 24 July 1982 edition (all 3 of these 'Fox'-titled episodes were drawn by Brian Walker), when 'dressing room' began another run. Fox was back for the final time on 07 August (the strip that week drawn by Robert Nixon), after which dressing room had an unbroken run up to and including the 25 June 1983 edition.

A week later Whoopee absorbed the survivors from failed stablemate Wow!, and  Stage School’s title panel was given a splendid overhaul, becoming a banner-style introduction which functioned as an explanation of the basis of the strip for the benefit of those former Wow! readers who had decided to transfer their allegiance to the newly combined comic. To further familiarise those who were previously unaware of the strip, Jo-Jo the trainee clown, Marvo and Houdanny the mini escapologist (who was seen outside his sack far more often (proportionally) than in his Cheeky Weekly days) were given namechecks by Sir during the story. This title design only appeared that week.

Dressing room resumed thereafter, but on 06 August 1983 the title panel underwent another renovation, and thenceforth showed a glum-looking Sir surrounded by his showbiz-obsessed charges.

Note Roy Wilson-style parrot

This title panel remained unchanged for the remainder of Whoopee's run.

Some new pupils, who went on to become recurring characters, were introduced during the strip's Whoopee years -

Wild West sharpshooter Calamity Jenny (cf. Calamity Jane), and Wonder the Champion Horse (cf. Champion the Wonder Horse)
Mini-boffin Magnus Tyke aka Minus Tyke (cf. Magnus Pyke)
Clairvoyant Gypsy Rosie aka Gipsy Rose, Gipsy Rosie, Gypsy Rose, possibly referencing a performer with a somewhat different act, Gypsy Rose Lee.
Trainee daredevil Kammy Kazi aka Kami Kazi, Cammy Cazzi (a rather inappropriate reference to Kamikaze)
Yuri Yeller aka Guri Yeller aka Mini Metal Bender (cf. Uri Geller)
Trainee animal trainer Babs (cf. Barbara Woodhouse)

There were also some characters who appeared just once in order to fulfill the requirements of a particular script, including Trainee Sword Swallower, Dainty Delia the TV chef (Delia Smith) and Flaymo the Fire Eater.

Teacher's surname was never revealed, but readers learned in the 05 April 1980 story that his first name is Henry.

Early stories in Stage School’s Cheeky Weekly run established that the kids attended showbiz classes before ‘real’ lessons each school day, but the scriptwriter soon realised that moving their showbiz education to the afternoon gave more scope for teacher to try to impede the kids' showbiz aspirations. However following the move into Whoopee, there was a further implication of morning entertainment classes in the 11 April 1981 story, in which the kids are forced to use desks designed for infants, suffering aches resulting from cramming themselves into the constricting furniture. As the kids hobble towards the door at the end of real lessons, Teacher says ‘Heh, heh! You can’t rush past me tonight as soon as the bell rings’. The majority of stories made it clear that real lessons ocurred in the morning - in the comic dated 30 May 1981 we see Teacher return to real class after lunch, only to find the room draped with cobwebs. Marvo explains, ‘We’re rehearsing for our horror film lesson at show-biz class this afternoon’. Teacher uses another ruse to delay the kids in their real class in the comic dated 04 December 1982, and as the showbiz wannabes finally stream across the playground towards showbiz class, a disgruntled Marvo observes, ‘Now we’re late for the afternoon show-biz lesson’.

In the 03 July 1982 episode, the first to be drawn by Brian Walker, Marvo exhibits hitherto undemonstrated mind-reading abilities, and at the end of the same strip the whole class seem to have developed the power of telekinesis as they move by their collective mind-power a large crate with which Sir has blocked the door to the showbiz (or show-biz at it read that week) class. Two weeks later Brian illustrated a story in which the Stage School kids have to play in a cricket match against pupils from St Snobbs following a decree by the headmaster. The mini showbiz marvels are reluctant to engage in the game, and they rather unsportingly employ their stage skills against the opposing team before uprooting the pitch. A teacher who we assume is supposed to be the headmaster appears in the final panel, but clearly Brian Walker wasn’t familiar with Robert Nixon’s character design and furnishes readers with a different-looking senior master. UPDATE - here I speculate that Brian was given the original Robert Nixon artwork art for the strip that was published in Whoopee! dated 29 May 1982, for reference purposes. That week didn't feature the headmaster, which could explain why Brian's version was different to Robert's.

Robert Nixon's Headmaster
Brian Walker's Headmaster

The 27 November 1982 edition saw the first appearance of the Calculator Kid spin-off puzzle feature, Calculator Corner. Jack Oliver’s series of brain teasers often featured guests from among Whoopee’s array of comic stars, and characters from Stage School turned up on 5 occasions;

11 December 1982 – Sir and Marvo
16 April 1983 – Headmaster and Sir
14 May 1983 – Sir
11 February 1984 - Marvo
06 October 1984 - Marvo

There was a reversal of the usual Stage School story trajectory in Whoopee! Dated 22 January 1983, when the kids demonstrate to Sir how they can employ their showbiz skills to help with their real classes. Showbiz Teacher spots them doing their acts in real class and remonstrates with the aspiring artistes, saying they should reserve their performances for showbiz class, and asking Sir to give them more real lessons.

Marvo, Trainee Juggler and Jo-Jo set the questions in the Quizmaster puzzle feature in Whoopee! Dated 29 January 1983 (Sir was depicted looking on in typically angry mood but wasn’t allowed to pose a question since obviously he wouldn’t have any truck with all that showbiz malarkey).

Ironically, Stage School stories rarely ventured into the kids' showbiz classes since there wouldn't normally be any conflict in that setting to fuel the narrative. However, here's a glimpse of what went on across the playground from 'real' class (showbiz teacher really working his cravat here)...

Sir’s more sensitive side became apparent in the 22 October 1983 story, when the kids announce they have given up showbusiness due to a harsh review by critic Clive Knowitall of their performances in the previous night’s ‘big show’. A pall of gloom descends on the youngsters (literally a cloud above them reading ‘Gloom’ and, eventually, ‘Super Gloom’). The miserable atmosphere begins to affect Sir who, determined to raise the kids’ spirits, remembers that the reviewer attended the school years ago. Directing the Trainee Telly ‘Tec to search the school records for anything relating to Knowitall, Sir is soon in possession of a film of a terrible rendition of ‘To be or not to be’ by a young Master K. Having seen the evidence, the kids realise their critic is in no position to judge their work, and their enthusiasm for the entertainment world is restored.

The kids' parents weren't depicted consistently...

Sir’s chemistry lesson went explosively wrong in the 08 December 1984 episode, resulting in the destruction of the school. Fortunately the kids and their teacher were able to vacate the building just prior to the blast. The final panel revealed that Headmaster hadn’t got out in time and he was depicted seated at his desk surrounded by the rubble of a flattened building, dazed and with stars circling his head as is the comic convention for anyone suffering trauma. A week later the school was showing no signs of damage.

Stage School appeared in 262 of the 265 issues of Whoopee published following its amalgamation with Cheeky Weekly. With the exception of the 29 March 1980 edition in which their story was reduced to a single page due to the presence of a competition, the results of an earlier competition and the Ticklish Allsports booklet, all the episodes consisted of 2 pages (although in the early days their second page was often shared with a single-row-of-panels Paddywack gag). Robert Nixon drew 252 episodes, Barry Glennard 4, Brian Walker 3, Joe McCaffrey 2 and Doug Jensen 1.

The kids and their irascible teacher did survive the merge of Whoopee into Whizzer and Chips in early April 1985, although they only made 2 appearances in their new home. Tellingly, Stage School characters were not among the folk from Whoopee who were introduced to Whizzer and Chips readers a week before the merge was effected.

Stage School was a real asset to Whoopee and clearly must have been popular to have had such a long and regular existence, never lapsing into reprint. The idea was a clever one which gave a pleasing twist to the rather hackneyed 'schoolkids versus teacher' situation with which comic readers were all too familiar. Robert Nixon's lovely artwork was a major contribution to Stage School's success. By this time Robert was very much influenced by Roy Wilson's classic style (the presence of the trainee animal trainer giving him the opportunity to draw Roy Wilson-style parrots on occasion) and that's no bad thing.


  1. Brilliant post...
    Brought back lovely memories of reading and enjoying this strip...
    I'll give you a clap and you can bow for a brilliant post...clap clap clap..

    1. Thank you, thank you (takes bow, trips and falls off stage)

  2. It could be argued that Stage School was a kind of comic precursor for the TV shows about wannabe stars that’ve proliferated and plagued our screens over the last 15-20 years. Personally I’ve no time for them and would much rather read W&C (or watch a DVD) instead.

    1. As I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, for many years I assumed Stage School was inspired by the 'Fame' film and subsequent TV series (which were of course fictional rather than the 'reality' shows to which you allude), but when I checked I was surprised to find Stage School predated the film. So yes, Stage School may have inculcated showbiz aspirations in a whole generation, which were then passed on to their offspring!