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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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Saturday 21 March 2020

The Whoopee Years – Gran

$6,000,000 Gran

Erstwhile readers of Cheeky Weekly may have been a little surprised to see their aged automaton pal, previously known as 6 Million DollarGran across her 114-issue run in the toothy funster’s title, undergo a numeric revision to become $6,000,000 Gran on her first outing in the combined Whoopee! and Cheeky. However, when they saw Pete and Pauline Potts accompanying Gran, and read Pauline’s comment (designed to bring Whoopee! readers up to speed with the concept behind the strip), “Tee, hee! It’s a giggle having a bionic robot granny!”, they would have been reassured that, aside from the tweaking of the title, the situation they had hitherto enjoyed remained unchanged (the scriptwriter’s seeming confusion regarding the contradictory terms ‘bionic’ and ‘robot’ was certainly familiar to Cheeky Weekly fans, and Gran would repeatedly be referred to as bionic during her run in $6,000,000 Gran).

Also reassuring to former Cheeky Weekly readers who had chosen to transfer their allegiances to Whoopee! and Cheeky was the continued contributions of Ian Knox, who had drawn 94 of Gran’s Cheeky Weekly adventures.

The first $6,000,000 Gran episode - Whoopee! and Cheeky 09 February 1980
Art: Ian Knox, as is all the artwork in this post

One aspect of the feature which failed to transfer into the merged comic was the portrayal of Gran’s adventures as Cheeky’s favourite TV show. Long-time fans of our grinning hero, who had been reading Cheeky Weekly since its inception, would have been aware that, like all the non-Cheeky strips in the comic’s early days, Gran’s TV appearances were framed within Cheeky’s universe. However, the various framing devices had gradually been dropped over time, with Gran’s TV existence being the last to be removed, during the summer of 1979. 

Another change as of Gran’s move to Whoopee! was the episode length – whereas the majority of 6 Million Dollar Gran stories occupied 3 pages, $6,000,000 Gran’s were, with 5 exceptions of either single or one and a half pages, reduced to 2 pages per week.

Gran’s creator, Professor Potts, appeared in her second Whoopee! and Cheeky adventure, wherein readers learned he was still employed at the ‘research lab outside town’ which, as was revealed in the first issue of Cheeky Weekly, was where the synthetic senior citizen was built. Prof Potts and his wife would feature intermittently during Gran’s $6,000,000 escapades.

Pete seemed to forget that Gran was a robot...

...as did Gran herself

A scene from Gran’s story in the issue dated 01 March appeared on the cover that week, and Gran was featured on the front page of the 02 August 1980 edition, although the image used on the cover, showing the aged automaton aboard a manually-powered (or robotically powered in Gran's case) railway trolley (or handcar), didn’t bear any relation to her story inside the comic that week, which concerned a threat to Professor Potts’ marrow.
Evidently Gran’s electronic brain failed her in the 09 August 1980 episode, as she was duped into freeing a prisoner from jail – clearly she didn’t recall that she was similarly deceived back in Cheeky Weekly dated 03 December 1977.
There was a medical mix-up in Gran’s 24 January 1981 escapade – due to a misunderstanding, the mechanical marvel was examined by a doctor who didn’t seem to notice her robotic construction.

Changes were afoot for Gran following Professor Potts’ overseas posting, as explained in Whoopee! and Cheeky dated 25 April 1981 (the old Cheeky Weekly-style title panel was reintroduced for the final 2 episodes of her '6 Million/£6,000,000' run)…

In the following issue Gran visited the Labour Exchange (forerunner of today’s Job Centre) and obtained employment as a school crossing guard, then as a dishwasher in a restaurant. Neither of these posts suited the ostensibly-geriatric jobseeker, so she returned to the employment office...

Robot Granny

Readers who were willing to risk having their sides split learned a week later that the title of the strip had changed to Robot Granny, finally acknowledging Gran’s mechanical nature (although her feats would continue to be described as bionic). Nanny would have been a more accurate description of her new role since Pete and Pauline Potts would no longer feature in her stories (despite his promise that he would return in 1983, Professor Potts and his family never appeared again), but her new charges disparagingly referred to her as Granny (and so on occasion did Lady Swankly, although whether Gran's titled employer intended it as a slight, as did the kids, is not clear). The change of Gran’s strip title happened 11 weeks before the comic title reverted from Whoopee! and Cheeky to just Whoopee!, but the Robot Granny stories continued after the reference to the toothy funster’s comic was dropped.

First Robot Granny strip -Whoopee! and Cheeky 09 May 1981

For the duration of Gran’s Robot Granny run, her previous attire of dress and fetching bonnet with flower was replaced with a nanny’s uniform.

Robot Granny in nanny uniform and still having her feats described as bionic
The children of Lord and Lady Swankly consisted of a baby, Jason (seen in early episodes only), and a selection of youngsters (the maximum number seen in a single panel was 11; 10 April and 05 June 1982), the most striking of whom was a girl (30 May 1981 suggests her name may have been Amelia, but 05 September 1981 identifies her as Sarah), knuckle-dragging with Popeye-style forearms, often including nautical tattoo. The Swankly brood also included identical twins, one of whom was named Mike (11 July 1981). Rather confusingly, they also had a different child named Mick who received a namecheck in the 05 September 1981 edition, along with his taller, spiky-haired brother, James (the other twin). ‘Mick’ was referred to as William in the issues dated 13 March and 11 September 1982. The corpulent child was of course called, in those less enlightened times, Tubby (31 October 1981). Fishing enthusiast Nigel was named during the course of 14 November 1981’s piscatorial plot.

$6,000,000 Gran was seen working as a dishwasher
in a restaurant (02 May 1981) but in her guise as
Robot Granny she seemed to be mis-remembering her past

The Robot Granny stories revolved around Gran’s attempts to amuse or educate the kids. Episodes often began with Lady Swankly giving Gran instructions on some aspect of the children’s care (frequently telling Gran that the youngsters, who were seen with their faces pressed against TV screens or lazing around eating grapes), needed more exercise, and robotic chaos would result. Gran’s most impressive feat during this period was relocating Mount Everest from the Himalayas to the grounds of Rottenrich Hall (19 February 1983).

A robot enjoying a slap-up feed?

The kids rarely seemed surprised when their nanny demonstrated her superhuman abilities, nor did they enquire how she was able to perform them. As far as readers knew, the kids assumed their governess was human.

The 27 February 1982 story concerned Gran’s inclusion in the kids’ game of hide and seek. The aged automaton correctly surmised that a couple of her charges were concealed beneath the dining table, but on lifting the furniture she smashed the crockery. The bottom half of the second page consisted of a puzzle entitled Help Gran! - readers were challenged to pair the corresponding halves of a selection of shattered cups and plates.

How a robot became eligible for a pension was never explained

Quizmaster was a puzzle feature, hosted each week by one of the Whoopee! stars. The robotic wrinkly introduced the half-page of brain teasers in Whoopee! dated 30 April 1983.

Gran's Gang
Whoopee underwent another merge as of the 02 July 1983 issue, this time welcoming survivors from IPC’s Wow! In the same issue, Gran’s strip was given a further overhaul, becoming ‘Gran’s Gang’ and being reduced from 2 pages per week to one. The first episode in the new format saw Gran accompany some of the Swankly offspring to a disco. The leader of the group of youths who frequented the youth club objected to the presence of the apparently aged Gran. Our robotic heroine, seriously feeling the funk, donned a wig and demonstrated some highly energetic dance moves. The youth gang leader, feeling his position threatened by Gran’s prowess on the dance floor, still refused to admit her to his troupe, and the episode ended with Gran vowing to start her own gang.

The first Gran's Gang episode
The second Gran’s Gang story showed her recruiting elderly local residents Shamus, Harriet, Henry and a further four un-named individuals of advanced age, and announcing the creation of Gran’s Gang. However, as with the Swankly kids, the names of the members of Gran’s gang weren’t always consistent from issue to issue.

Subsequent episodes depicted the gang of youths (still numbering among them some of the Swankly kids, most noticeably the mightily-forearmed Sarah, who reverted to Amelia in the 05 November 1983 episode) challenging Gran’s Gang to various activities, on each occasion expecting an easy win (when issuing challenges, a gauntlet was often literally thrown to the ground). Needless to say, Gran’s Gang always prevailed. For example when competing against the youngsters in the bowling alley, the elderly mob were able to call on their years of experience on the bowling green in order to win. However, Gran no longer exhibited any superhuman abilities (in the 25 August 1984 edition she’s unable to break a stick of seaside rock).

It would appear that Gran’s Gang stars a revised, human version of Gran, since in the 20 October 1984 comic she persuades a museum attendant to lend her a vintage omnibus to replace the modern coach she, her pals and the youngsters were travelling in until it broke down, saying "Oh, go on, George! We were at school together, after all!" George replies "Okey-dokey, matey! Seeing it’s for you!". The youngsters' back-story also seems to have undergone a revision as Lady Swankly was only seen in the first episode and in the 17 November 1984 story William says his dad is a computer engineer.

In later Gran's Gang stories the challenges were replaced with various inter-generational conflicts, although the oldsters would sometimes help out their youthful counterparts and vice-versa.

For her Gran’s Gang appearances, Gran didn’t revert to the outfit she wore in her Six Million and $6,000,000 Gran years – she continued to wear the nanny’s uniform she had sported during the Robot Granny run.

Gran was clearly no longer living at Rottenrich Hall
In the 29 October 1983 story, the kids beat Gran’s gang to the newsagent and buy the last copies of Whoopee. A cheesed-off Gran and her elderly chums visit IPC’s headquarters at King’s Reach Tower (which of course is depicted with a huge Whoopee sign, visible across London, on the exterior of the top floor). In the Whoopee office, where Pa Bumpkin and Smiler can be seen posing for the comic’s artists, Gran explains that her group consists of Whoopee’s oldest readers, yet they missed that week’s issue. The gentleman at the Readers’ Complaints desk hands out not only that week’s edition but some advance copies for several weeks ahead. The number of kids who subsequently contacted IPC pretending to be of advanced years and trying to blag some free comics remains open to speculation.

Horological humour was the subject of The Gran's Gang story in Whoopee dated 30 March 1985, as the senior citizens and their youthful opposite numbers compared their preferred timepieces, while the centre pages informed readers that as from the following week their comic was being merged into Whizzer and Chips. Sweeny Toddler was on hand to introduce the Whizzer and Chips stars who were to be included in the merged title but, as was the standard practice, to ensure that the maximum number of erstwhile Whoopee readers bought a copy of the following week's merged comic, there was no mention of which of the Whoopee crew were to transfer into the amalgamated title. Gran fans spent an anxious week wondering if their robotic chum was among the Whoopee funny folk selected for salvation, but were disappointed to find that she had failed to make the transfer. Nevertheless Gran, through all her various guises across Cheeky Weekly and various Whoopee merges, had enjoyed a creditable run of just under 7 and a half years, much of her success no doubt due to Ian Knox's often grotesque, energetic artwork.

$6,000,000 Gran ran for 60 consecutive issues, 09 February 1980 to 02 May 1981 (publication of Whoopee! and Cheeky was suspended for four weeks in May/June 1980 due to an industrial dispute, and a week after returning to newsagents' shelves, a two-week issue cover-dated 21st - 28th June 1980 was published, so the comic missed 5 weeks during this period). All $6,000,000 Gran strips, were drawn by Ian Knox. All the stories bar 5 were 2 pages long - three issues contained single page stories and in a further two editions $6,000,000 Gran shared the second of her pages with half-page IPC promotions.

Robot Granny ran from 09 May 1981 to 25 June 1983, but was absent from 6 issues during the period, so the total episodes amounted to 106. Nigel Edwards and Barrie Appleby each deputised on one occasion for regular artist Ian Knox. Thus Ian delivered 104 stories, 16 of which covered a page and a half *, with the remainder running to 2 pages, and Nigel and Barrie's contributions were one page each.

* Please note I have chosen to record the Help Gran! puzzle on the second page of her 27 February 1982 escapade as a separate feature from Gran's strip - it has the look of a filler to me and I don't think it sprang from the nimble nib of Mr K - so that week's story is among the total of page and a half episodes listed above.

Gran's Gang first appeared in the issue dated 02 July 1983 and concluded in the final Whoopee dated 30 March 1985, but didn't appear in 5 editions during its run, so the total episode count is 87. All were single-pagers and drawn by Ian Knox.

Thus Gran was present in all but 11 issues of Whoopee from 09 February 1980 to 30 March 1985, making a Gran(d) total of 253 appearances (256 if we include her cover spots and Quizmaster outing).