I love Beryl the Peril. She's my favourite UK children's comics character. I don't think she's necessarily the best of them, but I love her the best anyway, because of my grandmother's Beryl the Peril annuals.
I'm talking about my mother's mother. She lived in Aberdeen and we'd travel up every year to visit her (and our other Scottish relatives). Anyway, she had two Beryl the Peril annuals in the house, which of course I found and read. (They were the 1961 and 1963 books.) They blew my mind. There were a couple of pages I couldn't read normally because they made me laugh too much. They could hear me laughing through the whole house.
One year, my aunt gave me a more recent Beryl the Peril annual as a Christmas/birthday present. I was appalled. The Antichrist (aka. Robert Nixon) had taken over as the artist and the degeneration of Beryl had begun. (Nixon's technically a better artist than later-era Davey Law and there are characters that work with his cute, rounded style, e.g. Ken Reid's Grandpa, but as far as I'm concerned he's a character-wrecker.)
Mind you, my childhood self would have self-destructed in a tiny nuclear explosion if I'd seen what's been done with Beryl in modern comics. She's been reinvented to the point of unrecognisability. Robert Nixon softened her, Karl Dixon focused on her relationship with her father and I'm surprised that Steve Bright dares show his face in public. Never mind all them, though. Let's pretend those don't exist.
We're talking about the good stuff here. Let's go into history.
Davey Law creates Beryl as a female equivalent of his Beano creation, Dennis the Menace. She appears in The Topper. (Personally, I like Law's version of Dennis the best too.) Law uses his own daughter, Rosemary, as inspiration, drawing the faces she pulled in her tantrums.
Incidentally, like Law and DC Thomson, Beryl is Scottish. She says "kin" instead of "can" and occasionally encounters Scottish things, e.g. the Highland Games, or having bagpipes in the house.
1958 = cover date 1959, cover illustration of Beryl having sawn a hole in the book
Beryl becomes one of the few D.C. Thomson characters to get her own annual. It's mostly just reprints of her weekly strips, but for me that's great. 100 pages of original material would never be this dense. It's like the nuclear counterargument to the modern decompressed comics debate. Each one-page strip is a complete, self-contained story of up to 20 panels. Reading these books takes a long time!
Also, importantly, they're good. Obviously. I wouldn't be writing if they weren't. Even rereading today at nearly fifty years old, I'd be laughing at Beryl. I love her opinions on netball vs. rugby, for instance. She thinks hockey needs nails. I love her "LUVLY!" and her "boy-oh-boy" at interesting books, e.g. The Time Bomb. There's a lot you couldn't do today, e.g. her regular spankings from her father, but sod that.
This early version of the character is unusually young, although also better drawn. My theory is that since she was based on Law's daughter, the character aged as the daughter did. This means that she's younger in the reprint strips than in the illustrations to the book's bonus text stories. (They're not very good, incidentally. The latter annuals have better short stories.) She's arguably more fun-loving than malicious, but she still tends to make extreme things happen. Plumbing Made Easy, "two of sand, one of cement", steamrollers and the scary finale to one story where she's about to saw a magician in half. She also has startlingly posh classmates.
1960 = cover date 1961, cover illustration of Cowboy Beryl riding a pneumatic drill
Quite a lot of these stories are "Beryl finds a new toy", e.g. lawn mower, mustard, live elephant, parasol, scythe... these can be scary. Her antics can be potentially fatal, e.g. electrocuting her father, but most at risk is usually Beryl herself. She'll do suicidal things for fun, e.g. trying to be a circus acrobat. She builds home-made bombs,
These strips' best gags, though, tend to be the visual ones of something undignified and/or alarming happening to her father. It's the Tom and Jerry principle. Whack, yow, funny. (She puts him in hospital three times, although she's often in the next bed.) There's nothing dangerous about the comedy snow in his top hat, mind you.
"Buy a flag, sir? Nice and sharp, sir!"
1962 = cover date 1963, cover illustration of Beryl having painted a teacher's face on a punchbag
Beryl has serious (if misdirected) mechanical engineering skills. She can jack up your car, remove a wheel, take out its inner tube and use it to build a propeller-driven car of her own. She also builds a spaceship (ish) to go to the moon. Her games include cricket, cowboys, indians and highwaymen.
She made me laugh with those African spears.
1964 = cover date 1965, cover illustration of Beryl pulling a tiger
These strips occasionally say that Beryl looks like a monkey. It's a regular on-off gag over the years. She doesn't, though, unless the artist deliberately deforms things. It might have been funny if she really had.
1966 = cover date 1967, cover illustration of Beryl playing netball
I think there's been some character drift. Beryl's become clumsy and less evil. Well, never mind. It's still fairly subtle and the books still make me laugh.
1968 = cover date 1969, cover illustration of Beryl's head against a blue background
Beryl's acquiring occasional partners in crime. Cynthia, Prudence, Sybil...
1970 = cover date 1971, cover illustration of Pirate Beryl on ice skates with snowballs
...and also enemies. Jimmy Smith and the Slop Street Gang.
Interestingly, it would seem that Beryl keeps her promises and doesn't lie. She might dismantle beds and make holes in walls, though.
1972 = cover date 1973, cover illustration the same as 1969 but with the background repainted black
Ugh. Robert Nixon is polluting this book, e.g. with short story illustrations. You can ignore those pages, though, and it's still a good book.
1974 = cover date 1975, cover illustration of Beryl pulling a face at a monkey in the zoo
There's a reference to the new James Bond film, Goldfinger, suggesting that the reprinted material was ten years old. (There's also a repainted word balloon that clearly didn't originally say 1977.) There's more Robert Nixon, possibly including the cover, but never mind. Beryl's mechanical skills are again striking. She can make a cart or a bike disintegrate underneath you, or turn a lawn mower in a lawn-killing motor-driven plough.
1976 = cover date 1977, cover illustration of Beryl dancing to a record
And here I stop. I refuse to buy this. The cover's stomach-churningly Nixony and the book's full title is "Beryl The Peril and famous fun chums 1977", also starring the Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx, Tiny (The World's Biggest Dog), Pop, Dick and Harry and Dennis the Menace. In the old days, when her strips were good, she didn't need propping up like this. (Dennis got the odd cameo, though.)
1980 = cover date 1981, cover illustration of Beryl and Minnie the Minx at the dodgems
Forty years ago, I read this. I don't own it any more. Never again.
1986 = cover date 1987, cover illustration of Beryl riding a chariot through a football match
No no no.
1987 = cover date 1988, cover illustration of Beryl playing rugby
She has an extraordinary number of relatives, incidentally. (Her mum had lots of siblings.) Her uncles include Joe, Jack, Jim, Bill, Bert, Tom, Sam, Stan and Fred. Her aunts include Maisie, Mabel, Nan, Nell, Jean, Jane, Aggie and Agatha (the last two perhaps being the same person). Her cousins include Shirley, Cynthia, Gwendoline, Mary, Violet and Willy.
We learn a bit about them, but it can overlap. Joe is a practical joker in '59 and '65, but an ex-boxer in '63 and a farmer in '71. Bill and Tom are also farmers. Jim is Mum's favourite brother. Stan is timid and Sam lives in America.
It's great. I want to write crossovers starring her with everything. Beryl is one of the titans... but good luck trying to tell that to anyone who's only aware of her strips from the last half-century or so.