Felt Trips: “Return Of The Fredi” by James Harris

There’s a secret, completely untold history of British comics. Not The Beano, The Dandy, Whizzer and Chips and other similarly lurid staples of the newsagents’ shelves. No… rather, the comics we made ourselves. The lovingly-crafted pages of wonky, skew-whiff strips peopled by friends, teachers, pets… and merciless send-ups of our favourite films and TV shows. Unsold and unduplicated, for decades they have lain forgotten in attics and spare bedrooms. But they document our lives and childhoods just as vividly as their high street counterparts.

One magnificent home-made comic has already featured as a Felt Trip: Super!, as created by Leicester-based Mike Scott…

https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2020/12/11/felt-trips-naughty-morty-and-super-by-mike-scott

But similarly inspired was James Harris, growing up in the North-Eastern coastal town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea. Here’s the young James, pictured in front of an authentic Teesside summer sky:

Over to you, James…

“For a while, maybe a year or so, I was 10. I think it was in 1982.

Look, you’ll have to bear with me on this, my memory is not so good these days. And although Mum did have a camera, a Polaroid Instamatic, it only came out of its box every other Christmas, so the above is the only known photograph of me in 1982.

That year I used to make up little comedy shows with my friend Jared. (Note: I have no photographs of Jared and I together. It strikes me now that Jared might never have existed – I mean, I tell people we fell out then he moved to Australia but I bet that’s what Ed Norton says about Tyler Durden. Bear that in mind as you read on).

Jared was in the year below me at school. His step-sister was in Prefab Sprout, whatever that was. I used to love going round to his house for tea because they sometimes had Vesta Chow Mein with crispy noodles – an actual meal with hot crisps on the top! From China! What wonders!

We bonded over a love of drawing comics. In my last year at Junior School I had come up with a superhero character, based entirely on Danger Mouse, called… well, he was a cat and I called him… oh dear… look, his name was Power Pussy, OK? That’s what I called him because he was a cat and he was powerful. No pictures exist of Power Pussy and I strongly advise you not to google him.

Anyway, we drew comics, we ate brown bread toasties round his house (Brown bread?! Brown?! Bread?! etc) And then we started making our own little comedy shows. We called ourselves Big and Small. I was Big. Our show had a whole cast of characters: Fred, who was a fox puppet; Mavis Bossibots, who was a grumpy panda; Mr Moneybags who was our manager and landlord; and Speedy, who could run quite fast.

Speedy and Moneybags were little puppets I bought from a joke shop in Whitby. You can still get them…

We would record some shows on cassette (a cassette was like a rectangular mp3, kids) and we would perform some shows live for our friends. And we would also fill exercise books with… well, with this. Here’s the first issue of The Big Magazine:

Notice the crossed-out release date – even then I was bad with deadlines. Also notice the little monsters – they were from packets of glow-in-the-dark monster transfers. I loved them, and would scatter them around the pages where they would make little comments about how rubbish my drawings and jokes were. Heckled by my own monsters!

The pages of my magazine were written and drawn in felt tip, and usually featured ideas and jokes nicked from other peoples’ books and comics. But goodness me, I used to enjoy making them.

Here’s a picture of me. I never had that hairstyle. We had some punks living in our street, and one of them had a green mohican AND I REALLY WANTED ONE. Maybe one day…

That’s Fred the fox puppet at the bottom of the page. He was very much the unsung stalwart of Big and Small, like Les in Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out, or the mysterious third Ronnie that was always hovering just out of eyeshot in many of Corbett and Barker’s most famous sketches.

Some of the pages made no sense whatsoever:

You don’t hear the word ‘pong’ very much these days! I might have to incorporate it into a new story sometime. It’s a great word. ‘Mick Crebble’ – any relation to Look North‘s Mike Neville, I wonder? As for the spelling, as I might tell Andrew Preview, ‘I have written all the right letters, just not necessarily in the right order’. Which is why the ‘s’ from ‘constipation’ found its way into the middle of ‘disappearances’.

I went on to produce a few more magazines over the next couple of years. Here’s my scathing, satirical take on E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial:

Clearly the 10-year old James thought Spielberg’s film was two hours too long, and packed with too much excitement and adventure.

The cast of the Big and Small show would go on to bigger things. Fred the fox in particular enjoyed a brief but glittering career in the kind of direct-to-VHS knockoffs that cluttered the shelves of your local video rental shop in the early 1980s. Here he is in an emotional scene with T.E. in Big and Small’s Return of the Fredi:

Fred’s swansong was as the titular Judge in the pages of Big and Small’s 2000BC featuring Judge Fredd. Here’s a very exciting scene from Judge Fredd vs the Werewolves:

Notice Speedy as the Chief Judge. Often relegated to playing Fred’s sidekick, Speedy would not speak to Fred for many decades and in recent years has taken to tweeting thinly-veiled barbs at his old friend and colleague. Barbs which Fred has, so far, declined to acknowledge.

Alas such a glorious explosion of artistic and comedic genius could not last forever. It could only last until bedtime…

Heh heh, see you next blog post!”

Thanks Jamesl He’s now an award-winning children’s author, and you can find him and his books here…

https://www.theunbelievablejamesharris.com

Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone wants to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.

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