TEDDY TAIL OF THE DAILY MAIL
By Mary Cadogan
Originally written for the book TEDDY TAIL (published by Hawk Books)
Anthropomorphic animals have always hit a high note in British newspaper comic strips. Overflowing the "kiddies' corners" where they often kicked off, they seem to have appealed as strongly to adults as children. Although Teddy Tail was not the first furry newspaper cartoon hero, his predecessors (notably Tiger Tim & Co in the 1904 Daily Mirror) were more spasmodic in their early appearances. The Daily Mail's astoundingly resilient rodent achieved the distinction of starring in Britain's first daily strip. Launched on 5th April 1915, Teddy Tail of the Daily Mail became a byword; his career spanned forty-five years, while his popularity (and the battle for increased circulation) was to inspire the creation of other animal strip heroes, including Pip, Squeak and Wilfred in the Daily Mirror, Bobby Bear in the Daily Herald, and Rupert Bear in the Daily Express.
With a short gap during the Second World War Teddy's colourful and engaging antics were to continue until 1960. His originator was Charles James Folkard – an artist then already well known for his illustrations of nursery literature and children's classics which deftly blended naturalism with elements of caricature. A man of many talents, he started out as a conjuror and later wrote several plays and pantomimes for children. Folkard stuck with the strip until the later ninetween-twenties, when his brother Harry took over.
By the early 'thirties' the Mail had found a way for its magnificent mouse to pull in still more readers. A give-away comic starring him was issued with the paper from 8th April 1933. This large and lively Boys and Girls Daily Mail ran for four and a half years, appearing at various periods once, twice and even three times a week. Its popularity – and indeed Teddy Tail's nineteen-thirties heyday – owed a great deal to the fact that from November 1933 Herbert Sydney Foxwell took over the strips. Foxwell had been drawing for the Amalgamated Press papers from 1913 in My Favourite Comic, Comic Cuts and Puck and had become celebrated for his splendidly bright and bold depiction of Tiger Tim and his assorted animal mates in Rainbow, Tiger Tim's Tales, Tiger Tim's Weekly and Playbox.
There was a flourishing Teddy Tail league which was featured prominently in the comic. Members proudly wore its red and black enamelled badge, acknowledged each other by making its secret sign, and were sent full colour Foxwell designed cards on their birthdays. Mousey merchandising spin-offs proliferated – from jigsaws and cut-outs to biscuits and books. The Teddy Tail Annual, appearing from 1934 to 1942 and then between 1949 and 1962, was a wonderfully satisfying enhancement of any child's Christmas. Foxwell's covers, endpapers and strips for it during the thirties are gems of illustrative exuberance. Sadly this gifted artist died of natural causes in 1943, while only in his early fifties. (He was on military service at Aldershot, and had been an army officer in both world wars). Teddy's exploits were temporarily halted by hostilities, but he bounced back into the Mail in 1946, and was then drawn until the end of his run in the paper and annuals by Arthur Potts and W.J.T. Glenn.
His character development is fascinating. Folkard started him off as a half-animal and half-human boy; no-one seemed to find it strange that he soon became encased in Eton suits and collars (a garb then used throughout his career).
In Folkard's strips (which were reprinted in hard covers between 1915 and 1926) Teddy is skinny and slightly spikey. He engages in time shifts, trips to fairyland, other exotic locations and is often accompanied by the rather mysterious insect, Dr. Beetle. When Foxwell took over he rounded Teddy out and gave him a similar setting to that which had worked so well for Tiger Tim – a boarding school with a teacher-cum-surrogate mother (in this case Mrs. Whislers) in charge. He built up Teddy's friendships with his school-mates Kitty Puss, Piggy and Dougie, the baby duck. Cosiness became the keynote; the Whisker Pets were adventurous, but in the carefully controlled confines of home and nursery school – the familiar world of Teddy's most youthful fans. Foxwell made him mischievous but never malicious; he was also extremely competent, driving cars and piloting aeroplanes with panache, but most of all enjoying pranks and parties and lots of play (no-one seemed to study hard at Mrs. Whisker's school) in that timeless world of childhood in which we can still delight when we re-read Teddy Tail's engaging exploits.