The Playhour Timeline

Hello, girls and boys! Are you sitting comfortably?

Well, stop fidgeting, then. And stop picking at that or it’ll never heal. I swear, if you don’t all settle down right now I’m going to turn this internet around and we’ll all go home! Is that what you want? Is it? No? I didn’t think so. Now, stop poking your sibling in the side and pay attention, will you? No, I wasn’t shouting, I just…

Look, let’s just crack on with this and if you all behave yourselves we’ll go for ice-cream when we’re done, OK? Great! Let’s begin!

Our story begins once upon a time, in a strange and foreign land known as “the past”…

Back in the heyday of the British comics industry there were comics for girls and there were comics for boys, with not so many titles aimed at both. Even the one-size-fits-all humour titles were definitely skewed more towards boys than girls. But at the nursery level — comics aimed at three- to six-year-olds — it seemed like all the titles were gender-blind. Equality and fair representation for every child, be they male or female, rich or poor, black or… um… well, no, not that. Ethnic diversity was an area into which even the nursery comics didn’t bother to tread.

This is the fifth of my British Comics Family Tree Timeline Charts — the others focus on Eagle, Buster, My Guy and DC Thomson — and though it’s far from the largest, it’s been the most troublesome.

At a guess, I’d say that a good 93% of this Playhour timeline is about 90% accurate, and the remaining 7% is a little over five-eighths of the way to being 84% accurate, which isn’t half-bad. Tracking down info on old British comics is tough at the best of times, but even tougher when nursery comics such as these are involved. My Grand Unifying Theory, which I’ve just thought of now, is that this is most likely because people tended to give nursery-age comics to nursery-age children. Paper is a fragile medium and children are frequently clumsy, often careless, and always sticky.

Playhour timeline s(Clicking on the above image will take you to a larger and actually readable version!)

puckPuck
From: 30 July, 1904
To: 11 May, 1940
Duration: 35 years, 9 months
Issues: 1867
Absorbed into: Sunbeam (1926)

A stalwart during the early years of the 20th century, Puck was ultimately a victim of wartime paper shortages. It was absorbed into Sunbeam (1926) which itself succumbed to the same affliction a mere two weeks later.

bigcomicThe Big Comic
From: 17 January, 1914
To: 26 April, 1919
Duration: 5 years, 3 months
Issues: 275
Absorbed: Sparks (1914)
Relaunched as: Sparks (1919)

This is one of those titles that has a rather confusing history, and as such I can’t absolutely swear that all of the info here is accurate. But this is what I currently believe to be true… After absorbing the 1914 incarnation of Sparks with issue 208, it was naturally retitled The Big Comic and Sparks, but then… brace yourself… instead of the standard practice of gradually shrinking the “Sparks” part of the title, from issue 247 (October 5, 1818) it was retitled Sparks and the Big Comic, a title it retained until it was formally relaunched as Sparks in 1919 (see below).

rainbow#1The Rainbow
From: 14 February, 1914
To: 28 May, 1956
Duration: 42 years, 3 months
Issues: 1898
Absorbed: Tiger Tim’s Weekly (1921)
Absorbed into: Tiny Tots

The longest-running comic in this group. Like many of the nursery comics of the era, The Rainbow was of the “pictures with wordy explanatory captions beneath” variety: closer to illustrated stories than actual comic-strips. As such, the stories were designed to be read to a child rather than by a child — big difference! From the first issue it featured “The Bruin Boys” (including that strip’s break-out star Tiger Tim, of whom we’ll see more later).

sparksv1Sparks (1914)
From: 21 March, 1914
To: 29 December, 1917
Duration: 3 years, 9 months
Issues: 198
Absorbed into: The Big Comic

Sparks was a humour title that never really seemed to get off the ground despite numerous relaunches, which suggests that the publishers had more interest in keeping it alive than the readers did. It was first absorbed into its stable-mate The Big Comic, which was then — arguably — relaunched as Sparks (1919), then as Little Sparks, then twice as Sunbeam (1922 & 1926) before it was absorbed into Tiny Tots in 1940 and finally allowed to die.

playtimev1Playtime (1919)
From: 29 March, 1919
To: 17 November, 1923
Duration: 4 years, 8 months
Issues: 243
Relaunched as: Playtime (1923)

Notably included a character called Mickey Mouse who predated the Disney version by almost a decade. This version was created by Harry Rountree and first appeared as Max Mouse in the series “Coral Island; or Jill and her Jungle Friends” but the character was renamed Mickey when he took over the series.

sparksv2Sparks (1919)
From: 03 May, 1919
To: 17 May, 1920
Duration: 12 months
Issues: 51
Relaunch of: The Big Comic
Relaunched as: Little Sparks

The second incarnation of Sparks (1914), via the side-road of The Big Comic. More colour this time around, but with its considerably larger price (1½ pence, an increase of an entire penny!) it failed to find favour among the public and had to be regenerated into Sylvester McCoy. I mean, into Little Sparks. Full disclosure: your beloved Unky Rusty (me) is not entirely comfortable with considering this “relaunched” Sparks as an actual relaunch because the issue numbers weren’t reset to #1 as they usually were for relaunches. I don’t know why most historians do seem to think of this as a separate comic when they were happy enough to accept the various title changes of The Big Comic.

sundayfairyThe Sunday Fairy
From: 10 May, 1919
To: 25 October, 1919
Duration: 5 months
Issues: 25
Relaunched as: The Children’s Fairy

Retitled The Sunday Children’s Fairy for the final two issues before its relaunch as The Children’s Fairy. (Some collectors consider The Children’s Fairy to be a simple rebranding, and thus the same comic as The Sunday Fairy, but with a new title and the issue numbers reset to #1, in my view it’s a separate comic.)

The Children’s Fairy
From: 1 November 1919
To: 09 April, 1921
Duration: 1 year, 5 months
Issues: 76
Relaunched as: Bubbles & The Children’s Fairy

Folks, I’ve let you down. I’ve not been able to track down a single cover of this comic! If you can supply one, I would be very grateful!

tigertimstalesTiger Tim’s Tales
From: 01 June, 1919
To: 24 January, 1920
Duration: 8 months
Issues: 28
Relaunched as: Tiger Tim’s Weekly (1920)

Though almost completely forgotten now, Tiger Tim was massively popular back in the days when it was still not frowned-upon to shoot tigers. He arrived as a member of the Bruin Boys in a strip in the Daily Mirror in 1904, and was clearly the break-out star, popular enough to get his own comic. Tiger Tim’s Tales was one of the few British comics published in landscape mode rather than the most usual portrait mode (that is: bound along one of the shorter edges instead of one of the longer edges).

tigertimv1Tiger Tim’s Weekly (1920)
From: 31 January, 1920
To: 12 November, 1921
Duration: 1 year, 9 months
Issues: 94
Relaunch of: Tiger Tim’s Tales
Relaunched as: Tiger Tim’s Weekly (1921)

It’s back to portrait mode for this relaunch of Tiger Tim’s Tales. It was to be relaunched again less than two years later, retaining this new title.

littlesparksLittle Sparks
From: 22 May, 1920
To: 30 September, 1922
Duration: 2 years, 5 months
Issues: 124
Relaunch of: Sparks (1919)
Relaunched as: Sunbeam (1922)

Relaunching a comic every couple of years — whether it was a complete rebranding or just another “volume” — was a handy and simple way of giving the sales a minor boost: kids are often easily swayed by what appears to be a new comic. Thus, Sparks (already a relaunch of The Big Comic) became Little Sparks, which later became Sunbeam.

chicksownThe Chicks’ Own
From: 22 September, 1920
To: 09 March, 1957
Duration: 36 years, 5 months
Issues: 1605
Absorbed: Bo-Peep and Little Boy Blue, Happy Days, Bubbles & The Children’s Fairy
Absorbed into: Playhour

Another nursery comic, this one had an unusual approach to teaching the young audience to read: words lon-ger than a sin-gle syll-a-ble were hy-phen-at-ed. Ex-cept for the char-ac-ter’s names, for some rea-son.

bubblesBubbles & The Children’s Fairy
From: 16 April, 1921
To: 24 May, 1941
Duration: 20 years, 1 month
Issues: 1024
Relaunch of: The Children’s Fairy
Absorbed into: The Chick’s Own

Because the history of this title is so cloudy, I’m not entirely discounting the possibility that there was a comic called Bubbles that absorbed The Children’s Fairy. However, all evidence points to this just being a relaunch of said title.

tigertimv2Tiger Tim’s Weekly (1921)
From: 19 November, 1921
To: 18 May, 1940
Duration: 18 years, 6 months
Issues: 965
Relaunch of: Tiger Tim’s Weekly (1920)
Absorbed into: The Rainbow

A much more enduring relaunch than the last one, lasting over seven time as long before being cut short by WWII paper shortages.

sunbeamv1Sunbeam (1922)
From: 07 October, 1922
To: 23 January, 1926
Duration: 3 years, 3 months
Issues: 173
Relaunch of: Little Sparks
Relaunched as: Sunbeam (1926)

This is another comic with a murky history. Some reputable sources indicate that Sunbeam was relaunched in 1926, while others — most notably the British Library — completely ignore the relaunch: according to them, Sunbeam ran from 7 October 1922 to 25 May 1940, a total of 747 issues. However, the Grand Comics Database lists Sunbeam volume 1 having 173 issues spanning 7 October 1922 to 23 January 1926, with volume 2 running from From: 30 January 1926 to 25 May 1940 for 747 issues… This is where a tiny bit of deduction comes into play: between 7 October 1922 and 25 May 1940 there are 918 weeks. Add one week because there would have been an issue at the start and at the end of the time span: that gives us 919 issues. Now, if we total the issue counts for volume 1 and volume 2, we get 920. Just one away! So, on that basis, and without any solid evidence to the contrary, I’m taking it as read that the British Library is wrong and there were indeed two volumes of Sunbeam.

playtimev2Playtime (1923)
From: 24 November, 1923
To: 12 October, 1929
Duration: 5 years, 10 months
Issues: 307
Relaunch of: Playtime (1919)
Relaunched as: Bo-Peep and Little Boy Blue

There’s not a lot of info out there about this relaunched version of Playtime (1919), sorry.

sunbeamv2Sunbeam (1926)
From: 30 January, 1926
To: 25 May, 1940
Duration: 14 years, 4 months
Issues: 747
Relaunch of: Sunbeam (1922)
Absorbed: Puck
Absorbed into: Tiny Tots

Quite a successful relaunch for Sunbeam (1922), running a grand fourteen years. As mentioned above, this incarnation of Sunbeam absorbed Puck and then itself died two weeks later. One might worry that perhaps Puck had been poisoned, and the poison was still active when Sunbeam consumed it, but in truth it was the war that saw them both off, of course. That damned war and its insatiable appetite for newsprint. (Um… I’m still not entirely sure how recycling old comics helped defeat the Nazis, but I’m sure it was worth it.)

tinytotsTiny Tots
From: 22 October, 1927
To: 24 January, 1959
Duration: 31 years, 3 months
Issues: 1334
Absorbed: Sunbeam (1926), The Rainbow
Absorbed into: Playhour

Another comic that, like The Chicks’ Own, broke the longer words down with gratuitous and overabundant hy-phen-a-tion. Though this one did also hyphenate the character’s names: Pol-ly, Dum-py, Tidd-les, etc. The thought has just occurred to me that this makes every story feel like it’s being narrated by a Dalek…

bopeepBo-Peep and Little Boy Blue
From: 19 October, 1929
To: 14 April, 1934
Duration: 4 years, 6 months
Issues: 245
Relaunch of: Playtime (1923)
Absorbed into: The Chick’s Own

Back when I first began compiling my database of British comics, this one tripped me up a few times. See, it looks like it’s an amalgamation of two separate comics, and that’s not helped by several resources only referring to the title as Bo-Peep. But as far as I can tell, there never was a comic called Little Boy Blue.

happydaysHappy Days
From: 08 October, 1938
To: 05 August, 1939
Duration: 10 months
Issues: 45
Absorbed into: The Chick’s Own

A very nice-looking comic that had its mortal coil shuffled out from under it way too soon, with the result that it’s almost unknown today. Back in 2010 a rare copy of issue #1 popped up for sale… See what comics legend and all-round awesome chap Lew Stringer wrote about it on his blog.

robinThe Robin
From: 28 March, 1953
To: 25 January, 1969
Duration: 15 years, 10 months
Issues: 836
Absorbed: Story Time
Absorbed into: Playhour

Another younger sibling of The Eagle, following Girl and preceding The Swift and Girl. Though not so well remembered now, The Robin was actually almost as long-lasting as The Eagle.

playhour#1Playhour
From: 16 October, 1954
To: 15 August, 1987
Duration: 32 years, 10 months
Issues: 1700
Absorbed: The Chicks’ Own, Tiny Tots, Harold Hare’s Own Paper, TV Toyland, The Robin, Hey Diddle Diddle, Bonnie, Fun-To-Do, Chips’ Comic, Play-Group

Originally titled Playhour Pictures for its first eight months, this was a monster of a comic, at one point selling over 300,000 copies per week. It was launched to be a companion title to Jack and Jill, and there are some on-line sources who seem convinced that the two were merged at some point: I’ve not found any solid evidence of this. I believe the misunderstanding stems from Jack and Jill’s Playhour Extra, a summer-special comic that featured stories from both (and some from TV Toyland too). Related to that: copies of Playhour with Sooty show up from time to time, and might give the impression that Playhour had absorbed a Sooty comic: not so! The massively popular Sooty was for a long time the comic’s key character and putting him (or at least his name) on the cover was a smart move, sales-wise (later, 2000AD did the same thing with Judge Dredd).

waltdisneysweeklyWalt Disney’s Weekly
From: 26 January, 1959
To: 24 April, 1961
Duration: 2 years, 3 months
Issues: 111
Absorbed into: Harold Hare’s Own Paper

Not the first British Disney comic by any means (I believe that was Mickey Mouse Weekly by Willbank Publications and later Odhams, which ran from 1936 to 1957), but this was a very high-quality publication indeed, judging by the copies in my collection. Very nice printing, colourful stories and several leagues above the simple line-art of many of its contemporaries.

haroldhareHarold Hare’s Own Paper
From: 14 November, 1959
To: 04 May, 1964
Duration: 4 years, 6 months
Issues: 230
Absorbed: Walt Disney’s Weekly
Absorbed into: Playhour

Oddly, I’m pretty sure that I remember this comic even though it met its end two years before I was born… I’m guessing that was because I encountered some old copies and not because my youthful brain was able to breach the barriers of time. It was packed cover-to-cover with more anthropomorphic animals with alliterative appellations than you can shake a stick at. Cute as anything, though.

storytimeStory Time
From: 11 September, 1965
To: 06 May, 1967
Duration: 1 year, 8 months
Issues: 87
Absorbed into: The Robin

As I understand it, Story Time began as a free supplement with Woman’s Realm magazine. This was the 60s, folks. Women’s magazines could have kids’ supplements because it was commonly accepted that taking care of the kids was “woman’s work.” Never got kids’ supplements free with issues of Man & Motorbike, did you? (Disclaimer: I have no idea if there was a magazine called Man & Motorbike, but I wouldn’t be surprised.)

tvtoylandTV Toyland
From: 28 June, 1966
To: 04 February, 1967
Duration: 7 months
Issues: 34
Absorbed into: Playhour

Ah, Pinky and Perky there on the cover! My first — and most abiding — memory of those pesky porcine puppets is one of their squeaky voiced songs on the radio. I have no idea which song, because I have never been able to understand what they’re supposed to be saying. I think they were the first “kids'” characters that I realised I actively disliked.

bobobunnyBobo Bunny
From: 22 March, 1969
To: 27 January, 1973
Duration: 3 years, 10 months
Issues: 201
Absorbed: Esmeralda
Absorbed into: Hey Diddle Diddle

I do remember Bobo Bunny — probably one of my first comics — and I’ve got a strong feeling I might have actually had this first issue here, with its free plasticine. I can’t recall the stories, but I associate the name of the character with the taste of plasticine.

sevenSeven
From: 20 February, 1971
To: 05 June, 1971
Duration: 3 months
Issues: 16
Relaunched as: Esmeralda

A short-lived nursery title that, disappointingly, was not the inspiration for the classic David Fincher movie. For some reason it was very swiftly reinvented as Esmeralda.

esmeralda3Esmeralda
From: 12 June, 1971
To: 30 January, 1972
Duration: 7 months
Issues: 33
Relaunch of: Seven
Absorbed into: Bobo Bunny

Unusually for a relaunch/rebranding, the first few issues of Esmeralda clearly stated “Incorporating Seven” on the cover. Esmeralda was a witch, apparently, though she’s not ugly so that means she was a good witch, thus reinforcing the horribly simplistic notion that ugliness and evil are interconnected. Esmer’s brother Alan later went on to star in a TV sitcom about doctors in Korea.

heydiddleHey Diddle Diddle
From: 25 March, 1972
To: 15 September, 1973
Duration: 1 year, 6 months
Issues: 78
Absorbed: Bobo Bunny
Absorbed into: Playhour

I think my youngest sister had a few issues of this one… I remember trying to explain to her that the cow of legend couldn’t have actually jumped over the moon because there was no way it had the lung capacity to make it that far and back on one breath. You can tell I’m running out of things to say about these comics, can’t you?

bonnieBonnie
From: 16 March, 1974
To: 10 May, 1975
Duration: 1 year, 2 months
Issues: 61
Absorbed into: Playhour

Aimed at the Twinkle brigade, this one, though not nearly as successful.

funtodoFun-to-Do
From: 14 October, 1978
To: 06 March, 1982
Duration: 3 years, 5 months
Issues: 178
Absorbed: Fun-to-Know
Absorbed into: Playhour

Half comic, half activity paper. Puzzles and the like, all very simple but nicely presented and colourful. The only issue I have in my collection has all of the puzzles completed by “Maisie.” I know it was her because she signed every one of them (I’m willing to entertain the possibility that someone else completed the puzzles and Maisie was merely their supervisor).

funtoknowFun-to-Know
From: 15 September, 1979
To: 05 July, 1980
Duration: 9 months
Issues: 43
Absorbed into: Fun-to-Do

A companion to Fun-to-Do but more fact-based, so therefore less interactive and potentially less interesting for the intended audience.

chipscomicChips’ Comic
From: 12 March, 1983
To: 10 July, 1983
Duration: 4 months
Issues: 21
Absorbed into: Playhour

Had an argument with my pal Simon over this. Well, not really an argument: he remembered the comic and I didn’t, so he insisted that he was right even though I never actually said he was wrong. Anyway, it was based on a kids’ TV show about a computer. Way after my time: I’d already left school a year before this comic debuted. No connection with Illustrated Chips or Whizzer and Chips.

playgroupPlay-Group
From: 24 March, 1984
To: 09 August, 1986
Duration: 2 years, 4 months
Issues: 125
Absorbed: Robin (1985)
Absorbed into: Playhour

Unfortunately I don’t know much about this one at all, other than that it featured the Mr. Men, of which I am still very fond even though I’m several decades outside the intended age-group.

robin1985Robin (1985)
From: 19 January, 1985
To: 29 June, 1985
Duration: 5 months
Issues: 20
Absorbed into: Play-Group

No relation to The Robin from 1953 (or to any of Batman’s sidekicks, who all show up en masse whenever one attempts to search for this comic on-line). This short-lived nursery title was a throwback to even earlier times, with almost all of its strips being illustrated stories rather than actual proper comic strips with speech balloons.


All done!

Unfortunately, one of you — I won’t say who: you know who you are — refused to behave properly so we’re not going for ice-cream. Cry all you want, I’ve made up my mind.

Maybe next time, if you’re good, you’ll get ice-cream and a comic. Of course, nursery-age comics these days aren’t what they used to be. Patronising as many of the old titles were, at least they were more substantial than the present-day attempts at kids’ comics, which are usually little more than a placeholder for whichever cheap plastic toy the publishers think will be enticing enough to separate the readers from their pocket-money.

If you can correct anything on this list, or can supply important information I’ve managed to miss, please do let me know. (But not if you’re that one person who seems to take everything I post as a threat to his integrity or something and feels the need to respond accordingly. Give it a rest, dude — I’m not your enemy and this isn’t about you! Well, this parenthetical bit is, but not the rest of the post.)


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