Launched in 1975, the hard-hitting all-war comic Battle Picture Weekly was a major hit for IPC/Fleetway. It was created in response to rival publisher DC Thomson’s successful Warlord, and when word came that DC Thomson was preparing a semi-spin-off all-action comic with focus on more than just war stories, IPC figured they should do the same — and if possible get theirs off the ground first.
But then, at almost the last second, IPC’s upper management got cold feet: though very successful, Battle had received considerable criticism for its overly gritty and often very gory depictions of life on the battlefield. Until then, most war comics — especially those aimed at children — had been heavily sanitised: a clear delineation between the good guys and the bad guys, very little blood, no depictions of torture or dysentery or starving in the trenches and resorting to cannibalism, or anything else unsavoury.
Their new all-action comic was looking like it was going to be even more intense than Battle, so the rule came down from on high: “Make comics nice again!” A memo from the upper management reads, in part, “The intensity of the new title is giving us pause. After some deliberation, we have decided that if one can’t discuss a paper’s contents at the dinner table, then said contents are hardly fit for consumption by a young boy’s mind.”
The all-action comic was binned, and a new nicer and safer comic appeared in its place:
Caution was greeted at first by a curious public, unsure of what to make of its contents.
Aside from the strips appearing on the cover, we’re introduced to Smiler — the Friendly Police Officer as he gets into a spot of bother when he can’t remember whether he’s already sugared his cup of tea. Tension mounts as he raises the cup to his mouth to take a sip… but readers would have to wait until the next issue to find out!
The Sitting Man stars athlete Sebastian Croffington, the great British hopeful for the upcoming Olympic Games. After the opening sequence in which his parents notice that eleven-month-old Sebastian is already sitting up as straight as a fifteen-month-old, we cut to the present day, with Sebastian at the tender age of thirty, with all eyes on him as he prepares to take part in the trials. Can he win, or will the lumpy old Chesterfield be too much for him?
In the first episode of Hugs the Dolphin, brave young twins Kenny and Keith desperately want to swim out to the island to play with Hugs, but their mum won’t let them because it’s too dangerous, and instead encourages them to write a quiet play about what it might be like to be a pebble.
Regular photo-feature Caution Man sees the comic’s charismatic and enthusiastic assistant editor Steve tackle his first challenge from the readers — to go out in the rain! After a quick look out the window, Steve declines the challenge as it would be needlessly risky.
Readers took to Caution like a duck to gravy, and sales plummeted. Vocal members of the militant wing of the Listeners and Viewers Association wrote to the BBC to complain about the lack of any kind of influence the comic was having on the children, and so after thirty-six issues that alternated between tepid and limp, Caution was carefully pulled from the shelves. It returned about six weeks later, revamped and raring to go, but the readers didn’t really notice and no one’s entirely sure what happened to it after that. It’s possible that it was just forgotten about.
Meanwhile, Fireball — DC Thomson’s all-action companion to Warlord — was launched on the same day as Caution, 14 February 1976.
It started very strong, and cemented its ties with Warlord by presenting the secret agent lead character as the nephew of Warlord‘s Henry Peter Flint (I don’t recall if they ever did a crossover, but they should have).
Ultimately, though, Fireball failed to capture a sufficient share of the market, and soon faded. After 147 issues, it was cancelled on 2 December 1978 and absorbed back into its progenitor.
(Note: Very little of the above is true… The Caution cover first appeared in issue #1 of Splank!, May 2018)