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Fred Basset is a comic strip about a male basset hound. The cartoon was created by Scottish cartoonist Alex Graham and published first in the Daily Mail on July 8, 1963. It has since been syndicated around the world.

Fred Basset has been published in the UKmarker newspaper Daily Mail and more recently The Mail On Sunday from 1963 to the present. Alex Graham, the creator and cartoonist based Fred on his own dog Frieda and drew over 9000 comic strips. Alex Graham died on 3 December 1991. Fred's cartoon strips are renamed as Wurzel in Germanymarker, Lillo il Cane Saggio (Lillo the wise dog) in Italymarker, Lorang in Norwaymarker, Laban in Swedenmarker and Retu, Pitko or Koiraskoira in Finlandmarker.

The comic strip

Fred's owners are a young to middle-aged husband and wife, who are not given names in the strip. The husband is a professional worker in London's City; he enjoys socialising at his local pubs, The Swan and The Chequers. He is shown often as being temperamental and spends much free time reading the newspaper, walking Fred and playing golf. The wife manages the house and the family, and has a busy life socialising with friends. She is shown several times as being a bad driver with many accidents with the family car. Known relations to the family are "her rich eccentric" Uncle Albert, and her sisters, one in UK and one overseas. A new relation introduced during the mid 1990s was mentioned as "her Aunt Flo." There are not any children in Fred's immediate family, although Amanda and the Tucker Twins appear regularly.

The names and areas pictured are made from places and people Alex Graham knew, areas are said to resemble Scotland. Family friends' names would be used, as was Tinker's Wood, taken from a house Graham lived in.

Topical references are kept to a minimum; one mention to The Beatles and the family's continually-recovered lounge sofa suite are the few giveaways of its age. There are mentions to New Year during 1970 and 1971 and 1 January 1973 when the UK entered the common market. The Michael Martin era strips have more topical references and mention of modern appliances, such as mobile phones and a microwave oven. Later strips by Michael Martin feature some popular culture references such as Am I Bovvered featured in the 2008 annual.

The strips do not generally feature follow-on storylines; a rare storyline with Fred staying at Jock's house or Uncle Albert staying a few days are the only times the story extends beyond the one strip format.A variant of this are basic themed strips for Christmas or their Summer Holiday with no continuation. Again, later Michael Martin strips do follow on for a few days, as with a Birthday Party mentioned in the 1997 book. The more recent strips have occasional follow-on stories such as a Summer Holiday, or buying a new car.

The first copyright dates (then for Associated Newspapers) were added to the cartoon strips during 1969.

The nature of Fred

Fred Basset himself seems to have been born during 1959 from comments in the earliest cartoons, and in true cartoon style, seems not to age. Fred's observations can be wry and a certain amount of surrealism is his levident, with one early strip having his owners mention they thought the Fred Basset strip in the day's newspaper was "quite amusing" (cartoon 553 in book number 4). Later strips mention both Fred, his owners and passers-by being surreally aware of the newspaper Fred Basset strip and commenting as such, unaware that their Fred is the character mentioned.

Fred has a certain amount of snobbishness and appreciates the finer parts in life, as shown clearly in the Alex Graham era strips, with attitudes of the time. He is equally at home misbehaving, being selfish, chasing other dogs and being a coward when more aggressive dogs are around.A small black Scottie (Scottish terrier) dog, Jock, is a regular companion, as well as Yorky (a Yorkshire terrier) in later years. A Doggy-Girlfriend, Fifi the poodle appears too. An alsatian dog, referred to as Satan, is his adversary. Fred likes chasing cats but freely admits he would not know what to do with one if he caught it (similar in this respect to Warner Bros. Roadrunner television cartoons).

The meaning of Fred Basset

The nature and intention of the Fred Basset strip can best be understood by reading several strips together, as in the Annuals. Read singly, the strips can seem too abstract and, more often than not, unamusing. The comments made about Fred Basset cartoons on various media indicate that Fred is not always understood. Some strips are merely a surreal or whimsical description of a moment of life as seen from a dog's point of view. As very British cartoon strips, they break the normal strip rules by sometimes not having a traditional ending, a punchline or even a distinct purpose, distinguishing them from the more direct, American-style Garfield or Peanuts strips.

After Alex Graham

Once the stockpiled 18 months' worth of Alex Graham cartoons had been published, they were continued in Graham's style with artwork by Michael Martin and Graham's daughter, Arran Graham, continuing the family link. They are new cartoons being published, not merely re-runs of earlier ones.

The Michael Martin drawings started out with the general style and humour of the original Graham Freds, but after around 2000 a more casual style of drawing is apparent. The current cartoons still have Alex Graham's original whimsical theme. Fred and his family still live in what seems to be the 1970s, with only a few hints to modern life, such as Satnav and them finally buying a more modern car, as shown in the 2008 annual.

Fred Basset books

Fred Basset features in many books worldwide, in the UK a long-running series of books reprints most of the newspaper strips. These are books number 1 (1963) to book 45 (1993). Later books dated by year, 1994 onwards, include the Michael Martin drawn cartoons, as well as Graham's colour ones until they ran out by the 1996 book.

During 1977, a large hardback book entitled "Fred Basset and the Spaghetti" was published by The Daily Mail. It featured a children's story, not the usual comic strips, written by Alex Graham's son, Neilson, together with illustrations by Alex.

During 1989, a compilation book entitled "Fred Basset Bumper Book No 2" was issued. The title has since caused confusion, as there is no Bumper Book No 1 as such. A book published during 1988, "Fred Basset 25 Years", a similar compilation, is considered its forerunner.

Colour strips as used in The Mail On Sunday were added from book 36 during 1984. This backlogged the black and white strips, and by book 41 during 1989 they were still using 1984 strips. The next book 42 jumped from book 41 ending with strip 6483 to strip 8159 dated 1990. The missing cartoons remain unpublished since the original newspaper strips.

The distinctive "Fred" handwriting font was supplied by Les Hulme until the early 2000s. A variant of the font is still used today.

The current Michael Martin era annuals feature older Alex Graham artwork on the front, yet the contemporary Martin strips inside

One Fred Basset book appeared in USA during 1969, "Meet Fred Basset" published as a 'Fawcett Gold Medal Book'. Several books appeared in Australia from 1979-1985 and one published in Germany.

As of 2009, Summersdale Publishers UK will publish the Fred Basset Yearbook and will be the first to publish a gift book featuring some of the cartoons from previous strips in colour. Fred Basset for Garden Lovers will be published by Summersdale during September 2009, ready for the Christmas gift market and will be priced at £5.99.

Fred Basset in other media

Despite its many years featured in newspapers around the world, it is not as well-known as other cartoon characters; Fred Basset is currently one of the few enduring cartoon characters not yet to have a full-length film made featuring it. There were just a few toys and novelty items made, as well as a yearly Calendar and the books mentioned.

Fred Basset is currently syndicated using the Michael Martin strips and is available by email subscription from gocomics.com and others.

Fred Basset is read on radio regularly by Hamish Blake throughout Australia on the Today Network's Hamish and Andy Show (weekdays 4-6pm) on Friday afternoons (approx 5:50pm). Andy Lee does his best to stop the reading - trying everything from locking Hamish in a wheelie bin to smashing Hamish's digital camera in order to deter him. However, Hamish reads the entire comic. The duo also own a real Greyhound called "Fred Basset" which is raced in Victoria.

Fred Basset television cartoon series

During mid 1976 a short-lived 5 minute television cartoon of Fred Basset was shown on the BBC, made by Bill Melendez Productions, voiced by actor Lionel Jeffries that was available on VHS.

References

  • The Fred Files, Orion Books, 2005
  • 'Fred Basset' Annuals & books 1963-date
  • "Fred Basset" VHS Video Castle Vision


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