Wednesday, 4 November 2015

You're the Tops.

Here's a little something for Guy Fawke's Night. Issue 5 of Tops, dated 7 November 1981.
Tops was DC Thomson's answer to Look In! if the question was "How can we do a rip-off of Look In! with a quarter of the celebrity contacts?"

It was published between 1981 and 1984 (including a brief period when it was renamed TV Tops before reverting) whereupon it merged into the girls' magazine Suzy, which must have annoyed its male readers.

It is clearly following the Look In! template with features, pin-ups, competitions and comic strips based on TV characters. Only with much fewer official endorsements.

This issue opens with letters pages featuring the fireworks warning at the top of this blog as well as the standards of the day, such as lookalikes. This issue has a lookalike suggestion with a very pragmatic response. 
(Let me indulge two of my nerdier passions and mention that Faith Brown is is the Doctor Who story Attack of the Cybermen and June Brown is in the Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. I can relax now.)

The first strip is the quite surprising The Professionals, a decidedly adult TV show (in content if not quality) which was post-watershed but undeniably popular. We kick off with a panel of the show's iconic Ford Capri and some slightly-off perspective.  
The strip is a serial and at this point terrorists are holding an aeroplane hostage and demanding the release of an associate. A man Bodie and Doyle killed last week. 
Surprisingly grim for a UK comic of the time (especially given the moral panic over Action not long before). A plan is hatched to disguise a CI5 agent as the dead Andersson and take him to the terrorists. Whereupon... 
Too bad anonymous CI5 guy. More death.

There's a "fun" page with a quiz (of the type I keep getting on my Facebook feed) asking you to fill in the funniest follow up line to the worst "Weird Al"-style parody lyrics to then-popular songs. 
(For the record one of the songs was Sheena Easton's theme to the above-mentioned For Your Eyes Only)

Next up is a strip about a girl and her pony. The most DC Thomson thing in this magazine. It could easily have been in Judy or Mandy. The serialised story is about the equine survivor of a shipwreck, the girl who found him and the rich man who owns him. It's The Horse That Came from the Sea.
Debbie is training "Blaze" up and he's amazing. Other people are interested in him... 
Er... What? An odd thing to bring up.

And then we see... 
...which is amazing.

I love puzzle pages so here is a trivia quiz with a picture of Noel Edmonds and Posh Paws:

And then we get the celebrity interview page: 
Michelle Herbert! Y'know, she was Trisha "Pongo" Yates on Grange Hill. *cough*

We get to know she went to drama school with Pauline Quirk and Phil Daniels. And: 
Then comes: 
A page with reader contributions featuring a bonfire-themed heroic endeavour. well as this salient poem: 
Then we find a regular feature detailing celebrity fan clubs. This week (it's that man again): Lewis Collins. 
Phwoar, eh?

It shares a page with another strip, this one starring Bob Carolgees' beloved expectorant canine puppet Spit the Dog.

I was a big fan of Spit. I was thrilled to get my own hand-puppet version on my 8th birthday in 1984. This strip is another serialised one and we join it on the conclusion of Spit's adventure to find the box of "Milk Stray". 
Nice work, Spit. Maybe you should apply for this.

Incidentally, that's Bob's other two puppet characters Charlie the Monkey and Cof the Cat with Spit. Bet you'd forgotten about them.

The middle pages are devoted to a cut-out-n-keep joke book. Printed sideways and arranged to be pulled out and arranged with previous and subsequent issues' supplements. They are pretty much jokes of the standard you would expect. 
(I always say jokes are much better when you have to explain them.)

Clearly pandering to the kids and their Question Time fandom.

Time for quick bit of the (as we've seen by now) obligatory racism:
And we leave the joke book for what is honestly my favourite thing in this issue:
This is great. My fascination for the photo stories of the 80s is on the record (and I will get around to discussing Doomlord soon which is amazing) and this does not disappoint.

That awesome introductory picture (and kudos to the model playing the "witch" who nails the sinister look) brings us into a story of two children who find out that one of their teachers is an evil practitioner of the dark arts. 

It's another serial and we join the story here as the headmaster becomes the second member of staff to suffer an unfortunate "accident" (honestly, so much death in this issue) and the kids try to talk to a visiting journalist about the danger only to find she's put a spell on them and they end up talking like they're in the Black Lodge.
Research tells them that the school is built on the site where a castle once stood and they reason it was the "witch's" home.

Meanwhile, Miss Morgen (y'know, like in Arthurian legend) is at a PTA meeting:
Miss Morgen loses some of her subtlety (it's okay, she's using some kind of hypnosis) in her quest to be some kind of... Demon Headmistress.

Not going to lie; I love that straight-up super-villain posturing. That could be Doctor Doom saying that and I greatly approve. I may, however, never know whether the children prevail.

Next up: Something for the Dads! 
Yes, another decent celebrity get for Tops is Sally James, then one of the very popular hosts of TISWAS. The shepherdess of many a straight boy's sexuality in the early 80s. Her and Wilma off of Buck Rogers. The straight girls' equivalent seems to be Bowie in Labyrinth.

This weekly feature had a page of gossip from Sally about the TISWAS production and a page of interview with a pop star (this issue: Toyah Wilcox).

This was soon after TISWAS built the biggest custard pie ever (revealed here to involve shaving cream and food dye) and included a photo of the event which I'm sure kicked off some very niche fetishes for a lot of the audience.
And now... Comedy!

"Not the Guy Fawkes Story" was a two-page strip in a Mad Magazine style telling a comedy version of the gunpowder plot. If you want an idea of the standard have a look at the first panel:

The story reveal Guy as a patsy in the plot, being told he was delivering custard powder to Parliament (custard again?) before...
...history takes a turn.
Incidentally, I assume this strip was a regular feature, covering a different historical character each week. The title invokes Not the Nine O'Clock News which was popular at the time and would lead to another celebrity signing for Tops later when they published "NOT the Pamela Stephenson Page", another surprisingly adult move by DCT. 

We also have rising stars Little and Large in their own Radio Fun-esque strip. Now, I'm no fan of L&L (I remember watching them as a child and wishing they were more like Morecambe and Wise) but this strip is stylistically very good. And, being a DC Thomson publication, it's uncredited so I don't know who did it. Any suggestions, let me know in the comments.
There's a half-page devoted to a discussion from the Tops office concerning who they would like to send up in a rocket. The office staff are caricatured like the Sparky staff and I've no way of knowing how much was based on reality. Here it is in full:
...but I want to highlight the request of "Small Margaret" (if that is her real name) and her desire:
Where were you in 1997, "Small Margaret"? WE DEMAND ANSWERS!

The final feature in the issue was invoking the spirit of a popular TV show but without any pesky copyright issues.

It's an English coastal town during the war and their home guard but...
Yep, there's a Dad's Army rip-off troupe and a bunch of kids that prove themselves smarter than them. In this issue some bumbling over bomb disposal exercises leads the kids to mock up a fake bomb as a prank (those wacky kids! Bomb pranks are always funny, ask any airport staff!). However Captain Mainwaring Bottomley's daughter is telling on them.
Girls eh? Amirite? No fun.

There's just time to co-opt a catch-phrase from a beloved TV show...
...before shenanigans involving a real bomb being mistaken for the fake leads to the Kids' Army saving the day.
Slap-up feasts all round!

And that's that. 1981's Tops was a curious mixed bag. I don't think I'd have bothered with it in its day but there is some genuine talent in there. It was not a success compared to Look In! as it clearly did not have the same contacts, which is a shame.

To end it, here is the back cover of this issue (the pin-up of Shaky having been removed from my copy) which is a rather pleasingly time-distorted image of Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Be safe with them fireworks, Guys.

(The answer to the trivia quiz is Sheena Easton. The singer of the Theme tune to For Your Eyes Only. I watched that film last week and am a bit freaked out that it turned up in this blog three times.)

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