Client: Dundee Rep and Scottish Dance Theatre
I provided copy for a double-page spread in the programme for Dundee Rep’s world premiere production of ‘Oor Wullie’. The content provided audiences with historical context, exploring the origins of one of Scotland’s best known comic characters in a tone that would be accessible to an audience of all ages.
About Oor Wullie
Wullie’s been aboot a while, here’s some facts aboot his style…
The idea for Oor Wullie first came about in 1935. The Managing Editor and Head of Boys Story Papers at DC Thomson, Robert Duncan Low (known as R.D. Low), had been enjoying success with popular magazines made with young boys in mind. They had titles such as Adventure, The Rover, and The Wizard, and the were filled with entertaining stories, illustrations and photographs.
Oor Wullie was originally drawn by the artist Dudley D. Watkins, who was born in Manchester in 1907. He was a talented artist from a very young age. Rumour has it that when he was introduced to a representative from DC Thomson while studying at the Nottingham School of Art, he was offered a job as a staff artist straight away!
R.D. Low and Dudley D. Watkins got together and spoke about the idea for a new comic magazine, which would feature the characters of Wullie and his pals, as well as a comic strip that would feature The Broons! It’s said that has the two men were planning their comics, R.D. Low’s young son, Ron, came into the office in a pair of dungarees and carrying a bucket full of tatties from the family allotment. The look of the young boy became the inspiration for Wullie’s signature appearance!
In the early days of British comics, most artists were not allowed to sign their work because the magazines and newspapers that printed them preferred the reader’s attention to be on the cartoon and it’s characters, rather than the artist. Dudley D. Watkins was an unusual exception to this rule. His first signed drawing as a professional artist appeared on the title page of The Broons 1939 annual. This rare privilege made him one of the best known comic artists of his time.
The first Oor Wullie cartoon strips were printed in 1936, in the newly launched Sunday Post comic supplement called ‘The Fun Section.’ In the comics, Wullie and his pals Soapy Soutar, Bob, Wee Eck and Primrose get into all sorts of mischief with teachers, playground bullies, and the local policeman P.C. Murdoch! Wullie is also known to cause mayhem with his pet mouse, Jeemy, much to the despair of Ma and Pa! Although he gets into trouble, Wullie is known for being full of good ideas, and for having a big heart. Most of the comics begin and end with Wullie sitting on his famous bucket, talking to the reader.
To celebrate Wullie’s 80th anniversary in 2016, the Oor Wullie Bucket Trail was launched to raise money for the Archie Foundation. Over fifty sculptures of him were placed around Dundee, each decorated in a unique style by different artists. At the end of the Bucket Trail, the sculptures were sold at an auction to raise money, which was held at Dundee Rep Theatre! The Bucket Trail was such a success that a second one, Oor Wullie’s Big Bucket Trail, was held in 2019 all over Scotland! There were sculptures in Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen. Perhaps you saw some of them!
Wullie has become a beloved character in his eighty years of comic strips. In 2004 he was even voted ‘Scotland’s Favourite Son,’ coming ahead of famous figures such as William Wallace and Robert Burns! He continues to appear in the Sunday Post every week, in his yearly annual at Christmas and of course, on stage in his very own, brand new musical show!