Ian Gray

'Beano' and 'Dandy' scriptwriter

Ian Robertson Gray, comic scriptwriter: born Arbroath, Angus 31 March 1938; married (four children); died Forfar, Fife 6 September 2007.

Ian Gray will be remembered as a friend to cats, the creator of a vile dog and the bringer of anarchy to the otherwise sensible lives of millions of children. Few under 60 can claim to have escaped his influence. During a long career writing for the Dundee publisher DC Thomson, Gray provided naughty role models to children everywhere by masterminding the antics of Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, the Bash Street Kids, and other disreputable characters who thronged the pages of The Beano and The Dandy. His inventively mischievous spirit lives on today in both comics, despite the softy influence of modern political correctness.

That influence didn't exist in the 1940s and 1950s, when Gray was a schoolboy in Arbroath, Scotland. Children's comic characters puffed cigarettes, received blood-curdling thrashings from parents, mocked people of funny races and wielded axes and blow-torches with shocking disregard for the correct safety procedures.

In 1951, when Gray was 13, a leering child with ink-blot hair, a red-and-black striped sweater, and a very bad attitude, was born, fully formed, in The Beano. Dennis the Menace was a formative influence on Gray. Most middle-class parents – those most resembling the disapproving adults in the strips – endeavoured to keep their children away from this stuff, but Gray didn't stand a chance. His father, Walter, was a reporter on DC Thomson's newspapers, and brought free comics home from work.

So it was a natural move for Gray to join the firm at the age of 17, after failing exams in maths, physics and chemistry and summarily ditching an ambition to become a vet. Noting his finely nurtured irreverence, the DC Thomson managing director R.D. Low assigned him to comics, where the editor George Moonie put him straight to work writing Beano scripts, and where Gray embraced the unlovable Dennis as though he were his own child.

There followed 37 years labouring in the Fun Factory, uncredited and for relatively little financial reward, considering The Beano's enormous success. But it was an exuberantly happy life. Gray worked in a creative hotbed with three other new talents, the cartoonists Davey Law, Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid. They nicknamed him Smokie, after the famous kippers of his home town.

In an atmosphere rife with practical jokes and pranks, and almost as anarchic as that depicted in the strips, they provoked each other to ever more surreal and outrageous leaps of imagination. Their aberrance was tolerated by the notoriously strait-laced Thomson management, which was astute enough to recognise that in the bizarre alchemy of comics, chaos generated cash.

They plotted the demise of civilisation through the antics of agents like Little Plum ("your redskin chum"), Roger the Dodger, and the Three Bears, poking fun relentlessly at policemen, teachers and other humourless figures of adult authority, while reserving their most scathing humour of all for that most despicable of wretches – the well-behaved "wet" child.

Entertaining though other characters were, Dennis was the real star. He was the archetypal naughty boy, encouraged to ever wilder recalcitrance by Gray. Eventually he took over The Beano's front page, becoming an icon of everything the sensible generation dreaded, and irresistible to kids.

In 1968 Gray wrote him a loyal companion, Gnasher, an Abyssinian Wire-Haired Tripe Hound, depicted by Law as a currish doppelgänger of Dennis himself, with disconcertingly human teeth, round pink ears and legs that looked like the scraggly forearms of a pickpocket. Gnasher's teeth were so tough he could bite through solid granite "and even make a dent in a British Rail sandwich". Gnasher terrorised Foo Foo, the pet poodle of Walter the Softy, when he wasn't siring litters of pups with names like Gnipper and Gnora.

Gray also edited a comic called Plug, which exploited the charms of the "plug-ugly" Bash Street Kid, and launched a series of pocket booklets, The Beano comic libraries. He joined The Dandy in 1989 to script Desperate Dan, the cowboy character he'd always loved. He took early retirement in 1992.

He was just as ebullient outside work and was known as a "character" around Forfar, Fife, where he lived. He loved animals and trialled sheepdogs. He and his wife Ann ran the Cats' Cradle cattery near Forfar. He was feeding his racing pigeons when he suffered the heart attack that killed him. Other enthusiasms were Robert Burns and music-making.

He sang and played guitar in folk and bothy bands, and was famous for his self-penned blue songs. "There was a classic one called 'The Ballad of Flechie Eck'," says the DC Thomson managing editor David Donaldson. "I worked with Ian and there were times when you had to pull the reins on him, otherwise The Beano would have been X-certificate."

Martin Plimmer

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
Drinking - often heavily - is a running theme throughout HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation
food + drink
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living