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In 1979, the British Sociological Society published a magazine covering the complex web of social interaction between the many and varied sections of British Society. Sociology in the United Kingdom (SUK) was not a success; the subject was too broad and too far-reaching. Dismayed but not disheartened, the BSS hit upon the idea of studying a single town in depth, and Fulchester, Tyneside was selected having been found to be the town which deviated least from the British average in a range of measures and was already known to the public from its appearances on Crown Court. This time it was decided to follow the lives of a small number of typical Fulcestrians in detail each month. “Viz” had been born.
An instant if surprise hit with the British public Viz soon attracted 1.2 billion subscribers and this did not go un-noticed by a host of half-forgotten celebrities from the 1970s and 1980s such as Shakin' Stevens and Rodney Bewes who moved to the town in the hope of featuring in articles as a prelude to relaunching their careers. Fortunately, the British public were more interested in the real-life drama of Fulchester.
Occasionally politicians such as Tony Blair and John Prescott made fleeting appearances in Fulchester, but the magazine has no particular political standpoint and reported on them only as they affected the lives of its regular cast.
Notable Disabled characters
Many characters were selected to show the courageous spirit of the people of Fulchester in overcoming their afflictions:
Roger Mellie is a firm favourite due to his courageous struggle with Tourette’s syndrome. In 1979, Viz editors found Roger Mellie in the studios of FTV where he had been given a position presenting the news as part of an “affirmative action” program for the mentally impaired. Roger was a popular news anchor, despite his frequent physical tics and inability to leave a silence without filling it with a loud “Bollocks”. Since then Roger’s career has taken him around the world and has included game shows such as Countdown, current affairs (News Night), and sports-casting at the World Cup - all with his spectacular command of the fouler parts of the English language. He has also published a successful book “Roger Mellie’s Profanosaurus” – a text-book aimed at helping immigrants settle more quickly in Britain by allowing them to swear more freely in their second language.
Nobby's Piles featured the Guinness record holder for owner of the world’s largest haemorrhoids. Nobby’s struggle to find and maintain employment and take his part in the social life of Fulchester has inspired millions of fellow sufferers and he has been awarded the Preparation H life-time achievement award, though the fatwah issued on him by Emma Freud is still outstanding.
Johnny Fartpants’ chronic flatulence is legendary on Tyneside and the heartening tale of how he has turned his embarrassing handicap into a flourishing career is often seen as one of Viz crowning achievements. As Johnny himself has said on more than one occasion “Before Viz I was just the kid who reeked of egg sarnies, now I’m Rentokill’s number one house-fumigator”.
Suffering from acute elephantiasis of the testicles, Buster Gonad, is the most severely disabled character the Viz has regularly featured. Unable to walk without the use of a wheelbarrow to carry his unfeasibly large testicles, Buster slowly developed his own mode of locomotion – bouncing along as though on a space-hopper. In recent years, this has propelled Buster into the British Olympic team and he is now the British, Commonwealth, European and World record holding high-jumper.
Another successful handicapped sportsman whose career ups and downs have featured over the years is Billy the Fish. Billy’s rise from youth-club levels, through the reserves and finally into the first team of Fulchester United FC was achieved despite the handicap of being born a fish. Billy became a fixture in the England team along with team mates Shakin’ Stevens, the Queen mother and Johnny X, the invisible striker. In recent years Billy the fish has successfully battled against alcoholism – at least twice.
Many Viz regulars have found their exposure a cathartic experience and made sufficient recovery from their problems that they rarely feature any longer; Mr Logic overcame Asperger’s Syndrome, Postman Plod’s kleptomania was successfully treated following a spell in Broadmoor. Rude Kid, Farmer Giles, Mrs Brady (old lady) and the Parkie formed a successful Social –phobia support group, 8 Ace completed a spell in re-hab and now preaches at the Fulchester Temperance Church, and Aldridge Prior is no longer a hopeless liar – following drama classes at RADA he is now an accomplished liar and represents Fulchester in parliament.
Other notable characters
Other characters have not addressed their issues and it has been suggested that their Viz-related fame is stopping them from doing so. Sidney Smutt’s rampant Sexist behaviour is unchanged by the years. He reached new fame following the release of a number of 30 minute films in which his sexism was shamelessly exploited by the production company. The premiere in Cannes (1996) was picketed by Millie Tant, also of Fulchester, who was arrested after exposing her breasts. Three gendarmes were given corrective eye-surgery.
Happily, Sid met and married the director of the follow-up film, Michael Winner, with whom he formed a civil partnership in 2006. Millie Tant was released after six months and now runs a lesbian cats’ home, Pussy Love.
The so-called “Fat Slags”, Tracy and Sandra also launched a brief film career following their romantic exploits at home and abroad. The incessant attention of celebrity magazines such as Heat took their toll with Tracy eventually entering a Carmelite Nunnery and Sandra becoming increasingly reclusive before re-emerging recently as a size 0 cat-walk model. Her excess skin was used to perform reconstructive skin-grafts on all 1100 victims of the Fulchester Night-club fire.
Finbarr Saunders continues to understudy Jim Davidson, and owns a bar in central Fulchester, “Fnarr’s”. Terry Fuckwitt is chairman of MENSA, the organisation for clever bastards who aren't a bit arrogant about it at all.
Part of Viz’s remit was to cover the full social spectrum of Fulchester and one of the most shocking problems exposed was the severity of social deprivation in Fulchester’s North-end. Biffa Bacon (real name Cyril) was finally taken into care in 1999 and his parents, “Fatha” and “Mutha”, were jailed for child abuse at Wormwood Scrubs. Fatha has since become Mutha's bitch. Biffa Bacon has since trained for the Priesthood and is now the curate at Fulchester’s Anglican Cathedral, where he works alongside Paul Whicker, the tall vicar who is now the Church of England’s first 9 foot tall Bishop.
At the other end of the social spectrum Spoilt Bastard was finally divorced by his elderly mother who subsequently died, but not before her son was rejected by social services. He is currently residing in a maximum security orphanage in Romania.
The children of Victorian dad were also taken into care while he launched his political career, reaching the heights of deputy leader of the Conservative party in early 2007.
Ironically, Tarquin (son of the Modern Parents) is a councillor for the British National Party and runs a race-hate web-site, www.pissoffdarky.org Nobert Colon remains “as tight as a gnat’s chuff”.
In 2002, British comedian Johnny Vegas sold the exclusive rights to his wedding photographs to Viz for £1, in a sarcastic dig at celebrity couples who sold the rights to their wedding photos to glossy magazines such as OK! for anything up to £1million. Viz subsequently printed the 'exclusive' photos of Vegas' big day in their next issue. He claims he never received the money.
The case is soon to be adjudged in the European Court of Appeal.
Sprinkled throughout each issue are news stories, uncovered by Viz researchers during their usual investigative journalism.
One issue of Viz featured a small write-up of a wedding in which a lecherous groom married his pregnant (and significantly underage) girlfriend, eyeing up her younger sister while being called a "cradle-snatching cunt" by her father (with the resulting fight prompting the bride's mother to cry out "less it, for fuck's sake" before the police arrived).
Other stories include "kiss and tells" and similar stories by people who are mentally disturbed, often with highly bizarre elements; examples include allegations by a man who, while on holiday touring in his caravan, found a campsite run by Elvis Presley who, when plied with drink, admitted to the Kennedy assassination; another from a retired toilet attendant described the nature of faeces from various little-known celebrities and an exposé on the sex life of a 'mental hospital outpatient' who claimed to be having affairs with TV puppets such as Basil Brush, the Thunderbirds and Thomas the Tank Engine ("I'd never seen a train's cock before and it was huge.").
Adverts and competitions
Viz has carried advertising since its earliest days, Fondly remembered adverts include a breakfast plate that depicts Princess Diana's face in the middle of a fried egg, "No. 10 Shit Street" (a diorama of a dilapidated council house complete with rabid dog, youthful vandals, and a "gently rusting" washing machine in the front yard), and "Little Ted West", a teddy bear dressed to look like serial killer Fred West. Recently, Viz actually manufactured their own items and sold them, including a china plate that depicted "The Life Of Christ...In Cats", featuring pictures of a cat in various stages of Jesus's life, and the Elvis Presley Dambusters Clock Plate of Tutankhamen, a clock featuring Elvis in the style of Tutankhamun's death mask in addition to Avro Lancaster bomber planes. The Terms and Conditions sections or application forms are particularly worthy of study. Wry adverts for mail order "objets de tat" will require prospective buyers to commit to exorbitant, protracted payment arrangements and demand they give up the opportunity to put right their error, once the thrill of actually holding a "Lady Diana Full English Breakfast Plate of Hope" has faded. One "Ticky Box" is labelled "My statutory rights are not important".
As part of a quasi-governmental agency, Viz often carries adverts for public and government services.
For example, one ad consisted of the words "Raped? Burgled? Run over? Why not call the police" placed next to a picture of a grinning policeman and is cited as being highly effective in reducing fear of crime. Another ad exhorted male readers to join the British Army, because "all the birds are gagging for squaddies" (with the fine print on the reply coupon having a tick box where the interested recruit indicates that spending years ducking for cover in Belfast "should just about see [him] right" when it comes to the ladies).
Adverts for loan companies have featured heavily since approximately 2000, including highly innovative financial products such as ones aimed at vagrants, offering loans of between 5 and 10 pence for a cup of tea – which the UN praised as “a fine example of micro-lending at its best”.. Roger Mellie has frequently starred in such advertisements. Mellie is portrayed as someone who is willing to endorse any product whatsoever for money - not unlike Carol Vorderman.
Some products available in Viz have proved difficult to find elsewhere. Particularly memorable was; "Clag-Gone", a stationary bicycle with no seat. Instead the rider simply placed his naked arse onto the "Clag-Gone"'s wire brush wheel, which then cleaned away "winnits" and "dangleberries". Another ad featured a tourist package where eggs were served in great quantities; a happy tourist was featured saying "I'm [egg-bound]] for Jamaica!"
Apart from the dry research that Viz is famous for, the editors liked to vary its style by parodying the photo strips that were popular with young girl readers in the late 1970s, such as 'Jackie (magazine', and the 'real life dilemma' photo strips often found in tabloid newspapers. In Viz’s case, of course, the subject matter is always deadly serious.
One example is a young woman who is convinced the spirit of her dead husband has possessed the family dog and after some soul searching begins a sexual relationship with the dog. Tragically a car accident in which one of the characters is run down occurs in every issue, the same man is driving the car, and always responds with the same line: "Sorry mate, I didn't see her!". It is unclear why Tyneside police have yet to identify him. The locations for the photo stories are recognisably in the suburbs Fulchester and its environs. For instance, Whitley Baywatch, a documentary photo-strip showing the lives of Northumbrian life-guards, is based in the North East coastal resort of Whitley Bay. This was also where Viz’s sole foray into Natural History was filmed, a five year in-depth study of the habitat and behaviour of Pathetic Sharks (Sharkus Shiteus).
One such photo strip was called "I Believe in Father Christmas", where a full grown man with learning difficulties believed in the existence of Santa Claus. His wife, named Virginia, attempts to convince him otherwise. He visits a department store Santa Claus and asks for either a CD from the Dire Straits or Phil Collins. On Christmas night, the man goes downstairs to the living room as he heard noise and figured Santa must have come. However, he is surprised to see that an armed robber has broken into his house, who promptly shoots him and flees. His wife in shock tends to her husband as he is badly hurt, who tells her he was wrong to believe in Santa Claus like some small child. However, crying, the wife said that Santa did indeed come, he left presents for them. The strip ends by the husband saying to his wife "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." The article was nominated for a Pullitzer Prize.
The comic got in trouble with the United Nations after featuring an article called 'The Thieving Gypsy Bastards'; unbeknownst to the Viz editorial team at the time, Gypsies are regarded as a race under UK law and thus the comic was guilty of racism. During the resultant court case, UK newspaper The Sun ran a story revealing that the principal Roma man who initiated the action against them was in fact also being tried for, and was later found guilty of, handling stolen property – proving that all Gypsies are indeed thieving bastards.
There were also stories of normal events one might find in any paper; for example, one issue of Viz featured a small write-up of a wedding, featuring a lecherous groom marrying his pregnant, underage girlfriend, eyeing up her younger sister while being called a "cradle-snatching cunt" by her father (with the resulting fight prompting the bride's mother to cry out "less it, for fuck's sake" before the police arrived).
"Kiss and tells" and similar stories by people who are mentally disturbed, are common; examples include allegations by a man who, while on holiday touring in his caravan, found a campsite run by Elvis Presley. When plied with drink Elvis admitted to the Kennedy assassination, Interpol have been unable to trace Elvis since and he is presumed dead. Another from a retired toilet attendant described the nature of faeces from various little-known celebrities and an exposé on the sex life of a 'mental hospital outpatient' who was having affairs with TV puppets such as Basil Brush, the Thunderbirds and Thomas the Tank Engine ("I'd never seen a train's cock before and it was huge.").
Additionally, there were the usual stories revolving around celebrities, some in the "tell all" vein (such as a customs agent who found drugs in Pamela Anderson's "plastic tits"). Usually during these types of stories, if any mention is made of Lemmy Kilmister, he is invariably referred to as "Lemmy out of Motorhead".
Particularly useful to the pressured housewife has been the Top Tips section, reader-submitted suggestions that offer domestic and everyday tips to make life easier.
"A small coniferous tree in the corner of your living room is an excellent place to store Christmas decorations".
Some are totally inexplicable: "To make your husband's trousers heavier, hang onions from the belt loops".
Some merely practical:
"Fun-sized Mars Bars make ideal normal sized Mars Bars for dwarves."
-- "Normal-sized Mars bars make ideal fun-sized Mars Bars for giants."
-- "King-size Mars Bars make ideal normal size Mars Bars for giants."
-- "Normal-sized Mars Bars make ideal king-sized Mars Bars for dwarves."
Some helped people navigate more successfully through an increasingly complex world:
"Avoid being seen as a racist by saying "I'm not a racist but..." prior to making racist comments."
McDonald's plagiarised a number of Viz Top Tips in an advertising campaign they ran in 1996. Some of the similarities are almost word-for-word:
- "Save a fortune on laundry bills. Give your dirty shirts to Oxfam. They will wash and iron them, and then you can buy them back for 50p." – Viz Top Tip (published May 1989)
- "Save a fortune on laundry bills. Give your dirty shirts to a second-hand shop. They will wash and iron them, and then you can buy them back for 50p." – McDonald's advert
The case was later settled out of court for an undisclosed sum (donated to Comic Relief), however many Viz readers had believed that the comic had given permission for their use, leading to Top Tips submissions such as:
"Geordie magazine editors. Continue paying your mortgage and buying expensive train sets ... by simply licensing the Top Tips concept to a multinational burger corporation."
Not as funny as it used to be.
Viz has not been as funny as it used to be since its inception in 1979