BBC News reports that The Beano Club, launched in 1976 as the Dennis the Menace Fan Club, is to be replaced with a website in a bid to attract more members.
The official web site for the Club - probably the last officially-run comic-inspired club in the UK - announces "There are big changes going on behind the scenes here, and we mean big..." and promises "Exciting news for The Beano's biggest fans".
Longtime comic readers may shudder at the use of the phrase "exciting news", often trailed on the covers of comics that were about to cease publication and merge with another. For the Club, which had 1.25 million members at its peak and today costs members £12.99 a year - a far cry from the original 75p membership levy when it launched - it means it will be replaced soon with a new website known simply as Beano.com.
The Club stopped accepting new members in August, although publishers DC Thomson told the BBC it would honour existing subscriptions.
A spokesman for the DC Thomson said they had not yet decided whether Beano.com would be free or be run as a subscription model with different levels of access.
"It's not closing down," Mike Stirling told the BBC. "What we're going to be doing is we're going to be running it in a different format which will enable more people to join."
Mr Stirling said anyone who signed up before the cut-off point at the end of August would still receive their newsletters and a birthday card. All 10,000 members would be informed of the changes by post and DC Thomson is hoping to launch the new website in October.
Clubs based on comic titles have a long and distinguished history in the UK and the Beano Club is probably the last of these.
The Pip, Squeak and Wilfred club began in 1927, inspired by the hugely popular strip of the same name in the Daily Mirror created by Austin B. Payne. Named the Wilfredian League of Gugnuncs (WLOG) it organised many competitions and events for the thousands of members, especially at South Coast seaside resorts. (Gugnuncs is a combination of two baby-talk words used by Wilfred, who as a toddler-aged child cannot speak yet. Nunc being his version of Uncle). There was a WLOG member's badge in blue enamelled metal, featuring the long ears of Wilfred. Among the WLOG rules was one to never eat rabbit.
Mary Cadogan notes in an article for Books Monthly that the Gugnuncs soon numbered 100,000 members, "who filled the Royal Albert Hall at their annual rallies there, and whose meetings, parties and fêtes raised money for several children’s hospitals and charities."
(Such was the popularity of this early newspaper strip, it even inspired First World War medals).
The Eagle had a members club, which cost a shilling (5 pence) to join. In his foreword for The Best of Eagle, published in 1977, the comic's founder, Marcus Morris, said they had applications from 60,000 readers "after our first two issues. Two noble ladies were in charge of this department: Mrs Stark and Miss Mincher."
For their shilling, apart from the book of rules, Eagle club members would receive a charter of membership and the Eagle badge made in gilt.
ComicsUK notes readers were invited to join the Lion Birthday Club (the Lion being Eagle's main rival), where they filled out a form with their name, address and date of birth. Then, if their birth date was selected by the Editor (it had to be the exact date, inclusive of year), they would win one of the birthday presents of a Blow Football game, Replica Pistol, Pocket Telescope, Compass, Penknife, Stamp Album or Conjuring Tricks. If you also sent in one shilling you would receive the Lion Club Badge, made in gilt, which also allowed members to enter the competions within the comic.
The cost of joining the Beano Club is seen as expensive and current and past members have been critical of its benefits, which included a newsletter and birthday card. DC Thomson say they want to make it easier to join, to get more members and give them more of a sense of a Beano community - but for longtime members, the move to a web-based service has not been universally well received.
"I wonder if the fall in members has anything to do with the increase in subscription fees to three times that caused by inflation," pondered Jalanie Crue in a comment on the BBC news story.
"I lost interest in the club when they changed how they manufactured the Gnasher badges and started to make them out of a more "plasticy" material," said James Francis from Stratford Upon Avon. "Plus I spent years wandering around saying 'Ding!' to random people, in the hope of getting a 'Dong!' back. Nothing. I'm easily disappointed."
"Sounds like the usual corporate cost cutting, and very poor show," suggests Justin Stringfellow. "Why not have the website and the club. I was a member of the Dennis the Menace and Gnasher Fang Club in the 70s/80s. After that it must have turned into The Beano Club, at which point it stopped being cool anyway.
"Do kids really read the Beano any more, or just spend the days shooting zombies in the face on their PS3s? I suspect the latter."
"That would be a great pity, as my son [a member] really looks for the mail delivered," feels one parent. "Looking at things on a computer screen lacks the personal touch for a child. It's the tangible that appeals to children - 'my membership card', 'Newsletter addressed to Me'. An email has to playground value - but an exclusive badge has! After all how many 9 year olds have exclusive Internet access? None of my three children do."
• Official Beano Club web site: www.beanotown.com/index.php?s=club
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