About twenty years ago someone wrote to the letters page of The Guardian with a set of three questions that could be used to determine whether someone was really Scottish or not. I forget the other two, but one of them was “Who lives at 10 Glebe Street?”. The answer, as anyone who has grown up in Scotland over the last 80 years or so will know is: The Broons. I received a copy of the latest book as a Christmas present (it must be a classic gift for exiled Scots) and it was the first one I’d seen for quite a few years.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Broons, it is a long-running comic strip published weekly in the Scottish Sunday Post newspaper with a book collecting the strips being published every two years or so (And it really is long-running, first appearing in 1936, it’s characters are older than Batman and Superman). The original writer/artist died in the late 60s and since then a series or writers and artists have continued the strip in exactly the same style (there have been no Frank Miller-type Dark Knight re-imaginings of the Broons, though it’s an intriguing thought).
There are four standard Broons storylines:
1. “The Bairn overhears something”. Simple but versatile, the bairn overhears someone talking about one of the family, gets the wrong end of the stick, mobilises panic-stricken family members until it all sorts itself out. Memorably used in Viz’s McBroons strip. Key phrase: “Ha ha! My wee lamb!”
2. “Pa is mean”: Pa Broon tries to save money in a ridiculous way while lecturing the rest of the family on their spendthrift ways. He always comes a cropper and ends up spending more to get less. Key phrase: “Auld Skinflint”
3. “The But and Ben”: All 9 Broons decamp for a holiday in a two-room house in the Scottish countryside. Key phrase: “Look at that teuchter!
4. “The Broons vs Modern Life”: A member of the family will enthuse about a new trend or technology, such as electric shavers or computer games, only for the Broons to put their own stamp on it. In this year’s book, Grandpa Broon comes up with a mince & tatties smoothie, the idea of which is making me feel a bit queasy as I type. Key phrase: “Now that’s what I call a –insert technology name-!”
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Jings, Crivvens & Help Ma Boab. Oor Wullie.
One thing you’ve learned
Why is The Broons still going? It was old-fashioned even when I first read it in the 70s; it can look ridiculously so today. In one of the strips in this year’s book we see Pa Broon at work in what seems to be a shipyard while his son buys a second hand zoot suit for a date. It’s not even that well-written: the bairn these days talks like Jar Jar Binks’s Scottish cousin: “Me disnae think Paw kens how”.
I think one reason it still exists is that it benefits from the powerful Celtic Nostalgia that Scots tend to be subject to (think of Billy Connolly’s line about Scots singing about being far away from Scotland while they’re still there). But I also think it’s linked to the fact that The Broons are one of the first things that a Scot will read by themselves; there are generations who remember having Broons and Oor Wullie books in their childhood libraries. The Broons is a reminder of childhood independence. And because it’s so strongly linked to our childhoods we’re happy to ignore the fact that Pa Broon dresses like something from Peaky Blinders.