Sunday, December 31, 2017

A brief history of Oor Wullie

Jings , Crivven's, and Help ma boab”, this is the centenary year of the Sunday Post which first appeared in 1914. In 1936 publishers, DC Thompson introduced a four page "Fun Section" which included two comic strips written in Scots vernacular. Little did they know these would still be running nearly eighty years later.

The Broons were a working-class Scottish family living No 10 Glebe Street, Glasgow; and Oor Wullie, chronicled the adventures of a mischievous young boy in an unnamed town. Much speculation prevails as to where Wullie actually lived; some think it was Dundee where the Sunday Post was published; whilst others believe it was Glasgow because in 1938, the characters walked to the Empire Exhibition held in Bellhouston Park: later in 1988 the family again walk to and from the Glasgow Garden Festival. In a later episode he even cycles to Loch Lomond. But as the decades have rolled by it became clear Oor Wullie lived in the imaginary town of Auchenshoogle (an amalgam of Dundee and Glasgow).

More controversy prevails as to what was Oor Wullie’s surname; some sources quote MacCallum whereas others cite, Russell. Wullie had an uncle Wattie Russell, a wartime private in one of the Scottish regiments. No one is quite sure however whether Wattie was related to Wullie's father's or came from his mother's side of the family. Oor Wullie was created by Scottish comic writer and editor, Robert Duncan Low who wrote word sketches which Dudley Dexter Watkins illustrated. Low insisted the characters be based on real working class people and Watkins took Robert’s son, Ron for inspiration. The wee lad had innocently accompanied his father to work one day wearing dungarees and carrying a bucket of potatoes. Watkins added the famous spiky hair and Oor Wullie was born.

Dudley D Watkins was an English cartoonist and illustrator who trained at the Glasgow School of Art before joining DC Thompson in the late 20s. The original Oor Wullie was drawn as a single panel and the character was aged about 5 or 6. Later he aged to about 10 or 11, but more recently, he has become slightly younger. The earliest strips had little dialogue but always ended with Wullie complaining ("I nivver get ony fun roond here!"). The artistic style settled down by 1940 and has changed little since. A frequent tagline reads, "Oor Wullie! Your Wullie! A'body's Wullie!" Watkins continued to draw Oor Wullie until his death in 1969, after which the Post recycled his work until 1974. In the recycled versions the original broad Scots dialogue was increasingly watered down. Other illustrators were commission to continue drawing Oor Wullie and all remained remarkably true to the original.

Our hero shares his home with his Ma and Pa, Harry the West Highland Terrier and Jeemy his pet moose. In the early days and for a short time he had a younger sibling (the bairn). The next door neighbour much later wasMoaning Mildew (modelled on Victor Meldrew from One Foot in the Grave). Our hero’s favourite food is mince and tatties and his Ma’s Roly-poly pudding. His three best friends are Fat Boab, Soapy Soutar and wee Eck and the gang meets in a caravan called Holly Rude. Wullie is the self-proclaimed leader a position which is frequently disputed by the others. The boys love to go fishing in the nearby burn (the Stoorie) or race their cairties (boogies) down Stoorie Brae.

"Oh. ancient bridge o'er River Stoorie ... ye'd be voted tops by ony jury”

The mischievous Wullie’s of old, loved to steal orchard apples and use P.C. (Constable) Murdoch‘s helmet as target practice with his catty (sling shot). However what was seen as youthful high jinks in the 1930s might be considered anti-social vandalism today so as the decades passed his antics have become a lot tamer. Otherwise its business as usual and Wullie’s unrealistic get-rich-quick schemes lead to mischief and continue to give his long suffering parents and local constabulary humorous concern. Come what may the strip always ends with Willie seated on his bucket procrastinating about the day’s events. Occasionally he rests on padding or cushions especially if he has had his bottom smacked.

During the Second World War the artists comic creations were considered too morale-boosting to allow him to be released for active service. The Sunday Post comic strips were used successfully as propaganda against Hitler. Throughout the war years Wullie continually poked fun at the Fuhrer and he even pelted suspected Nazis with catapults and cap-guns as well as forming a boys' national defence corps to take on the "Gerries". These disrespectful sallies against the Master Race did not miss the attention of Fifth Columnists, and it is widely believed both Watkins and Low's were on a Nazi death list in the event of an invasion.

By the 50s the Sunday Post was in its heyday but with its circulation was confined largely to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Sales were so high that it was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the newspaper with the highest per capita readership penetration of anywhere in the world. Oor Wullie and the Broon became ubiquitous and essential reading every Sunday.

Young Wullie generally does not like girls although Primrose Paterson sometimes features. Later pretty Doris Gow and her bruiser boyfriend the town bully, Basher McKenzie occasionally appeared. Truth be told Wullie prefers Doris which causes Primrose’s rathe as well as the unwanted attention of Basher. He used to have another friend called Ezzy, who has stopped appearing in the strips. From time to time various celebrities have featured in the strips including Lorraine Kelly and Colin Montgomerie. History was made in 2011 when Oor Wullie and The Broons appeared in the same strip spread over two pages to celebrate the Royal Wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William.

When The Topper launched in 1953, Oor Wullie appeared in the masthead, although not as a story in the comic. He often appeared sitting on his bucket, though other poses were used as well. The pose on Topper no. 1 had him wearing a top hat. He had the top hat in one hand and the other hand pointing at the Topper logo.


Apart from Oor Wullie and the Broons, Watkins drew Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty and a host of other characters for Thomson's many comics. He was a deeply religious man and intended to produce a fully illustrated version of the Bible. It is reputed in the pilot drawings, Joseph bore an uncanny resemblance to Pa, while the infant Jesus looked very like the Boy on the Bucket. PC (Joe) Murdoch is thought to be based on an actual policemen (Sandy Marnoch) that served with Watkins when he was a reserve constable in Fife.

The Oor Wullie Bucket Trail from Vivid Elements on Vimeo.

Interesting site
Oor Wullie Store
Oor Wullie's Scots Guide
Oor Wullie's Bucket trail


  1. Who was that that drew the terrible tale on the 40th anniversary TV news bit

  2. I went into the new building today. Curiosity is an awful evil. My nosiness is only that I took part in a television anniversary peice then. The only thing that I have are a few cardboard Oor Willie promotional peices in the corner of a black and white photograph