LOWDOWN Winter 2013

Fred Basset at fifty

Alistair Keith, who with his charming wife, Arran - the daughter of Alex Graham - oversees the Fred Basset empire, has very kindly sent Lowdown the following article.

This summer, an exhibition which took place at Hastings Museum & Art Gallery to coincide with Fred’s fiftieth anniversary.

Alistair writes:

Every birthday is special, but the one on 9th July this year was extra special, as Fred Basset was fifty.

Little did his creator, Alex Graham, know that when he signed an initial six-month contract with Associated News that Fred Basset would reach this milestone.

The original concept was so simple, a hound that was almost human commenting and reacting to what was going on around him.

This idea remains at the heart of the strip.

Of course, there have been changes over the years. Fred has changed shape from a most un-Basset looking hound, to a warmer, more cuddly character.

However, in Fred’s world, there are many constants. Master and Mistress are much loved by Fred, but their behaviour both bemuses and frustrates him.

Canine companions - including Jock and Yorky - share in Fred’s adventures. They are companions in crime, loyal friends, and up for mischief.

The troublesome Tucker twins continue to tease Fred and lead him into many scrapes. Little Amanda has been joined by Mia and Sam, a teenager.

The Barrington-Smyths, the vicar, and the long-suffering butcher, rub shoulders with a Frenchman, Jean Paul. The Grosvenor Gang are an ever present danger on the streets of Fred’s suburbia.

Fifi has rivals in Fred’s affection with the arrival of Lucy and Jemma.

Each year is mapped by the annual festivals and Bank Holidays. Sporting events, including Wimbledon, the British Open Golf Championships, the Six Nation Rugby Tournament, and the British Grand Prix, all catch Fred’s eye.

2012 was particularly rich, with nods to many events in the London Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.

As is only proper, summer holidays with Master and Mistress always places Fred at the forefront of activities, whether they be boating, caravanning, or down on the farm.

Photo by Huguette Vanden Werbe

At fifty, Fred Basset has become one of the elite cartoons to reach this milestone. The statistics are impressive and speak for themselves with just under 18,000 pieces of artwork having been published.

There have been sixty-two books, two BBC series, calendars and merchandising. World syndication has brought fans from far and wide.

Since Alex Graham’s death in 2001, the strip has continued in the safe hands of his daughter, Arran, who works closely with the talented artist, Michael Martin, who lives in South West France.

Happy Birthday, Fred!

Words by Alistair Keith©2013

Ed: The above photograph shows Fred Basset’s creator, Alex Graham, taken in 1964.

It shows him having fun at a Basset Hound Club Garden Party, which took place in the grounds of The Red Lion, West Dean, in Wiltshire.

It seems that eighty-three Basset Hounds were attending - these where the days when the breed was enjoying a tremendous surge of popularity.

I’m sure the Fred Basset strips played a part of this, together with the Hush Puppy logo.

In fact, it is interesting to note from the photo that the Basset Hounds very existence is down to the rather severe looking lady standing on the left of the image - for she is Miss Peggy Keevil.

The inter war years had been extremely difficult for many breeds. Outbreaks of distemper had been devastating, and the Depression had brought shortages which impacted both the large and small kennels.

An unlikely looking savour, it was she who almost single-handedly kept the breed in existence throughout World War Two by maintaining her pack of Grims Basset Hounds and instigating a very selective breeding programme.

So, although Miss Keevil looks as though she is about to give Alex a good ‘hand-bagging’ unless he stops mucking-about with the hounds - and she might not be the perfect companion for a fun night out - we who love Basset Hounds owe her a big debt of gratitude.

Do you also notice from the photo just how smart folks are? Even the chap sitting on the grass is wearing a tie. We just don’t get that nowadays, or twin-sets and pearls.

In fact, at some of our Branch events, like Fun Day, many look as though they rely on looting the skips behind charity shops for their wardrobe! Still, at least we are now in colour.

Below is an article reporting the event which appeared in The Mail in September 1964 - the newspaper which still carries the Fred Basset cartoons.

Cover of the Basset Hound Owners Club newsletter Lowdown

more Fred ☞

first published in LOWDOWN

editor Tony Roberts