My first encounter with an adorable trio of anthropomorphic animals called Pip, Squeak and Wilfred was when I stepped through the threshold of the Cartoon Museum while doing a six-months intership with the HLF Comic Creators Project back in 2015. I happened to be present when the museum purchased a set of four original drawings, and I could not get over how charming they were. There was something magical about the way the characters were drawn that immediately appealed to my inner child. As I started to read full stories, I realized that I was captivated by the antics of these three characters and the narration of Uncle Dick. I’ll get back to him in a second! Pip and Squeak were first presented to the public on May 1919 in the childrens’ section of the Daily Mirror. Pip was a mongrel dog who was found on the Thames Embankment and sent to a dog’s home where he was bougth for half a crown by Uncle Dick. Squeak’s origins are a bit more distant since she hatched as an egg in the coast of South Africa and later ended in the London Zoological Gardens where Uncle Dick heard her speak to a child. So he adopted her too. A year after Pip and Squeak were created Wilfred joined them. Wilfred was a long-eared rabbit in the toddler stage who could only mutter “gug” and “nunc”. At that time, Pip became the father figure in the strip, and Squeak, with red purse in hand, took the role of the mother. How Pip and Squeak discovered Wilfred is still a matter of debate. Some say that he was found in a turnip field, but others (whom I am more inclined to believe because they were the authors) mentioned that Squeak found Wilfred catching butterflies in a clover field and she immediately adopted him because she thought that he was adorable.
The lovely trio originally lived with a couple of humans who cared for them, Uncle Dick and his maid Angeline. As a matter of fact, Uncle Dick was Bertram J. Lamb himself (1989-1938), the creator of the trio and editor of the children’s spot in he Daily Mirror. At first, they all lived in the outskirts of London in a little house, but soon enough the little family unit got their own house, called Mirror Grange, which was later physically built by Maxwell Ayrton (F.R.I.B.A.) and George Sheringham with the help of Grace Lovat Frazer. These artists recreated every aspect of the house and included miniature furniture, artworks and all. The house was photographed and filmed and the Daily Mirror created a publication just to show how it had been built. In the end, the model of Mirror Grange was used to raise funds for the Heritage Craft Schools for Crippled Children at Chailey (Sussex).
Of course, without an artist to bring Lamb’s trio to life there could be no Pip, Squeak, or Wildred, and so Austin Bowen Payne (1876-1956) was brought on board on the onset of the project. Payne was already an established artist whose work included illustrations for Firefly, Illustrated Chips and other children’s comics. Apparently, it was Payne who suggested the name of the characters in the strip based on his wartime batman who for unknown reasons was known as “Pip-Squeak.” The collaboration between Lamb and Payne was very successful. The early strips were whimsical, charming and very witty. Both men seem to have met daily to discuss where the strip and the story was going. When Lamb’s health began to deteriorate and he had to leave the country for a while, they continued to correspond as frequently as possible until Bertram Lamb sadly passed away. The storytelling was then picked up by his assistant John Freeman (1905-1972) and Payne continued illustrating Pip, Squeak and Wilfred (with the occassional help of H. P. Pothecary) until he retired in 1953. Then Hugh McClelland whose previous work included Beelzebub Jones, Dan Doofer, Sunshine Falls and Jimpy, took over the strip until it ended in 1955.
The success of the strip was almost immediate. Besides appearing weekly in the Sunday Pictorial, the daily strips were also published in Annuals starting with the earliest adventures of the trio in Pip, Squeak & Wilfred, Their “Luvly” Adventures (1921), which recalls the origin story of the characters. Then each year the Pip & Squeak Annual appeared from 1922, dated as 1923, to 1939, followed by a separate Wilfred’s Annual dated between 1924 and 1938 and by Uncle Dick’s Competition Annual from 1930 to 1931. World War II halted the production of the comic strip in 1940 and it did not come back into print until 1947, with a combined Pip, Squeak & Wilfred Annual produced from 1953 to 1955.
Moreover, there was a series of silent animated cartoons produced in 1921 by Lancelot Speed, titled “The Wonderful Adventures of Pip, Squeak & Wilfred”. The cartoons lasted about 5 minutes and they were shown between February and Augst 1921. There was a total of 25 shorts made with titles such as “Pip And Wilfred Detectives”, “Over The Edge Of The World”, “The Six-Armed Image”, “The Castaways”, “Ups And Downs”, “Popski’s Early Life”, “Wilfred’s Nightmare”, “Wilfred’s Wonderful Adventures” and “Trouble In The Nursery”. Sadly, there is no way of getting a copy of these cartoons to watch nowadays.
Pip, Squeak & Wilfred were so popular, so beloved, that a club was founded in 1927 called the Wilfredian League of Gugnuncs. They even made badges in blue enamelled metal with Wilfred’s long ears as the main motif. In a short period of time the Gungnuncs, which of course was formed by the two baby words uttered by Wilfred, counted over 100,000 members. The W.L.O.G. organized events, competitions, parties and rallies for its members, specially in the British South Coast Seaside resorts. In more than one occassion they filled the Royal Albert Hall in London to raise money for several children’s hospitals and charities. Among the rules of the club was to be a good person, to make the world a better place, to be kind to dumb animals, and to never eat rabbit.
Pip, Squeak & Wilfred inspired the creation of many collectable items like books, games, china, ribbons, handkerchiefs, stuffed animals, etc., which one can still purchase today. They even have the dubious privilege to have three war medals named after them during the First World War (1914-1918): the British War Medal, the British Victory Medal and either the 1914 Star or the 1914-15 Star. The reason why this is a dubious privilege is because every man who served, whether they had seen action or not, received one of them. Still, the characters were so well known that the Royal Air Force named three of their training aircraft Pip, Squeak and Wilfred after WWI, and during WWII the radio-navigation system of the RAF was called Pip-Squeak. What is even more interesting is that Wiston Churchill himself named one of the operations during the Phoney War of 1940, Operation Wilfred, since it was a small operation to stop the Germans from receiving iron ore from Sweden by deploying mines off the coast of Norway. And like these many more, which I don’t have enough time to discuss here but which demonstrate how deeply were these three characters ingrained in the culture of the period.
And then 1955 came around and the strip was discontinued. The innocence and surreal charm of the characters were probably too incongruous for the post-WWII period. As the years passed by, Pip, Squeak and Wilfred became nothing but a memory to be cherished by those who grew up with them and those who fought in their name. Then they were just forgotten.
Thankfully, the Cartoon Museum is here to rediscover and present some of the original charm of these lovely and whimsical characters. Stop by 35 Little Russell Street to see several orignal panels created by Lamb and Payne when you have a minute. They are well worth your visit!
Bibliography and Further Reading
“A Guide to British Campaign Medals of WW1.” In The Great War, 1914-1918. Accessed 12/12/2017.
“Austin Bowen Payne (1876-1956)”. The Lambieck Comicopedia. Accessed 10/12/2017.
Cadogan, Mary. 1990. “Introduction.” In The Nostalgia Collection: Pip, Squeak & Wilfred. London: Hawk Books Ltd.
Churchill, Winston. 1986. The Second World War:The Gathering Storm. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Freeman, John. 2015. “Forgotten Comic Characters: Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.” Down the Tubes. Access 10/12/2017.
Gravette, Paul. 2014. 1001 Comics You Should Read Before You Die: The Ultimate Guide to Comic Books, Graphic Novels and Manga. Rizzoli International Publications.
Knights, Crystal. “The Only British Thing in the Kyoto International Manga Museum.” In British Comics Miscellany.
Mullen, Chris. “Miniaturization: Pip, Squeak & Wilfred: Mirror Grange.” In The Visual Telling of Stories. Accessed 12/12/2017.
Payne, A.B. and B.J. Lamb. 1921. Pip, Squeak & Wilfred, Their “Luvly” Adventures . London: Stanley Paul & Co.
“Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.” Wikipedia. Accessed 15/12/2017.
M. Westley K. Richard, 2012. “The RAF Pip-Squeak Fighter Location System as used in the Battle of Britain 1940”. Duxford Radio Society. 10/12/2017.
You can also sing along to the offical song of the Wilfredian League of Gugnuncs:
Gug! Gug! Nunc! Nunc!
Gugnuncs Merry are we!
We sing this song, for we all belong
To the W.L.O.G.
Stand By – Friends all –
Members merry and free!
For hand-in-hand goes the gugly band
Of the W.L.O.G.
Nunc! Nunc! Wilf! Wilf!
To Wilf we bend the knee,
To Wilf we sing, to the gugly king
Of the W.L.O.G.
Gug! Gug! Nunc! Nunc!
To Friends of all degree!
Give gugly hugs to the nuncly gugs of the W.L.O.G.
You can listen to the music and lyrics here.