The What-A-Mess books, written by Frank Muir and illustrated by Joseph Wright, tell the tale of an Afghan hound whose real name is Prince Amir of Kinjan. His favourite things are eating his wicker basket and chasing the cat-next-door. Just like The Simpsons, W-a-M hasn't aged a jot since the first episode, although he has had a half birthday. Joseph's illustrations are mini stories within stories, with trippy creatures and aliens doing their best to make sense of the strange world around them.
1977 - What-a-Mess Published by Ernest Benn The puppy's first adventure, where he asks the universal question: Who am I? "When I find something as short and fat as I am - that will be what I am!" Unfortunately the first thing WaM sees is a very short, extremely fat bee.
1978 - What-a-Mess The Good Published by Ernest Benn Where WaM decides to heroically rid the world of ants. Well, three of them anyway. His hunt takes him on a rampage through the garden and house. And then the family walks in...
1979 - Prince What-a-Mess Published by Ernest Benn The puppy gives himself a make-over, which includes his unusual grooming method of running full tilt through the rose garden for that nice, even comb. Strangely, the family is not impressed.
1980 - Super What-a-Mess Published by Ernest Benn A spoilt doggy, Poppet, arrives for the holidays and makes WaM's life miserable. He must team up with the cat next door to defeat this new, evil foe.
1981 - Frank and Polly Muir's Big Dipper Published by Heinemann Includes the story What-a-Mess and his half birthday. He decides to surprise the family at breakfast by leaping gracefully onto the table ... but it doesn't quite go to plan.
1981 - What-a-Mess and the Cat-Next-Door Published by Ernest Benn It's a different cat. More evil. She persuades WaM to tear down a pine smelling weed that has popped up in the lounge room, and it's Christmas Eve...
1982 - What-a-Mess in... (the four seasons) Published by Ernest Benn in hardcover and Carousel in paperback.
Summer: There's a heat wave, and the puppy isn't coping, until he decides to dig a hole down to Australia.
Autumn: The slush and rain and slippery leaves are too much for Prince Amir of Kinjan, so he decides to hibernate.
Winter: WaM gets caught up in the excitement of the season and concocts a rather huge wish list.
Spring: That nasty Cat-Next-Door from 1981 is back with more advice about crawling through thickets and climbing trees.
1983 - What-a-Mess at the Seaside Published by Ernest Benn In which our hero travels to the beach and is saved from drowning by the Archbishop of Canterbury... sort of. (Released in the US as "What-a-Mess at the Beach".)
1984 - What-a-Mess Goes to School Published by A&C Black WaM is sent to school to learn a few tricks. He's destined to fail, until his friend Cynthia, a hedgehog, turns up.
1986 - What-a-Mess has ...(four square meals) Published by A&C Black in hardcover and Picture Corgi in paperback
Breakfast: The puppy has been left on his own for the day with his food laid out, but he's scoffed the lot and now he's hungry again. He faints near the front fence and scares a passer by ... who drops her basket of food.
Lunch: He hasn't eaten for nearly eight minutes and he's starving. The cat-next-door teaches him how to hunt.
Tea: The Archbishop of Canterbury calls in but there's no food. No food, that is, until someone brings some home cooking around for the charity sale. (Check out the Back To The Future inspired illustrations by Joe Wright.)
Supper: He gives his last bit of saved milk to Cynthia the hedgehog. Luckily, the family is back and they've got a new basket for him. A new basket which smells delicious ...
1989 - What-a-Mess Goes on Television Published by Walker Books A quite lengthy adventure, which naturally involves WaM on tv, but only for three and a half minutes. Along the way WaM's mother tells exciting stories about WaM's noble and courageous ancestors.
1990 - What-a-Mess and the Hairy Monster Published by Doubleday in hardcover and Picture Corgi in paperback. The final complete adventure, where the friends WaM has met over the years all come together in one volume. United they conquer their fears of the hairy monsters that lurk in dark places.
1990 - What-a-Mess Annual 1991 Published by World International Publishing.
1990 - What-a-Mess Colouring Book Published by World International Television. Information courtesy Polly Muir who, despite having several grandchildren, has an incredibly rare uncoloured-in copy!
What-a-Mess Animated TV Series There was an American and British cartoon series of What-a-Mess. The British version stuck pretty much to the original feel of the books, based on Joseph Wright's illustrations and was narrated by Frank Muir. However, the American version apparently featured a karate chopping side kick (urrrgh) and Frank made guest appearances as an Old English Sheepdog, so the less said about that the better.
The UK series has a very cute theme song, which includes the lines: "A tangled heap of unpleasantness, good grief, What-a-Mess!"
The British version was produced by Bevanfield Films for Central Independent Television, adapted for television by Tim Forder. The episodes are as follows...
01 What-A-Mess goes to the Seaside 02 What-A-Mess goes to School 03 Prince What-A-Mess 04 Super What-A-Mess 05 What-A-Mess keeps Cool 06 What-A-Mess and Cynthia the Hedgehog 07 What-A-Mess has a Brainwave 08 What-A-Mess and the Cat-Next-Door 09 What-A-Mess and Little Poppet 10 What-A-Mess goes Camping 11 What-A-Mess The Beautiful 12 What-A-Mess goes to Town 13 What-A-Mess goes to the Vet
1990 - Frank Muir's What-a-Mess Published by Ladybird. (Based on the television episodes of the same name.) These were written by Tim Forder, "based on Frank Muir's original concept and story". Illustrated by Nigel Alexander who also stayed fairly close to the style of Joseph Wright's original illustrations. This series stayed true to the original books. They were sold in supermarkets for around £1.30 and are much shorter adventures than the originals (which makes them perfect for reading in the car because kiddies can finish them before motion sickness sets in). For those with no trivia threshhold, they are known as series 908.
What-A-Mess Goes Camping What-A-Mess and Little Poppet What-A-Mess Goes to the Vet What-A-Mess The Beautiful What-A-Mess has a Brainwave What-A-Mess Goes to Town
What-a-Mess has also been printed in Japan (Frank's name ends up as something like "Furanke Mueeru") Israel, Germany, Netherlands, South Africa and France, where he is known variously as O-Schreck-lass nach (German) Wat-een-Troep (Dutch) Bollie-Blaps (Afrikaans) and Okeloreurrr! (French).
The following is a chronology of Frank's accumulated radio and television works in book form, as well as his 'original' books.
All publishers listed are the 1st, but many have been reprinted in paperback by different publishing houses. Description of Frank's myriad ties are entirely subjective!
1972 - Call My Bluff by Frank Muir and Patrick Campbell published by Eyre Methuen. Based on the popular BBC television game show, the book is set out in a game format, giving the reader the choice of three definitions for words such as gavage, grimthorpe and queach. Cover has Frank wearing a dusky pink bow tie.
1973 - You Can't Have Your Kayak and Heat It stories from 'My Word!' by Frank Muir and Denis Norden published by Methuen. A compilation of Frank Muir and Denis Norden radio scripts from the My Word! days. My Word was a panel game devised by Edward J Mason and Tony Shryane.
1974 - Upon My Word! more stories from 'My Word!' by Frank Muir and Denis Norden published by Methuen. Rear cover has a rather pensive looking Denis and an altogether mysterious and somewhat devious looking Frank (chewing the end of his glasses and wearing a black bow tie). Either that or he swallowed the hinge off his specs just as the picture was being taken.
1975 - Christmas Customs and Traditions by Frank Muir. Research by James Muir. Picture research by Philippa Lewis. published by Sphere Books. (US version, "Christmas Customs and Traditions Around the World", published in 1977 by Taplinger Publishing Co.)
1976 - The My Word! Stories From the popular BBC radio programme by Frank Muir and Denis Norden published by Methuen. A combined paperback edition of "You Can't Have Your Kayak and Heat It" and "Upon My Word!" Front cover has caricatures of Denis and Frank (in oversized strawberry pink bow tie). Rear cover has photo of both, Frank in Salmon pink bow tie.
1976 - The Frank Muir Book an Irreverent Companion to Social History by Frank Muir published by Faber and Faber. 372 pages complete with index, it has quotes for all occasions. It's a good dipping book that doesn't have to be read in any chronological order. Features a photo of Frank on the front with glam pink bow tie, surrounded by a wallpaper pattern of white bow ties on pink background. (Published in the US as "An Irreverent and Thoroughly Incomplete Social History of Almost Everything".)
1978 - Take My Word For It more stories from 'My Word!' by Frank Muir and Denis Norden published by Methuen. Yet another compilation of as-yet uncompiled explanations of familiar expressions and phrases. Another caricature by Michael Terry, Frank in peach-pink bow tie. Includes "The workers have nothing, Toulouse, but their jeans".
1978 - Frank Muir Goes Into ... by Frank Muir and Simon Brett published by Robson Books. A compilation of the anecdotes from the BBC Radio 4 series of the same name, which itself was a compile of archive material BBC wanted to cobble together with a different theme each week. The book was a collaborative effort by Frank Muir and Simon Brett. As Frank put it, "he did 90 per cent of the work and I did 10 per cent, (well, he's younger)." It includes observations on marriage, family, class, food, parties, hobbies and pets. Features a dashing picture of Frank on the cover, complete with lolly pink bow tie.
1979 - The Glums by Frank Muir and Denis Norden published by Robson Books. A compilation of the radio and tv scripts, complimented with replica 1950s advertisements and newspaper articles to get you in that quaint, rosy, contented 50s mood - Bile Beans anyone? Includes classics such as The Job Interview:
ETH: "Now don't take offence, Mr Glum. All I'm saying is, these clothes are going to spoil Ron's chances tomorrow. I mean, just look at them."
MR GLUM: "What's wrong with them? I admit there's a few egg-stains on the lapel ... and a bit of soup on the tie ... and come to that, his pullover ain't exactly lacking in calories either. Though he may not be smart, Eth - you got to admit he's nourishing!"
In a disturbing break with tradition, inside photo of Denis and Frank has Denis in specs with rounder frames and Frank in black bow tie. Well, it is a black and white photo. They are obviously still honing their skills and trademark appearances. (Audio cassette also released.)
1979 - The Second Frank Muir Goes Into... by Frank Muir and Simon Brett published by Robson Books. The menu includes optimism, pessimism, nostalgia, superstition, pride and fear. He saves the best for last - lust. Cover has Frank almost climbing out of the book ... the turned page is obscuring the tie, which must have been cream pink.
1980 - Frank Muir on Children. From Prodigies to Pests: a Complete Guide by Frank Muir published by William Heinemann Ltd. Inspired by the Yorkshire Television series of the same name, cover photo of Frank (in rose pink tie) with two rug rats (Sally and Jamie perhaps?) Includes anecdotes and yarns from famous scribes. Plus, what anthology on children would be complete without one of Hilaire Belloc's cautionary tales.
1980 - Oh, My Word! more stories from 'My Word!' by Frank Muir and Denis Norden published by Methuen. Denis is now wearing the square-style frames, but Frank, oh dear, he's wearing a tweedy looking check tie! This is the fourth collection of My Word anecdotes, such as "Beware of sheikhs sharing lifts", and "It's a wee doll wrapped in a mystery inside an enema".
1980 - The Third Frank Muir Goes Into... by Frank Muir and Simon Brett published by Robson Books. Plush pink bow tie in cover photo, the third book goes into books, cinema, tv, radio, poetry and criticism.
1981 - A Treasury of Christmas Stories, traditions and pastimes of the Christmas festival by Frank and Jamie Muir. published by Robson Books. (Original addition published in 1975 by Sphere Books as "Christmas Customs and Traditions".)
1981 - The Fourth Frank Muir Goes Into... by Frank Muir and Simon Brett published by Robson Books.
1982 - Book at Bathtime by Frank Muir published by William Heinemann Ltd. Frank's foray into the realm of toilet humour is a volume specially written for, and about, the bathroom. He was apparently inspired after reading a survey that found most people preferred to read in the bathroom instead of a library. Includes gorgeous cartoon of Frank in the bath with fairy floss pink bow tie. (Published in the US as "An Irreverent and Almost Complete Social History of the Bathroom".)
1982 - Frank Muir Presents the Book of Comedy Sketches edited by Frank Muir and Simon Brett published by Elm Tree Books / Hamish Hamilton. An hysterical and historical look at comedy sketches through the years. Includes sketches by Frank and Denis.
1983 - The Complete and Utter My Word! Collection by Frank Muir and Denis Norden published by Methuen. Full transcripts of the BBC radio series. Includes; "Maud, bored and dangerous to gnaw", "Crate irks packed Asians", "Clarity shall cover the multitude of gins", "Dressed in a little brie for Thora T", "The lambs are going ahhh to Oliver Yarrop", "I was dizzy, late and sick of an old Persian" and "Harp's strings hit colonel in the Shuman Test". No pics, but silhouettes of bow ties to indicate which stories were told by Frank, and heavy rimmed glasses for Denis' yarns.
1983 - Chambers Words for Crosswords and Wordgames. publisher unknown.
1989 - You Have My Word! A fifth collection of stories by Frank Muir and Denis Norden published by Methuen. Includes such cherished epithets as "Oban confectionary's good for the soil", "One's mower into the bridge dear friends, one's mower," and "Muir in Surrey, Den in Ongar". Frank wearing blush pink bow tie.
1990 - The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose From William Caxton to PG Wodehouse - A Conducted Tour by Frank Muir by Frank Muir published by Oxford. If you need something heavy to flatten a photo or press flowers, this 1162 page bible, fully cross referenced, will do the trick. Another dipping book, with great moments of literature from the earliest days of print, it allows the reader to become incredibly well read without having to put in the hard yards, because Frank has already done it. Inside back cover pic has Frank in open neck pastel pink shirt with no tie.
1991 - The Complete, Utterly Ultimate My Word! Collection by Frank Muir and Denis Norden publisher unknown.
1992 - The Pengiun Book of Comedy Sketches edited by Frank Muir and Simon Brett published by Pengiun Books. Revised and updated version of "Frank Muir Presents the Book of Comedy Sketches". Includes sketches by Frank and Denis.
1992 - Frank Muir Retells Goldilocks and the Three Bears published by Conran Octopus and illustrated by Graham Philpot. (Audio cassette also released, read by Frank Muir.)
1993 - The Walpole Orange by Frank Muir published by Bantam Press. A Whimsical old style romantic novel. His first and only foray into the novel form. In these times of grunge lit and ultra realism, The Walpole Orange stands out as a gorgeous piece of whimsy with a bit of a stab at the gossip industry and its failure to understand the establishment. Well crafted with a neatly dovetailed ending, it satisfies and leaves you with a smile on your face. Features photo on the back of Frank, with baby pink bow tie. (Audio cassette also released, read by Frank Muir.)
1993 - Frank Muir retells Jack and the Beanstalk published by Conran Octopus and illustrated by Graham Philpot. (Audio cassette also released, read by Frank Muir.)
1993 - Frank Muir retells The Three Little Pigs published by Conran Octopus and illustrated by Graham Philpot. (No audio cassette was produced for this title.)
1997 - A Kentish Lad by Frank Muir published by Bantam Press. Frank's life, as he remembered it. As he explained to me while he was writing it, there's plenty from the early years because there are not many people left around to argue about the details, but the more recent stuff was 'open to challenge' by others. Instead of sticking with the chronology, he switches half way through the book to a series of anecdotes, which is altogether satisfying and funny. Features great photo of Frank with chrysanthemum and melon pink bow tie. (Audio cassette also released, read by Frank Muir.)
1998 - The Utterly Ultimate My Word! Collection by Frank Muir and Denis Norden published by Methuen Plays/Drama. (A re-issue of the 1991 version.)
I created the Frank Muir Tribute website in late 1999 and ten years later, it's time to make it a blog (much easier to update).
I have dedicated my first novel, Ondine: The Summer of Shambles to Frank. Ondine is in stores in April 2010. (sorry, can't help it!)