Tuesday, October 6, 2009


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.bunny

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-Messturtle
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.what-a-mess

  • 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
hedgehogPublished 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...

wam tv pic01 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 Vetman

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 & doggie

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 Collected Works of Frank Muir

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.

frank pic
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.

frank & dennis pic

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.

Oxford Book of Humorous Prose pic1990 - 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.)

Walpole Orange pic1993 - 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.)

Kentish Lad pic1997 - 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.)