A place where fans of author and comic and all round fabulous bloke, Frank Muir, can share their memories and anecdotes.
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.
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).
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!)