The Naked World Of Ben & Katie

The Daily Star’s George & Lynne copycats who never quite hit the big time

Successful acts always spawn imitators. So it was that in 1988 the Daily Star newspaper introduced Ben & Katie, a sexy picture strip in an identical vein to that of The Sun’s George & Lynne. The Star, which was launched in 1978, had always copied The Sun’s template, so perhaps the only surprise was that it took so long to come.

Ben & Katie has never really achieved the same level of kitsch fame as George and his pneumatic wife did, though – an internet search for them gives scant results, tending to throw up stories about the wretched Katie Price instead. A book of their exploits was compiled and appeared in 1989, so they did actually move outside the tabloid’s pages at one point. The strip was written by Doug Baker and illustrated by Spaniard Santiago Hernandez Martin, credited by his middle name, who had mainly worked on romance and adventure stories for British girls’ comics; he died aged just 52 in 1993, a few months after delivering his last Ben & Katie strip. George & Lynne also had a Spanish artist in Josep Gual – make of that what you will.

Ben & Katie was so incredibly similar to George & Lynne you wonder how they got away with it. The pair were perhaps slightly younger but were still a childless suburban couple who lived in a hazy middle-class wonderland of badminton clubs, nudist camps, beaches, swanky parties and comfortable digs. Katie lazed at home while Ben went out to some job or other – and Katie was usually naked or semi-naked wherever she was or whatever she was doing (including riding a horse on one occasion, but she never showed any pubic hair of course). In fact, the biggest difference between the two strips was that there was more nudity in the Star’s effort: whereas Lynne might cover up in a third of the strips, Katie tended to be covered up just one day in six. Ben, though, was a little more modest than George – he didn’t possess George’s posing pouch, for one thing, thank goodness. The paper that was home to the Starbird knew its readers well.

It would be foolish to deny that our Katie – who has the lion’s share of dialogue – was a titillating minx, with her round bosoms, slim waist and tendency to lie around in a tiny bikini, stockings and suspenders or nothing at all. She’d bathe in front of window cleaners, drop everything in the presence of clothes shop assistants, strip in front of her cleaner and hang out au naturel with her mates, who also tended to be balloon-breasted goddesses. All this would take place on a page of comic strips that would include the likes of Beau Peep, Roy Of The Rovers and Judge Dredd, a phenomenon that’s another entry in the sadly ever-growing list of ‘you wouldn’t see that nowadays’, as we head further into a second Victorian era of unhealthy repression accompanied by its stablemate hypocrisy (seen PornHub’s daily traffic?). Nudity in newspaper strips was not much remarked upon in the 1970s and 80s, with, say, the James Bond strip and the Garth saga in the Daily Mirror testament to that (the Mirror, later to become one of Fleet Street’s most furious PC warriors, featured topless models on its pages for a few years).

A quick dollop of sauce with your fried breakfast was what Ben & Katie provided for readers; few would have come for the jokes, which were at best mildly amusing and a bit corny, though some have clever wordplay and canny observations. The script was harmless, light fun, the main recurring themes being Katie spending the household budget on new clothes; women bitching about other women; Katie’s poor cooking; Katie talking to her friends on the phone for too long, and, interestingly, frequent digs at how rubbish or indecent television was. Like George & Lynne, it offers a cute snapshot of where we were at the time in various aspects of our culture, including featuring women who were liberated enough to go starkers in a national newspaper, albeit ones drawn with pencil and pen.

RUSSELL LEWIN

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