Poverty Reduction Programme (The Last War in Albion Part 93: Song of the Terraces, After They Were Famous)
This is the fifth of eleven parts of The Last War in Albion Chapter Ten, focusing on Alan Moore’s Bojeffries Saga. An omnibus of all eleven parts is available on Smashwords. If you are a Kickstarter backer or a Patreon backer at $2 or higher per week, instructions on how to get your complimentary copy have been sent to you.
The Bojeffries Saga is available in a collected edition that can be purchased in the US or in the UK.
Previously in The Last War in Albion: The second major run of The Bojeffries Saga came in the magazine A1, and concluded with a strip called “Song of the Terraces.”
“The Hoop was a massive dead end in which to dump America’s unemployed. Called a ‘Poverty Reduction Programme’, it didn’t reduce poverty… it just meant that people no longer had to look at the poor. If you lost your job you were moved to the Hoop, where you lived on a state-provided credit-card system called MAM until you found employment. Except that there wasn’t any employment.” – Alan Moore, The Ballad of Halo Jones
|Figure 709: The symphony grows more complex. (Written|
by Alan Moore, art by Steve Parkhouse, from “Song of the
Terraces,” in A1 #4, 1990)
Described as “a light opera with libretto by Mr. A. Moore and full orchestration by Mr. S. Parkhouse,” the strip is formatted as a musical, beginning with the chant of a paperboy as he walks down the terraced street, identifying the paper of choice of each house he walks past: “Sun, Sun, Sun, Sun, Sun, Guardian, Sun.” He is quickly joined by further paperboys, taking up his chorus and adding in descriptions of the papers’ contents: “Page three, transfer fee, ‘Is your man a sex bomb?’/ Which M.P.’s been compromised outside a Gent’s in Wrexham? / Outrage, sports page, ‘Di: her secret vices!’, / Someone out of Neighbours whose domestic life’s in crisis…” In time the original paperboy takes up a new verse, imploring the reader to, “when letter boxes snap / pity the little chap / who does not write the crap / but is its victim. / For while the world’s asleep / he works to earn his keep / lest, with poll-tax so steep / his folks evict him.”
|Figure 710: The symphony concludes. (Written by Alan|
Moore, art by Steve Parkhouse, from “Song of the Terraces,”
in A1 #4, 1990)
At this point, things really get going as the first actual member of the Bojeffries family appears, with Raoul stepping out and singing his own tune about going to work, with other men quickly joining in and singing about how “we’ve little dicks and big dogs / and we’re not too fond of nig-nogs / but we whistle as we make our way to work” as Raoul proclaims, “At veekends I vill shop for shelving down at M.F.I. / or vatch a fourth diwision team at play / I’d like to vin der futball pools und then retire und die / so I vhistle as I go to vherk each day!” As their section finishes, out gomes Ginda, who begins a verse singing that “there are six hundred women in this council cattle pen / with nought in common save for their biology, / who thus in conversation tend to stick to kids and men / and other horrid facts of gynecology.” Her verse quickly turns to a parody of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade, as “on into the Valium and the shadow of Dreft rode the six hundred,” at which point Ginda’s song takes on a structure of describing these women: “Six hundred scratched recordings of Ken Dodd and “Happiness” / six hundred breakdowns, and, when life is done / six hundred lame obituaries in the local press / that read:” ‘the angels called and off went Mum.’” Meanwhile, the women of the estate begin their own verse in parallel with Ginda’s, singing of how “the three-piece-suite we bought last week will probably see us out / Life’s Mills and Boon must reach its final pages / We think Death sounds quite nice: we’ve no idea what Life’s about / and we haven’t had a good lie-in for ages.” Next up are the car alarms, proclaiming their basic futility, at which point Ginda, the paperboys, Raoul, and the men and women of the estate all return, singing in parallel until, in unison, they all proclaim “THIS IS OUR TERRACE SYMPHONEEEEEE!!,” at which point Jobremus leans out the window and tells them off for making such noise.
The strip is notable in several regards. First is simply its structural inventiveness – it is by some margin the most technically accomplished Bojeffries Saga strip. It also, more than any other Bojeffries Saga story, gives Steve Parkhouse the extended opportunity to draw architecture, given that it is set in the street, such that a row of terraced houses is the backdrop for nearly every panel – indeed, the strip features a credit offering “special thanks to Raymond and Fiona of Architects Plus.” But in some ways more important is the general change in tone that “Song of the Terraces” demonstrates – a turn away from a sort of nostalgic lampooning of working class Britain and towards something much angrier and more directly cynical. Moore notes that “there’s always been a cutting edge to the Bojeffries,” specifically noting the commentary on racism in “Raoul’s Night Out,” but adds that “generally in the early stories, the humour is probably more affectionate, I think. Even while I am rueing the horrific institution of the works night out, I can still find something kind of dopey and endearing about it, whereas in the later ones,” he explains, he has generally “become less tolerant about some of the things that I think are ridiculous or even repulsive about culture.”
This becomes even more pronounced in the final and longest Bojeffries Saga strip, “After They Were Famous.” This strip, first published in the Top Shelf/Knockabout collection of The Bojeffries Saga, had a long genesis – the project dates to around 2008, and the story is set in 2009, when the script was finished, but Parkhouse took considerable time illustrating the twenty-four pages, and it did not actually come out until 2014, more than twenty years after “Our Factory Fortnight.” The delay between script and art was, in some ways, fortuitous, as it meant that The Bojeffries Saga retained its slight remove from time – talking about the way in which the early installments looked at a rapidly vanishing culture, Moore noted, in an interview to promote the 2014 collection, that “even in the most up to date story, Big Brother is still on Channel 4 and David Cameron is still in opposition. It’s these ephemeral things about our culture and the way it’s changed over the years that end up being the most poignant things about the Bojeffries.” But poignant is, in some ways, an odd term for “After They Were Famous,” a strip that is absolutely withering in its assessment of the culture of its time.
|Figure 711: The dilapidated ruins of the|
Bojeffries family home. (Written by Alan
Moore, art by Steve Parkhouse, in The
Bojeffries Saga, 2014)
The central premise of “After They Were Famous” is straightforward – the strip simply makes the time jump implicit in waiting from 1991 to 2009 to do a new strip, and explores what might have happened to the Bojeffries int he intervening years. This opens with a Channel 4 documentary purporting to give an update on the family, starting with a set of six television-shaped panels as the documentary starts, and then cutting to a splash page of the derelict Bojeffries family home, one of the strip’s few really big pieces of architecture, and a clear comment on the fundamental decline of the cultural institutions The Bojeffries Saga originally existed to satirize. Indeed, this sense of decay is tangible throughout the strip, with Parkhouse’s art style having evolved over the thirty years of the Bojeffries Saga, moving away from both the ornate detail and cartoonish clarity of the early strips and towards a much scratchier, rougher style. “After They Were Famous” also forgoes the straight black and white style of most of the previous Bojeffries Saga strips, instead going with a grey ink wash that is often coarsely applied, giving the strip a splotchy, slightly disheveled look that, while slightly off-putting at first glance, is an effective match for the sense of cultural decay implicit to the strip.
|Figure 712: Ginda Bojeffries snaps David Cameron’s neck.|
(Written by Alan Moore, art by Steve Parkhouse, from “After
They Were Famous,” in The Bojeffries Saga, 2014)
From this opening, the strip goes through a fairly linear account of the current fates of the family, with varying degrees of entertainment value. Reth has become a wealthy author on the back of a memoir about his family, which led to his ostracization and the family’s relative disintegration. Jobremus has simply made a generational shift in British poverty, living in a tower block with a woman named Shardnee and her five children, sitting, clad in a tracksuit, on a dilapidated sofa giving an interview as Shardnee eats first the bulk of a pizza and then the box it came in, and one of her children tells him “You’re a paedo. Gimme your mobile or I’ll tell mum you’re a paedo and then she’ll well stab you up, you paedo,” a demand Jobremus unhesitatingly gives in to. Festus, under the name Britney Sutcliffe, is the vocalist for the goth band Pram of Shit, Boiby is now providing power to most of England and Wales, and Ginda is a Labour MP with a propensity for snapping necks in the name of parliamentary debate.
|Figure 713: Raoul walks through the rapidly changing|
landscape of contemporary Britain. (Written by Alan Moore,
art by Steve Parkhouse, from “After They Were Famous,” in
The Bojeffries Saga, 2014)
Finally, having introduced all of this, the strip cuts to Raoul, happily oblivious to the entire world around him, when he runs into Colin and Sheena from “Raoul’s Night Out.” Sheena, it transpires, has been a contestant on Big Brother since her last appearance (She remarks that “they adored me having **** off on my forehead. I mean, thank heavens it wasn’t ‘fuck’.”), and they encourage Raoul to give it a try, given that Slesidge & Harbruck went out of business fifteen years ago because “nobody could remember what staunchion grinding was.” Raoul returns to the Bojeffries house, which is demolished as he sleeps, and, after wandering through London (a sequence that provided Moore’s favorite moment of the strip, a panel “of him walking down a flooded street, up to his waist in water, with all the Police rescue boats helping people in the background. Then in the next panel he’s in a different part of town, where he’s dripping wet but there’s no water. He doesn’t appear to have noticed the town is flooded, because he wouldn’t, as he’s Uncle Raoul. On the other hand there was something in that panel that seemed to me to speak to the fact that the landscape around us is altering now with blinding speed and we take that blinding speed of change as the norm and we try to deal with that and get along as normal, even if the situation around us is becoming increasingly abnormal. I know that’s a lot to read into a single panel and it was certainly not what I intended when I wrote it, but the way it came out there was something poignant in that, that we are walking through a flood without a care in the world.”), makes it to the Big Brother auditions, where he gets brought on to Celebrity Big Brother due to the mistaken impression that he’s Meryl Streep (who apparently played him in the disastrous film adaptation). Indeed, it turns out that this year’s edition of Celebrity Big Brother simply consists of the entire Bojeffries clan, in a perfect reconstruction of their old house, which turns out to be the doing of Podlasp, now a television executive. After a few pages of mining this for humor (Festus, for instance, quickly murders Reth for his book), the strip ends, with a familiar caption box narrating that “as our plummeting standards meet the rising ocean coming the other way, we kiss England on the cheek and say goodnight… and then, come the morning, we leave silently before England awakens. Because she’s a minger.”
While the differences between “After They Were Famous” and “The Rentman Cometh” are non-trivial, in most regards it is the similarities that are most apparent. The strips demonstrate a lifelong fascination with the working class culture of the United Kingdom – an aspect both of Moore’s background and career that is on the one hand essential to any thorough understanding of him, and on the other at least relatively difficult to discern from any of the major works from this phase of the War. Class issues are certainly relevant with some frequency – they’re quietly at the heart of both Skizz and D.R. & Quinch, and lurk in the background of Swamp Thing and V for Vendetta, for instance. But they are not issues that leap from the page and announce themselves as major concerns upon even a casual reading as they do in The Bojeffries Saga.
This, in turn, reveals a larger flaw in the basic idea of attempting to understand Moore and the War through the lens of the “major works.” A narrative of Moore’s cultural conquest that begins with Roscoe Moscow and continues up through his breaking out into the American market and the commissioning of Watchmen is easy enough to construct, and is even a true story, such as it were. But its truth comes from the fact that it is constructed from a point well into the War, after the consequences of the early skirmishes have largely played out – it is a truth, in other words, based on selecting the historical events that ended up having the most future impact, not on describing the events of the early 80s as they seemed to be happening at the time. In the fog of war, before it was clear to anybody that there even was a War, there was no such narrative of steady ascent. There was only a young man in Northampton trying to feed his family through means other than jobs he found soul-destroying. And so alongside the road from Sounds to Swamp Thing is another altogether more idiosyncratic path – one that contains many more things like The Bojeffries Saga, many of them just as fascinating.
|Figure 714: The 1982 BJ and the Bear Annual|
featuring BJ (left) and the Bear (right).
For instance, in 1981 before Warrior had even launched, when his career consisted of The Stars My Degradation, Maxwell the Magic Cat, his Doctor Who work, and his earliest Future Shocks, Moore had a gig writing and illustrating text pieces for Grandreams’s 1982 BJ and the Bear Annual. BJ and the Bear was an American television series about a trucker (BJ) who drove around the country with his pet chimpanzee (Bear) that debuted with a pilot movie in October of 1978 and wrapped up in May of 1981 forty-eight episodes later. Its British 1982 Annual was, in other words, a marginal piece of cultural ephemera even when it was printed at the end of 1981. It did, however, contain a three page illustrated glossary of trucker slang compiled by Alan Moore that helpfully informed readers that “keep your nose between the ditches and Smokey out of your britches” meant “drive safely,” [continued]
April 24, 2015 @ 6:18 am
The sudden realization that Alan Moore was in any way connected to "B.J. and the Bear" is astounding to me. You might as well have dropped in a paragraph alluding to his brief career as a male stripper or an astronaut, either of which would have been as jarring.
That said, I do have to credit the otherwise ridiculous "B.J. and the Bear" for teaching me at the age of 9 what sexism was. I did watch the show when it was on because, well, there were only three channels and the other two counter-programmed with "grown-up shows." I don't remember a single episode with any clarity but I vividly remember one in which Audrey Landers had been captured by bad guys and B.J. was on the way to rescue her. The bad guys had ordered her to strip and, so help me god, the camera showed an extreme close-up of her ample bosom so that it completely filled the screen. She was wearing a very tight sort of half sweater thing held closed by three buttons, and I'm pretty sure no bra.
CUE DRAMATICALLY TENSE MUSIC:
1. Close up of Audrey Landers bosom as she undoes first button.
2. Cut to B.J. racing to the bad guys' hideout.
3. Close up of A.L.'s bosom as she undoes second button.
4. Cut to B.J. still racing to bad guys' hideout.
5. Close up of A.L.'s bosom as she reaches slowly for final button. Dramatic music swells.
6. B.J. kicks in the door and beats up all the bad guys, thereby preserving the sanctity of A.L.'s bosom.
And at the age of 9, some part of me said "Wait-a-second! That whole scene was morally and ethically wrong for reasons I can't articulate because I'm 9 and don't know what the Patriarchy is!"
April 24, 2015 @ 10:46 pm
Pram of Shit presumably is a reference to Cradle of Filth – which I'd always assumed was just a made up band for the IT Crowd (Noel Fieldings goth character Richmond was a fan) but apparently it was/is a real band.
May 4, 2015 @ 1:13 am
"It also, more than any other Bojeffries Saga story, gives Steve Parkhouse the extended opportunity to draw architecture, given that it is set in the street, such that a row of terraced houses is the backdrop for nearly every panel.”
I love drawing architecture, and I adore strips such as this where buildings and a sense of place are as strong a set of characters as the people within the stories.
May 11, 2015 @ 11:45 pm
That's not a bear on the right, it's a chimpanzee. A common mistake.