OOR Wullie was as popular as Harry Potter for a generation of Scots who favoured his adventures over Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns, a new exhibition will reveal.
Researchers from Edinburgh Napier University explored the reading habits of Scots born on or before 1945.
And they found that the popularity of Oor Wullie, The Broons and other comics produced by Dundee’s D.C. Thomson dwarfed that of the traditional Scottish literary canon.
“Almost all the interviewees we spoke to said Oor Wullie and The Broons was a key part of their reading experience, whether in The Sunday Post or the Christmas annuals,” says Professor Alistair McCleery, director of the Scottish Centre for the Book, who led the study.
“Their adventures were keenly read and enjoyed by children, parents and grandparents and, in many respects, Oor Wullie was very much like Harry Potter for that generation of Scots.”
The three-year Scottish Readers Remember project was funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Carnegie Trust.
Interviews were conducted from Govan to Shetland as well as with ex-pats in New Zealand and Canada, with many of the interviewees in their 90s.
“Books were the predominant leisure medium for that generation, and the titles that came up time and time again particularly related to their childhood reading,” said Professor McCleery.
“However, much they were aware of writers such as Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns, they were associated with the dull but worthy set texts of education or rituals of Burns Night rather than something to be read for pleasure or entertainment.
“Almost without fail, the exception to the lack of interest in Scottish literature was popular fiction from the D.C. Thomson stable, such as the contents of The People’s Friend and the stories of Oor Wullie and The Broons.”
Morris Heggie, the current writer of Oor Wullie and The Broons, and D.C. Thomson’s archivist, said: “Oor Wullie himself would agree with the researchers.
“For the last 75 years, Wullie has been attending Auchenshoogle Primary School where he constantly studies classics such as The Beano and The Dandy.
“Often the comics are hidden inside great literary works to fool the teacher.”
He added: “The Broons are the original Scottish soap and to this day immensely readable. Their strengths are traditional warmth and wit, two traits most Scots are very proud of.”
A month-long exhibition of the project’s wider findings will be officially opened at Edinburgh’s Central Library on September 1 before touring Scotland’s libraries.
It will include a chance to listen to excerpts from some of the 80 interviews recorded as part of the project.
Councillor Deidre Brock, Culture and Leisure convenor for The City of Edinburgh Council, said: “I am delighted that the Scottish Readers Remember exhibition will begin its tour of Scotland at Edinburgh’s Central Library.
“Oor Wullie and The Broons celebrated some of the best aspects of Scottish life throughout the last century – namely strong family bonds and community spirit.
“This research by Edinburgh Napier University shows how firmly these popular comics are rooted in Scotland’s national consciousness.”
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