It wasn’t much to look out, but the little round lapel badge we found lying in the bottom of a box of knickknacks at our local collectors’ fair had a fascinating background.
About the size of an old sixpence, the badge was decorated with blue enamel, picked out of which were the initials W. L. O. G.
The only other decoration was what we later learned was a pair of oversized ears — an image that was once the trademark of a cartoon rabbit, and no, I don’t mean Bugs Bunny.
The rabbit’s name was Wilfred — his co-conspirators were Pip and Squeak — and W. L. O. G. stands for the Wilfredian League of Gugnuncs. Today, it seems, the tricksy trio have become something of a cult with collectors and anything connected to them sells for a premium.
Confused? Readers of a certain age will remember them. Those who are not should read on and then they won’t be.
Pip, Squeak and Wilfred were the invention of Bertram J. Lamb, editor of the Daily Mirror’s children’s column. His idea was a strip cartoon in the newspaper which first appeared on May 11, 1919.
The characters were supposedly named by Payne after his wartime batman who went by the nickname “Pip-Squeak”.
Pip, the dog, Squeak his penguin companion and a baby rabbit called Wilfred came from Payne’s imagination and continued to delight both children and their parents until its run ended in 1958.
Oddly, Pip and Squeak were portrayed as being Wilfred’s parents – the apparently found him in a turnip field – while an elderly penguin was known as Auntie and a Russian spy was the villain with his dog “Popski”.
Austin Bowen Payne (1876-1959) was born in Cardiff, South Wales, but lived for a great part of his life in Herne Bay. He retired in 1953 and died there a year after the strip finally ended.
During its run, Pip, Squeak and Wilfred were a part of the British Establishment and the phrase passed into common parlance.
The Wilfredian League of Gugnuncs was founded in 1927 and is a mark of how popular Pip Squeak and Wilfred became (the Queen Mother was said to be a huge fan).
The name “Gugnunc” came about because unlike Pip and Squeak, Wilfred spoke only in baby-talk and “gug” and “nunc” were his favourite words. The Gugnuncs held parties and meetings and an annual rally at the Royal Albert Hall, raising funds for children’s hospitals and charities.
The cartoon also inspired a wide range of spin-off merchandise including children’s tea-sets, board games, toys, handkerchiefs and annuals. There was also a series of silent films in the early 1920s featuring the capers of the cartoon trio directed by Lancelot Speed.
The Daily Mirror Gugnunc Sing-Song was popular at this time and more money was raised from sales of printed songsheets and a now rare 78 rpm record produced by His Mater’s Voice. They change hands for £10-15, while a Wilfred car mascot can fetch £200-300.
Royal Doulton jumped on the Gugnunc bandwagon when they introduced the figure of Wilfred blowing a trumpet HN922 in 1927, while he also appears with Pip and Squeak on a ceramic ashtray, HN935.
Fund-raising was one of the prime motives of the cartoon – an important factor in its popularity, particularly at a time of the First World War.
Another money-spinner was a series of postcards by Raphael tuck from the Mirror Grange series, each of which showed views of a house of the same name which was built for the comic characters.
Artist F. Kenwood Giles was commissioned to produce the pictures used as illustrations and they showed the house from various angles, together with scenes from the interior. So the nursery showed Wilfred pulling a toy train, while Squeak was seen in his bedroom and so on.
They sold for a few pennies in the 1920s, while today a full set changes hands for £20 to 30 if in good condition.
Another delightful collectable is the Pip, Squeak and Wilfred Gugnunc board game. Made in England and also dating from the Great War, the game is based on war medals (see panel) and is similar to snakes and ladders with dice and counters. In good condition, the game is worth £30-40 today.
The first Pip, Squeak and Wilfred Annual for children was published in 1923 by Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. It contained four colour plates by Ruth Cobb, Charles Folkard, Joyce Brisley & A E Jackson respectively and other colour-tinted illustrations of the amusing adventures our heroes.
The Pip and Squeak Annual ran from 1923 to 1939; “Wilfred’s Annual” from 1924 to 1938, while a second more cartoon-based “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred Annual” ran from 1953 to 1955. Expect to pay £35-45 for an example in good condition.
A pip-squeak is still a term used to describe something or someone small and such was the case when, in the history of motorcycles, the Budget of 1931 introduced a reduced rate of road tax rate of 15/- (75p) for machines with engine capacities under 150cc.
The aim of this concession was to stimulate British manufacturers to produce machines similar to the autocycle, which were popular on the continent.
At first, manufacturers took advantage of this new taxation class by producing small capacity motorcycles which were immediately nicknamed “pip-squeaks”.
When autocycles did appear, it was inevitable they were given the derisory name of “Wilfreds”!
Medals by any other name
Pip, Squeak and Wilfred appeared in the Daily Mirror at around the same time that George V decided that our gallant lads should be awarded medals for their service to their country (pictured right).
However, the medals were not for gallantry, since they were given to everyone who saw service in any theatre of war, whether under fire or not, which somewhat demeaned their significance. As a result, it was not long before the trio of awards were christened Pips, Squeaks and Wilfreds!
The Pip was either the 1914 Star or the 1914-15 Star, each of which were identical three-pointed bronze stars with a central scroll bearing the appropriate dates.
The 1914 Star was issued to members of the British Expeditionary Force who had served in France and Belgium during the period August 5,1914 and November 22,1914.
Most went to the Regular and Territorial Army but some naval personnel serving ashore were eligible as were a very small number of Australians and Canadians. The medal became known as the “Mons Star” of which 78,000 were issued.
In 1919, a bar stamped with the qualifying dates was issued to those who had actually been under fire.
The 1914 – 15 Star, which differs only in its scroll, was issued to the 2,350,000 British and Empire Forces and to civilians attached to the forces who served in a theatre of war between August 5, 1914 and December 31, 1915.
The British War Medal of 1914 – 1920 was known as Squeak. A solid silver medal, it was decorated with an image of St George whose horse is trampling the shield of the central powers. The reverse has the head of George V.
Around six million were awarded to the three armed services and to those who served in any Commonwealth or Imperial unit or certain voluntary organisations.
The Victory Medal 1914 – 1918 was a Wilfred, issued after the Allies agreed between them that each country would produce a medal to commemorate the Victory. The common theme among them all was the rainbow-coloured ribbon.
The British medal – 5,750,000 were awarded – shows the winged Victory on the front holding a palm branch with the words “The Great War for Civilisation” on the reverse.
The bronze medal was awarded to those who had received the 1914 or 1914-15 Star and to most of those who received the War Medal, but it could not be awarded alone.
It was awarded to anyone who had any service in a theatre of war, including civilians in recognised voluntary organisations.
Brave souls whose deeds of courage were mentioned in dispatches were also awarded a bronze oak leaf to fasten on to the ribbon.
Individually, the medals can be picked up for a few pounds apiece. A set attracts a premium and provenance, particularly if it is interesting – each medal is marked with the name of the recipient – boosts value accordingly.