Bert Fegg’s Nasty Book for Boys and Girls was, without a doubt, my favourite book as a teenager. I found it in the bargain bin at a Cole’s bookstore in 1979, or maybe 1980. If I remember correctly, a shaft of light came down from the heavens and illuminated the word ‘Nasty‘, and I was powerless to resist. Also, it was a buck. I’ve had many serendipitous moments in bookstores, but clearly the hand of god was involved in this transaction.
The book is supposedly written by Bert Fegg, a disheveled and bulbous crank, but this assemblage of wiseacrey is in fact, penned by Terry Jones and Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame. It is not unlike an episode of MPFC in the variety of content, but it has, you know, more words. And the sarcasm is directed toward traditional children’s fare such as school texts, annuals, games, and comic strips. It’s a beautiful mash-up of satire and silliness, packaged and illustrated by Martin and Lolly Honeysett, who have a definite Gilliamesque flare for the absurd. The mostly black & white illustrations of pervy scribes, Turkish Wall Goats, and inebriated dogs had a huge influence on my drawing style as a kid. Suffice to say, I was never the same after Bert Fegg’s Nasty Book For Boys and Girls.
Not surprisingly, Bert Fegg became the mascot for a noontime high school radio show I did with my best friend back in, well, a few years ago. The DK Hour wasn’t much of a radio program. My friend Kathy provided all the on air commentary, and I worked the controls and supplied the music, which was, with some variation, one long continuous rotation of I Die/You Die by Gary Numan and Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush, with a Turning Japanese or Guns of Brixton thrown in as an occasional turntable cleanser. But, we had awesome marketing, thanks to my carefully executed charcoal replication of Mr Fegg, a bit of hand-drawn type, and a little thing called a mimeograph machine. Awesome marketing aside, in my hard rock high school, the majority of responses were negative, if not outright hostile, but I did get a few favourable compliments on the posters. Bert Fegg yes, Kate Bush no, no, no.
A sampling of chapters includes: Across the Andes by Frog, Soccer My Way by the Supremes, Aladdin and His Terrible Problem (featuring Pisso, the alcoholic dog), Make Your Own 747, and What the Queen Had for Lunch. Really…it’s just page after page of sick, irreverent humour, which thrilled my Mad Magazine-honed sensibilities, then and now. But nothing tickled my funny bone more than the parody of the Enid Blyton books entitled, The Famous Five Go Pillaging.
Consider this line:
“Gosh,” said Bill.’
Almost 30 years have passed, and it still cracks me up.
What follows this understatement of all time, is an astonishing amount of violence, with stereotypically English reactions, or non-reactions, to the carnage. On page three, the increasingly bloody story is discontinued by the ‘publishers’, and Fegg responds with one of his many scribbled rants: “Grrrr….can’t stand just a little bit of blood! What wets! Just you wait! YerluvinuncleBert.” Fegg’s interjections are scattered throughout the book, in an ongoing battle between the publishers and the author, ‘as they attempt to raise the moral tone of the book and censor the violent content.’* Again, typical MPFC, but Fegg’s messy scrawls across an otherwise traditional layout was an unusual visual for the time, sowing the seed (in my mind) for Ralph Steadman’s explosive, subversive imagery, which had yet to enter my artistic sphere.
When the publishers promise to ‘secure the services of a Sunday school teacher with no criminal record’ for the next Nasty book, Fegg counters with a pledge to print his own book ‘made of human bones and bits of peoples bodies.’ The final page is a set of instructions on how to destroy the book. I don’t think so. However, should something nasty befall this book, I’m pretty sure I could give a reasonable recitation of the content. Some books just imprint themselves on your brain, especially your teenage brain, if you’re lucky. Bert Fegg’s Nasty Book For Boys and Girls happens to be one of ’em. Smart, gob-smackingly funny, and beautiful in it’s own deeply disturbed way.
The trifecta of great art, in my opinion.
Bert Fegg’s Nasty Book for Boys and Girls by Terry Jones and Michael Palin, illustrated by Martin and Lolly Honeysett. Published by Methuen, 1974