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Saturday, 17 March, 2001, 12:14 GMT
Dennis the Menace turns 50
Dennis the Menace
Dennis the Menace: 'The World's Wildest Boy'
Britain's oldest comic strip hero Dennis the Menace has turned 50.

The perennial naughty schoolboy reached the milestone in customary fashion with a custard pie fight in aid of Comic Relief.

In the latest edition of The Beano, he can be seen involved in a number of money-raising activities including a food fight with comedians Ali G and Billy Connolly.

Dennis the Menace in the 50s
Dennis the Menace in the 1950s
The mischievous spiky-haired character first burst onto the pages of The Beano in March 1951.

Half a century down the line, Dennis is still going strong.

When Dennis was first launched there were doubts whether he would last beyond his first birthday.

Social workers raised fears that Dennis would lead children astray.

Now Dennis - first billed as the "The World's Wildest Boy" - boasts a fanclub of some 1.5 million members, including Paul Gascoigne and Linford Christie.

He has even ventured outside the pages of The Beano to star in an animated BBC TV version of his comic adventures.

The Beano's editor, Euan Kerr, explained why Dennis the Menace had been an "overnight success".

"Until Dennis arrived there had never been a comic character like him," he said. "You could call him the world's first anti-hero."

Accomplice

Dennis is also known for his equally bad canine sidekick, Gnasher.

But the evil snapper, described as a stray Abyssinian wire-haired tripehound, only appeared on the scene 17 years after his master.

Gnasher the dog
Gnasher is just as bad as his master

Gnasher's main claim to fame is "teeth so tough they can bite clean through solid granite".

The Dennis the Menace Fan Club was launched in 1976, which included Gnasher's Fang Club.

In 1986, Gnasher "disappeared", causing uproar amongst his devotees.

He returned mysteriously six weeks later - with six puppies.

In 1996, Dennis became a national TV celebrity with his own series. He also features in Beanoland on The Beano's website.

He still wears the same attire as when he started making no concession to passing fashion fads like expensive Nike trainers.

But in a concession to the age of political correctness, he no longer gets whacked with a slipper every week or bullies Walter the Softie.

And his catapult, an instrument of deadly accuracy which would be deemed an offensive weapon nowadays, has mysteriously disappeared.

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