WOULD you believe it? Dennis the Menace is back in fashion. The new CBBC animated TV version, Dennis and Gnasher: Unleashed!, is attracting rave reviews and large audiences of new young fans.
The original Beano version goes back to 1951, which means that Dennis should really be an OAP. He may look the same, but he appears to have learned some important lessons as he has aged, and there is something about his evolution which provides a wonderful commentary on changing attitudes. It is first-class assembly material for lessons on diversity and difference.
The “Menace” bit has been dropped: apparently it frightens modern parents. He no longer bullies Walter, “the King of the Softies”. Indeed, Walter himself has metamorphosed into a cunning schemer, who is more than ready to scoff at Dennis’s immaturity. Nor is Dennis regularly slippered by his dad.
After years of mild embarrassment, and some psychological trauma, I may therefore have a forename that is about to become “cool” again. Since I still spend my days in a classroom environment, this is important to me.
From what I can discover, nobody has been christened Dennis for about 20 years. You may note the double “N”. I doubt if that was significant to the editor of the Beano, but to my parents it was doubly important. It made clear first, that my name was not the French version. (Ironic really, given that I became a French teacher in later life.)
Second, when I was about six or seven, there was an even more important development. As a local preacher with, shall we say, a somewhat fundamentalist way of thinking, Dad was constantly on the lookout for “a word from the Lord”. How he came to the discovery that Dennis written backwards spells “sinned” is lost in the mysteries of time. Suffice it to say, given his wholehearted commitment to the doctrine of Original Sin, I became a living embodiment of it.
DENNIS is no longer equipped with his notorious peashooter and catapult. He also has some new pals: girls, no less. JJ is a rock drummer, and Rubi zips around in a wheelchair. Cynics may say that all the boxes are ticked. But why not celebrate a kinder, more “savvy” interpretation of a still challenging ten-year old?
The new Dennis enjoys skateboarding and guitar-jamming. He knows about stuff. There is plenty of name-dropping: the pop icons Ed Sheeran and Stormzy get a mention, as does Donald Trump. His creators say that Dennis has always had a tradition of “making light of the world . . . and parodying it”.
Today’s Dennis has gatecrashed one royal wedding, and I suspect that Harry and Meghan can expect similar treatment. Not that Harry or William will mind. Apparently, both are members of the Dennis and Gnasher Fan Club. Perhaps it is possible, pace St Paul, to grow up and still enjoy “childish things”.