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Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Adventures of Speed Gordon...Or How Flash Gordon Changed His Name!

“…Dad never bought the Sunday Sun. He used to buy the Truth and Sportsman, and so that - and since we only got one weekend paper in our house, you know economy was everything; I never got to see Flash Gordon.  They didn't call it Flash Gordon in Australia. That was an odd thing, they called it Speed Gordon. I tried to trace that down and find out what the reason for that was but nobody seemed to know.  It may be just simple that Australians in those days didn't like the idea, flash word, you know, because I remember mothers used to think he's too flashy. You'd hear some men gigging another man, you know, that's too flash, Jack.  So, you know, that probably had something to do with them calling it Speed.” – Stan Pitt interviewed by Ros Bowden (Pitt, S. J. & Bowden, Ros.  (1995))
May 5th, 1935
For an entire generation of Australian artists the name Flash Gordon meant nothing to them, but the name Speed Gordon did.  Same strip, exquisitely drawn by Alex Raymond, but with a different name.  But why was Flash Gordon given a new name here Down Under?

That question is easier to answer than people might think.  There's no real conspiracy or anything sinister involved - it all comes down to simple Australian slang.  At the turn of the 20th century, to call someone 'flash' in Australia was to imply that they were a bit of what was called a 'mug lair'.  Someone who was 'flash' dressed up a lot and was both vulgar and obnoxious while being very forward and generally uncouth.  You'd hear people say, "He's a flash b@stard," and indeed I used to hear that even when I was a kid in the 1970s.  To be 'flash' wasn't a compliment by any stretch of the imagination.  As such a comic strip where the main character was called 'Flash' Gordon might not have actually survived for as long as it did, if it even saw print in the first place. 
May 5th, 1935
This meant that, throughout the 1930s, Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon strips were renamed and re-lettered by local artists at the syndicate that imported the strip (I suspect it was the Yaffa Syndicate, but I will happily stand corrected).  Sometimes the letterers did a better job than others, as can be seen in the examples posted here.  Alex Raymond's art was still as ground-breaking as it always was, and Raymond, via his Speed Gordon strips, managed to influence a wide range of Australian artists including Stanley Pitt (the Raymond influences being very apparent on Gully Foyle) to Keith Chatto and many more. 
19361106  The West Australian, 6th November, 1936
The West Australian, 11th November, 1935
Even the motion picture serials, produced by Universal Studios and starring Buster Crabbe, were named Speed Gordon, complete with the title cards changed.  I'm not entirely sure if Flash's name was dubbed to Speed in the actual dialogue though.  Once the serials took hold in the 1940s, the name was quietly changed back to Flash Gordon from Speed Gordon and all was well.
June 23rd, 1935
Finding complete examples of Speed Gordon strips from Australian newspapers isn't easy at all.  As they've not been properly digitalised by libraries yet (sadly this is all too common with Australian strips, such as Fatty Finn) strips exist unseen and largely forgotten in private collections and library vaults.  My hope is that all of Speed Gordon strips, along with the vast trove of Australian produced strips and cartoons from the 19th and 20th centuries, can be scanned in full colour and preserved for all to see for generations to come.  Currently the National Library, via it's Trove site, is doing it's best, but it can be better. Fingers crossed!
The Sunday Sun Guardian, 25th November, 1934
The Sunday Sun Guardian 10th September, 1939

2 comments:

Kid said...

It's a bit like Top Cat being renamed Boss Cat in Britain - simply because the BBC didn't want to give free publicity to the name of a well-known cat food. Nothing about the actual programme was altered, but it was advertised in newspaper TV listings as Boss Cat, and the TV announcer always referred to it as such. (Even Polystyle's TV Comic strip was renamed.)

rnigma said...

Flash Gordon was called "Blas Gordon" in the Philippines, apparently because of Filipinos' inability to pronounce the letter F.