Asterix in Britain: Celebrating the Fun Comic Book Jaunt

Asterix in Britain
Those pesky Brits!

After the passing of Asterix comic book illustrator Albert Uderzo last week at the age of 92, we knew it was time to revisit a childhood favourite.

Astérix chez les Bretons

Astérix chez les Bretons
The French edition.

The plot here involves Asterix’s trip to good old Blighty with his dimwitted, but well-meaning, friend Obelix.

They do so with a barrel of magic potion, which should help a rebel English village overcome the Roman Empire. Will they all prevail!?

Much hijinks, merriment, and slapstick comedy await—all with a hint of Englishness.

René Goscinny (1926-1977) created this beloved series with Uderzo in the late 1950s. We had a big faze with the comic books from 1995 onward.

Whilst on holiday in Spain with the Wapojif family, we happened across a local newsagent selling them on the cheap. And in English, for some reason.

One of our favourites from the lot was Asterix in Britain (Astérix chez les Bretons—Asterix in the land of the Britons).

It was first published as a full comic book in 1966. A tribute to Asterix’s popularity, considering it was still in print 29 years later when we picked it up in Spain.

If you’re unfamiliar with Asterix the Gaul (Astérix le Gaulois), it’s part of the bande dessinée French language comics that are still in operation. The first was in 1959.

The comic books all start with the below intro, which is here verbatim:

"The year is 50 BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely... One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium..."

The comic books then detail the adventures of this one tiny village, who (thanks to a special potion) can easily hold off Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire.

The potion is the handiwork of the druid Getafix—Panoramix in the French editions. Meanwhile, we have the likes of Chief Vitalstatistix. But the central characters are:

  • Asterix: A diminutive, heroic, and intelligent warrior—the protagonist of the piece. The name does indeed refer to the grammatical typographical symbol (astérisque).
  • Obelix: Tall, a bit dense, and obese, he appears to wear a onesie. He’s self-conscious about his weight and will knock out anyone who teases him about it. As a baby, he fell into the Getafix’s magic potion and so has mega-strength. As a result, he doesn’t need to ever taste the magic potion. As glutton, that annoys him considerably.
  • Dogmatix: Obelix’s pet dog, who shows more intelligence than his owner. But the pair share a special bond.

Asterix is very much still alive as a series—the most recent release was last year (that’s 2019, if you’ve forgotten).

After Goscinny’s death, Uderzo wrote and illustrated the books up until 2009. The rights are now with French publisher Hachette. There are 38 books in total.

So, by the powers of deduction, Astérix chez les Bretons was written by Goscinny.

That adds an extra edge to it for us, knowing he was behind a tale we become pretty obsessed with as kids.

And can you believe it? To our delight, we discovered there was a film version! And, boy, did our VHS tape get much viewing.

Film Adaptation: Asterix in Britain

In 1986, the comic book enjoyed this Danish/French adaptation. Belgian director Pino Van Lamsweerde took charge of this one.

For the French version, Asterix was voiced by Roger Carel (now 92). He was also the voice of the French versions of C-3P0 from Star Wars, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Mickey Mouse, Yogi Bear, and Kermit the Frog.

So, yes, a prolific voice actor for France! He was born, and still lives in, Paris.

For the English dub, we had Jack Beaber. He does a good job, putting on a French accent to his English voice.

We can’t find any other information about Beaber other than that, his last credit is from 1986. Then he appears to have disappeared off the planet.

In later Asterix films, for the English dub Craig Charles of Red Dwarf fame took over duties.

Perhaps the star of the show is Billy Kearns as Obelix. His performance is startling similar to what became Homer Simpson, even though The Simpsons wasn’t around at the time.

He’s childlike, enthusiastic, dumb, bumbling, but very lovable. Like an overgrown dog.

Anyway, the 79 minute animated film has a rather uplifting quality. Cripes, we loved it as kids—watching it over, and over, and over. No doubt annoying our parents in the process.

That was back in the days of one TV per household, so we were hogging the set.

We’ve always had a habit of watching things we like repeatedly until it’s stuck in our heads verbatim.

So rewatching the film for the first time since around 1996, we could remember pretty much all of it. Despite having only remembered this comic book on the news of Uderzo’s passing last week.

Take the theme tune, for example, called The Lookout is Out.

It was performed by a Liverpudlian band called Cook da Books. Yeah, we’d never heard of them either until now.

Indeed! Well, it’s a fun film if you fancy watching it. It helps if you’re a 10 year old, but the nostalgic factor is real for us.

Otherwise, maybe forward it in the direction of any sprogs you may have. It’s family-friendly fun. No cuss words or anything!

8 comments

  1. This is a fantastic story! I’m finally buying all the volumes in French (the travel ban due to the coronavirus is slowing me down, I must say), when I find myself in France/Belgium/Switzerland I always buy a few… I grew up reading Asterix and it’s still a joy to revisit it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Asterix in Britain is still one of my favourite Asterix books. I had almost all the Asterix books as a kid – still have ’em in the collection. Very clever, and the way they lampooned various national cliches was supremely funny (another of my favourites – Asterix in Belgium, did it brilliantly with the running joke about fish and chips). Good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a load of them, but got rid of them ages ago. Which is a shame, I do wish I’d kept them.

      Still, rewatching the Asterix in Britain film was fun. Like going back to being a 10 year old. And the good news is the series is still going, so I hope kids are still reading them!

      Like

  3. I did a small amount of research on Jack Beaber a while back. It appears he was born in America in 1925, worked mainly in musical theatre as a dancer and choreographer, then moved to France during the 80s, taking on some voice acting gigs alongside his theatre work. Apparently he passed away in 2013.

    The voice actors in the British dub all appear to be in the same category (American and English actors based in France) so they’re pretty obscure – Infact there is a single image of Beaber online and it appears to have been taken in the 50s!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, thanks for that! I had a cursory scan around online about him. But didn’t really find out anything. I really loved his work in the Asterix film as a kid. Funny how some people can have a long career in showbiz and not have much information about them.

      Like

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