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No Mean City: 1914 to 1950s


John Joy Bell

By Irene Maver

John Joy Bell John Joy Bell was a prolific writer and journalist, best remembered for his comic fictional creation, Wee Macgreegor. Known professionally as J J Bell, he was born in Hillhead, then a west-end suburb just beyond the Glasgow boundaries. In 1932 he wrote a memoir of his middle-class childhood, which included an affectionate portrait of his father, a tobacco manufacturer. Bell was educated at Kelvinside Academy and then Crieff, before embarking on a science degree at the University of Glasgow. Preferring student journalism to study, he eventually became a full-time writer.

In 1896 Bell was appointed sub-editor of the Scots Pictorial. He also contributed regular articles, poems and stories to the Evening Times. It was the latter newspaper that first published the adventures of Macgreegor. He appeared in 1901 as the small but irrepressible son of John and Lizzie Robinson, respectable working-class Glaswegians. The following year the stories were collected into book form. Undoubtedly Bell's skilful and witty use of the Glasgow vernacular helped to make Wee Macgreegor a runaway best seller. A Macgreegor craze temporarily hit Glasgow with a dramatic rise in demand for the eponymous hero's favourite sweet of taiblet (tablet).

Bell produced many other books throughout his career, but none of his other fictional work matched the success of the original Wee Macgreegor. His tendency to depict winsome characters and sentimental plot lines was also out of step with the darker realism of the inter-war "Glasgow School" of writing. However, Bell's nostalgic but wryly-humorous autobiographical work of the early 1930s restored his popularity. In 1933 this led to a new edition of Wee Macgreegor and the book has since been reprinted many times.

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