The first weekly number of Fun appeared in September 1861. Founded by the playwright and actor, Henry J. Bryon (1835-1884), it was the only comic periodical to rival the success of Punch by achieving institutional status of its own. Much to the annoyance of the Punch staff, Byron looked to recycle the winning characteristics of its elder rival. Parody and satirical verse could be found alongside political and literary criticism, and sports coverage. This was accompanied by a full or double page topical cartoon (often of a political nature), together with smaller illustrative cuts. In direct comparison to Mr Punch and his dog Toby, Fun fell under the watchful eye of the jester, Mr Fun, and his cat.
Sold at a penny Fun struggled to shake off the image of a 'poor man's Punch' - or as Thackeray coined it "Funch" (Alvin Sullivan, British Literary Magazines: The Victorian and Edwardian Age, 1837-1913 (London: Greenwood Press, 1984), p. 135). Nonetheless, Fun thrived - displaying a radical vitality that Punch had long since lost. Like its peers, Fun was penned for an educated readership familiar with politics, literature, and theatre (J. Don Vann, 'Comic Periodicals', Jerry Don Vann & Rosemary T. Van Arsdel (eds), Victorian Periodicals & Victorian Society (Aldershot: Scholar Press, 1994), pp. 284-5). Indeed, one area in which Fun ploughed an unparalleled furrow was through its close connection to popular theatre. Whilst holding the editorial 'Bauble', Byron, and his successor Tom Hood (1835-1874) - son of the pioneer Punch contributor, assembled a vivacious, bohemian and progressive staff. Leading members were the cartoonist Matt Morgan (1839-1890), and satiric writers W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911) and Ambrose Bierce. In 1870 Byron sold Fun to the influential wood engravers and publishers George and Edward Dalziel (per. 1840-1905), who had been first to engrave the drawings of John Leech (1817-1864) for Punch. Two years later they acquired its Conservative rival Judy, before passing it to their nephew Gilbert Dalziel (1853-1930) - the then editor of Fun. The withdrawal of the Dalziels in 1893 marked the beginning of the end for the publication. The quality of Fun's content had become noticeably patchy after the death of Hood in 1874 - reaffirming beyond doubt the enduring supremacy of Punch. During the 1870s Fun's circulation has been estimated at 20,000, compared to Punch's 40,000 (Alvar Ellegard, 'The Readership of the Periodical Press in Mid-Victorian Britain', Victorian Periodicals Newsletter, 3 (September, 1971), p. 20). Fun's inglorious demise finally came in 1901, when it was absorbed into Sketchy Bits.
Fun's radical posture presented an important foil to the creeping conservatism of Punch. The politics of Fun were far from blinkered however. It was not unknown to cast satirical praise on the Conservatives at the Liberals' expense. Such political charity even extended to Disraeli, whose unorthodox character and ethnic lineage made him a popular focus of attack. As displayed here the Reform Bill of 1867 provides an intriguing example.