Alfred Pennyworth is best known for being Bruce’s surrogate father, Master Wayne’s loyal butler, and Batman’s most trusted ally. However, he was introduced in a completely different light than his current depiction and even Batman wouldn’t recognize DC’s original Alfred.
DC’s original Alfred was an overweight, clean-shaven, and bumbling caricature with a thick Cockney accent. Alfred Beagle was a music-hall actor turned reluctant butler who dreamed of becoming a private detective. He was frequently depicted smoking a pipe, wearing a deerstalker hat, holding a magnifying glass, and reading a guidebook for amateur detectives. Even his original surname, Beagle, was an allusion to his sleuthing aspirations.Alfred’s subpar detective skills were the punchline of many stories including stumbling onto Batman’s secret identity by accident. After muddling his way through an adventure helping Batman and Robin capture a group of thieves, Bruce allowed him to become a permanent household staff member of Wayne Manor.
The startling transformation of Alfred’s character occurred less than one year after his introduction in Batman #16, written by Don Cameron and illustrated by Bob Kane. The 1943 Batman theatrical serial cast William Austin as Alfred and his portrayal of the character became so popular that it changed his comics counterpart forever. DC editors dramatically altered the comics version of Alfred in Detective Comics #83, written by Don Cameron and illustrated by Jack Burnley, by sending him on a vacation to a health resort. Subsequent issues depicted Alfred with an uncanny resemblance to the tall, slender, mustachioed British actor and a more dignified demeanor.
Even Batman and Robin didn’t recognize this refined rendition of Alfred when he first returned from his vacation. Ironically, the original Alfred was the imposter according to Batman: The Complete History in which author Les Daniels credits the 1943 Batman serial writers (Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, and Harry Fraser) with inventing the character. Daniels claims that DC Comics only asked Don Cameron to write the first Alfred story ahead of the serial’s release to help promote the premiere. Therefurbished and more capable Alfred was given his own solo series, years before Robin, through backup features titled “The Adventures of Alfred” starting with Batman #22, written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Bob Kane. The solo series slowly downplayed Alfred’s comedic side, although his first story did involve disguising himself as Batman and spanking Catwoman.
Alfred Pennyworth retains some of the comedic elements of his original depiction with a modern flair. Instead of bumbling his way through slapstick misadventures, Alfred provides a dry sense of wit that undercuts Batman’s serious demeanor. Alfred’s character continues to play a vital role in almost every iteration of the Batman mythos. Technically speaking, Alfred is even a batman in his own right! The British English military term “batman” refers to a soldier assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant. Alfred is an indispensable resource devoted to sustaining the sides of Bruce Wayne that Batman often neglects. The fact that a billionaire’s butler somehow manages to humanize his Batman without enflaming debates about classism speaks volumes to the strength of Alfred’s character.