Somerset House in London is opening a new exhibition to mark the 70th anniversary of Peanuts. GOOD GRIEF, CHARLIE BROWN! opens on October 25 and will run until March 3. But while most of us will remember Charlie Brown and his friends in fond childhood memories, what do you really know about how the gang came to be? Anna Slater heads to Sonoma County, California, to see where it all began.

For the people living in Sonoma County, California, Charlie Brown and his quirky sidekick Snoopy are part of the neighbourhood. His wit is part of their heritage, so much that they often forget how beloved he is to the rest of the world.

Sonoma has many jewels, from vineyards to incredible restaurants, but the Charles M. Schulz Museum is one of its most treasured landmarks.


The comic strip legend died in February 2000, just one day before his final Sunday strip appeared in newspapers around the world. But here, his legacy lives on.

Charles was nicknamed Sparky when he was born, after Spark Plug from the Barney Google comic strip.

The museum is located close to the house where he spent the last 30 years of his life, drawing, eating and in his own words, "hanging out."

In 1969, he built the Warm Puppy Cafe and an ice rink for the community, perhaps because he was nostalgic for his childhood in Minnesota.


It was here he met his wife, Jean. She caught his eye one day when she took her daughter to skate at the arena, and he invited her upstairs to see his drawings.

"I was blown away by how fast he drew," she said.

Sparky was a man of routine, trudging up to his studio every day before having lunch, a tuna sandwich, at the Warm Puppy Cafe.

He didn't want a museum at first.

He always said: "When I die, the strip is over. Everything I am, I put into my strip. I don't want anyone else to draw it."

Eventually he relented, but died two weeks' before the groundbreaking.

Dogs were always part of Sparky's life, and Snoopy was influenced by his real life childhood dog, Spike. His first drawing, a sketch of Spike, was included in the newspaper comics feature Believe it or Not by Robert Ripley when he was 15.


After several rejections, Peanuts debuted in several newspapers in 1950. He hated the name, but his publisher was adamant it was a good fit.

The museum features nearly 100 strips, which are changed regularly. The experience is funny, nostalgic and tear jerking at times. Each comic strip is a piece of history.

The Somerset House exhibition will also provide a nostalgic glimpse into the life of the Peanuts gang. The relationship between the friends Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Sally and Peppermint Patty is brought to life, as is Snoopy's with his devoted friend Woodstock and rival, that Cat Next Door.

The evolution of the characters is remarkable. Snoopy looks different in all the strips, but still, it's amazing how much character Sparky managed to charge into his drawings with little detail.

Objects belonging to Sparky will also be on display, as well as vintage products that shed light on some of Peanuts' most fascinating stories.

And what Peanuts exhibition would be complete without a full scale version of Lucy's psychiatric help booth?


Sparky's basic joke is 'big thoughts in little heads' and that's what makes the Peanuts series a timeless classic. Snoopy is only too aware his genius will never be appreciated by humans.

"Maybe he was just an adult who never stopped being a kid," Jean says.

Whether you grew up with the newspaper strips, the books, the cartoon show or the film, you were bound to feel a special connection with the gang.

That's part of what makes Charlie Brown so special, he spans generations.

For more about travel to Sonoma County, click here.

For more about the museum, click here.

For more about the Somerset House exhibition, click here.