Today I had to throw away a box of annuals, but I kept some of the illustrations so that they could be scanned and float aound in Google Images for posterity. I used to innocently give the jpegs names like 'schoolgirls01', but discovered that I was attracting the wrong sort of traffic.
Here are some of my favourites:
"I say, hurrah for Blenkinsop! He's beaten Carstairs Minor's record!"
Carstairs Minor set the school record in June 1916, shortly before he went off to the trenches. Little do they know that Blenkinsop has been trying a new drug called a 'steroid' that his Uncle Dick bought back from a business trip in America.
The wholesome, outdoor theme continues, although the boy in the front appears to be in the grip of a psychotic episode. His companion looks slightly nervous:
"Er, Billy? I'm getting awfully wet back here..."
But not all of the characters were good eggs:
That Cad Cardew is playing merry hell with the school notice board. Who knows what chaos will ensue?
This is one of several short stories, with titles like:
SALTY BLAKE'S TOP-OF-THE-FORM FOOTER FIND
JET JAXON - CAPTIVE OF THE LOST LEGION
THRILLS ON THREE WHEELS!
THE MYSTERY OF BAD LUCK ISLAND
GINGER NUTT - THE BOY WHO TAKES THE BISCUIT
BUSTER O'BRIEN AND THE VANISHING POLE-VAULTER
I wonder how many boys actually read these short stories? I can't imagine ever making the effort - I always preferred comic strips - but perhaps children were more receptive in the pre-television age.
It's either that, or simply that the grown-ups refused to pander to the tastes of their young readers. I suspect the latter, as I can't imagine that a lengthy article on iron smelting would have ever been that interesting to an eleven-year-old boy.
On the other hand, I can imagine being captivated by pictures like these:
(On a serious note, this picture reminds me of one of my favourite books, which I'd strongly recommend to anyone who hasn't read it: Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Other illustrations also depict exotic locations, populated by hostile natives and enemy agents:
But perhaps the ultimate schoolboy hero was the fighter pilot:
A few years ago, I met an old man who did exactly this - he even had the photos to prove it. He said that firing the bombs was relatively easy, but taking decent pictures of the explosions was a nightmare.
I also found some girls annuals, which weren't quite as exciting as these ones that I found a couple of months ago . This girl doesn't look as if she'd be terribly keen on a game of lacrosse:
As for these young flappers, they seem to be having a rather wild party:
The next picture neatly sums up everything that has gone wrong with British society since the Lady Chatterley trial:
See what I mean? In those days even the burglars wore ties. People had standards.
By 1968, when the next annual was published, it was all going to pot - metaphorically and literally. The only girls left in the Guides movement were those who hadn't succumbed to the allure of youth culture. Here they are in a field, somewhere in England on an overcast day, studying for their cooking and washing-up badges:
Those white socks seem a little impractical for a muddy field, but I suppose they make the girls easier to spot in the dark.
Looking at these annuals, I feel both a sense of nostalgia for what seems like a more innocent age and, mostly, a huge relief that I don't have to live in it.