Friday, November 30, 2012

A Jolly Crew

Yesterday I found some more children's illustrations from the 1930s - an age when schoolgirls called Shirley and Susan would be praised for having plenty of pluck and spunk.

The relentless cheerfulness is slightly less menacing than contemporary paintings of the Komsomol and Hitler-Jugend youth movements, but it still looks as if it wouldn't have been a good time to be a Smiths fan.

On the other hand, it's good to see girls portrayed as self-reliant, athlectic and resourceful - a refreshing contrast to the fragile, consumptive angels of Victorian children's annuals.

This girl certainly knows how to handle herself:

In fact, all of the characters appear to very sporty. There isn't even the token plump girl with glasses called Brenda, who likes reading books - in her spare time!

"Well Played!"


 "Take that!"

"A good run in mid-field"

 "Ready to start"
"I say! Is it true that Beryl's been taking flying lessons at the aerodrome? She really is a caution. I wonder what Miss Fothergill would say if she found out."

 "Well matched!"

There's no room for Jacqueline Wilson-style social issues in these upbeat tales of fair play, team spirit and moral courage. The only single-parent families you'll find are the ones in which Daddy was killed in the line of duty at Passchendaele.

It must have been hard to relate to stories like these if you were working class, unsporty and lacking in sufficient 'jolliness'.

Boys annuals weren't much better, but did at least occasionally dwell on the darker side of human nature:

 "A daring feat, performed by a police inspector in Buckingham Palace Road, when he jumped from his car at high speed and prevented bandits from escaping."

I particularly admire the way the inspector's hat remains firmly in place, even at speeds exceeding 37mph.

But it wasn't just children who were bombarded with role-models:

I'm assuming that this is Daddy returning home from work, rather than a sinister stranger staring through the window at an unsuspecting mother and child. It all looks terribly idyllic, but for many it was an uttainable ideal. In spite of this, perhaps these role models are still better than many of today's.

As for me, my roles models as a child were, in no particular order: Jack Hawkins, Mr Spock, Sid James, Virgil Tracy, Leslie Phillips, Mr Blunden, Aslan, Doctor Who, Brian Cant, Admiral Nelson (the Richard Basehart version), Roger Moore, Gambit from The New Avengers, Basil Brush, Gary Glitter (yes, I know), 'Robot' from Lost in Space, Professor Pat Pending and the Milk Tray man.

This probably explains a lot.


Grey Area said...

Childhood heroes? Erm…let me see.

The Eagle pilots from Space 1999, Grimly Fiendish, The Bear from 'Singing Ringing Tree', Anyone with a sword in 'The Flashing Blade' - ALL of the Double Deckers, The Soup Dragon, The whole cast of UFO, including the aliens, a couple of the more sinister characters fro Action Comic ( including the shark ) , and then - slightly later on and possibly in a different direction, Lewis Collins, Dave Wilkie and erm…. Captain Black *coughs*

I'm surprised I wasn't taken into care.

Steerforth said...

How could I have left out the Double Deckers? They have pride of place in this household.

A year ago, an American friend of my mother-in-law's came to stay with her. She's a wealthy New Englander who, only a few days earlier, had been entertaining the Governor of Connecticut and other worthies. I woke up to find her sitting on the sofa, suffering from a terrible hangover, being subjected to succcessive epiosdes of the Double Deckers by my younger son. You had to be there, but the perplexed expression on her face was priceless.

I'd also agree with crews of UFO and Space 1999 - you seem to be more of a collectivist. I must admit, I did think I'd be dressing like Ed Straker when I grew up (I know of some people that have).

Lewis Collins? Definitely - and in 'The Cuckoo Waltz' as well 'The Professionals'. Ditto the Soup Dragon and co. But Dave Wilkie? The swimmer with the annoying transatlantic accent who'd had his charisma surgically removed? We part company there.

Richard said...

... I think the David Wilkie thing had more to do with him being friendly and safe, and my sports teachers and the staff at my local pool being violent, aggressive bullies or latent pedarests - I would have loved to do swimming.. but frankly I was too scared to take my trousers off.... or remove my rabbit-fur lined snorkel parka ( I wore the coat with the hood up for over a year)

Jim Murdoch said...

Actually my childhood heroes list isn’t that dissimilar to yours although I would have to insist on the addition of Batman. Gary Glitter was the first pop star I followed. Prior to that I spent all my time listening to classical music. This was nothing to do with my parents (they never owned a single LP between them) but something I was drawn to and I still worship at both altars. Whenever I hear news of Glitter these days it makes me very sad—not angry—just very, very sad. By the time The Stranglers came along with ‘No More Heroes’ I’d already started to become disillusioned with the whole notion of the hero and I do tend to subscribe to the guiding principle that one should never meet ones heroes as one will always be disappointed.

Steerforth said...

Jim, I felt exactly the same way about Glitter - very sad indeed. I certainly agree about meeting your heroes too. It's awful when someone you've admired for years turns out to be quite grumpy and lacking in social graces.

On the other hand, there are other people I've never really cared about who have turned out to be lovely. A few random names that spring to mind are Kate Adie, Iain Banks, Prince Charles and Dermot Morgan.

But the idea of having heroes or being a fan of anyone is a little odd over the age of 20.

PearlFog said...

I had such a crush on Virgil Tracy when I was little.

I'm struggling to remember any childhood heroes though. I read a lot of Enid Blyton but I remember mostly being scared and wondering why they kept putting themselves in dangerous situations. I had the same feeling when I read 'Harriet the Spy' even though I loved the book. I was a cautious child.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

These girls kept their rooms tidy and never "indulged" in "morbid" "introspection". What happened to them in later life? Did they marry John Betjeman? Or join the army?

Steerforth said...

PearlFog - A crush on Virgil? Well, he was the most interesting of the Tracy brothers and, according to my Lady Penelope annual, liked modern jazz.

On the subject of Lady Penelope, I've always had a strange attraction to her.

Richmonde - Valium and adultery, I should imagine.

lucy joy said...

'Long Distance Clara' from Pigeon Street was my first childhood hero - a lady! Driving a lorry! I'd have been completely hopeless though.

I also had a very early fascination with Princess Di, perhaps because my first and only memory of having a grandmother was being handed a book about her in the early eighties. Maybe with my unsuitable choices of partner, work with disadvantaged children, mental instability, only having sons, and constant attention/sympathy seeking; I'm more like her than I thought (until now!).

Sadly, Barbie was another hero of mine - brains and beauty - wow, what a woman! Mine had large house, Ferarri, camper van, wardrobe bursting with designer clothes...and she was a GP.

The missing link between my role models seems to be blue eyes, blond hair and a lovely figure. And stacks of money.
Not doing too bad, all that can be remedied with money and science.

Check out this for more inspirational ideas on how to live a decent, good life:

Steerforth said...

Lucy - That was right up my street! Funnily enough, I sold an 'Uncle Arthur' book the other day, but didn't look at the contents because I had to many orders to pack (which I'm not complaining about)

I've just asked my wife if she had a Barbie and she said "Oh no!" as if it was the most ridiculous question. Then she added "I had an Action Girl".

I had a bit of a teenage crush on Diana, but it didn't survive the revelation that she listened to Capital Radio and was best mates with Wayne Sleep.

Brett said...

I can identify with the boy on the boat. My mother was one of these out-doorsy 1930's girls. She was a Girl Scout, and a troop leader when my older sister joined.

Rather than leave me alone at home, she would take me along to troop meetings. It may have warped me for life. :)

Anonymous said...

My role model as a child in the late 70s and early 80s was Katy from 'What Katy Did'. I even thought Pollyanna was quite inspiring - eek! (We didn't have a TV.)

Steerforth said...

Brett - I envy you. I would have much rather been the only boy in the Girl Guides, as long as it was before that 'awkward age'. When I was the only boy at a gathering, the girls always made a fuss of me and I loved it!

Anon - The Katy books are a huge gap in my education. I was hoping that I'd have a daughter so that I could have an excuse to read those, plus the Anne of..., Little Women and Pollyanna. Maybe I'll just read them anyway.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Some of these stories and illustrations are so funny.

But the "proper role for women" idea carried on well into the 1970's and early '80's, when a dippy broad named Maribella Morgan wrote a book called, "Fascinating Womenhood". In it, she urged every working woman to give up her job and stay home to care for her house and family, and to always ALWAYS defer to her husband's judgment even if her own was demonstrably better. And if he squandered his paycheck then she would just have to work harder to Keep Things Going and Make It Work. No information on how she was supposed to do this.

I don't remember the name of publisher who was silly enough to print and sell the thing. It really was the most appalling drivel even for those times (or any other) and I much prefer tales of girls and boys racketing about on sail boats and playing tennis or learning to fly planes ...

Annabel (gaskella) said...

But which Dr Who? Whilst Tom Baker may have been the 'best' - Patrick Troughton was the one I first encountered and was subsequently traumatised by the Yetis in the Tube.

My list would also include David Cassidy and Captain Scarlet.

Steerforth said...

Troughton every time.

David Cassidy sang one of my favourite songs when I was nine - "I'm just a daydreamer, walkin' in the rain..."

Carol - That sounds like 'The Surrendered Wife'. When my wife chose to give up work so that she could be a full-time mother (probably as a reaction to her own 'hands-off' upbringing), she received nothing but flack, so perhaps the pendulum has swung the other way, in some quarters at least.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Hi, Steerforth,

Having been on both sides of the spectrum (working mom going out, working mom staying home) because every mom is a working mom! I see absolutely nothing wrong with staying home to take care of things instead of going to an outside job. I think what i objected to was the cavalier attitude of Morgan's book, which actually made everyone -- no matter what their circumstances -- feel worse, instead of better. Because no matter what your life circumstances, the philosopher who said "Life is not for sissies" got it right, I think!

Dale said...

The Marabel Morgan book I remember was "The Total Woman" - lampooned by second-wave feminists (of which I was one) as "The Totalled Woman".

There was never any shortage of people offering advice to women on how to be an obedient slave. One I was given as a joke (by a saucy bookseller) was "Secrets of Fascinating Womanhood", which even went so far as to dictate appropriate and inappropriate hairstyles. It was big on submission, though, like all such books. Its electric pink jacket(what else?) was a pain in the eye, the rest of it a pain in the rear.
What a pity there are so few book detailing what men should do to become perfect husbands. I'd write one myself, but was too long in the book trade to be confident that it would have a market.

Kid said...

Nah! It's gotta be Hartnell.

I'm proud to say that I never liked Gary Glitter (or Jimmy Savile) when I was a youngster. Hero worship of anyone seemed to pass me by for some strange reason.

However, on a serious note, for those who associate the above two people with fond memories of their childhoods, it must be difficult (if not impossible) to think back on those days without somehow having their recollections blackened by the shadows that the pair cast over them.

It would be like learning that John Noakes or Peter Purves was a violent, axe-murdering rapist - you'd never be able to watch a Blue Peter clip from the archives again and feel the same joy of nostalgic remembrance that such clips had hitherto brought to mind.

Our childhoods were in their hands and, unfortunately for some, the memories have been sullied by those who have proven unworthy.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Re TV heroes, don't forget Tony Hart!

Love these illustrations. And completely get that they wanted to portray a completely safe world of social certainty after the upheaval and tragedy of war where so many peoples' lives and certainties were turned upside down.

I used to love Peter and Jane's orange stair carpet and beg my parents for one in our house. I never got it.

Steerforth said...

Carol - My wife would nod her head in agreement about the working mum statement.

I can't stand these self-appointed gurus who tell mothers what they should or shouldn't do. I think my wife was absolutely right to stop working when she had a baby because it was made sense for her, but I also think that a friend made the right decision to return to work when her daughter was a year old, because she knew that without the framework of a career, she would slide back into depression. Every person has a unique and complex set of motives and circumstances.

Dale - That's the trouble with working in the book trade for a long time - I've seen so many books fail that it's hard to motivate myself to add another omne to the pile.

As far as being a perfect husband goes, I suppose there were lots of magazines that promoted a certain stereotype, making any man who didn't know how to put shelves up feel inadequate.

But would anyone want to be married to the perfect husband or wife?

Kid - I don't remember Hartnell and viewing his episodes today, he seems to divide his time between hamming it up, going "Hmmm?" and forgeting his lines ;)

I agree about the 'tv heroes'. After recent events, I shall never watch anything with quite the same glow of nostalgia now I know that much-loved figures might be hiding dark secrets. It's all very sad.

Laura - The funny thing is that Tony Hart did seem as if he had something to hide.

Dale said...

As my husband and I have been saying to each other for quite a few decades, "You may not be perfect, but you're perfect for ME."
Works a treat.

Chris Matarazzo said...

Aslan -- you can't go wrong with that sort of role model. Speed Racer would certainly end up on my list, somewhere.

Kid said...

You're right about Hartnell forgetting his lines. Not only that, he clearly didn't underdstand what he was saying on occasions. That seems to have been an indication of his developing illness which eventually halted his career.

However, back in the day, before videos and DVDs allowed us to dwell on scene after scene in obsessive detail, such slips had come and gone before we'd properly noticed, leaving us to wonder if we'd really seen and heard what we thought we'd just seen and heard. Besides, we were kids, not the adults we are today, so such things didn't seem to matter.

In the early episodes of Dr Who, Hartnell portrayed the Doctor (in the main) as an enigmatic character, and it's the concept and appearance of Hartnell's time traveller that marks his Dr Who as the definitive one, not so much his sometimes less than perfect performance.

In the beginning, we were never quite sure if he was a goodie or a baddie (until he was changed into a benign grandfather-type figure), and although I watched the programme when Troughton took over, the 'cosmic hobo' approach never really impressed me. Hartnell's original dark underside was sorely missed.

However, for most people, their favourite Doctor is the one they first saw as a kid. I was just lucky enough to have encountered the character when he was a mysterious anti-hero on the start of his nearly 50 year voyage through space and time.

Steerforth said...

Kid - I agree. I think your favourite Doctor is always the first (unless you grew up during the Colin Baker/Sylvester McCoy era, perhaps?).

Hartnell's Doctor came as a bit of a surprise when I watched a video. As you say, he seemed quite malevolent at times in the early episodes. Troughton's 'cosmic hobo' persona - the hat and the flute - did grate, but at least they were dropped and by the last season I thought he was really strong.

One piece of personal Hartnell-era triva: my mother-in-law was one of the evil dolls in 'The Celestial Toymaker'. She's the nearest doll in this picture: