Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ladybird Book Art. One recent hardback volume which has been fascinating my reading specs since the beginning of this year has been Boys and Girls, A Ladybird Book of Childhood. This hefty collection of stunning images from the 60s and 70s heyday of Ladybird publishing rises high above the recent glut of UK nostalgia titles like the (admittedly likeable) Jackie, Eagle Comic and Look-In collections which were on every gift-title bookshop stack before the Nativity of Our Lord 2007.
Into late 40s Austerity Britain first appeared Ladybird Children's books, a series of inexpensive hardback volumes. Their small size was dictated by the paper shortage of post-wartime and the modestly sized printing presses of publishers Wills & Hepworth, Loughborough. Their format (virtually unchanged to this day) was a huge success and became most familiar and best-selling in every Woolworths and WH Smith during the 1960s and 1970s.
I've been a collector of classic Ladybirds from this period for about 5 years and willingly admit to pinching some of their iconic imagery for use in my comic and illustration work. Thanks to ebay all but the rarest titles are usually easy and cheap to locate (but I still can't find a decent copy of The Customs Officer!) Their beautiful and painstaking illustrations by artists like John Berry and Harry Wingfield provide an indispensable snapshot of an entirely lost British era and only now are these artists receiving belated recognition. Of course, predictable criticisms have been levelled against Ladybird books: they presented too cosy and middle-class a picture of Britain from that time and one recent Sunday Supplement reviewer of Boys & Girls said Ladybird books failed to illustrate the possible underlying tensions between parents in the happy family unit which is uniformly presented. But I ask you, what child would ever want to happily read about an impending divorce from their self-absorbed and irresponsible Mothers and Fathers?
Top photo shows a few choice Ladybird titles from my collection and the remainder are from the highly recommended Boys & Girls book.


Ten Inch Wheeler said...

Just great aren't they? As a working-class lad in the 70s I don't recall thinking the families depicted had a substantially different life to ours. They might have had a Rover while we had a Vauxhall Viva, but they did their shopping at the same sort of shops we did. I've got a copy of 'Soldier' here - the pictures have an almost photo-realistic quality.

(the poster formerly known as Boring Being)

John Bagnall said...

Yes, Soldier is illustrated by John Berry, maybe my favourite Ladybird illustrator and someone who must've used highly detailed photos as source material.

Good luck with your new name and blog. I thought my VW Polo had small wheels - do scooters really have ten inchers?

Ten Inch Wheeler said...

Thanks John, I thought it was about time I got blogging.

Yes, geared Vespas have ten-inch wheels. At one time they had eight-inch wheels (until they realised they were lethal!)