Puffin Annuals

At the beginning of 1967 Kaye Webb had launched the Puffin Club to great success, in fact more success than anticipated as demand for membership soared, which was a club dedicated to the children’s output of a publisher was unheard of. The quarterly magazine that members received was full of stories, reviews, puzzles and things to make and in 1974 it was decided to produce a larger version, for sale not just to club members, and make it an annual. This post is going up on the 1st December so just about when the annuals were hitting the shops when I was a child. I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s, probably the heyday of the annual in the UK. What had started as simply a reprint of the weekly child’s magazine with The Boy’s Own and The Girl’s Own papers had expanded via The Rupert Annual (started in 1936 and still going strong) via The Beano and Dandy comics and of course the much admired The Eagle annuals from 1950 to the late 1960’s all of which featured new material especially for the annual. TV shows got in on the act, Blue Peter has had an annual every year since 1964 and most other children’s shows followed suit especially Doctor Who. Even films spawned annuals, I have The Star Wars annual from 1977, the year of the first film. The Puffin Club had to have an annual, the problem was Penguin Books had never done anything like this before.

The title page of Puffin Annual number 1 gives a feel for the contents but also the style of the book, this was going to be fun and it really was going to have the look and feel of Puffin Post, the quarterly club magazine only in a much more durable hardback and the same size as all the other annuals out there competing for the eyes of children and the purses of their parents and grandparents, you could rarely go wrong with a Christmas gift of the annual relating to a favourite comic or TV show. This blog is going to be rather image heavy I want to give an impression of just what sort of publication these were.

The contributors page of number one is a very impressive name check, including stories by Roald Dahl, Norman Hunter (Professor Branestawm), Tove Jansson (Moomins) and Michael Bond (Paddington Bear) but also artists and illustrators of numerous children’s books, and oddly the violinist Yehudi Menuhin and HRH The Prince of Wales both describe their favourite paintings. Puffin was definitely in the high brow end of the market and that was where it liked to be.

Michael Bond’s contribution was an introduction to his other, now largely neglected, character Olga da Polga who did get a series of books but never really caught on in the way Paddington Bear did. The thinking was sound, children can’t have a bear but they could, and did, have guinea pigs so maybe stories about their adventures would sell, they sort of did but at a fraction of the sales of Paddington. Whilst Tove Jansson had a short story called The Cat, which she also illustrated.

Roald Dahl however could write about anything and children lapped it up. What you have probably noticed is the major failing of this first annual, there is very little colour. Despite the bright and enticing cover the contents are almost entirely black and white, but that was to change for the next year.

1975’s Puffin Annual was a very different beast to that of 1974. Still the same sort of mix in the contents (see below) but not just the cover had colours, this was much more in keeping with the competition and should have given the Puffin Annual every chance in the marketplace and it had too. This was Penguin’s first attempt at this section of the book business and it had to live or die on it’s performance, Penguin has a history of killing off series if they don’t perform and this was a much more expensive undertaking than the previous years effort. But again the list of people contributing and the variety of material was impressive.

Again though this is aimed squarely at children of better off families, no knockabout comic strips so loved by fans of The Beano or The Dandy, this is much more like a book than a comic but there are more things to do in this edition, not just games and instruction as to how to do simple magic tricks but also a model to cut out and make that takes up eight pages and illustrates one of the stories especially written for the annual.

This is quite an elaborate model and includes basic instructions for fitting small bulbs so that it can be lit up at night. A peep show of the Adam and Eve Gardens in reality would have probably been far too much for a book aimed at children as by the time this park in London was closed down in the 18th century it was a haven for theft and prostitution. There is also a section on paintings although not as formal as the example in the first annual. This book has a lighter touch more in keeping with Puffin Post, I really need to do a blog about that magazine sometime next year.

There are a couple of single page ‘introduce the author’ articles and of course lots of artwork by that stalwart of the original magazines, and favourite children’s illustrator, Quentin Blake, who drew the fun end papers which are also the index and also provided pictures for the story of J. Slingsby Grebe – Boy Genius.

This was such a dramatic improvement on the first annual, lightening up the tone and bringing in so much colour but had they done enough to save the Puffin Annual? 1976 would indicate that they hadn’t, when instead of the expected annual number 3 the rather oddly named Puffin’s Pleasure appeared in time for Christmas and styled itself as number one.

Now even a brief glance through this book shows that it was clearly intended to be the third annual, it was even assigned the catalogue reference number that such a book would have had. Annual number one was Puffin Story Book number 700, annual 2 was number 800 and this is number 900. So what happened? Well it appears that although the annuals were assigned to the Penguin scrapheap of failed series so much work had already gone into annual number three with writers and artists commissioned that it may as well be printed. Kaye Webb was apparently unhappy with the name Puffin’s Pleasure but calling this The First of its kind was wishful thinking as this was to be the only edition published.

The contents list is definitely varied and getting an author of the standing of Ursula Le Guin to supply a short story means that Webb and Bicknell certainly had ambition for their publication but it was not to be. There simply wasn’t a big enough market for such a book and Penguin’s lack of experience in such titles led to nervousness and not enough time would be allowed for an annual series to properly establish itself.

Ironically there is a four page article by Nicholas Fisk about the history of comics, the very things that were massively outselling this book and would therefore contribute to its demise. The popular astronomer Patrick Moore provided a single page on space oddities and there was a six page article about the history of the British Canal network.

All very worthy stuff but just who was this aimed at, it feels more like the target audience was the parents who were paying for it rather than the children who would hopefully enjoy it. I must admit reading these three books as an adult has been great fun, but would I have thought so when they came out and I was just becoming a teenager? Possibly as I was a very bookish child, more often to be found curled up reading than playing outside, I know I didn’t have them as a child though even though I was presumably exactly who they wanted as a reader.

I’ll leave you with the very last item in Puffin’s Pleasure, a maze printed on the endpapers, see if you can get the lighthouse keeper from his rowing boat to the lighthouse, have fun.

The Girl’s Own Paper

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Last week I wrote about The Boy’s Own Paper with it’s mix of tales about adventurers, swimming The Channel with Captain Webb, foreign countries and peoples, sport and other outdoors pursuits. All in all an exciting read for Victorian boys.  Well a year after it started the same publisher came up with The Girl’s Own Paper and the content was very different, reflecting the still held view that girls were effectively in training to be home-makers and certainly didn’t need, or want, tales of adventure. I don’t have as many copies of The Girl’s Own Paper but I can do the same as I did last week and look through the first ever issue from January 3rd 1880.

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The front cover looks similar to the boy’s version only the masthead is somewhat less interesting, The drawing is based on the relief sculpture “The Spirit of Love and Truth” by Joseph Edwards and as such is entirely in tune with the Victorian attitude to girls. The story on the front is a long running part work, you can follow Zara for months as the magazine comes out each week. This is presumably because the serialised stories proved so popular in the boy’s version, this contrasts with the one off tale that appeared in their first edition but this was soon changed to serials in future examples. This opening section of the tale is a full four pages long.

Instead of tales of daring do with the dashing Captain Webb girls have the life of the young Princess Victoria which is altogether more refined and ladylike and also runs to almost three full pages. It is clearly intended to be an example of moral rectitude to inspire the readers and is pure hagiography as would be only expected really. The balance of the seventh page of the paper is occupied with The Girls Own Alphabet which is frankly dire and ends:

Woman is formed from girlhoods first plan –
Xantippe or Claudia, Queen Mary or Anne
Young friends to be happy, now learn to be wise
Zeal without knowledge is a head without eyes

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After the first seven pages consisting of the story plus Princess Victoria and the poem, an article on fashion though the ages was pretty well compulsory. A girl is naturally interested in dress styles and outfits so the next double page spread is concerned with this. The hat on the lady for 1787 on the far right of the second page is described as ‘more dressy’ it makes you wonder just how over the top an outfit had to be before it was queried.

and logically following on from that are long sections on needlework and of course cookery. As I said at the beginning the target audience are home-makers in preparation, if a woman of the time did work she would be a domestic servant or nanny if she was lucky and not forced into the extremely hard work of the mills or markets, the poorest though would not be frittering their money on something as ephemeral as this magazine, the readership could be relied upon to be at least middle class so housewife was the aim for almost all. The cookery class in this edition is about roasting and apart from the fact that it assumes you would be doing so over a fire rather than in an oven a lot of the advice would not be out of place in a modern cookery book. There then follows a couple of shorter stories before we reach..

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The Useful Hints sound initially as if they are envisaging a poorer reader and the chilblains remedy sounds positively dangerous, but soon normal service is resumed with hints for reviving gilt frames and renovating silk dresses. Now this is still a make do and mend mentality there is none of the waste of throwing away perfectly serviceable items so prevalent today, girls would be expected to have the skills needed to fix things regardless of their social standing, needlework was an expected ability and it would be surprisingly advanced.

Like last week I have looked forward to edition three of the Girls Own Paper to see what they are expected to be able to make; and again what would today be seen as an astonishing amount of craft is regarded as normal.

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The bed satchel prize competition is for Crewel Work, a type of embroidery which uses wool, competitors had three months to complete the item, the winner to get two guineas and a second prize of one guinea. These are substantial prizes, the equivalent of almost £240 for the winner in today’s money. The work was to be 19¼ inches by 13 inches and use the pattern illustrated, it also had to be all the girls own work and this had to be stated in an accompanying letter written by a minister, teacher or parent. Colours are suggested in the hints section and the flowers named so that the correct shades would be used. No entrant would get their work back as

It is intended to present the well-worked satchels to the various hospitals and other charitable institutions for the use of poor patients, who will find them most handy for holding their nightdresses, pocket handkerchiefs, scent bottles, scissors etc.

The Boy’s Own Paper

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The Boys Own Paper started on Saturday January 18th 1879 and I have lots of early editions which have been bound into annual volumes and then after those a few examples of Boys Own Annual where the publisher reprinted the previous years editions in book form. The magazine was printed weekly and was full of exciting stories both fact and fiction, sports advice (later editions had articles on how to play cricket by WG Grace) along with things to do, most of which would be well beyond the target age group nowadays. The masthead reproduced above hinted at the wonders that would be found inside.

In exploring The Boys Own Paper I thought about taking my collection as a whole but decided that a more representative idea as to what a boy of 1879 would get from such a paper would be to just look at the very first issue which cost 1 penny back then which according to the Bank of England inflation calculator would be 50p nowadays so a very reasonable price as any equivalent today would be significantly more expensive.

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The front cover looks very promising but the game, described as football, is clearly what we would now call rugby. Indeed rugby football was commonly played in schools from the 1850’s following its creation at Rugby School in the 1830’s, Association Football (what we now think of as football) only had it’s rules set in 1863 and wasn’t as popular in schools even by 1879. The story concerns a boy, who picked for the team for the first time gets involved in a very close match which they only win right at the end, very much the sort of thing to catch the readers attention to the publication. The paper is 16 pages long and this tale takes up the initial 2½ pages. It was followed by a short poem and then the first part of what was to become a long running serial “Out with a Jack-Knife” and a much shorter series (just three parts) by Captain Webb, the first person to swim The English Channel.

The natural history column Out with a Jack-Knife proved especially popular and ran for a long time, in this first example it is 1½ pages long and describes finding various worms, centipedes and even glow-worms in a small overgrown garden area after first explaining that what you need is a proper British made jack-knife not one of those inferior foreign knives that include useless corkscrews, saws, things for getting stones out of horses hooves etc. British is best is a long running assumption in these magazines and this wouldn’t change right through until the magazine finally folded in 1967 after 2,511 issues, initially weekly and then monthly after WWI.

Captain Webb’s tale as to how he came to swim The Channel is full of self-deprecation as is appropriate for a Victorian gentleman. The final paragraph of the section reproduced above even says how difficult it is for him to write the piece because it is about himself but he did manage a page. Between the two sections came another page long article entitled “An Afghan Robber” which despite the unpromising title turns out to be a remarkably balanced piece of writing, especially for the time, which is actually quite complementary regarding the Koran and the Muslim faith in general.

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There then followed a series of stories, the most significant of which was “From Powder Monkey to Admiral”, this became a major storyline in future issues and by part four it was the front page tale. Subtitled “Or, the Stirring Days of the Royal Navy” this had it all for the boy looking for action and adventure in his reading and it would continue to be the front page story for most of the rest of the year and was always at least two pages in length, a significant proportion of  16 page publication.

Two shorter articles towards the end of the magazine are intriguing, I’m not sure if having read the piece about monkeys I was therefore expected to have one or more as a pet although it did lead me into that interpretation but I was more interested in the first column on Outdoor Pursuits entitled “Skating and Scuttling”. Skating I can understand, but deliberate sinking of ships as a pastime is definitely rather advanced for boys to be getting up to. It turns out that a ‘Scuttler’ is somebody who frankly is a nuisance out on the ice, dashing about without regard for other users and even worse can gather with others of their type to form conga lines spinning across the surface. The publication then has shorter and shorter articles until there is finally an essay writing competition based on a drawing with no caption.

I do want to include one item from issue three of The Boys Own Paper which gives some idea as to how advanced in skills boys were expected to be.

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This is regarded as a project that “any lads with fair mechanical aptitude’ can make what is clearly a quite advanced craft. This isn’t a simple coracle or lash up raft, what we are looking at is a serious rowing boat and you are going to learn how to do it from your weekly boys magazine. I cannot imagine any publication aimed at this age group suggesting such a thing in the present day.

Well that was issue one of The Boys Own Paper in next weeks blog I’m going to look at issue one of The Girls Own Paper which came out a year later and what a contrast it is…