Memories of a Reader Part 1 : The 60’s @hull_libraries #1960s #Hull

I’ve been thinking of writing this post for a while and the idea rose to the surface again recently due to two things that happened. The first was another periodical debate in a Facebook forum about book bloggers being paid, biased, fake and not ‘real’ readers. The second and happier reason was the discovery of my reading diaries going back to 1996. This post is not going to be about the former, it’s getting stale and boring listening to the same old, same old from people who are ill informed about what book bloggers are, and for the most part what they do – for free!!. Now the diaries are a different matter. Don’t worry though I’m not going to inflict on you every book I’ve ever read since 1996 – it gets worse better, I’m going back even further! You did spot that this was marked Part 1 didn’t you?

So for anyone of the same vintage as me, you can perhaps join me in this first trip down memory lane, for other, more youthful souls, this is what passed for solitary entertainment along with dolls,  jigsaws, colouring books and dot to dot books.

 

Pre-School & early reading

 

My first reading memory goes back to when I was ill with measles. I was aged about 4 at the time, so it would have been 1962. My mother has a worse memory than me and can’t confirm the year so we’ll stick with that. I don’t remember owning or looking at books before then or being taught to read. Unlike today, when babies seem to have books from a very early age, I was born in less enlightened times. So the first thing I remember being given to read was a comic. This wasn’t a regular occurrence and was definitely bought for me when I was ill. It was of the Beano, Dandy or Topper variety with pictures to keep me occupied. I only remember this because the story on the front (or might have been back) just stayed in my memory as I found it funny. The story features a little boy who had been given a lolly which he lost and couldn’t find anywhere. The ‘joke’ was, that he had sat on it and it was stuck to the back of his shorts. Very slapstick and juvenile and my 4 year old sense clearly appreciated it. I also find that funny because as an adult the one thing I don’t find funny is obvious or slapstick humour – I guess it was an age thing.

The first book I remember was The Christmas Tree Fairy By Mollie Clarke published in 1963.

Christmas tree fairy

 

This book accompanied me on a long train journey to Edinburgh in the winter of ’63 and was read and re-read. I was then 5 so had started school and would have been learning to read. I don’t know what happened to this book and often look out for a copy on my travels. It had a story about a Christmas Tree Fairy who was not as nice and kind as she could have been, so when she needed help it wasn’t readily forthcoming. A life lesson learned early there – be kind and be nice, you’re no better than anyone else! Spookily, the same day that I decided I’d go ahead with his piece I saw a second hand copy for sale on Amazon. That is the only reason I knew the authors name, or was able to see the cover to know it was the same book. I am now torn between coughing up nearly £20 for it and having my rosy childhood memories ruined by something that bears little relation to the ‘holy grail’ of books it has become in my mind.

 

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Me at Edinburgh Zoo 1963

 

For the purpose of writing this piece I scoured through my book shelves and was surprised at how many of my old books I still had. As I was the eldest, many of my things were handed down to my sister who was 5 years younger, and then my brother (8 years younger). This was the cause of many arguments as I was very careful with my things and looked after them. It has to be said my siblings had a more laissez faire attitude to obsessions so many of mine never survived. Have I forgiven my sister for the loss of my Jacko Monkey (left out in the rain for days and ultimately thrown away) – no I have not! How I managed to hang onto anything is beyond me, so to still have my books – in one piece and scribble free is a miracle. I do still have a photo of Jacko to remind me of my loss. Here he is with Judy who survived the ravages and is still with me. Perhaps I should clarify, Judy is the doll, the little human is me and I’m definitely a lot older and battered around the edges.

 

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From the same era 1963/64 I have two books, one of which in particular, as an adult I find very odd I should have had at that age. One was the ATV Television Star Book (1963) and Top Pop Stars (1964).

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Now I know I was probably a precocious child, having spent my first five years as an only child, brought up among adults, but even today would a 5/6 year old be bought books about TV programmes they would never have seen? Maybe they would, I don’t know. That said a quick flick through suggests I was more au fait with many of them than I might have remembered, but some of those memories might well have been later ones.  I do though remember being allowed to watch Sunday Night at the London Palladium, when Topo Gigio was on. Topo was a cheeky little Italian mouse character.

 

 

I also used to stay with my Nanna some weekends and she had a TV before we had. Our favourite then was Rawhide with the exceedingly handsome Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates. I also have an inkling that the TV book may have been bought because it featured my other big love at the time Frank Ifield. Oh yes Frank, I do remember you!!

 

Starting to enjoy books

 

From then on, I had clearly started to read and love books. I was of the Peter and Jane era, so learning to read had been based on the simple and basic model of say what you see D-O-G dog, simple. It worked for me. For Christmas 1964 I was gifted my beloved Chimney Corner Stories by Enid Blyton. The very first story in that book is one called The Clockwork Mouse and in view of what I wrote about my possessions the opening is unbelievably apt.

“There was once a little boy called Gerry, who was very kind to his toys. He didn’t break them. He didn’t leave them out in the rain (Oh Jacko!). He really did look after them, and love them.”

 

 

I also have another favourite Tales of Brave Adventure, this one clearly gave birth to my love of all things gallant and upright, it features Robin Hood (with his merry men) and King Arthur (with his Round Table).  Fairy tales were obviously the order of the day as my next surviving book was Hans Anderson’s Fairy Tales (a selection for very young readers). My, have those stories stuck with me, how I wasn’t permanently scarred by some of them I’ll never know – The Daisy with the bird that dies from grief and thirst; The Red Shoes with the girl who has her feet cut off and The Little Match Girl. Thankfully there were lighter moments with The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Real Princess (the tale of the Princes and the Pea).

 

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I’m beginning to think that from a very early age my morality and ways of thinking were heavily influenced by what I was reading. Which on reflection, based on these books, was no bad thing. The story of the Emperor’s New Clothes also clearly gave me a finely honed ‘bullshit’ radar from an early age and while other people might not always recognise it – I’m secretly a Princess.  In my case I cannot bear to sleep in a bed that has any wrinkles and can feel them even through socks – who needs a pea!

There appears to be a gap in my collection as my next books are for a slightly older Jill. As I know full well I had a healthy collection of Ladybird books, a lovely Richard Scarry bedtime story book and more Enid Blyton’s I can only think they went the way of Jacko and were passed on, never to survive. Rest assured if they’d been in the house they’d have joined my personal collection.

 

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Me (on right) with aforementioned vandals – they speak highly of me too!

 

Books were things that tended to be bought for birthdays and Christmas, as they were still relatively expensive. The other occasions would have been illnesses, these were the days when chickenpox, measles, German measles and scarlatina were a regular childhood hazard. I have to thank my sister (again) for being responsible for the chickenpox that meant I missed my school Christmas party.

 

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A school party I didn’t miss 1966

 

The Library Years

 

By the time I was 7-9 I would describe those as the ‘Library Years’ so that would also explain why there were less books bought in that period. I loved the library and was allowed to go on my own to the Central Library. This was definitely another example of different times as I can’t imagine I’d be allowed to venture that far, at that age nowadays. This had nothing to do with parents not caring, we were definitely instilled with the rule of not talking to strangers, not getting into cars and not believing anything we might be told. The final resort as exhorted by my Nanna – kick them where it hurts. Impeccable advice but as a child that would probably, at best, have reached a knee!

Our library had a ‘Bookworm Club’ and I signed up as soon as I was old enough. It meant that you could choose a book from a designated list to read, and answer questions on.  Once you’d read a certain number from the list I think the prize was a badge.  I only remember completing one of the question sheets, but don’t remember which book it was for. I’m sure all the titles on the list were worthy reads but I’d started to discover my own favourites.

 

 

Milly Molly Mandy, The Family at One End Street and Bobby Brewster – all kept me happily occupied. I attended my first author event at the library when I went on a Saturday morning to listen to H E Todd, the author of my beloved Bobby Brewster. Bobby was also the originator of the sardine sandwiches that became my staple snack for a while. Tucked away somewhere I still have Mr Todd’s autograph which might have helped me to date this momentous occasion.  One thing that hasn’t changed is my ability to become a complete, stuttering idiot in the face of an author. Before this event I had a great idea to give him for a new story – it involved a magic ruler (lots of things were magic in Bobby’s world), the ruler was able to change size so that it constantly got Bobby into trouble when he measured things incorrectly. Did I mention this to the great man himself – of course I didn’t. I’m surprised I was brave enough to actually get his autograph, though I suspect it involved joining a queue and thrusting my autograph book at him without a word being uttered. Enid Blyton also made a re-appearance in my reading in this period with her Famous Five series.

This was also a period when my regular weekly reading was supplemented by the eagerly awaited weekly comics. Thursday I think was the eventful day when my ordered copies of Bunty and Judy could be collected from the paper shop. No luxury of deliveries for us, though it was only at the the corner of our street. The shop had a filing cabinet behind the counter and each customer had a file  – the joy of seeing that your eagerly awaited item had been filed was magic. My favourite was definitely Bunty and the Bunty annual was always eagerly looked forward to at Christmas. I have some of those safely stored away in a box, along with others that I would scour jumble sales for so keen was I to build my collection.

By the age of 9/10 the classics were the order of the day and for Christmas 1967 my present from my Nanna was What Katy Did. These were the days when one carefully chosen present, given with love, was gratefully accepted without waiting for another handful of gifts to appear. I also remember being enraptured by Heidi and Little Women. I seem to have acquired a little collection of Bancroft Classics over these years, though I must shamefully admit that some remain unread.

 

 

For 1968 my Christmas book from my Nanna was one that was clearly chosen with me in mind. Jill at Hazelmere this was ideal as I’d also been devouring the Angela Brazil series of girl’s school stories.

 

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Starting to Grow Up 

 

By the end of the 1960’s my reading was becoming less formulaic, certainly more ‘grown up’ and choice was starting to play a bigger part. At school we read The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier which was a story that opened my eyes to what had happened in the real world. This saw my reading take a move away from the fictional and more towards the factual (albeit in fiction form). I was still a child in library terms though at 11/12 I’d outgrown the books they deemed suitable for children. If the YA market was around then, I never found it. What I did find though was Jean Plaidy and for some reason the library allowed these titles to be borrowed on a junior ticket. I lay my love of history at the door of the blessed Ms Plaidy. Even today I’ll happily revisit her books and have more than a few on my shelves. My first introduction to her world was via the fourteen-year-old Catherine De Medici in Madame Serpent. I’d come a long way since the Christmas Tree Fairy!!

 

Madame

 

 

 

48 comments

  1. Really enjoyed reading this, Jill. I was also a little in love with Rowdy Yates although I preferred Jess (actor Robert Fuller) from Laramie. Remember him?

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  2. Loved reading this – it brought back so many reading memories for me. Though I’m not sure I’ll be able to forgive you for reminding me of Frank Ifield – I’ve discovered I can remember every word of I Remember You and now can’t stop singing it! So in return I give you another Frank classic- ‘A mouse lived in a windmill in Old Amsterdam…’ Happy singing! 😊😊

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    • Cheers Matey, glad you’re singing along! Sorry to report that Frank didn’t sing the other one it was Ronnie Hilton who also came from Hull, probably why we all knew the bloody thing. Wait until part 2 when I get to the Estcourt/Bilton Grange years!! Apart from the beloved My Family … can you remember what else we read for O level. I remember Return if the Native and have an inkling of Tess but not sure whether they were A level along with the saintly Jane (and her sea imagery 😉

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  3. Love this post, Jill! So many happy memories. The first book I ever owned was Noddy, and that introduced me to Enid Blyton – by far my favourite childhood author. I remember HE Todd visiting my primary school (Penshurst in Hessle, very near Hull!) and reading an extract from his latest Bobby Brewster book. There was a raffle at the end of the day, as he’d left three signed copies. I was devastated when I didn’t win! Milly-Molly-Mandy was another great favourite. I remember being given a collection of Abbey Classics from one of my mum’s friends, which was how I was introduced to Black Beauty. I still have my childhood copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. I remember sobbing for ages at the end of The Little Match Girl. Traumatic! I was so pleased to see the photos of the Bancroft Classics. I had that exact edition of Grimms Fairy Tales and have been unable to track a copy down. I didn’t know what edition it was so this may help. Seeing that cover brought back so many happy memories. Thanks so much for sharing x

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    • Glad you enjoyed it Sharon, I can see we’d get on if we ever met, we clearly speak the same language in more ways than one. The Little Match Girl killed me every time. It was only looking back at them I realised how horrible the stories were – remind never to read the original unwatered down version. I’ll have alook and see if there’s a date in my Grimms Book. I did a quick Google and there were some on Ebay and another site. Some editions were 1966 (probably mine ) and some 197- with similar cover. However I’m sure the contents remain unaltered. While I have you captive I’ve been meaning to ask if you’d like to do my Five on Friday feature? I hate just DM’ing as it feels like cold calling. If you would like to just DM me an email via Twitter.

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  4. Being born in 1955 there is not much I can add. Especially since my life-long love of reading began at age 13. (I actually just wrote that in my last review). But, I thank you for your interesting post.

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  5. What a fabulous post Jill, you certainly took me back down a very happy memory lane! I had totally forgotten about Milly Molly Mandy and What Katy Did and as for Jean Plaidy… How wonderful that you have kept these books, such treasures. Looking forward to part 2 xx

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    • Glad you enjoyed it Caroline, I had great fun remembering too – though it did take a fair while to do so part 2 might be on the back burner for a while. Sadly I can’t produce anything like the same number of books either, but I have a few. xx

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  6. Loved this! I’ve been drafting a blog post on a similar theme – books remembered from childhood. I, too, looked after my books but my young sister didn’t care for them at all and scribbled all over them. Books were the best thing at Christmas and every year there would be an annual and a novel such as What Katy Did published in the Dean’s Classics series. When I was older I was a great fan of Jean Plaidy for many years. She made history interesting and made me realise those historical figures I was told about in class were real people. I’m currently on a mission to clear out our attic and found some old annual which I don’t remember at all, but they have my name in them. I can’t imagine anyone would have bought me a 1958 annual when I was only four so I guess I must have bought them at a jumble sale. I do hope I didn’t borrow them from a friend!

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    • You must finish your post Mary, we all like wandering down memory lane. It’s amazing what you remember when prompted. I found a oicture yesterday online of my school choir c1968. I could immediately name people on sight that I’d forgotten I even knew the names of!! I still love Jean Plaidy, she really did make history accessible and interesting, mind you she did write about the ‘interesting’ people and periods of history. I’m ashamed to admit I found a copy of What Katy Did Next in my pile which belonged to my school class library. As an ex librarian I’m hoping it was an unintentional oversight. I also used to scour jumble sales for annuals so I’m sure you did too.

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  7. I love this post! And the pics! I had mostly library years growing up so I have very few books from that time. I only started buying lots of books when I’d graduated from uni and I started reading mostly English and the library couldn’t cut it anymore 😆

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  8. Brilliant nostalgia Jill! I remember trying to persuade my mum to let me have Jackie weekly instead of Bunty – but she didn’t fall for that! At a later stage, we both loved the novels of Jean Plaidy. In fact it was my mum who used to read historical fiction aloud to me and my brothers – and instilled a love of such novels at an early age.

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  9. You’ve reminded me of some wonderful books out of my childhood too, notably Milly Molly Mandy, which I loved. I adored the Enid Blyton Adventure series, also the Famous Five but I no longer own any of the books. My life has involved an enormous number of ho9use moves, plus emigrating from one country to another, so … I also loved the comics, Dandy & Beano. Looking forward to Part 1.

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    • Glad to have evoked happy memories for you too Alison. Sadly I don’t have as many books I can physically produce for the next one, but thankfully I’ve got a reasonably good memory (unless you want to know what I did yesterday!)

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  10. Can identify with many of your early reads Jill because I read the same titles.
    Bought two Jean Plaidy books recently from Y
    The Works. Recent republication. Enjoyed history in school but Jean Plaidy definitely brought the figures from history alive. Learned so much more from her books

    Caryl x

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  11. Nice to know I’m not the only one with a nostalgic bent. I’d forgotten about Bobby Brewster and The Family From One End Street – all borrowed from the library, along with so many others. I feel ashamed that I hardly have cause to wander into our local library nowadays, but I was in there all the time as a child. Love this, Jill. Looking forward to the next one.

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  12. ah, what a sweet and sentimental post, Jill, though it’s depressing to discover you were only 4 when i was married. still, i do remember some of my favorites from childhood, but no way could have any collection of them still. what few i did have were pretty much destroyed by a much younger sibling and my own kids. yes, i remember many of those classics, read them, and in the colonies we loved our Nancy Drew. after those, tons and tons of gothics. (i’ve never been a big romance fan, but guess gothics had enough of that, huh?) my reading taste has changed somewhat over the years, even going thru a period of non-fiction (in addition to text books of course). anyway, good job–loved those covers.

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    • Glad you enjoyed it Virginia, and sorry for making you feel your age – I felt mine when I’d finished it. It’s good to look back though. Next I’ll be covering the 70’s but I need to psyche myself before I embark on another mammoth book post like that one. They take ages to do and are read in a few minutes.

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  13. Seems we all loved Jean Plaidy, also introduced by my mother. Some of theses books I missed because I was too busy reading pony books – the Pullien-Thompson books, also Kit Hunter Show Jumper which I bought with Boots book tokens. I don’t have any childhood books – we went out to Australia whenI was eleven and I certainly took some favourite books, but Mum and Dad obviously had to have a clear out with Toys and books being distributed among our friends. Noddy Goes to the Seaside was apparently my favourite early book and it only took me fifty years to move to the seaside!

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    • I wonder if Ms Plaidy or Eleanor Alice Hibbert (her real married name) ever knew what an impact she had. As a writer she was certainly prolific and well loved across several genres as she also wrote as Victoria Holt and Phillipa Carr. Glad you finally got to the seaside, I’m sure Noddy would approve.

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