Saturday, December 16, 2017

Don't blame Ladybird Books for the rise of Daniel Hannan

Otto English is someone I retweet a lot and I was pleased when he started a blog this autumn at Pin Prick.

But I have to take issue with his latest post, the wonderfully titled Ladybird Libertarians: Dan Hannan, Paddington and the pernicious impact of 1970s children’s literature on Brexit thinking.

I am the last one to say that the books people read as children have nothing to so with their later political views - after all, I am always banging on about Malcolm Saville here.

But the attempt to pin the blame for Daniel Hannan on Ladybird Books seems to be wrong for a number of reasons.

For instance the timing does not work. Daniel Hannan was born in Peru in 1971 and packed off to an English prep school at the age of eight. (Remember, when the Conservatives tell you that they are the party of the family that they have always been ruthless about depriving their children of family life if they think it will bring social or educational advantages.)

This mean he arrived at St Custard's or wherever it was just as Ladybird's heyday coming to an end.

As Anna Moore once wrote in the Guardian:
The iconic Ladybird world we remember probably stretched from the 50s through to the 70s. By the 80s, when Britain was changing and Ladybird wasn’t changing at the same pace, there was a feeling that those books were naive and a bit naff.
This seems exactly right to me: by the 1980s children's books were expected to be about "issues", not the simple enjoyment of the world around us that Ladybird offered.

But would you have found Ladybird books in a prep school in any year? I suspect their market was state primary schools and the children who went to them.

The children in the Peter and Jane books from which my mother taught me to read before I went to school (yes, I have reasons to be grateful to Ladybird) may look well scrubbed to modern eyes, but that does not put them into the prep-school-attending classes.

In an earlier Guardian article Chris Arnot talked to Harry Wingfield, who illustrated those books:
There was no real-life Jane. Or Peter, for that matter. Their images were forged from any number of photographs of local children, some taken on the new council estates that were springing up in the late 50s and early 60s.
"They were the sons and daughters of respectable workers," he says, "and they were well dressed. You didn't want dustbin kids. But they weren't as middle-class as everyone made out."
But the most serious thing the Pin Point gets wrong is the nature of Ladybird Books. I cannot think of a more progressive children's published in their era.

Yes, there were the books about the Kings and Queens that Otto objects too, but as he recognises there was also a series called 'People at Work.

And it you still think of Ladybird as twee, have a look at this Dirty Modern Scoundrel post on Ladybird Books and Modernism.

Even Peter and Jane moved with the times. In the books from which I learnt to read in the early 1960s, Peter resembled the young Prince Charles. By 1970 he had been redrawn with long hair and a cheeky grin and got to wear long trousers.

There are other children's books you can blame for the Brexit cast of mind - see my own exposé of Enid Blyton's proto fascism on the Guardian website - but Ladybird Books are innocent (in more than one sense of the word).


Anonymous said...

I think you're wrong about the timing -- I was born in 1978, and the Ladybird books made up a big part of my primary school's library, and were a big part of how children my age were taught to read.

The rest is right enough though...

Andrew Hickey said...

Anon comment was by me. Not sure why it came out anonymously.