The BBC are making a series of 4 programmes, hosted by Kirsty Young I think, exploring aspects of social change through children’s books – or something like that.
Anyway, I was contacted by one of the programme team who had come across my website and had noted my article on the changes of family roles depicted in the original and revised versions of Peter and Jane.
After asking for my thoughts on father figures in Ladybird Books, I was asked if the BBC could borrow some of the books that show pictures like those in the article. So they sent up a very pleasant young lady to my house – who left with a box of books. There was no clear idea of how the books are going to find their way back home when filming is over, but this is the Beeb, so mine is not to reason why.
When I was thinking about which LB books would best depict ideas of fatherhood, it occurred to me that actually the Peter and Jane books are almost the last time that Ladybird dealt with the cosy nucleur family. From the late 60s on the new books that were published no longer focus on family life. Either non-fiction or fairy-tales or tales of animals (Hannibal the Hamster) or fruit and veg! (The Garden Gang) or science fiction. Even the next reading schemes avoid looking too closely at the family – Puddle Lane is vaguly set in fantasy distant past, late-Victorian England with Gruffles and Griffles. The children involved are always playing out on the street. The adults are neighbours or The Magician. The cats – Tim and Tessa – seem to be raised by a single-mother and even the parents of the mice are absent for most of the series. The Sandlewood Girl and Iron Boy are parentless and are sort-of adopted at the end.
It’s as if, from the 1970s the cosy Peter and Jane family was no longer felt to be relevant, comfortable territory. But this was Ladybird – safe, national treasure – who could hardly bring out their own Ladybird version of “Jenny lives with Eric and Martin”. So instead they averted their Ladybird eyes and focused elsewhere and anywhere else.
Oh, and the picture of Peter in a life-jacket is because the programme makers were also interested in depictions of how children’s freedom becomes restricted. The picture of Peter paddling on the river was revised in the early 70s; the artist, Martin Aitchison, was asked to paint a life-jacket over the original picture (shown above).
I think the programmes are coming out some time in August – BBC2.