callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

Children who loved reading: Collins Magazine

I’ve enjoyed looking at the magazines I bought yesterday at the book fair but I’m now more confused than I was before about the history of this literary magazine for children. I’d always thought that the magazine started as Collins Magazine for Boys & Girls (you will often see this advertised on the dustwrapper flap of older Collins books, including the Seagull library), then became The Young Elizabethan before changing its name again to simply Elizabethan, which was how I knew it when I was at school. But some of these issues from 1948 and 1949 have prices in cents on the front and, mysteriously, two quite different issues are both marked ‘Number One’. Reading the editorials, I find that the first Collins Magazine was published in Canada. UK children could subscribe but it wasn’t easy so a new magazine was launched, called simply Collins. That makes five different titles for one magazine. I now go on at length so here’s the cut

Each issue contained a long serial, usually pre-book publication; short stories (Eve Garnett was a regular contributor); factual and ‘how to’ articles (‘The Test Pilot’, ‘’Preparing your cycle’); competitions; book reviews; readers’ letters, stories, poems and drawings. It’s interesting to speculate just who the readers were. Young people who liked reading, obviously, and pretty intelligent ones, whose families were not short of money.

The letters are interesting because Collins were not at all shy of printing highly critical comments demanding more variety, less about sport, more about sport, less of a particular writer. Here are some typical extracts:
‘I think you should make the puzzles harder. I can do them much too easily.’
‘Could you please put a bit more about electrical work and a little less about horses’
‘May I join X in protesting against your new comic-strip?’
Some readers seem to have lived a life straight out of a children’s adventure story from the 1940s: ‘I am a doctor’s daughter, and we – mummy, daddy, Pat (my brother), me, and Jane (my sister) live in … Haverfordwest. …A little river runs at the back of our garden … We have two boats, a red and green canoe called “Mars” belonging to Pat and a Pram (a rowing boat with a flat bow) called “Minnie Ha Ha” belonging to the family.’
Another girl writes that she has 300 books, all catalogued, with a copy of Collins on the table for friends to read. She loans her books to friends for fourteen days only and fines them for late returns.

Advertisements were kept to the minimum, restricted to the back and front of the magazine. Even so, they were not popular with all readers: ‘Readers are always being rude about your advertisements so I would like to say that we like them. Oxo and Tootals are interesting to read. My father saw the Minicine advertised in the December number and got one for us.’ Would Daddy have bought them a gun? Harrods often took a full colour page but most of the advertisements are for bicycles, fountain pens, postage stamps, sweets and, of course books. Reflecting the educational aspect of the magazine, ICI had a regular full page with an account of the life of a famous scientist, such as Joseph Priestley.

For lovers of children’s literature the chief interest of the magazines is of course the (quite natural, given the publisher) obsession with books and reading. It’s rather a thrill to read about the first book by Elinor Lyn (sic), Hilary’s Island and the latest books by now collectable authors. The Midnight Horse by Monica Edwards, The Sign of the Alpine Rose by Malcolm Saville, Olivia Fitz Roy’s The House in the Hills and A Dream of Sadler’s Wells by Lorna Hill are just some of the books which feature. Noel Streatfeild was a great favourite and two of her titles, The Painted Garden and The Bell Family were serialized in the magazine before being published as books. Streatfeild contributed to the magazine into the ‘60s, when she edited the books pages. Interestingly, the magazine used specially commissioned illustrations for the magazine which are different from those in the books. For instance, Nibs by Grace James has pictures by Richard Kennedy instead of by Mary Gardiner and both Streatfeilds were illustrated by Marcia Lane Foster, who was a very regular contributor.

I didn’t realize that at one time the magazine was edited by Pamela Whitlock, co-author of The Far-Distant Oxus. After resigning from the post, she wrote wonderful articles about books, describing not just the latest publications but books she loved and thought the readers would enjoy, too. Another key figure on the production team was John Verney. At that time he had not even written his books about the Callendar family but produced the lively covers and many other illustrations. These magazines are very much part of the post-war world. A regular competition offered the winner ‘a food parcel from Canada every month for a year!’ Hard times and rather earnest ones but obviously full of innocent fun, too.

Tags: children's books, collins magazine, elizabethan
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