Friday, 23 December 2016

The Girl Annual and a take on the optimism of the 1950s

Annual number 7
Now I am fully aware that I might be accused of nostalgia but I am back with those comic annual books which were published in the 1950s.

They were a by product of the popular comics like Eagle, Girl, Swift and the Lion and came out for Christmas.

But were books I kept going back to throughout the year and now fifty years after I got them as presents I still read them with pleasure.

So, not so much a present for Christmas as a friend for life.

My favourite was the Eagle but Hulton who published it were quick to spot its success could be replicated with a companion comic called Girl and two others aimed at a younger market.

These were the Swift and Robin and in the fullness of time I shall visit them too.

Today however I shall focus on the Girl Annual.

Woman of Action Lotte Hass
Like Eagle it was a mix of popular stories from the weekly comic, with features on history, nature, science and fashion. It also contained advice on a range of subjects from “New Uses for Duffle Coat Buttons” to “Making a Picnic Basket” and rope table mats.

All of which seems a little twee but the books actively sought to show women could have careers from being doctors to competing with men in the most dangerous environment.

So the Girl Annual included pictures of Women in Action including the photographer Michaela Dennis, the deep sea diver and photographer Lotte Hass and the pilot Jacqueline Cochran.

There was also a long article on the careers open to women in the merchant navy.

Now I fully concede that all of these were the caring and sharing professions  but  it did refer to “World’s 
First Woman Radio Operator Aboard ship gets her ticket” and was confident that while this was a foreign ship where “one merchant service makes a start, others will follow.”

New foods for the 1950s's table
Along with these more challehging new careers was the story on foods in many lands, which while it did refer to them as odd foods, was still opening up new horizons to young people brought up on spam and nothing more exotic than a banana.

Both Eagle and Girl reflected that optimistic view of the world which was abroad in the 1950s and which challenges the popular misconception that it was a grey drab decade of shortages, and make and mend just waiting for the “swinging ‘60s.”

It was instead an exciting period when everything seemed possible.

Belle of the Ballet
There was television and jet travel, materials like plastic and the promise of full employment and a welfare state.

There might also be the threat of the H Bomb, countless nasty and brutish colonial wars and the legacy of many old habits and ideas but the world was changing and my Eagle and Girl annuals reflected that change.

And in the process were not afraid to reflect on what had been. So the story of Belle of the Ballet and A Midsummer Night's Dream was set in the blitzed out ruin of a church hall.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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