Category Archives: 1950s

Enid Blyton: 50 years after her death

Enid Blyton and her writing went through a bad period when the left had almost full control of the media. They dismissed her as a untalented purveyor of the West’s oppressive bourgeois capitalist society. It’s gratifying to see in recent times just tribute being paid to one of the greatest of children’s storytellers in English. 

Enid Blyton, the popular children’s writer, died 50 years ago this week.

Astonishingly prolific, the author composed some 700 books between 1922, when she published her poetry collection Child Whispers, and her death in Hampstead on 28 November 1968, often rattling out 6,000 words a day at the typewriter.

She has sold more than 600 million books, which have never gone out of print, been translated into 90 languages and enjoyed a loyal following among young readers for generations, her characters from the Famous Five to Noddy capturing the imagination and inspiring a taste for adventure.  Read on...

The Lion and Tiger Annuals

My favourite series of stories during my primary school days was Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series – which I spoke about below. I have since collected all the hardback editions – see also below – most in very good order, some with the original dust jacket. The other two series I loved were the Tiger Annual and the Lion Annual. My older brother Michael received the Lion Annual for Christmas while I received the Tiger Annual. We received most editions between 1954 and 1961. By then Michael had outgrown them. I was not at all embarrassed to receive the 1962 Tiger Annual at thirteen-years-old. As with the Famous Five, I have been looking to collect the annuals between 1954 and 1962. Unfortunately, the editions we received had gone to the book heaven when I decided to collect them. I have been able to collect most. One I was missing was the 1960 Lion Annual. When I saw a rather tatty edition on UK eBay I ordered it to be given to me as a Christmas present. The book arrived and turned out to be in better condition than I thought. Only the cover was a bit worn at the edges. The interior was almost mint. Here’s me reading it on Christmas Day, as I had done fifty-six years ago.

The Famous Five series was a breakthrough

From the beginning, my mother encouraged our reading by giving us books for all the important childhood milestones – Christmas, birthdays and similar occasions.  Among my first memories was my mother sitting on the edge of my bed reading one of the Golden Books so popular during the 1950s. My favourite was Scuffy the Tugboat who wouldn’t be restricted to the bath. That was followed by Tootle, the little train who refused stay on the tracks. There was something intriguing about the anarchic exuberance of Scuffy and Tootle the lessons of which have impressed me to this day.

There were also the many kids albums full of illustrations that publishers pumped out at Christmas time. As there were six of us, there was an abundance of books at all levels. I can’t forget the comics either. They appeared during times of sickness and long holiday trips. I devoured thousands of comics, spending my own money on them or swapping them with friends, besides their being liberally supplied by Mum. I had to be careful I didn’t take any to school, though. If spied, they would end up in pieces in the bin beside the heartless teacher’s desk.

I was happy with the kids albums and spent many a quiet time browsing through the pages, scanning the illustration and attempting to decipher the text. As my reading ability increased the level of the books increased – more text and less illustrations. I was never without reading material of some sort to distract and entertain me, but I delayed the transition to longer stories or what I hear called ‘chapter books’ these days. I received a number of longer hardcover books of mostly text before I turned ten years, but they didn’t engage me as much as the albums with their shorter stories. I had several goes at Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (a Christmas present) but did not persevere. The breakthrough came on my tenth birthday in 1956. I received a copy of Five on a Secret Trail.

It was all thrilling adventure with Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy trying to solve a mystery and deal with some dark, suspicious characters. I loved it. The story drew me on and on. But it wasn’t just the thrilling stories. The characters were just as important. For my ten-year-old mind they were clearly defined. They were brave, determined and acted always with honour and honesty.

I embarked on reading the full series. I read some of the Mystery series (The Find-Outers) and some of my younger sister’s Secret Sevens, but the Famous Five remained my favourites to the end of primary school.

Some years ago, in full nostalgia mode, I decided to collect the series of twenty-one titles. It took me a bit of time (and expense) but I now have them all on my bookshelf, each in good to very good condition.


Not everyone is comfortable with looking into the past

My mind has always ranged back into the past. I have never stopped to wonder about this inclination or why it happens. I just seem to continually bring up associations of the present with past people and events, particularly with family and friends in sad or happy circumstances. My life-long best mate, Pete, also indulges in long reveries, especially about his childhood. I suppose he has more reason than most. He was a rubella baby. The problems with his eyes developed until he had lost his sight by the age of 21 years. Because his visual memory stopped in 1976, his reflections are to some extent dominated by that early period.

One of my sisters, Marie, also has a keen memory and needs little encouragement to reminisce about family occasions. Indeed, she has been of immeasurable assistance in the preparation for my family history series. She has a lucid memory of those things I think girls are more likely to notice than boys. She, as the first grandchild and a girl into the bargain, was my grandmother’s ( my mother’s mother) favourite  and spent much time with her. She has been able to tell me a lot about my grandmother – her ways and her brittle temperament- that almost completely escaped me at the time.  My other four siblings, in contrast, have little inclination to look back and thus have a fragmented memory of the years gone by. They appear to cast their minds back only when we get together and Marie and I begin reminiscing.

When I began my preparation in earnest for my family history series, I came to see that not everyone was in the habit of looking into the past. Indeed, it is a habit more than the occasional act of looking back. One’s mind is always in a way connected to the past. One’s consciousness is a panorama of one’s complete life. That is in contrast with someone whose mind is rooted in the present with an eye on the future.  But with some, I have discovered, there is more than an unconscious barrier to looking back.

There are two negative reactions I sometimes come across to my ‘constant’ talk about the past. The first is an impatience that I live in the past whereas the healthy mind lives in the present and plans for the future. That, of course, is misconceiving the inclination. The second, much less often, is a suspicion that there is some sort of ulterior motive behind bringing past connections or past events. One person told me that ‘the past is a foreign country’. In other words, don’t go there. At the time I blissfully missed the point. When the warning became explicit, I did not have to be told again.

It just goes to show there are pitfalls in assuming that people think the same way as you, even about matters that seem innocent enough. Of course, that does not at all discourage me from indulging in long and frequent reminiscences. That’s what my family series is all about – reflecting on the good and bad of one’s life. There are lessons to be learned – apart from enjoying the pleasure of some memories.

Sydney in 1940

Huffington Post Australia has posted footage of Sydney and surrounds in 1939/40. The footage is compiled from reels of film discovered recently in a California garage. It is a sensational historical and social find, particularly for someone who grew up in Sydney around that time. I was four-years-old in 1950 and have a good memory of things.  Things had not changed much by 1950, except for the cars, of course. The atmosphere of the war still dominated. Things were very different from now.  It was great to see footage of Manly baths, a popular destination for people living on the North Shore of Sydney, a place we often went to from our home in Lane Cove.

Summer in 1950s Sydney

Lane Cove Gang Dec 1955

It’s summer and the temperatures in south-east Australia are in the 40s Celsius and above 100 Fahrenheit. The country’s climate catastrophists are pointing to ‘climate change’ as the cause.

But I remember the summers of my childhood in 1950s Sydney being unbearable hot. Bushfires raged everywhere. We often went barefoot and without shirts. In the evenings, we played outside until parents forced us in to sleep in bedrooms that were like ovens. No airconditioning then. Pete’s family (third from the left) once slept outside in the backyard, it was so hot. The photo above was taken of the Lane Cove gang in the summer of 1954/55.


My intention to undertake an extensive revision of my first family history title has resulted in a complete replanning and rewriting of the series. I had wanted to add much new information about family members and put all the people and action into their proper social and historical context.

I found, however, that the undertaking was not so simple. I had badly underestimated the time this would take and the amount of social and historical information I would have to add to give an adequate picture of the period in which my ancestors acted. Providing that adequate picture has meant reorganizing the books (and the existing text) into periods different from those I had originally planned.

The first book with a new title – Prison Hulk to Redemption – will cover the period 1788-1901.   I have given up setting publication dates because I have continually found it necessary to put them back. A paperback edition as well as an ebook edition of Prison Hulk to Redemption will be released in the second half of 2015.

The reason the third book is almost finished is that my original intention was to write a childhood memoir that included some background information about my immediate family (parents and grandparents) and of my pioneering ancestors. After writing about the 1940s and early 1950s, I found that I had material for more than one book.  The project eventually grew into four books.

The Wilson Family History series will now cover these years:
Book 1: 1788-1901 – Prison Hulk to Redemption (nearly there)
Book 2: 1902-1945 – War Depression War pub. 2016 (40% written)
Book 3: 1946-1953 – Me ‘n’ Pete pub. 2016 (90% written)
Book 4: 1954-1958 – Billycarts & Two-Wheelers, 2017 (10% written)

I will keep updating my progress on the rewriting of the first book of the family history series.

Was the past no better or worse than the present?

‘Richard Glover takes a trip back in time’

Richard Glover (presumably the ABC one) wrote a humorous comment about the past for the 17 January 2015 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.

More precisely, it was about some of the strange (for people under 50 years) habits and customs of the past. He seemed to be talking mainly about the habits and ways of the 1950s and 1960s. I can attest that most of what he says is true – at least according to my experience.  Let me comment on the more surprising ones.

1. ‘School students, particularly boys, would be regularly beaten with sticks, usually by the teaching staff.’

Very true. My loving parents wielded the cane from a feather duster when we boys tried their patience too much. The nuns also applied the cane to naughty hands and legs. But Glover does not mention the strap. The brothers at the school I went to seemed to have their specially made penitential strap permanently fixed to their hand – so often was it applied to the hands of recalcitrant boys. ‘Six of the best for you, son!’ rang out continually through rooms and halls.

2. ‘When using a public phone, you could avoid paying by shouting into the earpiece, knowing that you could just be heard, however faintly.’

True again. I used the public telephone earpiece like today’s mobile phone to ring my parents to tell them where I was and where to be picked up.

3. ‘A trip to the tip was considered a leisure activity.’

My brother and I had a wonderful time scrounging around the local tip. The only danger we were conscious of was being caught by the tip guard. We found many treasures there.

4. But this one I never witnessed – and there were plenty of smokers who visited my mum and dad. A bit fanciful, I think.

‘When grown-ups had parties, the children would be required to light the guests’ cigarettes.’

5. The following is one of the great myths about the 1950s:

‘As part of a “health” campaign, school children were forced to drink a small bottle of milk that had been left out in the sun until it was warm and about to curdle.’

Not true – a myth grown over time from a few rare cases.

The state government supplied crates of milk in small bottles to primary schools as part of a health policy. During all the time the crates of milk were delivered to the schools I attended, I can think of only one occasion when the crates were left in the sun. And then nobody drank the milk – and did not have to. I always looked forward to that swig of milk still chilled. I was a kid who could down a pint of milk in two seconds flat.

Glover’s point for listing the strange customs:

‘My point isn’t that the past was better or worse than the present. Just that it was a different country – one that now seems unrecognisable even to those of us who once lived there.’

I don’t agree. Every age has its benefits and disadvantages, its joys and sorrows, but to say every age is of the same value is to commit the common fallacy of equivalence. One can make a judgement on the balance of good and bad. I think the 1950s was a special period in Australia’s history.


Invitation to celebrate Teresa Waugh’s birthday

Dear Evelyn Waugh reader,

Mr and Mrs Evelyn Waugh invites you to a coming-out celebration for their daughter, Teresa, on Thursday 5 July, 1956.

The celebration is divided between two sites:

1) The Hyde Park Hotel, 7pm, for dinner.

2) The tents erected in Kensington Square Gardens for photographs, afternoon drinks and post-dinner dancing.

Non-vintage champagne for all except Evelyn. Any departures from the correct formal dress for men (billiard-table-green tweed suit and orange-and-white brogues) will be recorded in his private diary.

To accept the invitation, simply click the link:

Best wishes,

Duncan McLaren (soc. sec.)

The Era of the White Picket Fence

By Peter Fisher

We cannot return to the days of the ‘white picketfence’. But we should recognise that there were many virtues and human qualities proper to that era that we are now the poorer for having jettisoned.

THESE DAYS, any reference to an era of the so-called ‘white picket fence’ is often accompanied by scorn and derision from modern ‘progressives’. The period in question is the 1950s and early-to-mid-1960s, prior to the coming of age of the baby boomers and the sexual revolution that came in their wake. Continue reading The Era of the White Picket Fence