Chris Hopkins’ Reading Journey, part 1 (1965)

Chris Hopkins is an Emeritus Professor of Sheffield Hallam University. An expert on the British novel in the first half of the twentieth century, he is the author of Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film (Liverpool University Press, 2018) and editor of the Walter Greenwood: Not Just Love on the Dole web/blogsite. He wrote about Love on the Dole in Sheffield for us here.

The first thing I remember reading to myself was a comic, of sorts, called Treasure. Every Saturday morning it dropped through the letterbox of the second house I remember living in, presumably along with the newspapers. My no doubt unreliable memory is that for some reason I was, aged I think five, always the first to wake on a Saturday in a household of two parents and three other children (then aged fifteen, twelve, and three). I immediately seized hold of Treasure and wishing to waste no precious reading-time lay down on my stomach in my pyjamas on the front door mat with my Treasure laid out before me, where I remained until Treasure was read or I was disturbed by other wakers. I remember it as having lots of colourful illustrations and being utterly fascinating.

I have already said that it was a comic ‘of sorts’, and I think I was aware even then that it was ‘educational’, but I was quite happy to go along with that. I think I indeed liked it because it was full of information, and maybe particularly information historical, natural historical, and geographical, though there were also stories. My memories seem confirmed by the Wikipedia entry on Treasure, which labels it a magazine rather than a comic:

Treasure was a British educational magazine for young children published by Fleetway Publications which ran for 418 issues published between 19 January 1963 and 16 January 1971 (Treasure (magazine) – Wikipedia).

I would like to be able to say that I have treasured a copy ever since, but the truth is that I have just bought a copy of about the right date from e-bay so I can see what it was like with more than memorial evidence in front of me. It does look very much as I remember it, and I can see why it appealed.

This issue (No.116, 3rd April, 1965) is probably typical in having a mix of factual articles, stories, and puzzles, and in having a balance of highly pictorial and more textual items (perhaps to appeal to and accommodate a reasonable range of reading skills?). This particular cover with its very sparse text and simple image rather under-sells the actual detail and level of interest inside its pages.

The first item inside was a non-fiction double-page where ‘Mr Answers’ responded to enquiries from readers:

In pre-Google days, ‘Mr Answers’ of course has his book-case full of reference works to help him answer accurately. These all still seem interesting questions and answers to me – perhaps partly because Treasure trained me to be gripped by a wide range of general knowledge from early on. Most questions have their sender’s name and address, attesting to the authenticity of the question (NOT just written by Treasure staff) and presumably encouraging letter-writing as a (then) important form of literacy.

A few pages further in is a full-colour double-page about varieties of fish and their habitats. I find this well-worth-reading and like the illustrations – and indeed I am generally very keen still on natural history TV programmes.

There are further equally attractive factual articles including ‘The Coming of Guns’ (part of a series called ‘The Wonderful Story of Britain’!) and ‘How Do Birds Learn to Fly’. There are also stories, including a double-page spread featuring two non-European stories, one Native American (though in the terminology of the time it is called ‘A Red Indian Story’) and one from Papua New Guinea. The Native American story is called ‘How the Redskins were Made’ and is a retelling of a creation story, of how the Great Spirit, Manitou, made humans from clay and then baked them, liking best those who turned out red in his last batch, rather than earlier ones who were pale-skinned and under-done. Here is the beginning of the story from Papua New Guinea:

Though there are things in these two stories which do not quite accord with current sensitivities (the terminology for Native Americans, the exoticising drawing style for the youngest sister from Papua), I think they on the whole score surprisingly well for their interest in other cultures, given their date, and since they are a regular feature suggest Treasure’s commitment to introducing its readers to a wider and more diverse world.

My final example of Treasure’s content is the start of the serial story in colour on the back page:

This seems entertaining enough, with the wizard’s partly comic, but perhaps also rather sinister pantomimic rhyming couplets, and the significant extent to which the lively pictures deliver the narrative, along with the concise captions beneath.

As the cover says, Treasure had a very clear ethos of learning through looking, hence the high and varied pictorial content – though there was also a good amount of chunky text to read too. This approach to pleasurable learning stemmed, as I now know, from the thinking of the juvenile editorial director, Leonard Matthews, at Fleetway Magazines, who in 1962 published, against initial opposition within the company, the first issue of a magazine for older young people called Look and Learn which worked exactly in the way the title announced (it continued in print until 1982 – see Look and Learn). At the same period as I was reading Treasure, my older brother was indeed reading Look and Learn, to which I in turn and in due course graduated. It was also a great read. I think Treasure was a very good choice on my parents’ part, and the copy I have bought has lived up to my memories of it. I recall my father saying he would never have learnt to read at all if it hasn’t been for The Magnet which he would have been reading in the early nineteen-thirties, so there was an inherent awareness of the value of comics (or ‘magazines’). I am very glad they paid for such Treasure to be delivered to our front door.

(Note: All images are scanned from the copy of Treasure in the author’s collection.)

The Reading Journey of David Price, a Sheffield historian

By Mary Grover

David has contributed two key aids to our understanding of the history of Sheffield: Sheffield Troublemakers: Rebels and Radicals in Sheffield History (2011) and Welcome to Sheffield: A Migration History (2018). Members of the Reading Sheffield team have used both books to inform our own research and have been hugely grateful to David’s personal help at various stages of our own projects.

The Price family. David is on the right.

A ‘left-leaning’ family

David was born in 1936. He spent the war years in Wales and the rest of his childhood in the south of England. It is not surprising that he became an historian; he was born into a culture of debate. His mother was a Methodist and more ‘left-leaning’ than the family of his father who once called her ‘the Muscovite’. She had a science degree and taught throughout her sons’ childhood. David describes her as ‘remarkably capable’. Though he had to leave school early, David’s father became an architect by working his way up in the architectural office of Edwin Lutyens and then found employment in the Ministry of Works. His parents first met in a boarding house on the east coast where they spent the first five hours of their acquaintance discussing ‘all sorts of things’. Clearly David’s mother was persuasive because his father moved steadily leftwards and they came to share their political convictions. David’s father ‘revered’ Kingsley Martin, the editor of the New Statesman.

At first the influence of David’s mother was strong, sometimes as censor. Though David’s enjoyment of Winnie the Pooh was encouraged, his mother disapproved of Beatrix Potter because as a biologist and botanist she disliked the anthropomorphising of animals: ‘animals speaking seemed ridiculous’. She did not approve of Enid Blyton whom she described as ‘a bit below par’.

As David grew older it was his father’s reading tastes that he began to share.

Though W W Jacobs is less read today than Wells, Stevenson and Conan Doyle, his sinister tale The Monkey’s Paw still appears in anthologies of supernatural or horror stories and has been often filmed.

I went on walks with him during which he would tell me about his latest reading (often biographies). Also he had a large book collection himself.  So I read a lot of novels that belonged to his generation by authors like R L Stevenson, W W Jacobs, H G Wells, Conan Doyle.

The book that made the strongest impression on David as a child was one that I had never heard of, the Swiftian satire by André Maurois which mocks the folly of war: in French, Patapoufs et Filifers (1930), in English Fattypuffs and Thinifers. It is about a boy who arrives in a strange land where there are two countries at war with each other. One country is easy going and the other not. Both are fighting over a little island between them. In the end they make peace. David associates the presence of this book in the house with his parents’ membership of the Peace Pledge Union, the pacifist campaign which they joined in 1938.

The radio was a source of stimulation to both David and his parents. David remembers Children’s Hour, in particular Uncle Mac. He enjoyed the adventures broadcast, for example those of Malcolm Saville. Many of his stories were broadcast in 1946 and Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet in 1945. If the dangers seemed too thrilling there was always the sofa to hide behind. Though David ‘quite liked’ Arthur Ransome, it sounds as though they were a little short on thrills.

As David and his brother grew older, the whole family would often go to Guildford Repertory Theatre. The productions were of a high standard. He remembers Henry V, Murder on the Nile and the Broadway comedy Affairs of State by Louis Verneuil. But on Saturday afternoons David’s father usually took himself off, on his own, to the cinema.

School: more scope for debate

When David passed his 11 plus and went to Woking Grammar School, he developed a circle of friends every bit as intellectually curious as his parents. One of his circle became an Anglo-Catholic and David was a Methodist so religion became a subject for debate. The two boys and their friends would wander round the town’s parks in their lunch hour discussing religion, politics, evolution and the latest edition of the Brain’s Trust, in particular the contributions of the celebrity philosopher, Cyril Joad. ‘I remember the gossip when Joad was fined for not paying for a railway ticket.’ One teacher, ‘though rather pompous’ encouraged the boys’ general reading.

When he was 16, in 1952, David compiled a diary of his reading. It includes Joad’s Guide to Modern Thought, The Cambridge History of English Literature, British Historical and Political Orations, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, The History of the USA by Cecil Chesterton (‘a dubious brother of G.K. Chesterton who was regarded as anti-Semite’), Pickwick Papers, Goethe’s Faust in English, Doctrines of the Christian Church, the Penguin Book of Comic Verse, The ABC of International Affairs, The Life of Albert Schweitzer and Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale. David describes reading Graham Greene in his teens and ‘probably’ Orwell. David’s diary includes a long discussion about the implications of Stalin’s death and notes for David’s talk about Chopin to the musical society.

David remembers reading Scott’s Kenilworth and Conrad’s The Rover. He returned to André Maurois, to his biography of Benjamin Disraeli, having recently read Disraeli’s novel, Sybil. The teenager ‘haunted’ second-hand bookshops, in particular Finnerens, where there was a mysterious inner sanctum containing books that Mr Finneren said ‘would not interest you boys.’ David also used the municipal library in Woking. His English teacher was a Freeman of the City of London and took the group to the City. It was a busy day – they visited The Guildhall Museum, Southwark Cathedral and then the teacher left them and the boys attended Question Time at the Houses of Parliament: all superb preparation for his successful application to study History at Cambridge in 1955.

David’s journey to Sheffield

After university David did his National Service in the Royal Army Educational Corps. He found himself helping poorly educated infantrymen with their English, maths and current affairs, a task for which he was well equipped. He then joined the Civil Service.

Moving for work, David has made Sheffield his home during the last forty years. He has written the histories of so many Sheffielders that it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to write a little of his own history: his history as a reader.