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.)