From the 1970s onward, Peter Usborne’s children’s factual publishing empire was the Oxford University Press for the pre-secondary set. Their colourful info-packed tomes, liberally sprinkled with friendly, big-nosed cartoon characters, were the darlings of the school library (when The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was on loan, at least). The Usborne Book of Things to do on a Rainy Day was a self-explanatory favourite. Two friendly, big-nosed cartoon clowns guided the indoor-bound reader through a plethora of homely activities: growing washing soda crystals, making paper hats, etc. The friendly, big-nosed, overcoated spies dotted throughout the Usborne Spy’s Guidebook inhabited an exciting world where unbreakable codes could be written on a belt wrapped round an old stick, and oppressive Eastern Bloc governments thwarted with the cunning deployment of lemon juice as writing medium. More heavyweight was the Usborne Book of World Geography, a comprehensive guide to the friendly, big-nosed peoples of the Earth, full of inoffensively rendered world facts. For instance, comparative gross national product was indicated by figures in national dress holding appropriately scaled money bags: while a sheikh from the United Arab Emirates rejoiced in his ten-foot sack, a peasant representing Bhutan put a bravely cheery face on his golf ball-sized pouch. Best of all, however, was 1979’s Usborne Book of The Future: A Trip in Time to the Year 2000 and Beyond: a mind boggling grab-bag of never-going-to-happen wonders like lunar Olympics, nuclear-powered artificial super-hearts, domed underwater cities, and Jupiter being taken apart and rebuilt as a big shell around the sun, for some unfathomable reason. Its timeline of inventions from 1980 to the twenty-second century has, twenty-five years in, so far proved to be something of a disappointment to the legion of thirtysomethings still awaiting that robot butler.
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Creamguide's Pick of the Day
We did say when this programme began in September 2010 that the name was totally cursed, having been used for both TVam’s swiftly abandoned early show and ITN’s unsuccessful bid for the franchise ten years later. Unsurprisingly they didn’t listen to us, and that brings us to the last ever episode. Certainly changed a lot since day one, Adrian and Christine and the swish set with all the purples soon being jettisoned and now it’s just GMTV all over again with an even more toxic brand. We doubt they’ll go out with much of a bang but worth a look anyway, before the next incarnation of ITV breakfast begins next week. We give it six months.
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Points of View
- In 'MOORE, Roger', Adrian says: "Also single handedly responsible for the 70s fashion for safari suits.."
- In 'Never Too Young to Rock', George White says: "It’s not PETER FIRTH! It’s Peter Cleall!"
- In 'Thorn Birds, The', George White says: "Massively expensive since it weren’t actually AUstralia, but a bit of Southern California with a kangaroo brought in that had to be..."
- In 'MOORE, Roger', George White says: "Oh yes, Alan Ladd’s kid David, where he has to chow down on piles and piles of snowy white coke, to the sound of bad disco. Ah, when British..."
- In 'Eh, Brian, It’s a Whopper', Me says: "I have 5 of the 6 episodes made on VHS… When I get a bit of free Time, I will transfer to DVD then upload to YouTube"