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.
TVC on Twitter
Creamguide's Pick of the Day
Ian Levine’s back on the telly! But don’t worry, he’s not getting angry about missing episodes but talking about his other specialist subject. Northern Soul has to be one of the most exciting of all genres and the culture behind it is absolutely fascinating, with fans dancing for hours on end and many of the stars behind its biggest records being rescued from total obscurity.
Subscribe to Creamguide
Points of View
- In 'School book clubs', George White says: "Oh, Gyles Brandreth’s books, I remember because my school library simply had a lot of old Creamy books, Marmalade Atkins, Target WHo..."
- In 'Rentaghost', palimpsest says: "Despite the forced pantomime routines I persisted with it just for the main theme. An apparition quipped from deep inside a crypt."
- In 'Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds', Palimpsest says: "Something… Dogtanian being seduced by a lingerie wearing cat disguised as a monk? And a villain who kept slicing the..."
- In 'Heidi', Palimpsest says: "I’ve heard that this makes up most of the daytime scheduling on Austrian television. Heidi visits the cheese factory, Heidi visits the schnaps..."
- In 'The Children’s Film Foundation', John Harwood says: "“ZOO ROBBERY (1973) Yen-Sen the Yeti (OK, fine…) is stolen from London Zoo, and kids and WILLIAM “DR” HARTNELL..."