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
Not been much of interest on Challenge in recent months, as lots of the really old shows seem to have been dropped and they don’t seem particularly interested in buying any more, which is entirely their fault for buying the wrong ones in the first place. We want the Generation Game, not 3-2-1! One old show that does continue apace is Bullseye, however, because it’s such a hit with all the hipsters, and here’s a rare original commission for this channel – and repeated on its sister channel – which pays tribute to this rather bizarre series and the cult that surrounds it. It definitely isn’t coming back, though.
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Points of View
- In 'Horses Galore', Droogie says: "I remember Susan King well. As a kid I had a horse-obsessed cousin called Joanne, and always had to sit through this show if it was on whenever I was..."
- In 'Victor Lewis-Smith', THX 1139 says: "The editing on these shows was quite brilliant, maybe the best thing about it because though it was very funny in places, you couldn’t..."
- In 'Picture Box', Graham Pearson says: "Picture Box was the most memorable ITV schools programme particularly at the time Alan Rothwell presented. He became available for presenting..."
- In 'Wattoo Wattoo: Superbird', Applemask says: "Who’s she marrying? Haven’t you heard?"
- In 'Naked Video', David Smith says: "The end credits for the latter series replaced the roaring Thatcher with John Major as a buck toothed mouse, I recall…"