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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Once as much a part of the festive season as Bond and Carry On, the Wackers were almost as famous on film as they were on record, so here’s another airing for the documentary that discusses their merits – including Magical Mystery Tour, even though that’s technically not a film – with pundits including the great Mark Lewisohn.
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Points of View
- In 'Emu’s Brand New Pink Windmill Show/World', Mick says: "That Grotbags just needed a damn good seeing-to, that’s all she needed."
- In 'Tomorrow’s World', Mick says: "Before boring my childish mind to tears with non-stop medicines, miracle cures and other trivia, I delighted at the robots, gadgets and jumble..."
- In 'Then Churchill Said To Me…', Mick says: "I wouldn’t say it was dreadful, as such. Though it didn’t have the body and sparkle of Up Pompeii, itself flogged to death,..."
- In 'Grumbleweeds Radio Show, The', Mick says: "There were also many funny sketches but I’m not sure they were willing or able to differentiate. I have a BBC album which is..."
- In '4) “Your tone is antagonistic and you’re making me very angry!”', Richard Davies says: "I recently rewatched The Day Today & this is one of the funnier moments,..."