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.
New! From K-Tel!
TVC on Twitter
Creamguide's Pick of the Day
Top of the Pops
Friday, 19.30, 00.00, BBC4
We know he’s bloody useless at it, but actually quite a lot of the shows from 1982 we’re looking forward to seeing are presented by Simon Bates. It’s not for him, obviously, but he just happened to be hosting episodes featuring cracking line-ups or hugely memorable performances. His first edition of the year isn’t perhaps one of them, especially as a number of performances you’ll already have seen on the clip show, though that does emphasise there are lots of famous songs about.
Subscribe to Creamguide!
Points of View
- In 'Duncan Dares', Richard16378 says: "Peter tried driving a modified VW Beetle at sea (can’t remember if it was the Channel or the Irish Sea) but it sunk on the way."
- In 'Duncan Dares', Marc Ricketts says: "I remember Duncan dares. Whats this bit he drives a car at sea. And it didin,t work out?"
- In 'Butterflies', Glenn A says: "The Liver Birds had reached its natural conclusion by 1978, so the BBC wanted a successor from Carla Lane. Butterflies was actually quite good in a..."
- In 'Telebugs, The', Applemask says: "I am still waiting for the opportunity to unveil my modern-day re-imagining of these guys."
- In 'Open University', Richard16378 says: "With an interesting combination of “Very British” things the OU jingle can be heard in the Wallace & Grommet film The Wrong..."