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School book clubs

Good choice!The school book club was a powerful way of teasing money out of tiny hands sent dizzy by a pamphlet featuring a toothy critter extolling the virtues of Gyles Brandreth’s latest offering. It was through these means the Whizz Kids series cascaded across playgrounds, advising juveniles on how to ‘beat the experts at their own game’ on subjects such as bikes, kites, chess and – ambitiously – ‘how to be a detective’. However, if that smacked too much of ‘edutainment’, there were plenty of good old fashioned laughs on hand, thanks to the prolific work of Michael ‘Cyberman Controller’ Kilgarriff and his 1,000 Jokes series, which included 1,000 Jokes for Kids of all Ages, 1,000 Knock Knock Jokes for Kids and best of all, Oh no! Not Another 1,000 Jokes for Kids. Children were also lured by the glamour of the film and TV-tie in. In 1981, who in their right mind could have resisted the high adventure of Schoolastic’s Condorman novelisation or an extra portion of Irene Handl in Metal Mickey’s Boogie Book? The self-styled king of the book club publication was the aforementioned Gyles Daubeney Brandreth who honed in on the joke racket with several volumes (including The Biggest Kids Joke Book Ever!) as well as trying his hand at the ‘misc’ category with such tomes as Super Heroes: The Facts Behind the Legends (James Bond can ‘fly anything from a spacecraft to an umbrella’, apparently), Quick and Easy Magic Tricks, The Hiccups at No.13 and many, many more.



  1. Colin

    February 4, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Only two books were worth being seen with enroute from the book club in 1979:
    1. The Crack-a-Joke book
    2. Fun with Magnets (only because you had a free magnet on the back page)

  2. Lee James Turnock

    May 21, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    I think the toothy critter was called Chip. Michael Kilgarriff’s joke books were pretty good, as I recall, with some nicely scratchy illustrations by David Mostyn who drew Bertie Buncle’s Chemical Uncle in the Dandy.

  3. Richard Davies

    August 10, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    At one school we had a book club where we had to collect up lots of stamps with an owl on to save up for books.

    At another we had the Lucky & Chip booklets. I’ve still got a few books from them.

  4. johnnyboy

    October 6, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    ‘The Six Million Dollar Man – Escape from Athena One’ was a book club find; also a dinosaur/mythical beast book bought in 1975 and one about a kid who befrinds an alien who teaches said kid to learn ESP. Was called ‘Gom Tollum’ or something like that.

  5. Paul Norton

    June 6, 2011 at 11:20 am

    I remember getting ‘Down With Skool’ by Nigel Molesworth. Anyone remember those books? They were really weird and included bad spelling – surely not to be encouraged.

  6. Hawkeye

    August 18, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Didnt win the bloomin remote control Herbie from newly released Herbie Goes Bananas though dammit.

    Got the novel. I seem to recall getting the Knight Rider book too. Seems I had an obsession with cars that have a mind of their own. Didnt see the Stephen Kings Christine novel in Chip though oddly.

  7. Rose 'Tinternet

    July 9, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Pedant on/ “Down Wiv Skool” pedant off/. “The Know How Book Of…” series and i remember the only one I…my mum purchased for me was a novella called “Vanishing Point” (no nothing to do with that one) It was the creepy cover that got me: a teen ‘alien’ girls head and shoulders with no pupils or iris.(Anything remotely Sci Fi-y me).

  8. Droogie

    July 16, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    I remember only buying one book from the school book club – the accompanying book to the godawful Graham Chapman movie Yellowbeard. I didn’t actually see the film until a decade later, and it was probably worse than the book.

  9. George White

    July 22, 2014 at 9:09 am

    Oh, Gyles Brandreth’s books, I remember because my school library simply had a lot of old Creamy books, Marmalade Atkins, Target WHo novelisations, Puffin classic tie-ins to BBC Sunday Classics eg Treasure Island with Alfred Burke by Barry Letts, Tales of the Unexpected tie-ins, the Bagthorpe Saga – now on BBC ONE C.1981, with a photocover of Madeline Smith and Dandy Nichols, Johnny Ball books. A friend of mine petitioned RTE to show the 70s Famous Five, since we had the TV tie-ins.

  10. George White

    December 5, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    Am I the only one to remember Brimax Books? Barely anything on the net other than a few articles on its resident artist, ex-Eagle artist Eric Kincaid. Lovingly illustrated picture stories, but always basic stories or retellings of Public Domain classic staples.

  11. Joanne Gray

    May 17, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    I remember buying a few of the Kilgariff 1,000 Joke For … series of books with Birthday/Christmas money from WH Smith, but not because of school book clubs. I grew up on Teesside where things like that didn’t exist – most of us learned to read with help from parents and grandparents when we were nursery age in the early to mid 70s; probably the last generation to do so as I’ve noticed those born in the 80s onwards had all day children’s tv as a babysitter, thus retarding their cognitive development.

  12. Stevie

    December 14, 2020 at 7:35 am

    I had a couple of Gyles Brandreth’s books, but this was before I was old enough to know him as a Tory Twat. The Big Book Of Secrets was a personal fave.

    Other books from the Chip Book Club I got were the Star Wars Question & Answer Book About Space, Two Minute Mysteries, The Little Witch, and the 1979 and 1980 Chip Club Diary. Had a Just William book too, and a great book about dolphins but I can’t remember the name of it (probably about 1977-78).

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