Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Hands up everyone who remembers Look and Learn?

I must begin by explaining my passion: every week, from the age of 8 or 9, I received a copy of The Children's Newspaper (on my parents insistence - as an antidote to my comic of choice: Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Weekly) and although TCN was crammed with articles and features of, as they say, 'interest'; it was, frankly, all a bit worthy.

I suppose I must have read four or five year's-worth of editions of TCN, but can't now recall to mind a single story or image! And yet I can conjour page after page of the Look and Learns that I used to pore over in the school library from its first magical appearance in January 1962.

Every now and again I'd poke my nose into a copy of Knowledge which were also in the library, but I always thought this rival publication, launched a year earlier than L&L, was really a bit on the stuffy side - certainly in comparison with L&L which was a magazine that lived up to its stated aim of providing "a treasure house of exciting articles, stories and pictures" and which positively exploded with vibrant, dynamic illustrations that grabbed the eye and hooked the imagination!

Click on images to enlarge

L&L had the all visual appeal of the comic but with a content - incredibly diverse, sometimes astonishing esoteric - that won the approval of educators and, most importantly, mums and dads!

Small wonder it launched with sales of a million copies and eventually settled down to a highly respectable 300,000 copies a week and, two years after its fist appearance of the news-stands, took over the aforementioned The Children's Newspaper.

Look at what was shoe-horned into the 24 pages of the first issue --- and all for the outlay of just ONE SHILLING:
A photograph of the young Prince of Wales, Charles, dominated the first cover, alongside a painting of the first Charles, Prince of Wales from 300 years earlier...

Elsewhere in this first issue, colour photographs and colour illustrations helped tell the history of Rome and reveal the wonders of nature; you could learn about Vincent van Gogh, the Grand Canyon, how Japanese children celebrated the festival of Shichi go san or how to keep a Basset hound.

Other articles probed the depths of space for life amongst the stars and below the ground for oil; the story of Parliament was magnificently illustrated across the centre pages; equally superb was the first leg of a trip exploring the history of towns and villages along the road from London to Dover; and for those readers who enjoyed stories as well as history, nature, science and art, there was a feature on Sindbad and the famous author and explorer who had translated his adventures plus the opening chapters of The Children’s Crusade by Henry Treece, and Jerome K Jerome’s famous Three Men in a Boat.

- Steve Holland, Archivist, Look and Learn
During its twenty-years and over 1000 issues, the role call of talent working on L&L - though, as kids we didn't know it - was impressive to say the least: historians Leonard Cottrell, John Prebble, Robert Erskine and Alfred Duggan; novelist and traveller Bruce Graeme; zoologist Maurice Burton and naturalist Maxwell Knight; and, yet to establish his career as an award-winning novelist, Michael Moorcock.

The artists represented the cream of the book illustration at the time and included such graphic artists - to name but a few - as Peter Jackson, C L Doughty, Ron Embleton, Don Lawrence, Angus McBride, Jesus Blasco and (below) Oliver Frey... .

Every single issue lived up to its title: we looked and we learned --- about so many things... About the natural world as it is and, as very dinosaur-loving kid knew, it once was...

About the lives and careers of statesmen, scientists and explorers...

About countries, cities and buildings...

About triumphant deeds and tragic events...

There were all manner of excitements and amazements: from flights of fancy...

To modern-day realities...

And future possibilities...

As well as, again and again, all those enticing windows into some of the greatest books, plays and poetry of the world: some of which I already knew and loved and others that, thanks to L&L, I went on to discover...

I probably skipped launch-editor David Stone's editorial description of L&L when, as thirteen year old I was excitedly racing through its colour-filled pages, but it seems to me, now, to pretty much sum up what the magazine was to its devoted readers:
Look and Learn is not a comic, or a dusty old encyclopaedia pretending to be an entertaining weekly paper. It is really like one of those fabulous caravans that used to set off to strange and unknown places and return laden with all sorts of wonderful things. In our pages is all the excitement, the wonder, the tragedy and the heroism of the magnificent age we live in, and of the ages which make up the traditions which shape all our lives.
I can't overstate the influence of L&L on my formative years - it bred in me an inquisitive fascination with facts, words and books which still lingers to this day and, I think, even informs some of the topics that turn up on this daily blog!

And now - joy of joys - there's a newly published Bumper Book of Look and Learn and 24- or 48-issue serial publications of the best of the original Look and Learns, "printed to have the same look and feel as the original..."

Full details can be found on the Look and Learn web-site which is as jam-packed with stuff as the original mag and where you can also read the full, fascinating history of the magazine and - fabulous time-waster this - browse the picture library of 19,073 images which can be downloaded or sent as e-cards...

So quit this page and start wallowing in a bit of pure, unadulterated nostalgia; and - look! - you never know, you might actually learn something!

Images: © 2007 Look and Learn

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Robert Alton Harris wrote:

You can be a king or a street sweeper,
But everybody dances with the Grim Reaper.

This reminded me of an exchange I once had with Discworld author, TERRY PRATCHETT, during an interview for a BBC book programme.

We were talking about DEATH, who appears as a character in many of the Discworld novels and who - contrary to expectations - has a butler (Albert), an adopted daughter (Ysabell), an assistant (Mort), a pale horse (Binky) and lives in a black-and-white, suburban villa with a golf course and a pond containing a skeletal trout!

"Just supposing," I said to Pratchett, "that the door to this studio was to suddenly whisper open and DEATH was to come in and lay his bony hand on your shoulder, what would you do?"

"Well," replied Pratchett, "there's nothing I could do! But that wouldn't matter, because I long ago learned to take life as it comes!"

He paused and then, with a wry smile, added: "Which, of course, when you think about it, is exactly what DEATH does: takes life as it comes!"

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