Sunday, September 17, 2006

Remembering Look and Learn

Daily Mail, Saturday 16 September 2006

Some people remember the sixties for sexual liberty and fashion. For me,the 1960s meant returning home from school on Fridays to find that my mother had parked my Look and Learn magazine neatly on my bed, ready toread with a cup of tea and a jam sandwich.

For so many of my generation, it was a thick wodge of entertainment and gorgeously colourful Knowledge with a capital K. Call me a nerd, call me sad, call me an anorak or any of the names which my children are taught today to describe someone who wants to know stuff.

I don’t care. I loved my Look and Learn.Every week there was a new, eye-grabbing cover - always a painted illustration - promising some new insight into the world: a dramatichistorical battle, perhaps, or an impressive-sounding literary figure, or some exciting scientific discovery that was surely going to change theworld, like space travel.

Yes, some of the dense blocks of text were a bit dull. But the picture-spreads were always fantastic - informative, liberally captioned and lushly coloured.One week, a double-page spread showing how the Houses of Parliament work,another week, the inside of a fire engine.

There was lots of proper history, with pictures of kings thumping theirfists on tables - the emphasis on kings, and British kings too, would have lips curling among today's liberal education elite.We learned about citizens round the world; we followed the story of WorldWar I; we were awed by the achievements of the British Empire; we picked upa sense of pride in our country; we entered weekly competitions and wrote keen letters.

There were condensed versions of Dickens, cartoons strips of Shakespeareplays, and we were introduced to writers such as Jules Verne, NinaBawden, Willard Price and Gavin Maxwell.As the first editor David Stone put it: 'Look and Learn is not a comic, ora dusty old encyclopaedia pretending to be an entertaining weekly paper.'It is really like one of those fabulous caravans that used to set off tostrange 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 upthe traditions which shape all our lives.'

What mattered most was exciting our children about the world around them -however unpromising the subject matter. So, newsy, in-depth series about'great disasters of the world' might jostle alongside a long-running picture feature about the history of Britain’s major roads.

I mean, who would have the nerve to serve up 'The Bath Road Story' -literally the history of the A4 down the centuries - nowadays in a children’s magazine?

And if it all got a bit too much like hard work, well, there was the long-running 'Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire', the sci-fi comic stripat the back.

Who could resist romantically-dressed guys whizzing about in spaceships,long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away? And when the first Star Wars film came out in 1978, a lot of us wondered if George Lucas, its creator, hadbeen a Look and Learn child on the sly.

What will today's children - born more than a decade after the last issue- make of what was one of the most successful publishing ventures of itsday?

'What, no celebrities?,' the kids will cry. 'No vital facts about eachmember of the Arctic Monkeys! No fashion! No quizzes about "are you ready for sex"! No commercial tie-ins with the latest Play Station 2 games! Dense paragraphs made of nothing but words! What’s going on here?

Today's magazines seem to be directed at girls while boys spend their timeplaying violent games on the intenet. Obsessed with celebrities and sex,magazines such as Mizz and Top of the Pops, offer advice to preteen girlson make up and how to appear older than they are

One issue of Mizz showed a rap artist called Usher displaying his midriff and underpants as he advised a ten year old on her relationship with her ex-boyfriend. The quizzes - like the one we show on the right fromTop of thePops magazine - are about whether a celebrity might fancy you or not.

Little wonder polls repeatedly show parental concern about the explicit nature of these magazines.It is ironic too that, in the week Look and Learn announced it was to rise again, 110 childhood experts wrote a round robin letter to a national newspaper protesting against the decline of 'real' childhood.

True, there are still some areas where the Look and Learn banner is heldaloft. Television's Blue Peter is still with us - and is if anything betterthan ever before. Blackadder veteran Tony Robinson continues to fight almost single-handedly on TV for the minds of inquisitive children, withTime Team in which he looks at history through archeological digs.

Its critics will point out that Look and Learn was not politically correct; its world view was naïve, it was biased towards boys. Perhaps itwas; but more importantly it sent out the message that finding out aboutthings was the right way to go through life.

Sarah Johnson is author of Daring to be Different: Being a Faith Family ina Secular World

1 comment:

Steve said...

Hi Sarah,

Just to let you know that things have progressed quite quickly with the magazine since your piece in the Daily Mail appeared. The proposed (at that time) magazine will now be appearing in January with a free gift going out to early subscribers in December. All the details are at the Look and Learn website:

Thanks for your kind support. If you care to find out more about our future plans, please drop us a line via the website.

Kindest regards,

Archivist, Look and Learn