Boy's Own Annual

Circa 1925/26
Circa 1925/26

There was a time, in the dark receding past, when chest hair was still in vogue and the male Brazilian only an undreamt of, impossible horror. It was a time when concepts like valour, patriotism, pride in Empire, honour, adventure, sportsmanship, sexual repression, heroism and frightfully good manners were considered spiffing ideals.

Every Christmas, eager and earnest schoolboys would reach down into their stocking and pull out a copy of a very special book - designed just for them and chock full of the kind of frogs, snails and puppy-dog tails stuff that only boys could relate to. It was Boy's Own Annual.

A New Demographic

The story of Boy's Own really began with The Elementary Education Act, way back in 1870, which paved the way for compulsory schooling. Education meant widespread literacy and a new youth market opened up for the print peddlars.

Conscious of the shifting social winds and ever watchful for potentially corrupting influences on youth, members of the Religious Tract Society thought it would be a good idea to launch a weekly paper for boys - something that would strengthen their moral fibre and avert their eyes from the less wholesome reading matter that had sprung up in the form of Penny Dreadfuls.

The idea was to provide the boys with quality reading and at the same time imbue them with a sub-text of Christian morality during those important formative years. Thus in 1879, the Boy's Own Papers was launched in the form of a weekly magazine and each year the weekly issues would be bound together to form The Boy's Own Annual.

The very first issue of Boy's Own Paper...image from Wikipedia
The very first issue of Boy's Own Paper...image from Wikipedia

Live clean, manly and Christian lives

~ Baden Scott Powell, founder of the scout movement and regular columnist for Boy's Own

Boy's Own, proved to be a hit with it's target readership, not least because many accomplished, well-known writers contributed to the mix. Some of these included Arthur Conan Doyle, R.M Ballantyne and Jules Verne.

Apart from exciting adventure stories, there were nature study lessons, articles about sport and recreation, puzzles, games and even essay competitions.

In 1913 the Weekly became a monthly and in 1939 was taken over by Lutterworth Press, followed by Purnell and Sons in 1963 and in 1965 BPC Publishing, who continued to run it until it's demise.

Volume One of Boy's Own Annual
Volume One of Boy's Own Annual

Gone But not Forgotten

Boy's Own ended in 1976 but It had been losing traction for some time. The 1960's ushered in a new age of social and political challenge, free-thought and radicalism was dawning and the quaint old stories, codes and moralities of the traditional establishment no longer seemed relevant.

Youth were more interested in reading about Jimmy Hendrix, surf culture and coca-cola than Scott of the Antarctic and Douglas Bader. Suddenly the Boy's Own philosophy was glaringly 'old-hat'. The brand had lost its once loyal demographic.

A smaller edition of the annual, The Boy's Own Companion was brought out from 1959 to 1963 and The Boys Own Annual II from 1962 to 1976. There was also a period during WWII when production stopped due to war rationing.

However, although after 100 odd years the books were finally gone, they left their legacy in the annals of literature and even the term Boy's Own has a become a descriptive term to denote anything  anachronistically daring and adventurous.

Circa 1928/29
Circa 1928/29

Ripping Yarns

In the 1970's British television parodied its own cultural history by bringing out a Boy's Own Annual inspired TV series called Ripping Yarns - all jolly good fun and exotic adventure. Written by Micheal Palin and Terry jones of Monty Python fame, the stories were produced in the same style as the classic 'public school story', utilising the very familiar genre of Victorian and Edwardian children's literature. The episodes had stirring titles, such as Curse of the Claw, Tomkinson's Schooldays, Escape from Stalag Luft 112B and Crossing the Andes by Frog.

The Dangerous Book for Boys

Nostalgia for Boy's Own remains and more recently the old theme was revived in a Dangerous Book for Boy's series. Published by Harper and Collins the books are described as "a guide for boys aged anywhere from eight to eighty". It's refreshing to see something which encourages kids to go out and build a fort, learn to tie knots and have r/life adventures.

Post feminist revolution, experiments in in defying the gender divide haven't proved all that successful. Parents who bought their sons dolls and their daughters tonka trucks received a dissapointing response. It seems gender idenification is only part nurture - the rest is nature,. Thus once again the trend is to recognise those innate differences between the sexes - what appeals to one sex may not appeal to the other.

Since its inception in 2006 The Dangerous Book for Boys has sold over a million copies and has topped the UK non-fiction best-seller charts a few times over. There are exceptions of course, but in the main, it seems boys love to be boys and girls love to be girls. They like their own stuff.

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Comments 25 comments

Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Jane, I remember the Boys Own Annuals but, to be quite honest, I didn't have much time for them. I did, however, think the Doctor Who Annuals well worth the brass you gave up for them.

Boys Own smacked of school work dressed up as entertainment. Sort of like a sheep in wolf's clothing but still a sheep.

The Doctor Who Annuals had stories about time travel to the past and to the future and fun strips thrown in for good measure. Mind you, as you say, the Boys Own dates much earlier than Doctor Who. Still I didn't care that much for Beano or Eagle growing up or anything with school kids as school kids in it. I preferred the comic books out of the USA with the superheroes to British comic papers and annuals.

What I didn't like about both the Doctor Who Annuals and the Boys Own was the poor color except on the cover. The interiors, color=wise, always looked awful. The same was true of the British comic papers.

I reckon the Biggles novels which were for boys also outshone Boys Own.

I loved Ripping Yarns when it was on tele. It poked fun at Boys Own like nobody's business. I loved the send up of the great escape in which even the German guards wanted to get away from this British idiot and his ultimate escape plan. So everyone does a bunk while this idiot is still working on his escape. Priceless stuff.

Yes, i suppose you are right when you say boys Own was looking very much 'Old Hat' by the time I was a boy. the funny thing is that Girls Own comic papers with articles as well as strips such as Daisy were doing quite well.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author


I've never actually read one but I did pick up an old copy in one my many Op shop searches. Only thing is, I haven't been able to find it...must've stuck it in a box somewhere.

Haha..I love that bit about 'school work dressed up as entertainment". Yes I do get the impression they were a bit *earnest*...and very British. Dr. Who sounds more interesting.

I was a Disney comic fan..we had a stack of very old ones that belonged to my father (wish I still had them!). Scrooge and the nephews were my favourites....mainly because of the adventures to foreign lands.

Ripping Yarns was hilarious...I watched the Curse of the Claw again and it's still pretty funny:

"My parents exerted an iron discipline on their children. They had my sister imprisoned for putting too much butter on her scone and my younger brother David was killed for walking on the flower beds."

I'm going to do a companion piece about Girl's Own I'll see what comes up in the research.

Cheers and thanks for those insights into boyish literature!

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Thanks for this introduction to Boys' Own. Being on the other side of the pond, and a girl, too, I never saw it on my radar, nor Ripping Yarns. I'm actually off to YouTube now to watch more videos. Voted up!

drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

Never heard of this charming series of boys' books before, Jane, but they appear to be - in their time - spiffy, ripping, and spot on. Thanks for the newsflash.

Must go now, it's time for my tea and scones. Will return in a 'fortnit.'

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Sally, Glad to have introduced you to Ripping Yarns! I wasn't sure if people in the US would have heard of these books or not. Now I know. Thanks very much for the vote up.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

drbj, I didn't know you could speak British! And jolly well too.

Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

I have two Disney comics at home in German. Is that foreign enough for you? At one time I bought a coke from the school tuck shop only to find the writing in Arabic. I wish I had kept that bottle.

I was always suspicious of children in programs and in stories suspecting a lesson lurking somewhere. With Doctor Who it was different. Even when children did appear in a story it was still pure adventure and fun.

It was in the comic papers and the annuals that the dreaded Daleks first developed the power of flight. Nothing like going around exterminating people from a platform in the air. Nice creatures the Daleks, rather soulless but with a good sense of humor. I wanted a model of one of those gliding pepper pots when I was a kid. I do have a police call box money box though.

tmbridgeland profile image

tmbridgeland 5 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

I remember seeing a few old, battered copies of this laying around when I was a kid in the 60s. I don't remember ever reading it.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Rod, there's so many things I wish we had kept. Every so often my father used to go on clear-out rampages and throw everything unnecessary out...the treasures that were lost!

I remember once, after I'd left home, I happened to ring home during one of these clear outs and my brother told me my Teddy was on the back of a trailer waiitng to be carried off to the tip, along with a heap of other toys. I went berserk on the phone and insisted he go out and rescue it...I'd had that Teddy since birth! How mercenary can you get?

The daleks are a classic. It was those monotone voices that helped make them so distinctive. I've seen model Daleks for sale in nerdy gaming shops. I must say, I wouldn't mind one. I'd also like a model of the robot from Lost in Space....they'd look good together.

Is the money box an original..?

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

tm, I'm beginning to wonder if anyone actually did read them...? Maybe parents just bought them because they thought they were a good influence. I guess by the 1960's they were pretty much passe.

Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

The police call box money box is hand crafted but only dates back to the 1980s. I got it from a comic book shop. Even so I have it because I like it.

I have seen daleks in the ABC shop but they don't impress me that much. They are very expensive for what they are. What I would really like is a dalek from the 1960s but that would be really pricey.

As you have pointed out, Jane, the 1960s heralded in a new era in which the Boys Own Annuals were indeed passe.

Not only were daleks and police call boxes roaming around, doing their thing there was also International Rescue (Thunderbirds) and Stingray to consider.

Stingray came first. It is now a supermarionation classic in both the show on tele and in the annuals. A powerful submarine with crew and a mermaid. What more could you want?

Thunderbirds is best known and best loved by kids of the swinging '60s. Who could forget the count down followed by thunderous jets and the words: "Thunderbirds are go!" Penelope, the British agent with her pink rolls, was a favorite with my sisters. My brother liked the workhorse Thunderbird 2. I liked Thunderbird 4 because I still had a thing for subs. I guess I just loved the beach and references to water.

The Robot from Lost in Space is around in some novelty shops but way too expensive.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Rod, yes the robots are low on my list of priorities...;) My brother-in-law is a Thunderbirds fanatic - I'm sure he has every episode ever made. I can see why this and shows like Stingray would appeal to boys.

Of course, you are right..television would have been the biggest kick in the ribs to Boy's Own. Who'd want to read 'Derek's Rugby Adventure' when you could watch Thunderbirds...?

Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Or read about Thunderbirds, Jane, or pick up a copy of the comic paper 2001 and read about Judge Dredd...

It wasn't just television. In the 1960s SF was far more appealing to boys than, as you say, 'Derek's Rugby Adventure'. If not subs then there was flight. Rockets and space craft were popular. When I was a kid I thought the original enterprise was really impressive. It was like a window into the future.

Besides, you might want to play rugby or soccer or whatever but do you really want to read about it? Not me! Just like I much prefer to go fishing than to read someone's account of a fishing trip I wasn't on.

I was a big Shintaro, the Samurai fan. It was new and exciting. I still have my collection of the bubble gum cards put out by Scalens in the 1960s. You sniff them and even after all this time you can still smell the bubble gum. And that smell does take me back too.

Sounds like your brother-in-law has similar tastes to my own.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Rod,yes technology and outer space were wildly popular in the mid 20th century. Y'know I think I'll write a hub about toy robots. I'm trying to corner the nostalgia market...;)

That's amazing that you can still smell the bubble-gum after 50 odd years. Smells can really be powerful triggers for memories, I know.

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa

I was brought up on the good old BOP! And the Annuals. Infact this Hub made me feel almost nostalgic for the crap. My old man thought them wonderful - full of British grit and all that. I hated them and only read them under sufferance - they were plain boring. Whenever I could I threw them away or ignored them. They still came relentlessly in the mail each month.

Thanks for the interesting reminiscences for me.

Love and peace


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Lol Tony, thanks for that. There is a high nostalgic element with these books. I suspect that's why reinventions like "The Dangerous Book for Boys" have been reminds parents and grandparents of their own childhood.

aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

I was a girl in the 70's, and I think my parents tried hard to make things equal for me and my brother. We often played with the same toys, but in very different ways. Playing with Legos, I would generally build houses and my brother would build cars. (Sometimes we compromised, with mobile homes. But his would be armored.)

I haven't read the Boy's Own, but I would like to. If I'd been given it as a kid, I would not have read it voluntarily; I would have judged it by its dusty-looking cover, and would have read any bright-colored SF or fantasy novel first. My brother might possibly have read it for the title even with the actual cover.

But it is probably not comparable with The Dangerous Book for Boys, because that one, besides being instructive about a bunch of things nobody knows how to do anymore, is also VERY cleverly written, and quite funny. So I think anybody would like The Dangerous Book for Boys, but I can certainly see how my sons, when they get old enough to read it, will actually try out many of the things in it, where I would have only read it.

There is a book written by different authors, the Daring Book for Girls, which I resent for pretending to be as clever as the boys' book, and also for trying to say (in the words of battle-of-the-sexes musical Annie Get Your Gun) "anything you can do, I can do better".

Why can't boys be allowed to be boys? Why must girls have to like everything boys do, and compete with them? I read adventure books along with my brother, and generally our reactions mirror our reactions to Lord of the Rings; I like it very much, he loves it. I re-read parts every few years, he reads all of it annually. Nobody ever told me I couldn't like the books he likes. But I reserve the right not to love them, and the right to think car chases and explosions are boring and noisy.

If a clever writer decides to write a book, aimed at young girls, about how to embroider, knit, decorate cakes, attract boys, garden, and other such things, I think it could sell at least as well as The Dangerous Book for Boys. But only if girls think for themselves rather than listen to book reviewers telling them they only want to read about adventure stories....

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

aetheylthrife, you make some very good points. That's not to say girls don't like adventure...plenty of them do. But I think you are right to suggest that things like kntting, embroidery,cooking, cake decorating are devalued and that if girls are encouraged to do these things it's somehow sexist and denigrating to them. These are great skills and personally I think it's a big shame that so many accomplishments are being lost.

I think there's a place for the Daring Book for Girls though and I'm including it a "Girls Own' hub I'm halfway through. We just don't have to be one or the other...adventurous or girly. We can be both or whatever. What was the feminist revolution about if not choice?

aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

Okay, but choice should be informed. I have a lot of friends who have no children or fewer than they wanted because they chose career first, family later, not recognizing that fertility doesn't last. For much more on the subject (and someone who says it better than I do), see Danielle Crittenden's book "What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us".

And actually, sometimes it does help to be pointed in just one direction. My generation (male and female) grew up being told "you can do anything you want". Sounds nice, but I think a lot of us would have progressed beyond adolescence faster if we'd had advice on what we were most likely to succeed at.

Back to your original topic; I know a lot of women who would appreciate more men of their generation having been encouraged as boys to be at least clean and manly. Maybe someone will get inspired by your hub to do something like Boy's Own for today. I'd buy it for my boys.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

aethel..choice should be informed, agreed. It's also true that we can be spoilt for choice..that is, too many choices can cause anxiety and stress. We're always wondering if we've made the right one.

Cleaniness has alot going for it, yes!!

Thanks for popping back to comment.

Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

aethelthryth, one of the things I grew up with was Star Trek. The adventure was there. The lessons in manliness were there if you were a boy. And it wasn't just television. There were the comic books and the paperback novels. Later on there were the conventions.

I liked Spok with his logic but sometimes I favored Bones. Uhura was beautiful and exotic (Hey! I grew up in Australia) with a charming voice.

Later on I got into the Next Generation with their television show, comic books and paperbacks. And so it went for some years. My nieces and nephews have grown up with Star Trek thanks to their parents also being fans.

The Star Trek characters are neat and clean in body, mind and spirit and they are very tolerant of others. I have something like 200 Star Trek paperback novels in my collection dating back to the 1960s.

crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

Good hub,thanks for sharing.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi crystolite...thanks.

Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK

Gotta love' em boy's own annuals. I got hold of a few on ebay and also some called the Lion and the Eagle - spiffin' jolly ol' time to be had indeed. There is so much Nostalgia with those tales. I remember reading John Buchan and Rider Haggard as a kid and those rousing adventures fuelled my imagination well. I too loved the Rippin' Yarns. Absolutely hilarious- I watched Tomkinson's schooldays and Michael Palin and Terry Jones had me in stitches! voted up.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Ah, now John Buchan wrote The 39 Steps right?..which is a great yarn. I would hang on to those old annuals..I did find one in an op shop but I foolishly stored it in my leaking shed and it got wrecked. Darn! Who wouldn't like Ripping Yarns? Haha

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