Boy's Own Annual
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.
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.
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.
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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