Monday, 25 February 2013
Little Julie Burchell's Rupert Bear Annual
I was in Lewes the other day, and bought this annual at The Fifteenth Century Bookshop. I'd been looking for it for years. Pre-1970 Christmas annuals are getting rare nowadays, because not all that many have survived in a state worth selling. They were of course bought for little children to enjoy until they fell to pieces - so some sort of wear and tear is always to be expected! Those you can see on the shelves of second-hand bookshops, generally dog-eared and tatty, are usually the most recent editions. The older ones are always 'under the counter' or 'behind the glass' to preserve them from further damage, and you have to ask the shop owner about them.
Collectable examples in pretty good condition, with no pages missing or torn across, and the hardboard cover completely intact, including the spine, command serious money. This one was not completely unblemished, but it was definitely in pretty good shape. The lady who owned the shop had priced it at £40. I was crestfallen when I discovered this, but she was kind to me and let me have it for £35. She must have realised that I was genuinely eager to have it, and was not simply a tourist.
I was so very keen to buy it because although I must have owned at least two Rupert annuals when young, this is the one I remember. It was another link between the Then and the Now that I wanted to re-establish, so that I could recover some of my childhood, and if possible find out where I went wrong.
For I do regard myself as a 'failed child'. But not irretrievably so. Some bits can be mended. Maybe some bits can be understood as never before. I can bring the perspective of decades to bear (no pun intended). Besides, something like this is 'interactive' - you can read it again and again, and with each reading recapture something - what you loved, what it meant, how it worked on your imagination, and what it might have led on to.
So this was a door-opening purchase, even more so than the two Ladybird books I bought not long ago (see my post Hares, bunnies, wild flowers and wild cats on 31 January 2013).
For anyone not familiar with Rupert Bear, this article will give a brief outline, and includes references to follow up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Bear.
Let's see what's inside. Inside the front and back covers is a lamplit scene, by a dark pool, with stars shining above; and a Frog Chorus:
This may vaguely ring a non-Rupert bell. And you'd not be mistaken. In 1984, a short animated film was released called Rupert and the Frog Song, a creative effort of Paul McCartney's (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_and_the_Frog_Song). This was very well received, and won a BAFTA award. One song from it, which completely recalls the scene in my annual, was We All Stand Together (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_All_Stand_Together), which you either love or hate. I love it. I do wonder whether Paul McCartney (sorry, it's Sir Paul of course) secretly has his own original copy of this very annual somewhere at home. It's a thought. And maybe, just maybe, his second marriage to Heather Mills first went awry when she discovered it, and laughed. The rift wouldn't need any further genesis. Mockery of one's childhood treasures is enough to destroy the most perfect love. If anybody ever poked fun at (for instance) my Teddy Tinkoes, that would be enough to scotch any relationship between us, no matter how otherwise successful. (Paul, if my conjecture is correct, I feel for you. And if I'm wide of the mark, then I still unashamedly admire your take on the Frog Chorus)
Turning the page, there are the Contents, and a box to record who the annual belongs to:
A parent has written 'To Dear little Julie, from Mummy & Daddy, Christmas 1958'. And in the 'This book belongs to' box, is written 'Julie Burchell' with the address, '104, Bennetts Road, Horsham, Sussex'. I'm sure the Burchell family are long gone from there! But Julie must surely be alive (she'd only be my age, after all), and with a family of her own perhaps. If she is reading, I'd love to hear from her.
You must have realised by now that this particular Rupert annual couldn't have belonged to the other Julie, the well-known writer and feminist Julie Burchill. It's the 1958 annual, and she wasn't born until 1959 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julie_Burchill). Even so, it's a remarkable coincidence of names. And the coincidences don't end there. Ms Burchill was born in early July, within three days of myself, so we are both Cancer people, and in theory - if you believe this stuff - we must share a basic character. Sobering. Scary. And I wonder if it's true. She lives in nearby Brighton, too, and likes lobster. Hmmm.
As for the Julie whose annual this was, there is another coincidence: my old name J--- was very close to hers. Isn't that strange? And she might be interested to know that I lived in Horsham too (well, Broadbridge Heath) from 1989 to 1996, so there's a connection of sorts there. At any rate, it's entirely a Sussex affair: all three of us living in the county at some time, and my buying the book in Lewes, the county town.
As for Rupert himself, he surely also lived (and continues to live?) in the south-east of England, possibly in Kent (though the scenery looks distinctly North Wales at times!) - as you will see from a post yet to come. The Rupert Bear Museum is in Canterbury in Kent, where lived Mary Tourtel, the lady who introduced Rupert to the general public - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Tourtel. This is a shot of the Museum when I saw it in 2006:
When Mary Tourtel's eyesight failed another artist, Alfred Bestall, took over, and my annual is a classic example of 'mature Bestall'. He is reckoned to have given Rupert his definitive look. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Bestall) M--- (an ardent Rupert fan) loved the delicate watercolour skies that Alfred Bestall created in the background of each illustrated story, and she called them 'Rupert skies'. That was also the name we both gave to any real-life sky that looked the same. We shared many moments admiring such skies. You might say that this annual is a link to M---'s childhood too, a way of keeping at least one very pleasant part of our lost relationship alive in my heart.
You can easily see that, for all sorts of reasons, there was no way I could have handed this annual back and walked off. I simply had to secure it and take it home, to cherish for the rest of my life.
The title page comes next. I have recorded the purchase details, and signed it in the fair Melford hand:
Look at that. Mum and Dad (and Julie's Mum and Dad) had to fork out 5/-! Five bob was a fair amount for a stocking-filler in 1958, and would certainly have bought a lot of groceries in any household's weekly spend. I dare say that despite Premier Harold Macmillan (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Macmillan) declaring in 1959 that the British people had never had it so good, an extra five shillings was still difficult for some parents to find, when Christmas was a season of big expenditure anyway. Quite possibly some children did not enjoy the adventures of Rupert Bear. Which is a pity, because they are lovely adventures.
I'm afraid the next few posts are going to be rather a Rupertfest. Sorry.