Our visual culture has a seemingly endless appetite for nostalgia. Personally, I blame all those “I Love The …” TV programmes (“Spangles, eh, remember them?”) and the fact that today’s TV and publishing executives are the first to have come through a childhood of shared mass media consumption.
This summer saw the publication of The Dangerous Book For Boys, an unashamedly retro compendium of jolly activities designed to prise today’s pallid fatties away from their PlayStations and out into the fresh air. As well as joyfully instructing its young readers on how to make a catapult and flouting conventional wisdom with a chapter on how to teach your old dog some new tricks, the writers also included doses of the type of factual content that was once a staple of children’s weekly, Look and Learn.
In the 60s, Look and Learn shifted some 300,000 copies every week. Its team of crack illustrators launched themselves with gusto at everything from the early life of Ben-Hur to the Wonders of Nature. A typical issue might survey wildlife in the frozen Arctic, before regaling its no-doubt spellbound readers with The Story of Algebra (a real rollercoaster ride), pausing to investigate who killed William Rufus (a nobleman called Tyrell, apparently, although it could have been an accident) and ending with a brief introduction to the writings of Aristotle.
Thanks to a new website which has bought up rights to the magazine and its associated titles, many of Look and Learn’s amazing illustrations are now available to licence. Should the need arise (and we’re quite certain it will) you can download lovingly painted full colour illustrations of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots (shown below, artist unknown), English Bowmen at Agincourt or, a particular favourite, Sabre Toothed Tiger and Cavemen by Angus McBride (shown above).
PS. For a more up to date take on the Big Book Of Facts idea, check out Pick Me Up, designed by Jeremy Leslie and team and to be featured in the October issue of Creative Review.