606b People at Work 1
(easy reading)

This was the second of the "Easy-Reading" series, following on from the Bible theme of 6060a. In the inside front cover, these books point out that "even children whose reading experience is limited will be encouraged by the superb full-colour illustrations and the relatively simple text". And superb the illustrations were, created by John Berry approaching near photographic precision with a paintbrush.

The Fireman, like most in the series, was written by Vera Southgate and J Havenhand and kick-started the series in 1962. The fireman's life is certainly depicted as exciting! Certain illustrations bring back vivid memories to those of us old enough to remember those days, the telephone box with buttons A and B, plus the superb non-digital telephone exchange. Even the fire engines themselves seem tiny compared to the monster vehicles that followed them.

The Policeman is an equally wonderful depiction of the "Dixon of Dock Green" and "Carry on Constable" era. In those days police forces had "policemen on motor scooters" and we learn "there are over 200 policewomen in the country". Times changed, however, and the illustrations needed updating. Berry was called back into service, probably in the early 70's, to add more appropriate images.

The Bobby on the cover with his bakelite phone is replaced by a moustachio'd officer using a radio. The Bobby on the bicycle on page seven gives way to a flashy Jaguar. The scene on page 15 showing officers leaping out of their car is reproduced almost identically, except that the car is orange and white instead of black. It must have been strange for Berry to recreate his won work. The number of policewomen had risen from to 4,200! The text for the follow-up is credited to I & J Havenhand - presumably partners? Southgate had passed on by this time.

The Nurse was also reissued, but the illustrations were unaltered, presumably the fashions and practice of a nurse hadn't undergone such radical changes, although the uniforms certainly looked a little dated in the later edition! Curiously, the text was updated. Phrases such as "in the middle of the ward there are often tables with vases of flowers on them" vanished and "when the babies need to be fed, the nurse takes them to the mother" changed into "the nurses sometimes wear masks over their faces so that they cannot pass any germs to the babies".

Books like this must have played a significant part in helping children to decided what their future career might be. Almost without exception, life in these books is pretty rosy, with no indication of the pay structure or hours of work! However, nursing was seen for many years as a calling rather than a profession and it might be argued that the job is undervalued even today.

Next came the Fisherman, which showed no change at all from dust-jacket to decimal edition. Once again, Berry's delightful artwork was ideally suited to this kind of book. The inside cover showed a map of the North Atlantic fishing grounds - a far cry from the situation nowadays.

The opening section of the Farmer is devoted to a variety of tractors and other machines, all bright red, of course. Page 27 shows a delightful scene of hop-pickers at the trade and the rest of the book is devoted to the animals used for shows and for food. The rearing of battery hens is described without sentiment and the word "vegetarian" doesn't appear anywhere!

When you consider the struggle that Farmers have today to make ends meet, it shows what radical changes have occured to all the professions in this series and reinforces the view that these books should be seen as little time-capsules

The Builder too survived reprinting without alteration. Clearly, some occupations reflect changing fashion and technology, but builders and fishermen are not among them! Most of the illustrations within might be made today, nearly 35 years afterbthey ere made. All the jobs are carried out by specialists (plumbers, carpenters, brick-layers) and the "jack of all trades" handyman of today is nowhere to be seen. Thankfully, Berry resisted the urge to show the classic builders cleavage.

The Postman (written by Southgate alone), has a historical section at the start, then tells the tale of our much-loved posties. The men working in the sorting office sport the classic sports-casual brown overcoat and the postmen on the job (as it were) all wear caps.

The cover font was enlarged to match later editions to the series and minor changes to the inside covers occurred - the book of stamps was updated from 3/- and 5/- to 25p and 50p and the section on "how to address an envelope" was updated to include the new-fangled postcodes.

 

The Miner too begins with a historical account of mining, before switching to the present (as it was!). A somewhat sanitised view of the miners life is presented, with little or no mention of the extreme conditions in which they work, or the dangers to their health. On the inside rear cover, there is a fascinating map of "where Britain's coal is mined". Comparing that to today's map would be a salutory experience. Inddeed, the book admits that "some of our coalfields are nearly worked out", but "teams are seeking new seams to make sure that there will always be plenty of coal.

As with the rest of the volumes in this series, there is no social context introduced in the text. Whether this was because the company felt it wasn't appropriate for the age of the readership, or simply because they wanted to present a rose-tinted view of the trades available to a young man or woman is open to conjecture.

The Soldier, in 1966, was the first in the series to be issued in the matt cover, dust-jacket-less format. Written by I & J Havenhand, illustrated by Berry, it is, as you might expect, full of tanks, guns, rockets and other exciting bits of machinery. Today’s high technology is not much in evidence; "all regiments of the army have radios in case the telephone wires get broken". The engineers have an especially exciting job; "radios, watches, telphones, rockets, tanks and helicopters are among the many things that the soldiers mend in their workshops". However, nowhere in the book does it mention that the ultimate job of the fighting soldier is to kill people...

The later edition of the book (issued under the non-fiction spine label) was unchanged, except the usual revised black and white line-art on the inside title page.

Following the Soldier, the Sailor and Airman followed in 1967, using the same editorial team. Barry’s technical expertise shines out of the illustrations of ships and he can be perhaps forgiven for the cheesy grin on the face of the rating who is dashing up the stairs on the cover shot. On page 51 there is a great shot of a sailor falling out of his hammock. Various guided misslies are explained, including the "seacat" and charmingly named "seaslug". As with the Soldier and Airman, the inside covers illustrate medals and badges of rank.

The Airman (in the Royal Air Force) was, like the other two, quite a "person centred" depiction, written as a recruiting advert. Everyone is skilled, everyone gets on with their fellow officers and you get to ride in exciting new jets, such as the Gnat and the F111 (which Berry clearly had only a passing knowledge of!).

It clearly wasn't a good idea to tell the kiddies that the Vulcan Bomber was routinely armed with nuclear weapons, but we learn that the two pilots "take turns at flying the bomber" and that at Biggin Hill, they are tested "to see if they are clever enough to fly aircraft"!

Part two of this series...

The Fireman 62 The Airman in the RAF 67
The Policeman 62 The Road Makers 67
The Nurse 63 The Car Makers 68
The Fisherman 63 The Shipbuilders 69
The Farmer 63 The Pottery Makers 69
The Builder 65 The Life-boat Men 71
The Postman 65 In a Hotel
The Miner 65 The Customs Officer 72
The Soldier 66 On the Railways 72
The Sailor 67 In a Big Store 73

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