Friday, 11 September 2015

We go to the gallery, where it's not a Ladybird after all

In which I go to a gallery, and find a Ladybird which turns out to be a Dung Beetle

An invitation to lunch at Dishoom in King's Cross was an opportunity for a leisurely walk there from East London, where along the way I chanced upon the Jealous Gallery.

On a table in the centre of the room was what looked like a Ladybird book, entitled We go to the gallery.

It turned out to be a hilarious spoof by Miriam Elia, an artist who was also an award-winning stand-up comic.

For those unfamiliar with them, Ladybird were a very popular series of childrens' books, in a well-known standard format, that had their heyday from in the 1960s and 70s . They were hardcover, measuring 11.5 x 18 cm, always with 56 pages so that each book could be printed from a single sheet of paper in the press. The text was on the left hand page, and on the right hand page was a full-colour   illustration. There was a series of reading primers (the Key Words Reading Scheme, which my mother used to teach me to read), as well as books covering a whole range of topics, from science and technology to history and geography.

We go to the gallery is written in the style of a Ladybird reading primer. Susan and John are in a gallery of contemporary art with their mother.

After looking through it, I bought a copy.

On my return journey after an enjoyable lunch, my eye was caught by a sign directing me to the House of Illustration, where lo and behold, there was an exhibition on Ladybird books, marking the centenary of their publication. The exhibition was immensely enjoyable, and brought back memories of many books I had enjoyed as a child.  It was fascinating to learn about the history behind the imprint, how the series was conceived, and how the publisher had employed high quality commercial artists whose illustrations were key to the style and quality of the books from the excellent video that was screened at the exhibition, and which you can see here:

On the way out, I showed my earlier purchase to the lady at the ticket desk cum shop checkout. She had heard of it but not seen it. Apparently Penguin, the current owners of Ladybird, had taken legal action against the author for violation of copyright, demanding that the books to be destroyed, and so on. We both agreed it was rather mean of them, and a bit odd since they had not objected to other items like the spoof ladybird cover postcards on sale at the shop. 

It turns out that in the original version of the book, the children were named Peter and Jane, just ike the characters in the original Ladybird readers, and the books had the Ladybird logo on them. This version had been funded through a Kickstarter campaign. Penguin objected. Eventually, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, the book was modified. The children were re-named Susan and John, and the imprint changed from Ladybird to Dung Beetle. There are now no legal objections to this re-designed version. The limited artist's edition sells for £20, and copies are still available from Jealous Gallery, or from the artist's website, where you can also pre-order the commercial version which will be released on 21 Sept for £8.99. 

Some images from the original version with Peter and Jane that got Penguin's knickers in a twist can be seen here.
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