Blue Peter- England’s Dream Of Childhood

It is the 60th anniversary of Blue Peter. Described airily as a “magazine show” to those unfamiliar with its sui generis format, Blue Peter has sat in the BBC schedule as unwaveringly as the 9 O’Clock News for a televisual eon.

The reason, I suspect with an outsider’s perspective, is that Blue Peter is the collective dream of English childhood given form and that the culture could no more abandon that dream then it could abandon the idea of adulthood embodied in the News.

I say an English dream of childhood, rather than a British one, because whether they knew it or not, Blue Peter has never been about how children in Scotland, or Wales (and certainly not Northern Ireland) lived and played and imagined. They may well have all had the same dreams and been excited by the same Blyton-esque mix of pluck, exploration, make and do and dogs.

These were English pals (and the capacity to cast really likeable sorts for Blue Peter remains one of its spectacular skills) mucking in, or mucking about. Digging in the Blue Peter garden, exploring the British landscape (though always through the eyes of the English visitor), having adventures, making biscuits or honest terrible Christmas decorations and so on and so on.

But in fact, the producers (well, really the founding master and commander of Blue Peter, Biddy Baxter) understood their ostensibly factual programme was playing in the imagination as much as any Doctor Who or Wombles.

Blue Peter has pets, because there are many children who would like to have a pet, but can’t. And Biddy Baxter gave those children dogs and cats to live with- animals who would grow up and then old with them.

She imagined living in one of the newly built, post-war estates of high rise flats. So the Blue Peter Garden was created, so those children would have a garden- a patch of nature to tend along with the presenters.

Biddy Baxter understood that the reality of many children’s lives was not Blyton, but Kes. But her programme chose to offer them an escape, not a mirror. Even the famous Blue Peter badge- a talisman which allowed the bearer to access museums, galleries and the rest of the cultural world at discount or for free- was an unacknowledged effort to spread that access to children who might never manage it any other way.

None of this was ever acknowledged on screen, but was a quiet river of radicalism buried under the conventional enthusiasms of the middle classes.

Even the famous fund raising feats of the Blue Peter Appeal- where tens of thousands of children sent in bottle-tops or other tokens of value to help a charity- were more than their apparent Good Works at the Village Fête. What they really tried to demonstrate to children was the potential of collective action to make change.

A 60 year anniversary in television is an achievement difficult to imagine being repeated by any programme starting now.

Blue Peter’s continuing power comes from having offered more than imagined friends, pets or gardens.

It offered an imagined England that was always consciously and deliberately better than the real thing- because children deserved better.

Just there, in that studio, twice a week, England’s dreaming.

And just for once, we should be glad of it.

Theme Tunes as Madelines

“Ha ha thisaway, haha thataway, ha ha thisaway, my oh my.” This line, which reads like a mid seventies Eurovision runner up, is actually the chorus of the theme tune for a 1980s children’s programme called Wizbit. 

I know this because it is stored in my brain. Somewhere inside my head is a place where Paul Daniels is forever singing that song. Nearby, “In the heart of Transylvania, in the vampire hall of fame,yeah” the plot of Count Duckula is constantly being set out in rhyming couplets. Henry’s Cat’s self evident fame is being asserted (“You must have seen the movie, you must have read the book./He’s a mellow, yellow feline, so take a second look”) while Top Cat’s social position is vieing for attention with no apologies to Cole Porter (“The Indisputable Leader of the Gang./He’s the boss, he’s the pip, he’s the championship…”)

I forget my own birthday. I cannot recognise you if you change your hairstyle. I am actually uncertain what age I am. But, through whatever quirk of my synapses, I can provide you with poorly sung renditions of the theme tune of almost any television programme I have ever seen.

In case there be any doubt, this is a lot of television programmes. 

For children’s television, a theme tune has to do the usual job of setting the tone for what’s about to come. But, frequently, it also has to give us the set up- the controlling plot of the programme is outlined in lyric form before the opening credits have finished, freeing the writers from reintroducing the situation over and over again. 

Duckula is a vegetarian vampire duck. Top Cat is, well Top Cat is actually Sgt Bilko, but his defining characteristic is that he is the Leader of the Gang. Henry’s Cat has, for reasons unexplained, an absurdly high opinion of himself. 

Wizbit goes thisaway and thataway at the behest of Paul Daniels. (The paradigm doesn’t always hold true.)

The theme tune can sometimes give the programme more of a boost than it deserves. 

Jamie and the Magic Torch was a pleasurable enough Yellow Submarine derived cartoon. But by the time we were into the cartoon itself we had already been whipped up into a frenzy of excitement by this;

Dear God, can there be anything more exciting than that guitar kicking in?

How Music Hall conquered the world through CRACKERJACK!

In America, they called it Vaudeville. In Britain it was Variety or Music Hall.

Buy a ticket and sit amongst your fellow rowdies to watch the succession of acts do their thing on stage. If you didn’t think much of plate spinning- or a bit of Shakespeare being declaimed- just let them know about it until someone else came on.

Comedy sketches, character sketches, leggy lovelies in chorus lines, magicians and actors toured the provincial towns. Rising or falling on the Bill (the poster listing that night’s acts) their careers waxed or waned in public.

There was a sharp line drawn between legitimate theatre (as it called itself) and the Music Hall. The Music Hall audience were just a bit too literally the Great Unwashed. Acting had spent long centuries professionalising and building respect for its artistes. Mixing in a world of dancing dogs and ventriloquists’ dummies was too close to returning to the roots of English theatre for comfort.

Theatre remains, but the Music Halls are closed. But Music Hall as a form has triumphed. It is the dominant entertainment form of modern television. Strictly Come X-Factor Idol Dancing On Ice is a stylized set of acts doing their turns in front of a baying, critical audience. You can even still boo the acts off the stage (though now you’re charged for the privilege, via premium text lines).

But while supercharged mega budget Variety booms there are some corners of the telly universe where the old fashioned values of mucking about in front of a rowdy audience continue. Those places, of course, are on CBeebies.

The relationship between the Music Hall Tradition and children’s television is very old. In fact, it was into kid’s TV that many stars (and they were stars. The music hall acts were the big, big names of their day) drifted even before the last of the actual music halls closed.

Now, I’m about to introduce you to someone who is completely unknown to you, but who was one of the best known- and best loved- of all performers for years in the UK. This is Richard Hearne playing his lifelong character, Mr. Pastry.

Mr. Pastry was the first person to ever get their own BBC television series. The character was created in the 1930s, and 40 years later he was still so popular that he was considered as a replacement for John Pertwee as Doctor Who. Mr. Pastry was so famous he used to appear regularly on the Ed Sullivan show in the US. I don’t care if you’ve never heard of him. He was a star.

Look upon his works, O ye mighty, and despair.

Now, take a look at Cbeebie’s latest vehicle for Justin Fletcher (and perhaps silent justification for moving to the huge, far away studios of Salford) Justin’s House. It’s recorded in front of an audience of screaming, hopped-up children, featuring frequent custard pies to the face, a unicycling delivery lady and a new addition to the rolls of Gay Robots.

Justin is one of the CBeebies megastars. He is a clown, fluent in sign language, who also does sketch comedy. By my reckoning he has been the star of four seperate series. He’s done silent slapstick with Higgildy House. He’s been a clown, as his alter ego Mr. Tumble in Something Special. But, to my mind, his apogee so far has been Gigglebiz. This is music-hall.

Now, remember the hyped-up audience of kids in Justin’s House? Add them to Gigglebiz’s sketches. What do you get?

“It’s Friday, it’s five o’clock, it’s Crackerjack! (CRACKERJACK!!)”

There is no call more assured of a response from a certain age group of TV watchers than to mention Crackerjack. You’ll always get the audience cry back. Here’s why:

Crackerjack first appeared on thick-glassed black and white screens in 1955. It was hosted by avuncular Eamon Andrews and was filmed in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theater– which had been built as an actual Music Hall fifty years earlier. The turns and acts for those early shows just carried on doing what they always did- except to a spectacularly excited prepubesent audience.

Even after moving to Television Centre, Crackerjack remained a protected reservation for sketch artists, stage magicians and plate spinners, even as their natural habitats died out. Music-hall as a form of entertainment was probably terrible most of the time. The acts were likely to be little better than the early rounds of Britain’s Got Talent (itself another throwback to the Variety tradition) in any given provincial town’s show.

But as a form, it is near to a perfect match for modern television’s fashions. Its rapid changes in tone and that little edge from knowing that the audience is sitting there watching and waiting for something to go wrong combine to ensure that entertainment is placed above all the high minded virtues of the Reithian televisual diet. Children’s television spent decades keeping that ember alive.

Cbeebies continues that love affair today. But the preservation of the form is of less importance than it once was. The preciously preserved Theatre has dwindled to a minority interest, where the same people go out to see each other in the interval every few weeks.

But Music-hall? Music-hall hid inside children’s Television until, eventually, Television became Music-hall.

Century Falls: The future comes for us all

Century Falls is dark. Dark, Dark, Dark. I’m reasonably sure there isn’t another children’s drama series which ends with a suicide. I’m confident that there isn’t another which presents that suicide as the rational response to the events that have gone before. 

Century Falls is the creation of Russell T. Davis, later famous for writing Queer as Folk and regenerating Doctor Who. But this is his early work, and as we all know, when you are a talented writer, before you can strike off into your future,  you first have to turn back and deal with your childhood. Well, Russell is Welsh. And our story happens in as rural a Welsh setting as you could manage to create on screen without actually setting it underground. Russell was also an outsider teen. And our hero is a fat teenaged girl. We know she’s fat, because we can see she is and we know everyone else sees it too because they regularly refer to her as the ‘fat girl’. She doesn’t get thin during the story. She doesn’t get a makeover. She is a fat girl. Russell doesn’t have to tell us the consequences for her of that fact. He knows and trusts us to know too. 

The village is full of old people. In fact, there are usually only old people in the village. The local lordling, Naismith, is a comparative youngster in his forties. Everywhere else, the old women and men shuffle around the cobbled streets of their slate grey world, keeping tabs on each other and on the newcomers- Tess and her pregnant mother. 

The only other children are a pair of twins- meek Carey struggling to keep her frankly borderline psychopathic brother Ben from doing too much damage with the psychic powers which seem to be leaking out of him. They’ve been called back to the village by their Uncle, Naismith, for reasons which owe nothing to family affection. 

The plot unwinds at a fair clip- Century Falls has been home to generations of psychics. Forty years ago, prompted by the two of them with the strongest powers, they attempted to create a godlike being to protect themselves from the encroaching future. The ceremony went wrong, their temple burt down and from that moment on no children have ever been born in the village. 

Now Naismith plans to repeat the failed ceremony, powered by his unbalanced but staggeringly powerful nephew, creating a monstrous immortal foetus which will use its mother as its puppet, never being born. And Tess’ mother and unborn sister will be rewritten, their futures erased as Century’s first victims.

I did tell you it was dark. 

So, that’s the plot. But what is is really about?

Oh, you know, loneliness. The loneliness of being an only child. The loneliness of childlessness. The loneliness of being different. 

The loneliness of being stuck in a fucking nowhere town, where nothing happens and everyone is ancient. The loneliness of having got old, and finding you’re still stuck in the same fucking nowhere town you’ve lived your whole life and you didn’t really find anyone to share your life. 

Afraid of what the future might bring, the villagers destroyed their own futures. Presented with a second chance, they almost make the same mistake. But, this time the impulse is charged with their need to grab at their last chance to create something to outlast themselves. Are there even any villains in Century Falls? Or is everyone too flawed and too human to be classed as evil?

And where is our hope? The pinprick of light in our pitch prison? It comes as Tess takes the step the entire village has been avoiding for 40 years and embraces an uncertain future as a sister. Disaster is only just averted. But I’m not sure we can say we have a happy ending. Tess’ family is saved, but their future is still as uncertain as all of ours is. The villagers accept living the remainder of their lives without being able to control how they will turn out. And the character who has seemed closest to a villain ends as a tragic figure- empty inside, having been hollowed out decades before, she cannot find any future for herself at all, and simply steps off a cliff to die.

Into The Labyrinth: The Nidus, denied no more.

Children wander into a cave and find an immortal, fading to non-existence. The source of his power, the Nidus, has been taken from him (somehow) and exists all across space and time simultaneously (somehow). If he can get hold of it again, he will regain his strength and finally escape from his rocky prison and defeat his eternal enemy Belor (of the evil eye?).

That’s the setup for the second oddest children’s quest series of the 1980s, Into The Labryinth.

I watched all of these programmes (there were three series’, of diminishing returns) when they were first aired and watching back over them now I initially had to ask myself what the grip they had on my imagination might have been. 

Of course, they involved travels through time, a plot device I find irresistible to this day. And, though it didn’t look like it by the tired end of the sequence, there were seeds of originality and mysterious grandeur planted from that opening episode. Is is not every day you encounter a race of immortals (or possibly just a pair of them? It wasn’t clear.) with immense magical powers who would gradually fade from existence if kept apart from the source of their power. Certainly, not just before you had to do your homework. 

Looking at the video of the opening episode (with thanks, as usual to my unknown YouTube benefactors) I felt the tug again. Into the Labyrinth is powered by two performances. Both are certainly larger than life. Ron Moody, as Rothgo, is the still centre. Brooding, insulting and with more than a hint of despair showing through, he acts through his eyes. 

The villain of the piece is Balor, who chews the scenery into pulp as she uses every impossible illusion, disguise and deceit to Deny Them The Nidus. 

“I deny you the Nidus!”

Balor, played as a kind of immortal superbitch Charlies Angel, intervenes at the end of every episode to prevent resolution by sending the Nidus to yet another time period (in a cave. They were always in a cave. You could travel to any time you liked, so long as you found yourself in a cave when you got there).

The formula was constant, predicable and almost unlevened by anything resembling character development. Nonetheless, as I say, the first series had hinted at grandeur. So, here, the Blytonish brother and sister are led by an exceptionally bright and know-it-all black teenager. That leadership is, from the start, not something the younger brother (who definitely wasn’t a brother) was particularly happy about. But he never refers to the source of his sulky irritation openly. A tiny subtle brushstroke. 

Also, they are setting out to assist Rothgo. But what will he do if he gets his hands on the Nidus, and becomes all-powerful? After all, it isn’t for nothing that immortals are imprisoned encased in blocks of stone and buried deep inside mountainsides. What if bringing him the Nidus isn’t that hot an idea after all? He doesn’t reassure us when questioned on his intentions;

“I may use my powers in a way that is not evil. Does that equal good? Or I may use them in a way that is not good. Is that evil? I find it almost impossible to explain to minds that run on rails the concept of the noetic state.

I know. You’re worried you might be the kind of person whose mind runs on rails, seeing as you were previously unaware of the word noetic, or what state it was in. When was the last time that ever happened to you watching Downton Abbey? Worry not, I’m here to look it up in the dictionary for you.  

noetic |nōˈetik|
of or relating to mental activity or the intellect.
ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Greek noētikos, from noētos ‘intellectual,’ from noein ‘perceive.’"

I think you’ll agree that we’ve all learned something now. I realised that was the point of the series, and what kept me coming back. Buried in amongst all the amulets, witches and immortals was exactly the same intent which prompted the creation of Doctor Who. We were to be introduced to lots of educational bits of history and myth through the device of time travel. The English Civil War, the French Revolution, the story of Theseus and the Minitor, the Arabian Nights, druidic England, Robin Hood- all introduced and stuffed into the viewers brains through the letterbox of the Nidussy. 

And, in case there is any doubt about where I stand on the matter, both history and myth are brilliant. 

There was one more grain rubbing from inside the story clam. The entire series was produced by HTV, the Welsh ITV network. For a Welsh audience, finding an immortal exiled for eternity to a cave, seeking (what turns out to be) a sword to restore him to his power… well, there’s only one thing that could mean. 

There were two more series. They were rubbish. But for seven episodes, there was something ambivalent, strange and exciting on the telly. Of course I watched it. How could I not?

Is treating children as people a Modernist idea?

In 2009 I happened to attend The Toys of the Avant-Garde, a temporary exhibition held in the Picasso Museum in Malaga. A multi-lingual book was published as the catalog to the Picasso Museum’s exhibition of the same name. It was a bitter disappointment. The Museum was credited as publisher. No author was named on the cover. The images were lovely, and fascinating. But the writing, on casual inspection, was bad verging on terrible.

In contrast, the exhibition itself was filled with very interesting things- objects and quotes. All were the product of an effort, an artistic effort as well as a social and political one, to treat children with respect and to aid them in their development. The modernist movement, or at least some of its artistic adherents, believed that by encouraging children to be imaginative and creative, they could free the next generation from the errors which had just blighted the world. 

Amongst the exhibits included a room filled with the furniture designed for children’s rooms and for Primary Schools across Europe. The surprising thing is how the artists hit upon many of the things which are now taken for granted. Many of the model furnished rooms could have come from a current Primary School and not look out of place. Clean lines, solid construction, bright colours and the placement of items such as hooks and rails at a height suitable for children to use themselves were all part of the movement’s efforts to respect that the fact that they were not designing for a School Board, or government. Rather they were designing for the children themselves. 

Also included were examples of wooden toys and games. Of great interest to me were the building block sets described as Kindergarten Gift Sets. Though spectacularly expensive when first introduced, the idea was to allow the children of a village or neighbourhood to create objects together and explore the physical world, in groups, in as open a way as possible, through free play. A collection of geometric shapes, arches and curves, the sets were painted in bold colours and instantly familiar to anyone who has been a child in the last 70 years.

And finally, as a special treat for me, I turned around and found myself looking at original pages from the Chicago Sunday Tribune Kin-der-kids comic strip, sent to the paper from Germany, where their creator was also an established modernist artist. Also, even better, the framed artist’s sketches for the famous introductory cartoon of the Author/artist Lyonel Feininger as puppet master with his soon to be introduced characters as his playthings. The Kin-der-kids weren’t mainly intended for children to read- they were a mass audience strip. But I can’t resist the chance to use the picture as I love it so. 

The Box of Delights (part 1): History, Place and Evil

RADA-voiced schoolboy Kay Harker has an adventure between the Winter solstice and Christmas Eve in the 1930s. But he is just our cypher to experience the Box of Delights’ real stars- the heros, villains and dreamlike mythical figures who explode from the screen. 

I have struggled to try to write this with some sort of distance. But it’s impossible. This is one of the pieces of television which became part of my personal memories of childhood Christmas’. Shown in 1984, when I was impressionably 8, it played across six weeks leading up to Christmas Eve midnight mass. It is unquestionably the best ‘classical’ children’s book adaptation of the 1980s.

I re-watched it all recently, for the first time in 26 years. It is still magical. And I still got the heebie-jeebies from the forces of evil. These aren’t generic ‘Bad Guys’. The villains in The Box of Delights are malevolence personified. As the Punch and Judy man tells the young Master Harker, he (and they) date back to pagan times.

On the surface, Kay faces a criminal gang committing kidnaps for ransom. This is the stuff of boys’ pulp fiction. Kay first encounters them when he is tricked out of his money by two clergymen playing find the lady on the train. They steal his purse for good measure. 

Petty thievery and base disguise. In many children’s books of the period this would have been enough to establish this gang as the antagonists to be defeated. But these men are more than just thieves. The jolt as one of them becomes a looming wolf, just for a moment before the train goes into the tunnel, caught me still on rewatching. Even though the wolf is, to adult eyes, clearly one of the BBC props department’s less convincing stuffed animals. The fright comes from the leap the viewer has to make. Having pegged the clergymen as shabby con artists, we are jolted into a reappraisal. Their supernatural aspect underlines the Punch and Judy man’s warnings when Kay alights.

Kay finds he faces a pack of wolves, of hunters, who the Punch and Judy man Cole Harkins warns are running him ‘very close’. He eventually gives Kay his magical Box of Delights to hold for safekeeping, before being captured. Abner Brown, the Wolves’ pack leader, is a malevolent sorcerer. 

The link to English myth (an almost forgotten underground river, buried by Britain and Empire) seems to stem from an awareness of the landscape of England as a constant, if slumbering, presence. John Masefield, the book’s author, was the British Poet Laureate and he drew the inspiration for his verse from the rural constants of streams, fields and forests. The series’ director managed to convey that sense of place unchanging across time with wide shots framing the characters as temporary moving elements in eternally still landscapes.

This timelessness of place centers on the snow covered barrow standing in a field near Kay Harker’s home. The boys get up just after dawn and find themselves alone in the landscape. The country is blanketed in snow. Walking through the silent, early morning blankness, they could be in any time. The seasons, the barrow and the countryside are all as they have always been.

This still heart lies under the layers of action. 

All of which is to take us to the moment in the dark of midwinter when Kay, in a white cloak and cowl, climbs onto the back of a white horse, jumps to the top of the barrow and lands in King Arthur’s Camp. Time has slipped back who knows how many years, but yet here we are on the same mound in the dead of midwinter. And despite the timeslip, the camp is still besieged by the wolves. They breach the stockade and are fought back. 

Evil is eternal. But so, it seems, is Cole Hawkins.

The story’s ability to call on the depths of near-forgotten history, attached to a strong sense of place, gives The Box of Delights its most mysterious and wonderful sequence. Herne the Hunter draws Kay into his Wild Wood. They then transform, in an extended wordless hand-drawn animated sequence, into stags, into geese, into fish. Each time, they exult in their freedom only to be threatened. Hunted by wolves, then a hawk and then a pike.

The message is never spoken, never spelt out. After the extended animated sequence, Herne simply asks Kay if he saw the sequence of threats. Whether running in the woods, flying in the air or swimming the lakes the same forces are waiting for us. They take different forms, depending on our environment- wolves, hawk, pike or crooks. But they are the same universally present force of evil, the bringers of death and destruction. They are the predators who wish to make us their prey. 

A message which can hardly be divorced from the circumstances of 1930s Britain. 

The Window in the Corner

You see, if you want to read about children’s television, it is remarkably hard to actually find books about the programmes themselves. Mostly, books pretending to be about television for children are actually about controlling children. Or, if you prefer euphemism, asserting that children are being corrupted by the programmes. No doubt, you’ll find the ones warning about gay teletubbies if you look hard enough.

Alternatively, you can have academic works repackaged for general readers. These are mostly unreadable data-dumps. The unfortunate toilers in the mines of scholarship are understandably keen to present all those hard won interviews and survey forms. But what about us, the poor readers? Nobody cares about what we may have wanted. 

At the other end, the nostalgia television book market peddles recycled plot synopses, page filling press kit photographs and glib unoriginality. This is the equivalent of gorging on food pills when what you’d like is a good old plate of ravioli. Unsatisfactory, fails to meet your needs and unenjoyable with it.

Ruth Inglis’ book promises ‘A Half-century of Children’s Television’. What she mostly gives us is a thinking persons decade by decade highlights reel. That may seem like faint praise, but when the alternatives look like this you quickly come to appreciate the value of actual highlights combined with decent quality thinking. 

Alienation: A Tea-Time Treat

I recently wrote about The Changes (1975) as an example of the alienation from society which children’s television dramas reflected as the UK’s postwar social contract was torn apart.

Whatever the reason, the shape of children’s dramas was rarely the reassuring US superhero narrative arc of the dangerous outsider being heroically repelled. Rather, we may almost take it for granted that the pillars of establishment we meet in a CBBC drama are either corrupt and malevolent or stupid and ineffectual. Village leaders will try to stone children as witches, or turn out to be in league with an ancient evil stuck in a black hole. Parents will be distant or absent at best, or actively obstructive at worst.

Of course, if you are going to have a young protagonist, narratively it helps to set them up as having to act without the safety net of adult assistance. Famously, Roald Dahl disposed of the hero’s parents in James and the Giant Peach by casually having them eaten by a rhino in the opening pages. 

But there is more to this than just upping the stakes for our heros. Britain since Suez was a place where the people in charge were more likely to be wrong than right. The nation learned that, at best, authority figures were just making it up as they went along. Just as likely, they were lying. 

The writers who grew up through that humiliation of the 1950s Suez fumbles, lived through the upheavals of the 1960s settled into their writing career in the 1970s. After all that had happened, is it surprising that they spent the next 30 years drumming the same message- Do Not Trust Power- into their viewers? 

Alternatively, you could argue that children on the cusp of adulthood are naturally alienated from adult society, but no longer fully in the childhood state. Is it any wonder that children’s dramas are filled with only children? Every child feels themselves alone. 

Some dramas tackled this head on. Archer’s Goon, an adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’ superlative book of the same name, deals (as every one of her novels do in one way or other) with the problem of families. Screaming sisters, unreliable fathers, gods and monsters in the family. Who wouldn’t feel out of place and unsettled trying to develop a sense of self in those circumstances? The creators’ understood that the children watching were likely struggling with the same emotions, even if not actually fighting a family of wizards while doing it.

Children struggle to find their place in adult society under even the best conditions. And writers, trying to make sense of both their experiences of society and to communicate them to children, have to balance reassurance with warnings. The magic comes when the writer and the children both recognise each other as co-conspirators. When each whispers, in view of the grown ups, but unheeded by them “We are not like them.”