cbThe Boy's Own PAPER, the singular version of the Boy's Own ANNUAL, the legendary British story paper!
"A delightful publication of the first order, my boy!" Bill Hall, Aussie collector
Just ONE page on the Collecting Books and Magazines web site based in Australia.
Page finalised 9th October, 2010.
Articles this page (c) Jim Mackenzie, 2001
< July, 1904 cover title header.
cb The Boy's Own Paper by Jim Mackenzie (C) 2001

88 Years – Not a Bad Innings !
So, on January 18th, 1879, the first edition rolled off the presses and went on sale. It really was a question of the right person in the right place at the right time with the right product.

The Right Time
The idea for B.O.P. was first raised in 1878 by the Religious Tract Society who wanted to launch a weekly paper for boys so that they could be steered clear of the rash of "Penny Dreadfuls" that had sprung into life after the famous 1870 Education Act that made schooling compulsory for all. Boys in increasing numbers were clamouring for something to read and B.O.P. was intended to provide first-class stories for boys of all backgrounds and ensure at the same time that they met an underlying Christian morality during their formative years.

The Right Person
The right person was, of course, the first editor, Andrew Hutchison, who had already cut his teeth on a magazine for the boys of Dr. Barnado's and on another with the unlikely title of "Toilers of the Deep". Hutchison was a man of great energy and a strong sense of humour. Moreover he was reputed to have that knack of being able to provide boys with not just what they "ought" to have but also with he knew they wanted to have. Strangely he claimed he had no skills as a writer himself and that all he could do was edit. He was fascinated by sport and science and he had that invaluable instinct for finding and encouraging talented young writers that is essential for the success of any magazine venture.

First issue

July, 1915

August, 1936

The Right Place and The Right Product
In its earliest version B.O.P. was a weekly paper of 16 pages, in a buff-brown cover, and cost the princely sum of 1 penny. Many copies of this first edition were in fact given away in schools to ensure a good circulation. Another tremendous factor in its immediate success was the railway system of Great Britain and the one thousand railway bookstalls of Mr. W.H. Smith. These railway bookstalls became the central distributing agency for all the towns and cities which they serviced. As the reputation of Hutchison's little weekly grew it was apparently not unusual to see a crowd of boys waiting for the arrival of B.O.P. at the station on publication day.

Inside the Covers
Much of what was published in the early B.O.P.'s was not unusual for its time. A young reader could expect to find science, natural history, puzzles, school and adventure stories, essay competitions, and personal reminiscences – all delivered with a "healthy moral tone" of course. However, either Hutchison was a publishing genius or he had the most extraordinary stroke of luck, for amongst the first scripts submitted for the opening edition of his new magazine was a story entitled "My First Football Match by an Old Boy". Without hesitation he picked it to have pride of place on the front page of the very first edition. The author was Talbot Baines Reed, a remarkable man, and regarded by many as the best writer ever of public school stories. Yes, remarkable indeed, for Reed never ever attended public school ! Very soon, however, he was the B.O.P.'s first assistant editor and from 1880 to 1893 his stories were all first serialised in the magazine before becoming genuine best-sellers in book-form.

Famous Contributors
In the wake of this storytelling phenomenon came other writers that still remain household names – Jules Verne, R.M. Ballantyne, Henty, Algernon Blackwood, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Typically, when he needed an article on cricket, Hutchison succeeded in securing the services of the great W.G.Grace. Amongst regular correspondents in the columns of the B.O.P. in its early days was Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout Movement. Already, years before the momentous 1908, he was urging boys to do a good deed everyday and "to live clean, manly and Christian lives".

During the 1890's the target audience of the B.O.P. appeared to shift away from the poorer sections of society, and useful advice to boys who worked in factories was increasingly replaced by the interests of grammar and public school boys. However, it should be noted that the revenue from its sales continued to support orphanages in Britain and charitable activities in India, China and Africa. In its contents sport and the sporting ethic grew even more in importance and photographs of rugby teams and of the competitors in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race were regular features.

Christmas Number for 1906

From Weekly to Monthly
In September, 1912, Hutchison died, still working flat out on the next weekly edition of B.O.P., and his place was taken by Arthur Lincoln Haydon who edited the magazine until 1924. The monthly schedule and the new format of two columns instead of three were introduced in 1914 and remained in place for the remainder of its long career. The price rose to 1 shilling and six pence by 1918 and the BOP braced itself for life after World War 1.

During the 1920's the magazine continued to thrive and the third editor, Geoffrey Pocklington (from 1924 – 1933) secured the services of Major Charles Gilson, one of the leading boys' fiction writers of the time. Mention should also be made of the many talented artists that have made invaluable contributions to the visual impact of the B.O.P. since its early days. These include Stanley L. Wood, R. Caton Woodville and the long-serving Alfred Pearse who was a staff artist for over 50 years. In other ways every attempt was made to keep up with the changing times and articles would appear on subjects as diverse as making radio sets, gun-laying, motor-cycling and winter sports. It even managed to survive the industrial and political problems thrown up by the General Strike. By the time of the B.O.P's 50th birthday in 1929 its continued fame was reflected by the attendance of Mr. Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister, at the Jubilee luncheon.

It Survived Hitler's Bombs
In 1941 the home of Boys' Own Paper was 4, Bouverie Street, Fleet Street, London, E.C.4. Two incendiary attacks during the great air raids on London completely burned out the premises but, such was the spirit of the whole team, that the famous magazine never failed to come out. This is a Boy's Own Paper story in itself. For seven years its headquarters moved to a country house in Redhill Surrey and remained there until the original headquarters was rebuilt.

It Grows Old
By the time of 75th anniversary, as recorded in the March, 1954 edition, it was claiming to be going from strength to strength. The then editor, Jack Cox, claimed, "Its world readership has never been higher than today, for B.O.P. is now read in 51 countries. (We had letters from readers in 17 countries in one day in October last.)"

The same spirit that inspired the founders is to be found in a 1954 article by Stanley Matthews, the celebrated England footballer, who recorded the following incident :
"A small boy in one of our large industrial towns once asked me, "What does it feel like to play for England ?" I could see that he was puzzled and very, very interested. "Do you play soccer, son ?" I asked him. He nodded. "Then you know what it's like to play for England. Every boy in England who does his best to play a good clean, worth-while game is playing for his country."

And dies
Sadly, just 13 years later, in 1967, the last volume (number 89) went out for sale for the last time and Boys Own Paper, to use another sporting metaphor, retreated to the pavilion after a long and worthwhile innings. It was gone but not forgotten. #

A Treasure Trove From the Fifties by Jim Mackenzie

The Last Flowering of Boys' Own Paper
A friend of mine recently unearthed a hidden treasure in a small Northumberland bookshop. It was 44 copies of Boys' Own Paper from the period 1953 to 1957. Both of us, alas, were far too young to remember these magazines when they first came out and, by the 1960's, the world of television appears to have absorbed the youth of the nation. Magazines like BOP began to wither and die. We who came later can only wonder at a world that has disappeared. Indeed, it was like entering a whole new territory when we began to glance at the covers with their strange and somewhat nave illustrations and to turn tentatively through the pages and scan the tiny print. Come with me now and let me see if I can take you there – just for a while.

Tellers of Tales
Naturally we started with the stories. First there was W.E.Johns and Biggles. At this discovery my friend's palms began to itch. Biggles was big money and collectors might pay a tidy sum to have the first printing and the original illustrations that turned up later in the volumes of short stories such as "Biggles' Chinese Puzzle" and "Biggles Air Detective". Regrettably this get-rich-quick scheme had to be abandoned when we were reliably informed that only the WEJ stories in magazines from the 1930's were really valuable.

October, 1953

November, 1955

December, 1956

Still, Biggles, the leading boys' hero of the century, was a sure sign of quality and we scanned the other authors' names with some interest. Gosh – there was Hammond Innes, who by the 1950's was already making a name for himself as a writer of serious adventure stories for adults. Eric Leyland, a prolific author of the "Flame", "Red Lawson" and "Steven Gale", adventures also made many contributions. As well as short stories there were serials, including "Jackals of the Sea" by Arthur Catherall and "Majorca Moon" by Jack Cox, the editor of BOP during this period. Lesser known but extremely regular fiction contributors were John Bancroft, C.T. Stoneham, Gerald Wyatt, and Geoffrey Morgan. An issue selected at random, November 1956, promises such delights as "Elephant Curse", "The Orang-Utan Run (Part 3)", "The Fiery Thunderbird", "The Incredible Captain Grant" and "Feud in Soho" by Leonard Gribble. Now, there is a name to conjure with. Leonard Gribble, the compiler of many books of true crime stories, had for many of these 1950's editions contributed a little piece of fiction entitled "Ten-Minute Mystery". The idea was that Gribble would tell of the investigation of Superintendent Slade of Scotland Yard for approximately 300 – 400 words. There then would follow these enticing words:
"What was the vital clue Slade had found ? All the necessary clues are given. Solution below."
Printed upside down in italics would be the answer. I have to confess that in "The Case of the Coast Patrol" (BOP April 1955) I cheated and discovered that the murderer claimed to have walked along a beach when the tide was in (I think !).

The formula for where the stories appeared in the magazine varied very little and the usual three or four started within the first 32 pages and then suffered from the "Please turn to page 69" syndrome that banished the conclusion, or, in the case of the serial, the cliffhanger, until the last few pages, where it rubbed shoulders with the Competition Results from two months before. At times BOP would turn seasonal and you would have stories involving old inns and highwaymen for the December edition. Space stories (e.g. "Space Saboteur" by William F. Temple) in particular, appear to have divided the readership down the middle, for the Readers' Letters section in the next few editions would be full of angry comments about cheapening the quality of the beloved publication. Special anniversaries, such as the 75th birthday, would result in an outbreak of reprints by authors as famous as Jules Verne ("The Clipper of the Clouds") and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ("Uncle Jeremy's Household").

English to the fore
Next to catch our attention were the regular features which gave a valuable insight into what boys needed to know in the 1950's. Certain names hit you again and again. Ronald English was the cycling expert who appeared every month without fail. He appeared to have an inexhaustible supply of information at his fingertips – all on the subject of bikes. First of all there was the machine itself – "Overhauling a free wheel", "Spring cleaning the hub", not to mention the rather daunting "Adjusting the Handlebar and Dismantling and Reassembling the Steering Head". Next there were the exhilarating possibilities of "Cycling in the Snow" and "Let's Go Pass Storming" and the adventurous "Try these cycle routes" and "Figure-of-eight tour". On the one hand there was the dull predictability of "Your Toolbag" and "Derailleur Gear Maintenance", and on the other the enigmatic surprises of "Cycle Whilst the World Sleeps" and his best title of all, "No Bike, No Wife !" However amusing this may seem to us now, the letters from the readers all give many thanks to this expert who, as well as exhorting safety on many occasions, certainly also encouraged many young cyclists into exciting two-wheeled ventures both home and abroad.

Stamp collecting is another hobby that this magazine manages to invest with both intrigue and the exotic. Again the names L.N. and M. Williams haunt the contents list every edition. Were they father and son ? brothers ? uncle and nephew ? or even, whisper it quietly – husband and wife ? Not being interested in the subject I must confess that I have not read any of the regular columns. Again the titles are enough for me – "Fun with New Zealand" and "Are Duplicates Your Problem ?" might be reduced to the mundane if I probed into the details. Later columns became more predictable, with "Stamp of the month" being used ad nauseam.

George Graham was another contributor in whose fate I became interested. I finally decided to shuffle the 44 magazines into chronological order and began to notice astronomical articles each headed "The Night Sky in November" and so on through the months. By the time I got to June 1955 I was beginning to get worried, for Mr. Graham had begun to get to the end of the 12 months. What would happen to him when his time was up ? Would he ever write again ? My fears were justified – come September 1955 and he disappeared. I almost felt a personal sense of loss and it was with some relief that I came across his resurrection in February, 1957 with "Window to the Stars" and his follow-up the next month "Mars is so close anything might happen !" convinced me he was back into his stride. Phew !

Make leisure a pleasure
Although not quite as overwhelming as Ronald English and his cycling advice, George L. Wakefield, the photography expert, manages to give hundreds of valuable hints about both looking after your camera and how to take good snaps. Readers' competitions, with some rather striking pictures of people and places, are enlivened by friendly but firm comments about the boys' efforts. There are also articles on assembling your own motor bikes and building racing cars. Contrary to my expectations, train-spotting did not get more than a perfunctory mention. However, "Our Air Correspondent", who was presumably different from "Air Correspondent", was always cropping up with "Let's Go to London Airport" or "Angled Flight Deck" and the more alarming "Man from Mars ?" and "Short Sherpa" (which was about an aeroplane and not a diminutive mountaineer from Tibet.)

A typical sporting contributor would be the well-known BBC commentator of the fifties and sixties – Peter West. (I can still remember his classic comment at the end of an exciting Rugby Union international. "The referee's got his watch in his hand. He's going to blow on it !" ) In BOP his focus was on cricket and rugby, with the occasional "Let's Try Wrestling" or "Football is a grand life" thrown in for good measure.

Every now and then there would be an attempt to be controversial and a regular columnist called Reg Butler would toss out questions for debate. Thus we have "Are Amateurs Doomed ?" and "Is Hero-Worship a Menace ?" and "Is Motor-Racing worth the risk ?" Sport, however, was not the only topic that invited this treatment and Mr. Butler also offered "Are Hobbies more important that homework ?" and the ever-topical "Do Boys Need a Holiday From Parents ?" I fear he over-stepped the mark when he began to jump Ronald English's claim with "Should Under 15's be Banned from Cycling ?" Of course the idea was that BOP's readers would respond and the best ideas and opinions would be published in later editions. Either the editor rigorously sorted the wheat from the chaff (and printed the chaff !) or the boys of 1950's Commonwealth were remarkably tame and less fond of retributive justice than the current specimens I have met. The strongest suggestion made to "Is there a cure for litter louts ?", for example, was that each culprit should be made to pick up 1 pound in weight of litter for each item they dropped.

On the straight and narrow
There is no doubt that BOP, even in the 1950's, was still maintaining the high moral standards of the founding fathers. Every now and then there is an article or anecdote about how individuals, sometimes quite famous ones, found fellowship and faith and a new path in life. To modern eyes they might seem strange in style but they still ring with sincerity. The general approach and the vocabulary may at times be old-fashioned but the contributors – both writers and readers – do seem to share a set of common values. Typically, Jack Cox writes a very clear editorial about the dangers of racism – except in the language of the 1950's it was called the "colour bar". His readers write in letters to win cash prizes offered each month but I am struck by just how often they add a line which says "If I am lucky enough to win, please donate my prize to" and here would follow a whole range of world-wide worthy charities.

Of course, I have hardly begun to mention the "infinite variety" that was offered by this publication over the course of the middle years of this decade. There are Herbert Harris' interviews with show-business celebrities like Norman Wisdom, Gordon Douglas' monthly crossword puzzles, John Bee's chess problems and the celebrated "Gag Bag". This latter is sometimes given an extra boost by having the name of a comedian tagged on – "Bob Monkhouse's Gag Bag" or "Max Bygrave's Gag Bag" and so on. Political correctness had not been invented and so we get gems such as,
"Dad, I do wish you'd let mum drive the car for a bit." "Good heavens ! Why ?" "It's much more exciting !"

Choose which you fancy – you can't go wrong
There are still two more big ingredients left that I must mention if I am to catch the full flavour of the 1950's BOP. First of all there are the advertisements. If you have tears, prepare to shed them now. Nostalgia will grip you every time you open one of these monthly classics. Britain's lost maritime heritage stares out at you from every page. I had never realised that there were so many colleges available that could train you to be radio operators or coach you in navigation or teach you the basic principles of seamanship. From South Shields to Portsmouth, from Bridlington to Southampton, recruitment into the Merchant Navy was a big business. And no wonder Ronald English's cycling articles form such a regular item on the diet of articles for there are hundreds of bikes for sale – and all of them British ! Eager boys and girls with bright eyes and natty shorts ride happily into the sunset with fixed grins or the satisfied smirk that goes with ownership of a Hercules (The Finest Bicycle Built Today) or the new Triumph (It has science behind it !)

On a more mundane level I still find myself tempted by Terry's Steelstrand Chest Expander or the "Rover" Hike Tent. To give me energy I can tuck into Simpkins Vita Glucose or Palm Toffee, as advertised by the inanely grinning Palm Family cartoons. You too will find your fingers itching to fill in the coupons to send off for Hurricane Protective Goggles, Typhoon Surfmaster Swim Fins and the P.C. Mosquito Tent. You could become a one-man army by purchasing a B.S.A. air rifle or a Diana air pistol or take a course at the National College of Rubber Technology or learn how to build your own canoe. Better still, why not win a free day at a test match by purchasing a Lambert cricket bat and entering their competition (Decision of the judges is final and binding.) ? Be sure you use Brylcreem (The perfect hairdressing for men of all ages.) – just like Dennis Compton.

Have any other readers had a similar experience ?
Last, but not least, of the attractions of reading BOP in the 1950's was regular monthly post-bag. This was inter-activity at its best. A boy would write a letter, other chaps would reply and sometimes the editor might chip in with a tart or friendly comment. It really was a tremendous lucky dip into a world where the deadly dull jostled with the tongue-in-cheek and the plain baffling. One boy writes in to list the nicknames he has acquired during his time in secondary school whilst another applauds the editor's recent article about UNICEF. There is a running battle about whether space stories are suitable and a constant clamour for new pen friends. Here are three typical openings from letters in the September, 1956 postbag.
"I am fond of bird-watching and my favourite haunt is the Loughborough sewage farm."
"My hobby is the unusual one of heraldry."
"I have been playing a game of chess by post with a friend…"

Of Girls and Hamsters
Lots of the juvenile correspondents are brimming over with ideas for new items in the BOP – an article about boomerangs, bell-ringing, how to make fudge, and how to read a map. One of my favourite threads concerns the difficulties involved in learning ball-room dancing. This appears to start with a letter from Malvern College
"We have everything we need for a first-class, all-round education except for one item – ballroom dancing. The college is surrounded by girls' schools, yet we only see their occupants when they are on their daily walk in orderly "crocodiles". How can a boy possibly take courage and ask a girl for a dance when he never even speaks to one for three quarters of a year ?"
One respondent to this plea reveals how he cunningly pays for private lessons in his holidays. After that he has no trouble with the fair sex. From the rest of the correspondence we have so to say that he is the exception. Witness this "cri de coeur" from Robert Taylor of Whitley Bay,
"….worst of all they are daring to intrude on the strictly masculine domain of BOP. Equality with men is all very well but this is surely the last straw. I personally have given up paying the courtesies that women expect from men."
Another reader complains that he gets queer looks when he offers to carry women's parcels for them, whilst Michael Stagg of Tangier adds his own little dash of vitriol.
"In my experience of driving I have found that the only thing you can be sure of when a lady sticks her hand out of a car is that the window is open."

The Editor, Jack Cox, in the 75th anniversary edition, took a light-hearted look back at some of the old letters pages from the early editions and discovered that "Take a cold tub, sir" was the answer given by the famous Andrew Hutchison to every ailment or difficulty or unsatisfied desire expressed by the boys of those days. Let us end this trip into this foreign land by Cox's own response to an enquiry about the opposite sex.
"Most boys like to think they have a girl friend, especially the 13 to 14 year olds. I would like to see an article on how to get a girl, and when you've got her, how to keep and please her. I would also like to see more articles on music in B.O.P as I am a trombonist in the Tiffin School Band." R. Wilmot (New Malden, Surrey)
Editor's Reply : "We will bear the suggestion for an article on how to keep a girl friend in mind ! In the meantime there is an article on keeping Golden Hamsters on pages 34 and 35 of this issue."

You can now see why Britain was so well prepared for the Swinging Sixties ! #


Date: 28/09/09
Towards the end of the BOP's life in 1961 I lived in Cardiff. I was a paper delivery boy and one Sunday during that winter of deep deep snow, the mail train from London (with all the Sunday papers on board) was very delayed. Hanging about in the shop in the Pontcanna area of the city with nothing to do, I picked up a BOP for the first and only time, and discovered a 'Win a bicycle competition' (value up to 25!) . It was a very simple competition so I entered it and a few weeks later a letter arrived...I (along with 3 other boys from all over UK) had won! I remember travelling alone to the 'Cycle Show' at Olympia and being met at Paddington by Jack Cox (I'm sure it was him) . At the show , after lunch, I selected a golden "Viking Conquest" with Durellia gear' my first new bike ever!!!!...it was delivered 4 weeks laterIt was a wonderful prize!! I have never forgotten how it felt!!.
Bob Etherington

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