History of The Children’s Newspaper

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Subtitled “The Story of the World Today for the Men and Women of Tomorrow,” The Children’s Newspaper was one of the twentieth century’s most successful magazines for children, running for an astonishing 46 years. During its run of well over 2,000 issues, it covered some of history’s most turbulent times, starting in the aftermath of the Great War, watching over the scientific and social advances of the 1920s and 1930s, following the progress of the Second World War, and seeing Britain emerge from the austerity of the post-war years into the pop-tastic world of the 1960s.

For half its lifetime, The Children’s Newspaper had the strong hand of Arthur Mee at its tiller, and the paper reflected Mee’s religious faith, his patriotism and his drive to educate the children of the masses. It was only in the 1950s that The Children’s Newspaper began to stray from this brief as the editors and staff tried to reflect the rapidly changing social climate – in which children had their own television programmes, their own fashions and culture – by introducing new features, interviews and comic strips. This mixture of education and entertainment helped the paper survive an onslaught from rival publications and kept the title going until it was eventually absorbed, in 1965, into a new, colourful magazine from the same publisher, Look and Learn.

The inspiration for The Children’s Newspaper was an offshoot of The Children’s Encyclopaedia, a publication that Mee was intimately involved with. Hired by the Amalgamated Press in 1903, Mee had worked on a number of part-work books, the Harmsworth Self-Educator (1905-07) and Harmswoth History of the World (1907-09). The success of these led to publisher Alfred Harmsworth agreeing to Mee’s idea for the publication, in 50 parts, of The Children’s Encyclopaedia. Launched in 1908, it was completed in eight volumes in 1910.

It was immediately relaunched in a monthly format under the title The New Children’s Encyclopaedia, although the title was changed over the years, to Children’s Encyclopaedia Magazine, then to Children’s Magazine and, in 1914, to My Magazine.

One of the innovations of this relaunched title was to include a supplement of news stories of interest to children entitled The Little Paper which ran until June 1919, by which time Arthur Mee had launched a much grander version under the title The Children’s Newspaper. Where the Encyclopaedia gave the nation’s children a firm grasp of many subjects - historical, geographical and practical - his Children’s Newspaper was to keep young people up to date with the latest in world news and science.

The debut issue, dated 22 March 1919, was priced at 1½d and was deliberately designed to look like an adult newspaper, enlivened by the addition of a photograph on the cover. The lead story for that first issue was the launch of an airship on the Yorkshire moors, the accompanying text describing how, “This great ship, floating above the earth, as high as a church and as long as a street, is a thing of grace and beauty as it moves among the clouds; but what is an airship in reality? It is a stupendous bag of inflammable gas and underneath this dangerous cargo great engines are roaring all the time, generating electricity, creating sparks, and sometimes throwing out flame.” The article went on to explain how American scientists had recently discovered a process by which helium – much safer than the commonly used hydrogen to inflate airships – could be manufactured for pence rather than hundreds of pounds, thus making it possible for engineers to create vast airships that would be as safe as ocean ships or trains.

Other stories from the front cover of The Children’s Newspaper’s debut issue were a call to the newly formed League of Nations to include children in their thoughts of how to create a better, more stable post-war world: “To make peace you must begin at fifteen or sixteen, at twelve or thirteen, at nine or ten. You must grow up loving peace and hating war. You must fill your heart and head with the great idea of a united world…” One of the few signed pieces (and then only with the initials ‘E.A.B.’) told of a war horse named Major who was now safely returned to his Surrey fields after serving on the Western front. The fourth and final cover story told of the sinking of the Hoste, a destroyer of the British fleet, in the North Sea.

Inside the 12-page paper, stories ranged from surprising facts and figures about the British coal industry to how the railway system had been damaged by the war, from the best upcoming kinema (sic) films for children to “news from a Handley Page” from a correspondent looking down 3,000 feet above the Pas de Calais road. Over the coming weeks, The Children’s Newspaper tackled politics, aerial transport, movie news, the weather, zoos, geology and they even had a children’s doctor.

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In its early days, most of the news items were given no full by-lines and, where they were not anonymous, authors were only identified by their initials; however, some of the main authors were E. A. Bryant, John Derry, Charles Ray, Edwin Sharpe Grew and, above all others, Harold Begbie. Begbie wrote many of the lead features and much of the editorial material from the ‘Editor’s Table’. A newspaper columnist, editor and novelist, Begbie is probably best known as the author of ‘Fall In!’, a propagandist poem written in 1914 to swell the number of volunteers which was soon set to music, becoming one of the most popular songs of the Great War. Begbie would continue to write for The Children’s Newspaper until his death in 1929.

Not all of the authors were anonymous, and star names like C. B. Fry, Ella Wheeler Wilcox and Lord Baden-Powell all contributed in the early years.

Perhaps the longest serving writer was G.F.M., otherwise George F. Morrell, the paper’s ‘astronomical correspondent’ who supplied an item about Venus in the first issue and continued to write for the paper until shortly before his death in 1962. Morrell was a pioneer of visual education and for over fifty years used his talents to write articles and draw picture-diagrams which were clear and more attractive to young readers.

Between 1919 and his death in 1943, Arthur Mee made sure that, where the Children’s Encyclopaedia had given the nation’s children a firm grasp of many subjects - historical, geographical and practical - his Children’s Newspaper was keeping them up to date with the latest in world news and science. On its tenth anniversary in 1929, it was noted that the paper “is giving our boys and girls a faithful record of what is happening in the world, and a true conception of the things that matter week by week. It has been said of it that it is the most potential factor in the bringing-up of the rising generation.” Selling 500,000 copies a week, it is impossible to measure the influence the paper had over the years, although Mee’s publications inspired talents as diverse as authors Enid Blyton, George Macdonald Fraser and Murial Spark, actor Anthony Valentine, playwright Keith Waterhouse and artist Patrick Reyntiens.

Without doubt Mee felt that The Children’s Newspaper was reflecting the changes in the world. To this end, the back cover was filled with the latest photographs of events and advances and the paper never strayed from Mee’s belief that children could be guided to better, more creative lives through education. Nor did he lose the florid style that marked his writing: in October 1941, he celebrated 50 years as a professional journalist in his weekly editorial by revealing, “Writing of the things of peace, trying to make righteousness readable, his fifty years began in a quiet and tranquil world, his fiftieth began with the dodging of bombs by day and the snatching of bits of sleep underground by night; yet he remains an Optimist and a dreamer of dreams. He has seen what he has seen. He has seen Civilisation march to the gates of the Millennium and suddenly break to pieces; yet he knows that all is well.”

Arthur Mee

Arthur Mee

Mee was not to see his precious country at peace again; he died on 28 May 1943, his position as editor of The Children’s Newspaper falling to Mee’s deputy of many years, Hugo Tyerman. Tyerman had joined Mee as picture editor on Children’s Encyclopaedia and My Magazine in its early days and had been a prolific contributor to The Children’s Newspaper. As one would expect of someone who had worked so closely with Mee, The Children’s Newspaper under Tyerman was almost identical as its pre-war composition of news, science, history, geography, stories and verse.

Tyerman remained in charge until retiring in 1952, aged 72, and the editorial reins were passed on to Sydney Warner who would retain many of the traditions of the paper established thirty years before. However, it was during Warner’s editorship that The Children’s Newspaper began to modernise. By 1950, sales had dropped to around 350,000, although the paper was still very popular amongst 8 to 10-year-olds who made up 50% of its readership; interest waned rapidly with older readers, however, and the arrival of a colourful new weekly, the Eagle, only emphasised how old-fashioned The Children’s Newspaper looked. Sales fell over the next few years to 200,000 and it was Warner’s task to try and revive the paper’s fortunes.

Under Warner, The Children’s Newspaper introduced television and film reviews and sports coverage, including interviews with some of the young stars of the era, Christine Truman, Brian Phelps and Stanley Matthews, the Wimbledon boy’s champion. The look of the paper also improved when Ted Pope was appointed as art editor and the content was livened up with a number of excellent serial stories by the likes of Geoffrey Trease, Malcolm Saville, John Pudney and Geoffrey Morgan. In 1954, The Children’s Newspaper ran the first episode of According to Jennings featuring the hugely popular schoolboy characters created by Anthony Buckeridge and, over the next few years, another seven Jennings novels were serialised ahead of book publication.

More rival papers began to appear, including Junior Mirror and Junior Express and Junior Sketch, all derived from national newspapers; however all were to fall by the wayside, with only Junior Express (after a title change to Express Weekly and then to TV Express) having a lifespan of more than a few months. Reacting to these new arrivals, The Children’s Newspaper introduced a number of comic strips – life stories of scientists and explorers or adaptations of classic novels – in the popular 3 or 4-frame newspaper strip format.

When a national printer’s strike forced The Children’s Newspaper off the newsstands for nine weeks in 1959, the editor and art editor, Noel Cook (who had replaced Ted Pope in 1957), took the opportunity to give the paper a facelift, moving the logo to a corner of the front page – much like today’s tabloids – which allowed for a more dramatic cover illustration. Sport now dominated the back page and old features like Jacko the monkey were dropped in favour of record reviews.

In 1961, John Davies, a former schoolmaster, succeeded Sydney Warner, and oversaw the next stage of The Children’s Newspaper’s modernisation. Reader’s letters were introduced in November and regular columns by Jonquil Antony and Maxwell Knight added. ‘Vicky’ would later write a column ‘Specially for Girls’ and Patrick Moore could be found ‘Looking at the Sky’. Derrick Royston Booth kept readers abreast of the latest developments in ‘Science Survey’. In January 1964, ‘Pop Spot’ was introduced with a large picture of John Lennon (the other Beatles following over the next three weeks) and other new features included ‘All About Ponies’ and a ‘Scouting News’ column.

The paper’s livelier look (thanks to succeeding art editors David Cherry and Stan Macdonald) and new innovations such as the wide-ranging 4-page ‘Why?’ supplement, added in January 1965, could not stop the steady decline in sales. Partly responsible was the arrival, in January 1962, of Look and Learn from the same publisher, a colourful new educational weekly that rather put the black and white Children’s Newspaper in the shade. After 2,397 issues, on 1 May 1965, it fell to John Davies to pen the final ‘It Seems to Me…’ editorial whilst Sydney Warner returned to the front page to write a tribute to the paper’s founder, Arthur Mee.

The rights to The Children’s Newspaper are now owned by Look and Learn Ltd. Each day Look and Learn is publishing a different issue of the paper on the web site, highlighting articles that are likely to be of particular interest to today’s readers.