Jan 19 2012: Twelve Advertisements for Childrens’ Products (from Family Doctor Magazine, 1961 – 1964)

These adverts for childrens’ products – mainly clothing, but also featuring Ovaltine, Cow & Gate baby-foods and two different makes of pram, Pedigree and Ballerina – are taken from various issues of Family Doctor magazine, a popular publication produced by the British Medical Association that features accessible articles by GPs on preventative hygiene, and such topics as Glandular Fever, advice for schoolboys, teenage views of marriage, how to administer the ‘kiss of life’, precautions when travelling overseas and the ‘unhealthy influence of advertising’ (in matters related to diet, smoking and drinking, but also touching on questions of mental health, as viewers are, it’s noted, made to feel diminished and so depressed or anxious by falling short of advertising’s ideals). Perhaps there’s an irony, then, to the magazine being full of advertising directed mainly at mothers, and predominantly related to childcare and household cleaning. The aesthetic here is not much developed from that seen in the Festival of Britain programme of 1951, a little over a decade earlier, but there are some differences, notably the newly cartoon-like aesthetic of the comic book that appears in adverts here for Labybird and Viyella childrens’ clothing.

Taken together, they offer a snapshot of an early stage in the Americanization of British domestic life, nowhere more clearly than in the sub-Norman Rockwell styling of the ‘happy and healthy family’ seen on their vast suburban lawn in Ovaltine’s contribution. As with the Festival of Britain, so in the pages of the otherwise paternalistic Family Doctor magazine we find premonitions of the political turns (or at least, the particular turn from an appreciation of collective endeavour towards a more generally individualistic mind-set) that would occur during the 1970s and 1980s, as the distance from pre-war depression and war-time austerity comfortably increased for a significant majority, and both advertising and the social atomization it encouraged expanded their coverage of the physical and media landscape as the decades passed. If much of that shift was positive (not least in the release of women from the prescribed roles portrayed in some of these commercial messages), aspects of it were also predicated on the assumption that material progress for the majority was both inevitable and irreversible. With those assumptions now under their most serious strain since the 1920s, the next phase in this story remains to be written.

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