Feb 1 2012: Twenty Seven Illustrations by Robert Ayton from Your Body by David Scott Daniell (Ladybird, 1967)

Just in case it needed saying (which I rather doubt) it may be worth reflecting, as we look at the illustrations made by Robert Ayton for this 1967 childrens’ introduction to the basic workings of their own bodies, that all the multi-million dollar baroque technical extravagance seen in Military Technology magazine is all, ultimately, aimed at destroying the fragile networks of veins, nerves and muscle hung on their skeletal scaffoldings that frolic across these twenty-six or so pages, as published by the Loughborough-based Ladybird Books. Here are skeletons playing cricket, the none too subtle gender codifications of the day as smell is illustrated by a girl sniffing a rose, digestion by a boy standing in front of a hearty plate of sausage and roast spuds, and reproduction slightly coyly – but quite surprisingly guiltlessly, by current standards – given a straightforward treatment. The final endpapers, showing the changes to child and adult bodies that take place during adolescence (which is when, I think we can assume, the book’s readers would be expected to see the pictures) seems to hint that ours, for all its pretensions to frankness, is in some respects, at least, more prudish than some past eras have been. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the sixties was also the high-watermark of D.H. Lawrence’s renown and popularity among general readers and the attitudes seen in these illustrations can be seen to have a sort of softened Lawrentian feel about them: an earlier post looking at F.H. Shoosmith’s The Torch of Life (1935) wandered tentatively down a similar line of thought in relation to sexual education and Lawrence’s general context, some of which might loosely apply here, too.

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