Mar 27 2012: Fourteen Colour Illustrations and Photographs From Girl Annual Number Nine (1961)

The final gallery in this series culled from the pages of Girl Annual draws together an array of colour illustrations from the 1961 annual, including the annual’s first-ever photographic cover image, as seen above, and a series of frames from the comic strips Belle of the Ballet and Susan of St Bride’s. Accompanied by a couple of plates by Charles Pierce promoting the joys of sailing, this is a world not much altered since 1958, all about ballet classes, leisure activities and class distinctions, and perhaps it’s noteworthy that with some changes of emphasis, much of the content wouldn’t be too out of place in a contemporary equivalent, or on the screen of Ceebeebies, where ballet, nursing, cooking, healthy outdoor pursuits and many of the other activities seen in these pages continue to be heavily marketed to young girls. True, the class assumptions have shifted, albeit only superficially, and these girls’ present day versions are likely to be more streetwise and less decorous, but all said, the changes since 1958 in expectations and role models are more by way of a returning circle than a progressing forward line. Perhaps it’s no accident that just as a fetishisation of Victorian arts, Empire nostalgia  and 1920s privilege – from Brideshead Revisited to The Jewel in the Crown and a whole raft of new figurative styles in art – accompanied the last period of Conservative government in England, so the latest round of neo-liberal ascendancy (after a period under New Labour in which it continued unabated, albeit with its rhetoric toned down) has been gussied-up with boutique festival deckchairs, bunting and cupcakes, and seen a truckload of cod-nostalgic publications styled to resemble objects of the 1940s and 50s hitting the publishing market. Perhaps it’s no real surprise, then, that publications like these later 50s and early 60s Girl Annuals seem rather more current than they really ought to in the aftermath of what had seemed like a period of deep social change.

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