Monday, November 30, 2009

Why the Daily Mail always scores so well: ignore the wiseacres — nostalgia is still what it used to be. Big bucks

I shall be hated for saying this by every last progressive in the land - and if such admirable folk living further afield also know or know of the Daily Mail, they will most certainly join in the howls of condemnation - but here I go: the Daily Mail is a superb newspaper, or rather, with a nod to those who loathe it with every fibre of their being, the Daily Mail is a superb newspaper in the field it chooses to operate. It knows how, when and where to push the right buttons and does so again this morning with this set of pictures. (Admittedly, knowing how, when and where to push the right buttons might also be said of Adolf Hitler, but I'll let that pass rather than risk this entry becoming ever more arcane.)
Every paper has its constituents, of course, and does its best to pander to their varied prejudices and foibles - doing so successfully keeps circulation healthy. Even the saintly Guardian plays the game, though satisfying its readers' unshakeable conviction that they're 'on the side of the angels' does get exceptionally wearing. But when it comes to nostalgia, the Mail more or less corners the market. (It also helps, no doubt, that people have pretty short memories).
Loosely themed around the fact that years ago the country didn't give a stuff for health and safety ('elf 'n safety is the phrase usually employed by the paper), its spread of pictures is merely an exercise in showing images of 'yesteryear' to elicit from every Mail reader a heartfelt 'aaaahhh'. These pictures don't actually show fluffy white kittens, but they more or less get the same result. Even guys might find themselves suppressing a slight sigh. The first (right) shows two girls enjoying themselves in the street. Note the lack of a safety harness, the wearing of which 24 hours a day is apparently a legal obligation these days.
Then (below) we have this picture of a lad out fishing. That the lad is barely four years old and might tumble into the water at

any minute is neither here nor there. He's perfectly safe because the photographer taking the picture would simply jump in to rescue him. Or perhaps, more truthfully the photographer would probably not think twice about jumping in and getting thoroughly soaked.
Ensuring our youngsters can swim is admirably sensible. They might, after all, from a very early age, choose to go fishing when there is no photographer around to record the

event and, crucially, to jump in the water after them should the fall in. So it is understandable that such instruction is vital, even though, as in this picture, the training method chosen is somewhat arcane.
This row of eight toddlers (below) are very young and undoubtedly have not yet tasted their first cigarette, although

that will only be a matter of time. (NB pedants: I really am not sure whether that should be 'is' or 'are' - strictly as I am referring to the row, it should be 'is', but that sounds plain daft. This might be a topic I can raise again at the next meeting of the Feature Sub-Editors Hyphen Committee. Might even be worth and extraordinary meeting. Addendum: Word from up high: it is 'is'.) What is remarkable is that despite their young age, they have all already developed a very good head for heights and seem perfectly happy to be perched on such a high wall. Should there be some kind of mishap, the photographer is again on hand to sort things out and hand the poor child who has just fallen off and broken its neck a consolation lollipop.
Quite what is going on here (below) I really don't know, and I can't even attempt a sensible guess, except to suggest that these four lads are being slowly broken into the joys of English cooking. Or perhaps they are unfortunate enough to attend an English boarding school and are still a little peckish after lunch. It's also quite possible that they have just enjoyed an English lunch and are now engaged in getting rid of it again. One often has to.

I've just found the book from which these pictures came: it is called When I Were A Lad and was compiled by Andrew Davies and published by Portico. Just for an extra plug, similar books can be found at

To keep this straight, and even though this page is in no way intended as profitmaking, I must point out that all the pictures I have published on this page are the copyright of Corbis.


    Singular, as I don’t expect to have to share it!

    You’ve struck a chord here Patrick. I’m a sucker for old black and white photos [especially if they’re in colour like Autochromes or Dufaycolour].

    My aunt, a model, was papped coming out of a club in 1947, wearing a Dior 'New Look' dress which she'd been modelling earlier in the day. She was given a serious carpetting for breaching a commercial confidence, but I'm pleased to say she never regretted it.

    Nostalgia is an elusive weakness and makes no sense to youngsters who define themselves with iPod bling. As I get older, I realise that very little has actually changed over the decades. Communication is faster and cheaper; entertainment is redefined but not really any more amusing; families, which used to be extended, are stretched to breaking point.

    Toddlers Photograph
    [The row is very young. It’s not a plural collective noun.]
    A mishap was actually occurring as the photograph was taken. The ninth toddler at the back is falling off. One of the toddlers (the seventh) is sticking their legs out. Lollipops all round.

    Ponies Photograph
    The lads with the ponies are trying to pick up apples from buckets of water with their teeth. This is an event at gymkhanas with a special name – ? apple-dunking. The apples always sink when they’re bitten into, so it’s competitive, unpleasant and usually possible. It’s also done on Halloween by drunk partygoers. Apropos nothing, it can’t be done with pears as they sink to the bottom of the water.

    In all probability, the two lads on the left are lasses. Not that it matters, but they are always so much better at being interested in ponies. I had a train set when I was a lad of that age.

  2. when i was in cornwall the last 4 yrs, 3 wks each time, i would walk to Tesco, the post and bakery each morning, had to get the (cant remember the name of it,) TV times for 92 yr old woman i was staying with would pick my self up a Daily mail, loved when they included a CD of old movie and a congress tart. My day was complete, oh the simple things, then watch Coronations Gardens before heading off to the pub, you know, I cant do one of those things here in the states, makes me miss it so bad sometimes I could cry............