Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Lost Tradition of the Christmas TV Annual

A page torn from the 2014/15 Autumn/
Winter Shuttlewoods Catalogue.
The end of the school holidays in September used to bring with it the sight of Christmas on the horizon - only very tiny but within the space of a couple of months, it would soon loom large.  One of the earliest signs of Christmas in our family was the arrival of the huge tome that was the 'Kays Catalogue'. Hundreds of pages of things to purchase on weekly terms from ladies under apparel to bicycles to three piece suites to socks in packs of five. 

The toy section was always the best. A ready made order form for Santa's shopping list and at the end was usually a whole page of next year's annuals. For the non-UK citizen, an "Annual" is a hardback book usually released in the late summer/early autumn with an air of the Christmas market. Annuals could be based on pop stars, comics, films, cub scouts, kittens or TV shows. I recall checking the relevant pages in my Mum's Kays Catalogue for any new TV annuals. There was always the 'Dr. Who' (qv) annual but nearby listed were usually one or two others the tempt me into including it in the Christmas list - 'The Bionic Woman', 'Logan's Run', 'The Sweeney', 'Battlestar Galactica' and, even to my delight and surprise one year, a 'Blake's 7' one. (I actually managed to get that one BEFORE Christmas. A transgression that according to my father was tantamount to opening presents BEFORE Christmas Day.) 

My eagerness to devour these annual publications was matched by their overall shoddiness and paucity of content. The 'Dr. Who' annuals are legendary for their unique view of the worlds of 'Doctor Who'. Companions who looked nothing like the individuals they were written as, seat belts in the TARDIS and illustrations that looked like the prime ingredient of them was smoked rather than drawn. 

Many of the other annuals were no better though some had their merits. The 'Logan's Run' annual I mentioned earlier featured some early work by the artist David Lloyd who would go on to draw the sublime 'V For Vendetta' and the four 'Dalek' annuals released in the late 70s are almost on a par with their 60s counterparts due no doubt to actually being authored by Terry Nation himself. 

These days, there's still annuals but their content seems to be more based around celebrity than concept. 'Justin Bieber' and the latest boy band fill the flimsy hardbacks with full page paparazi photos and 'fun facts' gleaned from press packs. Even the 'Doctor Who' annual is a vacuous blend of large print, publicity stills, 'fun facts' and word searches - with the odd lightweight comic strip to break the garish monotony. The kids of today might accept this as normal but the plethora of these books that adorn the shelves of charity shops suggest that their appeal is merely ephemeral. I suppose that was the truth back when I devoured them in the 70s. Once Christmas was over and the January sales began in earnest, they were often available for half price or a quid until they died out some time in February. Perhaps that was their function - as a finite piece of fun disguised as a hardback book. 

I liked them though and as is my want as a fifty year old kid, I bemoan their passing. What if the annuals of today had the same obsession with TV they had in the sixties and seventies? 

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