Friday, April 29, 2016

Mr Tickle
by Roger Hargreaves

Global franchises start innocuously enough. In Kentucky during the depression, Harland Sanders threw a few herbs and spices into some gas-station fried chicken. In Sweden during the war, a teenage Ingvar Kamprad saw his first bloody Allen key and the bloody flatpack was inflicted on the world.

And in England just after the end of the swinging sixties, six-year-old Adam Hargreaves asked his dad: “What does a tickle look like?”

His father, Roger, was the creative director at an advertising firm. If Mad Men has taught us anything, it’s that the Don Drapers of this world know all about slap and tickle. Here was the perfect excuse for Roger to go away and do some “research”.

But no, this was Roger Hargreaves, not Roger Sterling. He wasn’t like that. And nor was he an “ask your mother” kind of dad. He did indeed go off and indulge his passion, but it was a passion for drawing, and he came up with an answer to Adam’s question.

Mr Tickle. Orange body, long arms, blue hat. Incorrigible groper.

Roger Hargreaves realised that Mr Tickle opened all sorts of doors, and not just the kitchen door from his bedroom so he could raid the biscuit tin.

If ever there was a series waiting to happen it was this.

There was a simple formula for almost infinite ideas: Mr (insert characteristic here). Which was later expanded to add Little Miss (insert characteristic here).

Roger Hargreaves died in 1988, at the age of 53. Adam, by then in his 20s, eventually carried on the family business and wrote new books for the series.

And he’s done a good job. But I was a child of the 80s, so to me, the likes of Mr Cool and Mr Rude will always be impostors. Even the few of Roger’s own works published after his death – Mr Brave to Mr Cheerful – don’t sit well with me. Anything after Mr Slow, I consider non-canon.

In 1971, Mr Tickle was the first. He tickled the policeman without getting shot. He tickled the butcher without losing an arm. He hid outside a school window, reached into the classroom for a tickle, and did not face criminal charges.

And he tickled my fancy. Sure, he spent his days interfering with strangers, but he did it with a smile. They were more innocent times. 

Since then, there has been a TV series, special editions, merchandise, parodies. And it all began with Mr Tickle. He is the Mr who started a global franchise.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Share Said the Rooster
by Pamela Allen

I remember the 1980s. Back before libraries used computers, back when borrowing cards still existed, when our primary school librarian Miss Hyde would stamp the due date inside the back cover.

Back when a story about a naked man sharing his bath with a goat, a wombat and a kangaroo rang no alarm bells.

The book in question, Mr Archimedes’ Bath, is a children’s classic in Australia. I remember liking it when I was little. But with the benefit of hindsight, it’s also ... a bit weird.

So it was with interest that I chose a newer book by the same author, Pamela Allen, for tonight’s bedtime story: Share Said the Rooster.

This is a story with a moral. Billy and Ben are the two characters who throughout the narrative refuse to share, despite the refrain of “Share said the rooster, share said the hen”.

They won’t share a pink sticky bun, they won’t share boots painted blue, they won’t share an apple up a tree, they won’t share an umbrella.

Their final problem is whether to share a boat out on the water. Aha, you think. Here comes the lesson. They’ll both get in the boat, the kiddies will learn the importance of sharing, and everyone will live happily ever after.

But no. Pamela Allen has other ideas.

She kills them.

Billy and Ben refuse to share the boat, and on the last page are shown sinking towards the bottom of the sea, presumably to their cold, watery graves.

The last line is chilling. “Goodbye Billy. Goodbye Ben.”

I did not see that coming. It was a twist worthy of Agatha Christie. In fact, I’ve read crime novels that have disturbed me less than this did.

It feels like a dark sequel to another Pamela Allen classic, Who Sank the Boat? At least in that one, everyone walks away unharmed.

This is a harsh lesson for kids to learn. Share Said the Rooster. OR ELSE YOU’LL DIE.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

There's a Wocket in My Pocket!
by Dr Seuss

Did you ever have the feeling there’s a WASKET in your BASKET? Did you ever get the feeling that the DOC had WRITER’S BLOCK? 

Dr Seuss was a favourite of mine when I was little. The Cat in the Hat. Classic. Fox in Socks. Great fun. But he was also incredibly prolific, writing more than 60 children’s books. Only now do I realise how few of them I’ve actually read.

So tonight’s bedtime story is a Dr Seuss work that is new to me: There’s a Wocket in My Pocket.

This was written in 1974, when the Doc was 70 years old and firmly established as a legend of children’s literature. Arguably the biggest name in the genre.

And so he said to himself: “Fuck it, I’m Dr Seuss, I can rhyme any old shit and people will buy it.”

That's about the only explanation for the lack of effort that went into There’s a Wocket in My Pocket.

This was Dr Seuss bereft of ideas, phoning it in. You can just picture him sitting at his desk, on deadline, looking around his house in desperation. What rhymes with bureau? Nothing. What rhymes with toothbrush? Nothing. What rhymes with chimney? Nothing.

Damn, I’d better make some words up.

There’s a ... nureau in my bureau. Yeah, that’ll do. And a ... nooth grush on my toothbrush. Not my best work, but hey, I wrote The Cat in the Hat. What are they gonna say? A quimney up the chimney. Hey, this is easy.

It seems appropriate this book was first published by Random House.

Some Dr Seuss works had important moral lessons, some were great vocabulary builders, others were just a lot of fun. And some, like this, were utter gibberish. Still, I suppose there is a hidden message. Don’t rest on your laurels.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Welcome to DadReads

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who loved his bedtime stories. His were the unquestioning eyes of a child. The stories sparked his imagination and showed him a world he was yet to discover. Some stories filled his mind with wonder.

Then he grew up. He became a father.

Now there was a little girl who loved her bedtime stories. So did her Dad. But his were the eyes of an adult. The stories sparked a sense of nostalgia, reminded him that the world once felt so vast and unknown. His wonder remained, but had evolved.

I wonder where the author got that idea? And who is this author anyway? How did this get published? How did I not notice that when I was a kid? Why is this considered a classic? Or, how is this not considered a classic?

Welcome to DadReads.