Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two blasts from the past

It's always fun to flick through the ephemera of yesteryear. Two gems have come to my attention recently and I wanted to share them with WARTE readers.

I'm already tweeting 'How to be a good hostess' at It's a small, ring-bound book produced as a promotional vehicle for Spillers Flour in what I judge to be the tail-end of the 1950s. The foreword is by actress Anna Neagle , who praises the 'gay and lively' ideas contained in the publication and is full of advice for aspiring hostesses. 'Don't think that only a married woman, helped by her family, can earn a good-hostess reputation,' she writes. 'Bachelor girls can do wonderfully well at it too...'

The advice on teenage 'get-togethers' makes particularly interesting reading. Mum is supposed to take her daughter aside and tell her that she and Daddy will be out for the evening, but back at 11. 'See all the washing up's done and the place tidy...' The book's author says the kids can have the run of the place from 6pm. 'Best plan is to move out as much furniture as you can from the party room, to leave the biggest space for dancing. Move out chairs and tables too, for young people seem to prefer eating from their laps, sitting on the floor.'

If I've whetted your appetite, you need to head to Twitter for more, I'm afraid.

What I can promise here on WARTE is some regular updates from another intriguing publication: Ronald Pelham's 1949 classic 'How shall I word it?' The cover of this slim hardback features a troubled post-war housewife. Stuck at a table with pen in hand, she is poised to enter into correspondence, but inspiration seems to have deserted her. Perhaps her problem is that she's intending to write to nobility and is unfamiliar with the appropriate etiquette? Now, with the help of Pelham, she can confidently address the eldest son of an Earl ("My Lord...") or ask for advice from an Archdeacon ("Venerable Sir...")

Pelham is at his funniest with a selection of stock letters that are supposedly adaptable to all likely circumstances. I'll start you off with a segment entitled 'From a mother to her daughter's school-mistress, asking her to allow a pupil to visit her':

Will you allow Gertrude Waring to come to us for her Christmas holidays? Muriel tells me that the child cannot go home as her parents are abroad, and she is most anxious to have her with us. I need hardly say that every care will be taken of her, and I think the bracing air here is sure to do her good.

I need hardly say that this was in the days before criminal record checks.

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