Monday, 3 March 2014

Roger Red Hat et al: a study of school book misery of the 80s.

Does anybody else out there want to do murderous things to Biff and Chip?  They were annoying enough when I was a teacher and had to listen to kids reading to me (most tedious part of the job apart from doing playground duty at break time), but now Rory's bringing home reading books from school my Biff and Chip based anger has gone up a level. Why has everyone got such stupid names?  What sort of sadist calls their child Kipper?  Who names their dog after erectile dysfunction, for that matter?

I moaned about it to my mum, who replied with "at least you don't have to listen to the adventures of Roger Red Hat these days."  True.  It was worse in the 80s.  Much worse.  Time for a trip down memory lane, then:

Lets start with this slightly psychedelic dude in a car.  It was my first reading book at Infant school and consisted of the word 'Look' on every page.  I was slightly baffled by this because I could already read by the time I went to school and was stealth reading chapters of The Hobbit under the duvet with a torch every night, but nobody bothered to ask and I was too shy to say "err, why have these books only got 3 words in them?"  This charade continued for 3 years.

Moving on, we have Roger Red Hat, the jazz handed little fuck.

And his mate, Billy Blue Hat, who seems to be falling into a large body of water here. This illustration would be much improved by someone drawing a few bricks strapped to his ankles.

And Jennifer Yellow Hat.  The author obviously didn't think the whole kids with primary coloured hats concept through when she started and only realised that there were no names beginning with Y when it was too late.  This one is called 'Jennifer Yellow Hat Went Out in the Dark'.  I'm choosing to mentally add ('and Got Eaten by a Bear' to the title, but that's up to you).

Not content with subjecting us to this colourful clutch of cockwombles, the author then went on to write a dull series of books about equally flamboyantly dressed pirates for older children.  

I hadn't realised until just now how hot the Blue Pirate was.  I would.  However, the Green Pirate looks like a mung bean eating hippy poet type that you'd half heartedly get off with at a party when desperate.  He'd then insist on sleeping on the floor so as to be closer to the elements or something and quoting poetry at you.

While we're on the subject of reading, lets take a closer look at Look and Read, widely remembered as the Best Thing Ever on telly at school.  It involved this flying hoover thing:

And various dramatised stories that seemed particularly gripping at the age of 7.  This one was quite good:

However, this one scared the shit out of everybody:

Because the boy from space (imaginatively named 'Peep Peep') looked like this:


Why is he so shiny?  WHY?  Where did they get a child that freaky looking from to play him?  Is his skin actually plastic?  Cold, dead eyes.  COLD DEAD EYES.

But that's not the worst of it.  No wonder there was such an explosion in youth drug culture in the 90s.  It was all down to Look and Read hiding messages in their songs.  Literacy, my arse:

Extra points to you if your class used to sing "shit becomes shite with E".  My class did.  We were potty mouthed bad-asses even when we were 8.

Moving on to maths, I found these online.  I don't know if anyone else will remember them, but we definitely had these text books at my primary school, and they were so boring and difficult that they made me feel a bit tearful every time the teacher got them out:

They also remind me of when my friend Laura and I were moved to sit next to the two class Naughty Boys in the hopes that such sensible young ladies might make them focus on their work (the result being that all four of us mucked about all day instead of just the two of them).

Typical Maths Lesson on our table:

Naughty Boy Who Sat Next To Me (NBWSNTM): "Lisaaaa...."
Me: "What?"
NBWSNTM: "Look over here."
Me: "I'm completely not looking over there.  Last time you told me to look over there you had your willy out."
NBWSNTM: "I haven't, I promise, just look over here, please."
Me: "No."
NBWSNTM: "Oh Lise, pleeeeeease.  I'm really stuck on this maths and you're so clever.  Please help me, it's this bit - look."

*I look*
*NBWSNTM has his willy out.*

I'll finish with some high school misery:

Tricolore, a French text book which made me believe that a) all French people are called Francoise, b) All French people live in La Rochelle.  I don't even know if this is a real place. c) All French people regularly drink Orangina.  Would not be surprised if the Tricolore books turned out to be sponsored by Orangina, actually.

And Deutsch Heute, its German equivalent.  So little German learned, so much time spent graffiti-ing insulting comments about the gimpy looking 80s German kids who were unfortunate enough to have been immortalised in all their stonewashed jeans glory in the textbooks.

Do feel free to add to this list.  It's like therapy.


  1. Oh my god, you've solved a mystery that's been bothering me for ages, I had a vague memory of a creepy children's programme and my husband was convinced I was thinking of Watt on Earth but I knew that wasn't right. You've just reminded me, it was the creepy thin man in a mac from the boy in space!!! You have no idea how satisfying it was to finally remember what the programme was! You've set me off on look and read nostalgia now, I'm going to find wordy (the flying hoover thing) on youtube and sing along with all the songs...magic magic e...Geordie racer..ah, happy memories of watching videos when the teacher couldn't be arsed to do any teaching

  2. I defaced my Tricolore with hilarious yet completely inappropriate graffiti. Was a joy for myself and my classmates to read. Not so much when my teacher and parents found it. Ah, good times. I think I might still technically be grounded.

  3. Tricolore was great - Fifi Folle and Louis Laloupe et la famille Bertrand. I did a year of Latin with the Ecce Romani books. Flavius is a boy. He is sitting under the tree.

    1. This is how sad I am:

      Ecce! In pictura est puella, nomine Cornelia. Cornelia est puella romana quae in Italia habitat. Etiam in pictura est altera puella, nomine Flavia. Flavia in villa vicina habitat.

      (Look! In the picture is a girl, called Cornelia. Cornelia is a Roman girl, who lives in Italy. Also in the picture is another girl, called Flavia. Flavia lives in a neighbouring villa).

      It's been 25 years since I first read that and for some bloody obscure reason (probably the same one that means I can still remember Um Bongo and Birds Eye Potato Waffles advers) I know it off by heart!

  4. Aaaaagh 'Look'... didn't they go to the circus, just to exclaim 'look'?
    Tricolour, had an index at the back which included 'merd- shit'. Endless giggly fun.

  5. heehee I LOVED Look and read - I remember badger girl being really tense and dramatic at 7yrs old!

  6. I remember a reading book called "Yuk and yum". Each page consisted of some clueless buffoons making soup inexpertly. With every ingredient they proclaimed "Yuk!" or "Yum!" Thrilling stuff.

    I didn't think that we used tricolore, although our French textbooks also had an abundance of Orangina. However I suspect we perhaps had the updated version - you'll be pleased to know that Alima and Sabine were still drinking Orangina in 1999.

  7. I have a special fondness for language textbooks (I am an english teacher). I have to regularly stifle giggles at the awfulness of listening texts complete with their cheesy introduction music.

  8. I LOVED Roger Red Hat and Billie Blue hat, always thought Jennifer Yellow hat was pointless as the letters were wrong!! I also cringe with Biff and Chip and Kipper, we're on child number 2 learning to read, so back to the beginning of Biff ran, Kipper ran, Chip ran, Mum ran, yes yes yes I get the point!
    I don't remember those programs on TV, so maybe our teacher did that bit herself?!!
    I also remember Tricolore, yes everyone lived in La Rochelle, which is a real place, and my French husband is an Orangina addict, hmmm interesting!!!

    The French all remember their first English textbook, which started with "My tailor is rich" and "Where's Brian. Brian is in the kitchen." If you meet a French person in their 30's, just ask them "Where's Brian?"!!

  9. Ecce Romani! My mother calls me "puella strenua" because of that book. I can't remember if it was Cornelia or Flavia (quae in Italia habitat)who was so strenua....

  10. Unbelievable! Well done for posting this!That look book with the bloke in the car I never forgot that book. Early 80s. Also Look & read badger dark towers & magic e another blast from the past. Watching those videos in class..great memories.

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