Olden Life: What was the El­iz­a­bethan? Nigel An­drew

The El­iz­a­bethan?

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Nigel An­drew

The El­iz­a­bethan (orig­i­nally the Young El­iz­a­bethan) was a ‘mag­a­zine for teenagers’. It lasted from the 1953 corona­tion of the Queen – af­ter whom it was named – un­til 1973, when the Age of Aquar­ius had de­cid­edly taken over from the New El­iz­a­bethan Age.

At the time of its flour­ish­ing, I was only aware of the El­iz­a­bethan be­cause I knew that some of the great Nigel Molesworth’s mus­ings on life had ap­peared in its ven­er­a­ble pages (com­posed by Ge­of­frey Wil­lans and Ron­ald Searle, as fea­tured in The Oldie’s Au­gust is­sue).

What a long-lost world this high­toned ‘mag­a­zine for teenagers’ opens up – a world of in­tel­li­gent and highly lit­er­ate young­sters (it was avowedly aimed at gram­mar school pupils) with in­ter­ests that ranged from books (above all, books) to world af­fairs, his­tory, model-mak­ing, as­tron­omy, na­ture, cy­cling, pho­tog­ra­phy and ponies. One is­sue in my col­lec­tion ad­ver­tised a Heinz ‘Cow­boy’s Break­fast’ colour­ing com­pe­ti­tion with three ponies on of­fer as prizes. If you didn’t want the pony, you could opt for 200 guineas (yes, guineas) in Pre­mium Bonds.

There is not a whiff of celebrity (in the mod­ern sense) or fash­ion, re­la­tion­ship prob­lems or gos­sip. And the only con­ces­sion to pop mu­sic is a monthly record round-up by groove­meis­ter Sandy ( The Boy Friend) Wil­son.

The ex­cel­lent books page is writ­ten by Noel Streat­feild, au­thor of Bal­let Shoes – the Oc­to­ber 1958 is­sue has a photo spread of up-and-com­ing bal­leri­nas, all very el­e­gant and la­dy­like, a far cry from to­day’s stringier, more ath­letic dancers.

The same is­sue con­tains an in­ter­view with the em­i­nent Nigel Calder on the fu­ture of space travel; a piece on art auc­tions by the Daily Mail’s art critic; Nigel Molesworth (hur­rah!) on a shop­ping trip with his im­pe­ri­ous grand­mother; part three of Mist over Athel­ney by Ge­of­frey Trease, a novel set in the time of King Al­fred; a piece by Tom Po­cock on the life of a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent; and an ac­count of the sink­ing of HMS Birken­head.

An­other of my is­sues (June 1958) has a fine piece on Venice by James (now Jan) Morris. This, like ev­ery­thing in the El­iz­a­bethan, is writ­ing at a high level, with no con­de­scen­sion to the young au­di­ence, who clearly needed no talk­ing down to. The writ­ing com­pe­ti­tions are pitched at a level not far below the New States­man or Spec­ta­tor, but with less hu­mour, and there are pic­ture and (de­cid­edly chal­leng­ing) cross­word com­pe­ti­tions ev­ery month.

The let­ters page is framed as ‘Your Ques­tions An­swered’ – of­ten ul­tra­sen­si­ble ques­tions about pur­su­ing in­ter­ests and ca­reer pos­si­bil­i­ties, find­ing pen friends… One let­ter asks for Dame Mar­got Fonteyn’s ad­dress; an­other – from El­iz­a­beth de Vere Stacpoole of Har­row-on-the-hill – asks how to get in­for­ma­tion on fenc­ing classes. Yes, this is de­cid­edly a mid­dle-class, ed­u­cated, self-im­prov­ing and po­lite world.

The adverts tell their own story: pub­lish­ers’ book an­nounce­ments ga­lore, ads for artists’ ma­te­ri­als, model air­craft, bi­cy­cles, ski wear, rid­ing kit, Kan­gol berets, clas­si­cal LPS, Bovril, a home­weav­ing loom…

Those far-off days – when teenagers were a cu­ri­ous com­bi­na­tion of minia­ture adults and over­size chil­dren – are gone. The only el­e­ment of con­ti­nu­ity is that the same Queen reigns. We are still, amaz­ingly, liv­ing in the New El­iz­a­bethan Age.

Ron­ald Searle’s Molesworth cover, 1956

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