Powerful images of the past

28th June 1996 at 01:00
Paul Noble finds much useful material in a new series on the Thirties and beyond. Britain Since 1930 series By Philip Sauvain Leisure Time. Life at Home. Life at Work. The Advance of Technology. Wayland Pounds 8.99 and Pounds 9.50 each Age range 9-plus.

You have not seen his face, but I am sure that you know this man. He stands leaning against a brick wall with face hidden beneath a cap and his hands thrust deep into the pockets of knee-patched trousers. This hunched figure, a wooden-clogged and scarf-wrapped Wigan miner photographed in 1939, is the one which more than any other, represents the Depression of the Thirties. Many contemporary images, though not all as familiar as this, are used in Philip Sauvain's series Britain Since 1930.

Period photographs are wonderful raw material for history books and Sauvain has used them frequently with a wide range of period advertisements. Advertisements may not be as strong in their impact as photographs, but their testimony of period, both witting and unwitting, is at least as valuable and often more accessible to children. In these books they are a considerable asset. I cannot recall any children's history books that have used them as extensively.

Advertisements tell us that a home in Kent could be bought for 96d (under 50p) a week in 1933 and that, in the same year, from the Army and Navy store, you could obtain servants' caps and aprons in "beige or white organdi trimmed with black velvet". Consider what quality of social history could be squeezed out of the 1953 advertisement for Decca D17 C Console Model 17-inch TV, retailing at 93 guineas.

Although the series refers to the early Twenties as well as the Nineties, it broadly follows the convention, now clearly established in educational circles, that Britain since 1930 - one of the study units of key stage 2 history - ends somewhere in the late Sixties. Convention also dictates that this period should be treated as the Second World War "topped and tailed", which is where Sauvain departs from convention.

Because treatment of the war is scant, the history is rather lop-sided, thus in The Advance of Technology the impetus given to that advance by the imperatives of war is ignored and in all the volumes you have to look quite hard for material on those crucial years. Yet in some ways this is a strength rather than a weakness, for although it may make for somewhat shaky history, it may provide a firm selling point because resources for the primary classroom on the Thirties and Fifties are less easy to come by than those on the war years. You will find plenty of useful material here.

The text does not flow as smoothly as you might expect in information books which are free from disruptive questions and activities. Though the quotations are interesting, many are too long for juniors. The use of italics makes reading them even more difficult.

The oral and pictorial evidence is substantial, so there is something for all juniors, but to get the most out of this series you need to be able to read better than the average 11-year-old.

Paul Noble is head of Blunsdon St Andrew Primary School, Wiltshire

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