The BBC and anniversaryitis

Like most media outlets, the BBC is obsessed with anniversaries, but they've really stretched credulity with their latest - The Great British Menu features a banquet celebrating '150 years of children's literature' - which is clearly baloney (something I've never seen consumed on GBM).

I ought to say first of all that I'm a fan of the programme, not only because my illustrious Christmas University Challenge teammate, Matthew Fort is one of the judges. I'm not knocking the programme itself - I suspect this bizarrely arbitrary number was imposed by hierarchy (I can just imagine an episode of W1A when the planners meet and come up with this pseudo-anniversary).

Why is it baloney? Well, clearly children's literature is older than this. The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, which despite being distinctly dark were certainly intended for children (the original title was Children's and Household Tales) date back to 1812, over 200 years.

Ah, the BBC says, but we're talking books first published in English. Okay, well Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (amusingly featured in the publicity shot on the BBC's media website) was published in 1865, and that's 155 years ago - and it certainly wasn't the first.

Okay, the BBC comes back, but Oliver Twist was the first book with a child protagonist. Two problems with this. One is it's not children's literature - it was definitely written for an adult audience. And secondly it was published in book form in 1838. So it's the 182nd anniversary of that.

Fair enough, say the BBC, but Charles Dickens died in 1870, and that was 150 years ago. Well, yes. So really rather than celebrating 150 years of children's literature we are celebrating 150 years since the death of someone who didn't write children's literature.

Tongue removed from cheek, children's literature is a great topic for them to use as a theme - but I really wish they hadn't made up this totally spurious anniversary.


  1. Anniversaries always make good hooks for a story, but can be something of a crutch for producers otherwise bereft of ideas. And 150 years does seem rather arbitrary for children's literature. This is partly because tastes have changed, as have reading ages. I have nearly reached the end of 'The Three Musketeers', first published in French 1844 and translated into English the same year (note - more than 150 years ago). The edition is an Everyman Children's Classic, published in the late 1990s. Yes, you read that right -- a children's classic. To be sure, 'The Three Musketeers' is an old-fashioned swashbuckling action adventure. But there's quite a lot of sex and violence - cartoonish, to be sure, but this isn't the Gruffalo, or the Hundred Aker Wood. There's also a lot about religion. Perhaps people these days think that children's literature is really literature for younger children. When I read Treasure Island or Kidnapped there was some tough stuff in it. Ditto Gulliver's Travels. But, hang on, one of my favourite nursery stories was the delinquent son of a harassed single mother whose spouse had met a violent end while caught in the act of burglary. What was the name of this wayward youth? It was Peter Rabbit. Sorry, I'll get me coat.


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