Beyond the Headlines, byTimothy Shy (Penguin 341) is a collection of pieces from the long-defunct News Chronicle, which was a popular daily paper when this book was printed in 1941. Timothy Shy was the nom de plume used by Dominic Bevan Wyndham-Lewis for his column in the paper – at an earlier stage in his career he was the original Beachcomber at the Daily Express, and co-edited ‘The Stuffed Owl’, an anthology of bad verse by great poets, so he obviously had a keen sense of the absurd, but some of his work would definitely not produce laughs today, and would be regarded as distinctly politically incorrect. For example, use of the word ‘cretins’ in a headline would not be countenanced today in any publication, whatever the context.
For me the charm of the book lies in the gorgeous dancing penguin on the front (I do wish the company would reintroduce it) and an advert on the back cover for Pears transparent soap, which cost the princely sum of sixpence a cake – old money, obviously – this was well before decimalisation.
The ad urges readers to ‘Feel its tonic action’ It also claims the soap is ‘matchless for the complexion’ and that it ‘wears down without waste to the thinnest wafer’ , a huge selling point during WW2 when everything was in such short supply. There’s even a ‘by appointment to H.M. The King logo!
The second yellow Penguin is Osbert Lancaster Cartoons (number 501) which was published slightly later, in February 1945. The dancing penguin is still there on the title page, but has vanished from the front cover, and the book cost 9 pence. Like ‘Beyond the Headlines’, the paper is obviously of inferior quality, and the cartoons are very much of their time, and not at all PC: they would probably mean more to someone who remembers the war and rationing, but having said that many of them have stood the test of time and are still funny – well, they made me laugh.
But his witty observations on the social order are present in abundance, and the cast of upper class characters who became so familiar in his post-war work are already clearly defined. There are military men, naval commanders, socialites, landed gentry, and businessmen, many of whom seem to have a somewhat tenuous grasp on reality. I rather like this ditzy blonde airhead, who knows that war work at Ministry of Information is interesting, but is attracted to the ATS – because it’s easier to get lipstick in the Auxiliary Territorial Service!
And there’s even a cartoon featuring penguins, which must be a reference to comments or decisions made by a European leader, but who it was, or which country, I have no idea, although I can see it is total nonsense to claim to be neutral while defending territory. Anyway, since this is a post about vintage Penguins, I couldn’t resist including the cartoon! And if anyone can explain it, or place it in the correct historical context, I would be enormously grateful.