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‘The Ladybird books of Modernism’

Neither the cold lens of photography nor grimy instagrams, Ladybird’s Modernism is warm and gentle


For people who grew up in the 1960s and ’70s there are few things more evocative of that era than Ladybird books. Our memories of them might be of Peter and Jane tackling crafts in their suburban semi, or of boldly retold fairy tales. Yet looking through them now I’m struck by how equally excited they were with progress and technology. Alongside garden sheds and castles, artists such as John Berry depicting modern buildings, urban landscapes and space-age design. I began collecting together images from books like The Road Makers (1967), and The Story of Houses and Homes (1963) on my blog dirtymodernscoundrel to make up what I called The Ladybird
Book of Modernism.

This image, taken from the 1975 book Homes, was illustrated by Ladybird stalwart Bernard Robinson. It shows the reverseof what we might expect to see in an ostensibly cosy children’s book. A high rise (reminiscent of one of the GLC’s 1966 Wyndham Estate blocks in Camberwell) is shown as pristine, colourful and exciting, while the neighbouring Victorian house is shown as dark, dank and oppressive. This, of course, acts as a fascinating shorthand for postwar attitudes to ideas of progress, and the fight to rehouse people from slums.

Ladybird’s representation of Modernism is pristine, warm and gentle. Perhaps this is what makes it so alluring: it’s neither the cold lens of architectural photography, nor grimy Instagrams of ruin lust. Instead Ladybird’s artists sought to integrate Modernism into the fabric of our lives, to make it seem as unremarkable and delightful as beachcombing, cooking or walking the dog.

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