A big part of my TV viewing when I was little was Jackanory. It started in 1965 – a daily slot of fifteen minutes in which a presenter would read a story – usually an abridged one book per week or a series of short stories. You’d get a clue about the book in the opening credits, which would feature an illustration or the cover in a kaleidoscope view before a still of the title, author and its reader. Cut to the presenter settling themselves down into an armchair or other storytelling position – and the story would begin, shots of the reader interspersed with illustrations, often Quentin Blake drawings.
The presenter I associate most with Jackanory is the wonderful Bernard Cribbins who did many, many episodes; Kenneth Williams was another regular. Younger readers may remember Rik Mayall’s wonderful reading of George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl. Margaret Rutherford read lots of Beatrix Potter and in 1984 Prince Charles read his own story, The Old Man of Lochnagar, amongst many names you’d recognise. The series ran for around 30 years, was briefly revived in 2006, and more recently on the CBeebies channel as Jackanory Junior.
The BBC produced many Jackanory storybooks – slim paperbacks for good young readers. Many were anthologies of fairy tales from around the world – Icelandic Tales (by Magnus Magnusson – who else!), Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Poland – and all this brings me to my first book review of 2015!
Jackanory – Stories from Russia
This collection of five Russian folk-tales was told by actor John Stride in 1970. I don’t remember seeing this particular one on the telly, but from the photo of him on the back, it appears that he was wearing a Russian-style tunic with a high collar that buttons across the shoulder – the sort of thing dentists used to wear, until they adopted scrubs.
The book is illustrated in fabulous line drawings by Giulietta Stomann, which are very evocative of the style at the time.
The stories involve: jealous sisters who tell the absent-Tsar his wife’s newborn twins were monsters, to a balalaika player who breaks the enchantment on Moscow’s tired princesses (similar to the Twelve Dancing Princesses), a magic doll that saves a young girl from the evil Baba Yaga, the story of the princess that wouldn’t smile and the cossack who liked nature, and a talking horse who helps his master win his bride. All are full of enchantment, quests, talking animals and the like, lots of vanquishing enemies, and love winning out over all – no unhappy endings for Jackanory!
I took a pleasant half an hour in bed this morning savouring these fantastic tales and reliving old TV memories.