Inspiring Older Readers

posted on 05 Jun 2024

The Times Authors Number 2: George Orwell

Back at the start of the 1970s when I was beginning to discover the excitement of reading and literature, I relied heavily on the Sunday broadsheets – The Observer and Sunday Times in particular – to help open-up the literary landscape. The Sunday Times in particular was a source of wealth – there will be plenty of people of my age that will think fondly of the huge pile of papers and supplements that you were required to drag home from the newsagents. The Sunday Times Colour Supplement was required reading and was packed full of pioneering reportage, photojournalism and literary profiles and its mission was explicitly educational.

The journalism was so good and so thorough that spin-off, dedicated publications would frequently emerge: I still have two or three examples of the Sunday Times special investigations published in paperback by Penguin and giving a platform to radical journalists like Paul Foot. This was in-depth journalism that changed politics and dictated the evolving social policy agenda.

Periodically, The (Sunday) Times would also produce resources that were specifically for students. The Times Authors were one such initiative:

“The folders in The Times series are not purveyors of ready-made critical opinions for the student to passively accept…The material is too diverse to present any simple view. Instead the student is prompted to consider, disagree and compare – he is put in the situation of the reader of current controversial criticism. The folder becomes the raw material for research into the author.”

I must have sent away for this one which features George Orwell but I have no memory at all of what it cost. I’ve spent several days searching fruitlessly for additional information about the series. I know Number 3 feature Dylan Thomas ( I had that one too but somewhere along the way I've lost it) but I simply can’t locate details about how many of these folders there were and who was featured in the other wallets.

I’ve had this folder for over 40 years now and I guess it might have been more than a decade since I last took it down and read through the contents. Settling down with it over the past week has been a bit of a shock because I had completely forgotten just how much superb material was included.

“ The core of the folder is a fascinating series of reviews from The Times and The Times Literary Supplement, but this is richly supplemented by contrasting reviews from other papers….Special features of the collection are sample pages from the the series of articles Orwell wrote for the weekly paper, Tribune in the forties; stills from the film version of Animal Farm…A whole section has been reproduced from the book The English People, which Orwell wrote in in 1947 (now out of print)”.

Impressive as that is, it actually understates the riches to be found here because there’s a foolscap double spread of photographs of Orwell in domestic settings and a rather expensively produced landscape booklet which is the Halas and Batchelor strip version of Animal Farm produced in a glossy format.

There’s also a rather useful further reading booklist – again with the student in mind.

The days are long gone when you’d look to The Times or The Sunday Times for such thoughtful, thorough and intelligent educational material and whoever was behind this initiative really understood what they were doing. The provision of a wallet of reproduced, original source material gives the student the raw materials for constructing their own view of Orwell and his significance.

It all makes for a thoroughly absorbing read and I have only minor gripes about it - there is, I think, probably a little too much Halas and Batchelor to be found here but I’ve no idea whether this was the result of a sponsorship deal or just an assessment of what might engage a younger or student audience. But the inclusion of so much from the (not very good) film does from this distance now look oddly unbalanced and uncomfortably commercial.

I can’t tell you how to get hold of a copy of this because I can’t find it listed anywhere. If you are better than me at digging up information about the series or you find others for sale, maybe you’ll drop me a line and let me know.


Terry Potter

June 2024