Friday, 18 November 2011

The Children's Hour

I found this today.
It took me on quite a journey.
The picture is called The Magic Hour
and it immediately reminded me of a chapter in 
The Family Week-end Book by Beryl Irving.
There it is called The Children's Hour
'that loved, dreaded, longed-for hour'
when Mummy in her tea gown is given sole charge of the children
for just one hour after tea.

Such is the enormity of this responsibility that eight pages
are devoted to advising her on how to cope with
their different ages and needs.
When the Door Opens...
it is no longer the ordinary drawing room door,
a little battered and chipped;
it is for one moment the gateway to magic.
As the knob of the door slowly turns, 
Glamour is there. The children are coming...
For one perfect moment their dream-personalities flow out to you
the big boy, his eyes bright with what he is going to say;
perhaps a little girl too, priggishly demure in her pink frock;
the babies, fat and solemn.
The moment fades -pandemonium is let loose.

They bicker and shriek and rage. The babies fall over and wail.
Number One thinks Two's games are soppy and pushes her over. 
Number Two then attacks the babies in like manner.
'Mother probably feels that she has been washed up 
on a desert beach after a shipwreck in the Pacific'
and wonders why she ever saw charm in the children.
But with careful planning you can play all manner of games 
while remaining seated or even knitting, 
and before you know it,
Nanny will carry them away to bed.
Magic fades. The room is just a room again,
appallingly untidy,and must be straightened at once
before poor Daddy comes home.
Unless of course it is Nanny's Day out
which might cause one to swear
then they must have Garden Time.

All of this is delivered with a curious mixture of
saccharine and sour - a slightly brutal detachedness
(children are Little Liars and deceptive little wretches)
coupled with oozing sentimentality.
Although the book was printed in 1941 
it is almost certainly the product of an earlier era,
one much closer to the 1920s depicted in the calendar.
When Number One is older
new perplexities beset the luckless parent. 
Where does he go on that after-tea walk?
Must you really have those awful friends of his to the house,
to preserve him from the florist flapper?

But the concept of The Children's Hour
 began much earlier with a verse from Longfellow's poem:

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as the Children's Hour.

and was adopted as the name of a BBC radio series for children
broadcast from 5pm to 6pm every day of the week
 from 1922 until 1964. 
When it was announced that the show was ending 
this is how the reaction was summed up by Whirligig radio:

Undoubtedly the Director General and the then head of Radio
expected some outburst from the listening public...
However they could hardly have expected the barrage of letters,
the campaign in the press and elsewhere,
the questions in the House of Commons
and the feeling of general wrath 
which greeted the announcement.
The programme's untimely demise meant that
an important magic casement into Wonderland
had been rudely slammed shut.


  1. I have that book too. I'm afraid I rather went off Beryl when I discovered she was the mother of David Irving the holocaust denier. I couldn't help feeling that she must have been partly responsible for such views.

  2. A life totally other than mine. Nanny indeed! Mummy in a tea gown? Not on my Welsh hillside.

    I am surprised to realise that I have no memory of that programme but I do recall 'Listen with Mother' every day and 'Mrs. Dale's Diary' with perfect clarity, most odd.

    Thank you so much for the link to radio nostalgia, I can see I shall be spending happy times there.

  3. What a delightful illustration, and I loved the pieces from this book. I must see if it is in my library. A life like this is way beyond anything I ever experienced, only in my dreams ;-)

  4. Yes that was another leg of my journey for tomorrow. See interview with his twin brother here

  5. I find books like Beryl Irving's perennially fascinating ... as is this post.

    I remember sitting on my mother's knee as a tiny tot listening to Listen with Mother (after lunch if memory serves) but I don't remember Children's Hour despite being just about old enough ... perhaps because my parents bought a television when I was a baby.

  6. My poor son - brought up with such deprivation. No Nanny, no mother in a tea gown, no one-hour-a-day to actually have a mother at all......

    This post has just prompted me to order a fascinating book by Jonathan Gathone-Hardy - The Rise & Fall of the British Nanny - that I read many years ago from the local library; another glimpse into a very different world. Recommended reading, as I recall!

  7. Amazingly, I know a few mothers that would still subscribe to this approach to parenting.
    Hilarious, if it weren't so sad. But, I suppose that kind of detachment made it easier when it came time to ship the kiddies off to boarding school?
    Great post...fascinating!

  8. Echoing a lot of the other comments here: fascinating!!!!