Tiger, Tea, Political Economy

by Henry Farrell on November 28, 2013


The “BBC”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25027090 has a short article on the background to Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea. It quotes another children’s author, who suggests that some of the imagery stems from Kerr’s experience as a little girl whose family fled from the Nazis (tigers, like Nazis, are dangerous). This seems to me improbable – the tiger is hungry, but genial, and little Sophie embraces him. But what I’ve always liked about the book when reading it to my children is the ordinary world into which the tiger irrupts. You can tell a lot about the political economy of 1950s or 1960s middle class life in a London flat from reading it. It’s a world where the milkman still comes around every day, and the grocer has a delivery boy. But it’s also a world where a moderately hungry tiger can quickly consume all the food in the flat (the pictures suggest that the cupboard shelves are rather bare) – the grocery’s delivery boy can carry everything that he needs to in the basket mounted on the front of his bicycle, because there isn’t much to carry. Perhaps most strange from the perspective of a modern American child, there’s a limited supply of water – the tiger has drunk so much from the tap that Sophie cannot have a bath.

This isn’t nearly as strange to me, or Irish people of my generation, as I suspect it is to most middle class Americans. I grew up in a professional family, but many of the things that Americans take for granted (and, as best as I can tell from TV, novels etc, took for granted back then too) would have seemed like the most sybaritic of luxuries. Britain was somewhat better off, obviously, but not by much. David Lodge’s comic novel, Changing Places plays up some of the differences between the material standards of living in the US and Britain for comic effect, but he really doesn’t have to exaggerate much (when I was a child, we lived for a year in a flat in Darlington – much of what he describes is familiar). The life I have today would have been unimaginable to me as a child, or even a teenager. Which is all a roundabout way of getting towards saying that ordinary life in the US today, for people who are middle class or higher is a life of extraordinary material abundance, even from the perspective of other Western nations in recent memory. If you’re one of the people enjoying this life, you likely have a great deal to be grateful for. So happy Thanksgiving.



Phil 11.28.13 at 4:33 pm

Not sure if this is completely tangential to your post or not, but I’ll say it anyway – I think you’re radically misreading the Tiger. How well stocked the cupboards are isn’t really the point (before refrigeration, probably not very – but that’s precisely what neither Kerr or her original readers would have had our contemporary perspective on). The Tiger isn’t a “moderately hungry tiger” snacking on everything that’s available; he eats all the food in the house because that’s what he does. If they’d had a double-door fridge and a chest freezer, he would have cleaned them out too. And no, Britain isn’t and never (at least within the last century) has been a country where the supply of running water is limited. That’s actually one of my favourite details in the story, and certainly my favourite example of the Tiger’s awesomeness: he drinks all the water in the TAP! “Plenty of water in the tap”? (As my parents used to say to me when I asked for something sugary and expensive, like orange squash.) Not when the Tiger’s been!

I agree with you that the Tiger makes an absolutely lousy Nazi, though. He’s… something else.


MPAVictoria 11.28.13 at 4:39 pm

Really interesting post! Those material differences seem to have shrunk a great deal in the last 40 years. Speaking as a Canadian who has traveled a bit in Western Europe and has friends from that area middle class lives didn’t seem to be that different than mine in material abundance. Smaller living spaces and cars (on average) but better access to other goods seemed to make things balance out.


Maria 11.28.13 at 6:45 pm

Orange juice was a Christmas morning treat, chez Farrell, and I remember being shocked that TV Americans not only had enormous double-sized fridges, but their children were allowed to dip into them between mealtimes. Unthinkable!


P O'Neill 11.29.13 at 12:39 am

The hot water could run out quickly enough for a bath to be infeasible.


Shatterface 11.29.13 at 1:12 am

You can tell a lot about the political economy of 1950s or 1960s middle class life in a London flat from reading it. It’s a world where the milkman still comes around every day, and the grocer has a delivery boy.

We still have a milkman but the grocer’s delivery boy now has a van.


sherparick 11.29.13 at 1:30 am

In the 1930s, middle and upper middle class Englishmen and women still had a standard of living at least equal to or not slightly higher than depression era Americans of the same period. And then came WWII and the very different post-war experience of the United States and the U.K. Really, the explosion of wealth and its spread throughout most urban U.S. social classes was amazing. My Mom and Dad were amazingly grateful, and my Dad could never quite believe it, always thinking it was a mirage that would disappear on the next Depression. It was an environment that I took for granted, having known nothing other than the supermarket, TV, plentiful water, in-door plumbing (something both my Mom growing up in Depression Oklahoma – think of the Grapes off Wrath – and my Dad in 1920 Baltimore – did not experience until their teen age years), refrigerators, and single family housing on a 1/4 acre lot. When I watch English and French movies of the period (Breathless or “This Sporting Life,” I see that a huge difference had opened up, that the WWII and the end of Empire had really stalled the growth and living standards compared to American. However, by the time I moved to Germany in 1981, there seem to have been a lot of catching up, and by the time I came back in 2006, it appears roughly equal again, at least between Southern England, France, and Western Germany.


Kieran 11.29.13 at 2:03 am


Shatterface 11.29.13 at 2:08 am

The end of Empire didn’t stall the growth of living standards it’s just that ‘Kitchen Sink’ dramas portrayed a working class that had hitherto been ignored in film.

We still had rationing for years after the war but we had a welfare state, a national health service and comprehensive education. Prior to WWII the best most working class people could hope for was domestic drudgery serving middle class people too lazy to dress themselves.


Tom Slee 11.29.13 at 2:26 am

The life I have today would have been unimaginable to me as a child, or even a teenager.

While this rings bells for me too, there are occasional surprises the other way, like when dripping gets repositioned as a new-found gourmet speciality.


Tom Slee 11.29.13 at 2:28 am

You know what else they have now? rap singers.


William Timberman 11.29.13 at 3:02 am

I’m surprised no one has yet mentioned 84 Charing Cross Road. Hard to imagine a more poignant depiction of the relative post-war circumstances of the English-speaking middle classes on opposite sides of the Atlantic.


Emma in Sydney 11.29.13 at 4:24 am

That’s one of those marvellous books that gets better with many many readings — the text is both simple and full of possibilities, and the pictures are wonderful. I always thought of it as an elaborate story jointly made up by the mother and daughter to persuade their husband and father that he had to take them out to dinner, and the heights of luxury in a cafe — sausages and chips. The modesty of it is definitely the charm.


maidhc 11.29.13 at 6:51 am

I’ve known people living out in the country who had a small pump that pumped well water into a cistern in the attic. If you emptied out the cistern, you would have to wait a good while for it to fill up again, because the flow rate was not high. It meant you couldn’t have too many people take showers in a row.

I wonder if similar arrangements were once common in the city because of very low water pressure? It’s not something I’ve really heard about though.

I have some collections of British comics from the Edwardian era, and the height of luxurious living is usually portrayed as a roaring fire and unlimited quantities of sausage and mash.


Belle Waring 11.29.13 at 6:56 am

My favorite part was always the totally breathless end: and then they went out–TO A CAFE!ZOMG


Will 11.29.13 at 7:02 am

It’s a wonderful book. I love the picture of them going out into the street to the cafe “so they went out in the dark, and all the street lamps were lit, and all the cars had their lights on” – for me it captures the cosy magic of being a little kid and getting to stay up late and go out for sausages and chips and ice cream. And there’s the marmalade cat as an echo of the tiger. My interpretation was that they just decide to go out one night, and Sophie sees the cat, and imagines the tiger episode as a kind of retrospective rationale. I like yours too though Emma.

And although he is a lovely tiger, and very polite, surely there’s a hint of menace in “and then he looked round the kitchen to see what else he could find”?


bad Jim 11.29.13 at 7:07 am

There’s a six-year old in my life, and I’m jealous of him, because some of the toys he has are things I wanted and never got. We got plenty of toys at Christmas, though.

We also got stockings filled with anachronistic gifts: nuts and little oranges, utterly ordinary stuff, as part of our Scandinavian tradition, with the explanation that, though this might seem like nothing to you, this was the best part of Christmas for your grandparents.


ingrid robeyns 11.29.13 at 9:24 am

Thanks for this, Henry. You are so right.

One thing affluent people can do to acquire a sense of perspective on their affluence is to do voluntary work – either at home or abroad. I think that works much better than novels and movies, since there are much fewer options of distancing oneself from the situation. It’s probably a tad unfair (and not good advertisement for my own business!), but I’ve always said that I learnt more from the voluntary work that I did as a student (mainly over the Summer in developing countries and eastern Europe) than from studying at university. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s able and willing to take up a challenge.


Ed Herdman 11.29.13 at 9:56 am

The tiger is a representation of the laws of thermodynamics – the second and third especially. I think the tiger will be back to visit us again sometime – how soon or late is anybody’s guess, but within our lifetimes.

@ bad Jim:
I’ve gotten the same things – from an upstate New York tradition. I think that one was pretty common; even with postwar scarcity in the UK, the U.S. was only better off relatively. Relative to us today, there wasn’t much variety in many areas in the U.S. (although in some ways, i.e. the total number of varieties of crops produced, was once higher than it was, but I don’t know when the effects of modern horticulture really started to kick in).


Phil 11.29.13 at 11:33 am

Call me cranky – inappropriately so, really, given that it’s not even a childhood favourite of mine; I only read it when my younger child discovered it, some time in the last decade – but hot water cylinder capacity really isn’t the issue here. The Tiger drinks all the water in the tap. There’s no water in the tap when you turn it on; and that’s not because – really, specifically, not because – water shortages of any kind were a normal occurrence, but because the Tiger has drunk all the water. Because the Tiger is awesome (in the literal sense of the word). It’s a bit like discussing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and saying “well, if you remember, those old style wardrobes did go back an awful long way…”

Belle may be on to something, though – the characters in the book definitely live in a world where going out to a cafe for tea, on an ordinary weeknight, is a big and exciting event. But then, so do I, and I’m 53. (We had chips last night, as we do once or twice a month, but we took them home (newspaper was not involved). I had a steak and kidney pudding with mine. It was good.)


Phil 11.29.13 at 11:42 am

I have some collections of British comics from the Edwardian era, and the height of luxurious living is usually portrayed as a roaring fire and unlimited quantities of sausage and mash.

That trope lived on at least into the seventies – the Beano‘s definition of a final-frame feast was very often a mountain of mashed potato with sausages sticking out of it in all directions, Christmas-tree style.

Reminds me of the mythical “lashings of ginger beer” which Enid Blyton’s Famous Five were always supposed to indulge in on their picnics. A researcher for QI apparently combed through the Famous Five oeuvre and found no reference to any such thing – the closest thing was a reference to “lashings of hard-boiled eggs”. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that would take very many hard-boiled eggs.

Parenthetically, I think the Secret Seven canon would have borne investigation – I’m sure I remember them hi-ho’ing off on some adventure equipped with ginger beer. Haven’t really got the budget to pursue the question myself, sadly.


dax 11.29.13 at 11:49 am

Wasn’t the UK piss poor, even compared to continental countries, until around 1960? Meat rationing until 1955. For those who like to think a large debt/gdp ratio doesn’t matter because the US managed after WWII, the UK gives another side of the story: able to pay it off, sure, but on the backs of ordinary people’s consumption.


Shatterface 11.29.13 at 11:57 am

That trope lived on at least into the seventies – the Beano‘s definition of a final-frame feast was very often a mountain of mashed potato with sausages sticking out of it in all directions, Christmas-tree style.

Much more recently than that.

Worth remembering that James Bond waxes lyrically about Blue Nun and his expensive tases in the novels usually extend as far as roast beef and boiled vegetables.


marek 11.29.13 at 12:08 pm

I have been round this twice – once as one of the first generation of readers, then again a few years ago with my son. My childhood was in many ways Sophie’s childhood, I recognise many of the details. And that’s critical in a way which is much harder for a modern reader to see. Everything is absolutely normal in this story. Except that a tiger has come to tea.

So the tiger had not only eaten them out of house and home (itself not a phrase that I have heard for a good while), but had drunk all the water in the tap. Which is impossible, because water in taps doesn’t work like that, and that’s exactly the point. Every small child knows that now, and every small child (or certainly every Sophie-like small child) knew it then.

So I am with Phil@1 & 19, this is a forced reading, and I suspect was set by the fact that now so much more of the story is strange and unfamiliar. Milkmen are like red squirrels. Fridges are bigger. Groceries are back to being delivered, but not by a boy on a bike. But it’s still prett special when a tiger comes to tea.


Igor Belanov 11.29.13 at 12:36 pm

“That trope lived on at least into the seventies – the Beano‘s definition of a final-frame feast was very often a mountain of mashed potato with sausages sticking out of it in all directions, Christmas-tree style.”

I think that’s more to do with kids than the prevailing level of luxury consumption in the economy though. Beano readers these days are more likely to relate to an enormous vat of haribo or a whale-size burger than an huge table crammed with caviar, pate de fois gras, venison and such like.


Metatone 11.29.13 at 12:54 pm

Haven’t read the thread yet, but to say that the article is to draw attention to a documentary about the author. It was on on Tuesday, but is still on iPlayer if you are able to use that service. Well worth watching.


Tim Worstall 11.29.13 at 1:41 pm

“Which is all a roundabout way of getting towards saying that ordinary life in the US today, for people who are middle class or higher is a life of extraordinary material abundance, even from the perspective of other Western nations in recent memory.”

Careful there. Next you’ll be saying that real wages have risen these past 30 or 40 years and that’s not something anyone’s supposed to believe these days, is it?


Anderson 11.29.13 at 4:34 pm

14: exactly right, Belle, the kind of thing that IS totally amazing awesome to the little girl in the story.

I confess that when I read this to my little boy, and the dad has just come home & the mom is waving her arms about the tiger who ate all the food, I insert an “oh, brother” for the dad. He was not expecting to be upstaged by a tiger. (So I also like Emma’s reading.)


Dan Hardie 11.29.13 at 6:01 pm

If anyone here hasn’t read Judith Kerr’s autobiographical trilogy about how her family fled from the Nazis and settled in Britain, they are well worth the time. The books are written for teenagers or older children- the first is called ‘When Hitler stole pink rabbit’- and make a Christmas good present for a bright kid, but adults will enjoy them too.

Kerr’s father was a very interesting man- the most famous literary critic of his generation in Germany, and not only Jewish but given to writing very funny satires on Hitler: his name was on the list for the very first round-ups after the Nazis came to power, and he and his family got out just in time.


Dan Hardie 11.29.13 at 6:02 pm

Make a good Christmas present, even…


gerry 11.29.13 at 6:35 pm

“for people who are middle class or higher is a life of extraordinary material abundance”

Unfortunately with those who are middle-class or higher, in the US, and love to think of themselves as progressives or something, the class observation in this is routinely elided as thanks are given (with a sickeningly misty tone) that “we’re such a rich country.”
Since the poor only suffer in the Third World. And the poor in the US have it good, by comparison. Therefore that share of the US abundance I have, I must deserve, while they do not..tsk tsk…etc.etc..


Andy Wilton 11.29.13 at 9:28 pm

I’d agree with Phil @ 19 on the significance of all the water in the tap, and with Marek on how normal all the (non-tiger-related) details of the story would have seemed at the time: Sophie’s parents look to be somewhat better off than mine were in the late 60s, but otherwise the world of the book has an almost Proustian ability to evoke my childhood.

That said, I don’t think the tiger-Hitler theory is 180 degrees out. The most striking aspect of the story for me is the way the practical problem of the tiger’s gluttony plays out between the parents, while Sophie is simply delighted by the whole thing: no bath, going out when it’s dark, sausages and chips and ice cream. If the tiger is symbolic of anything, I’d say it represents the Kerr’s flight across Europe rather than the oppression that triggered that flight. To a sufficiently young child, protected by her parents from the intense difficulty of the whole undertaking, might that journey not have seemed like a great adventure? Zurich, Paris, London: new schools, new languages?


Andrew Burday 11.29.13 at 11:31 pm

I don’t know the book, but just looking at the picture at the top of this post I am leaning kinda Freud-wards as to what the all-consuming tiger might represent.

Politically, Tony Judt makes a point early in Postwar of what rough shape Britain was in during the 40s, 50s, and into the 60s. As there was no serious Communist threat in GB, there was no incentive for the USA to give them any breaks (e.g. on wartime loans), much less Marshall Plan $$$.


Suzanne 11.29.13 at 11:38 pm

#6: “My Mom and Dad were amazingly grateful, and my Dad could never quite believe it, always thinking it was a mirage that would disappear on the next Depression. ”

It was and did.


Corey Robin 11.30.13 at 12:09 am

Fascinating post and thread. I had always been under the impression that the backdrop to the story was decolonization, the loss of India, and the arrival of new immigrants from the decolonized lands. For some reason the refrain “We’ve over here because you were over there” was in my head as I read it to my daughter. The tiger that consumes everything was the new immigrants. Is there nothing to that interpretation?

Anyway, perhaps one of my three favorites to read to my daughter back when.


John Quiggin 11.30.13 at 2:24 am

On the other hand, growing up in Australia on children’s books set in interwar England, I was always struck by the fact that, at the end of the day’s adventure, “Cook” or perhaps Mrs X the housekeeper, would be there to provide lemonade and biscuits.


Gene O'Grady 11.30.13 at 3:40 am

When I was in college (this would be 1968-9) the eccentric mother of an eccentric friend of mine had rented the country house in Bernardsville NJ of the old president of the Erie Lackawannah Railroad from his elderly daughter who didn’t want the place to go to seed any more than it already was. They lived in about twenty of the orginal sixty some rooms; very beautiful, wonderful grounds — looked over the neighbor’s place and the horse standing there had just won the Kentucky Derby.

But what amazed me being from suburban California and all was that the only hot water hat to be pumped up to a tank on the roof every morning and heated. When it was gone it was gone. Since the place had been designed to host large parties I had trouble imagining how they did it. I believe the place (I think it was called Percy Pine Cottage, the main house being in New York) was built ca. 1910 and lived in in style until 1940 or so.


Gene O'Grady 11.30.13 at 3:51 am

Through the wonders of the Google I discover that the place was called Upton Pyne Cottage, was demolished in 1982, and their town house is now the Russian consulate in New York. And scratch the reference to the Erie Lackawanna, that’s aging memory; their money was well beyond that. Percy Pyne was the father of the lady I met briefly who lived in a small house on the estate.


zbs 11.30.13 at 9:11 am

Of my brief previous encounter with the story, Robin’s interpretation was the one that leapt out at me. I only just now notice those fantastic tights.


Belle Waring 11.30.13 at 9:15 am

No one has “lashings of ginger beer” in Enid Blyton, that’s silly. There’s a housekeeper at the place where they go and stay during the hols and on the first day she makes an amazing, absolutely bang-up tea that includes, like, a ham, and savory pie, and bread with fresh, cold butter, and a cake or fruit crumble or something that has lashings of cream. Unless it’s Valley of Adventure in which case they mix the liquid left over from the tinned peaches with water from the stream and drink that. When my girls and mom and I were stuck in NYC for Irene we went and bought cans of peaches and pineapple because my daughters had never tried them, but the kids in the (way superior to Famous Five, Sickening Seven, Nauseating Nine, etc.) Adventure books are always having them and then being siced. Those kids are fucking down for some tinned pineapple. “There’s loads of tins!” Jack exclaimed… Loads, people, LOADS OF TINS!


Phil 11.30.13 at 9:26 am

Corey – weird but interesting. I can honestly say that that interpretation had never for a second occurred to me (nor did it occur to anyone on the programme referred to upthread), and I’m as un-colour-blind as the next middle-aged white guy. Can’t deny the timing’s right, though. Hmm. Interesting.


Emma in Sydney 11.30.13 at 10:12 am

Belle, my affluent Australian children fell completely in love with the Famous Five, mostly because of the un-PC way they talk to each other. “Oh don’t be an utter ass, Dick”, and “George, you idiot, of course Timmy knows the way home”, etc. In one of the stories, they are holed up in a Welsh mountain cabin and the only food they have is a whole ham. Of which they eat lashings, undoubtedly. It’s great to read aloud — lots of now unusual words, like “dismal” and “mulish” and ‘ragamuffin”. (Also imitating posh English accents is rather fun).


Andy Wilton 11.30.13 at 10:15 am

Fascinating though Corey’s theory is, I think it has difficulty explaining the ending of the book. If the tiger is an immigrant, surely he should come to tea every day, move in next door, become part of the new normal; whereas in fact – rather wonderfully – he never comes back at all. (This perhaps tends to undermine another interpretation too, the one hinted at by the rather tiger-ish cat on the way to the cafe, that the story is all in Sophie’s imagination. A shame, because that view sits rather well with Sophie’s air of detachment from – or even delight at – her mother’s distress.)


Belle Waring 11.30.13 at 12:14 pm

Emma: my brother and I read all the “Adventure” books when we were small, and we used to play a game about it called Talking which was basically me narrating live-action Blyton fan-fic which included not just Philip, Dinah, Jack and Lucy-Ann (and Kiki, mis-identified in the book as a parrot but in all the iconic illustrations and covers as a sulfur-crested cockatoo) but also Ben and Belle. Every night when we got sent to bed we would stay up playing it. So I’ve read them to my kids, and forced John to read them (I am cruel and un-disobeyable) and they are faves of my children now, too. It is an eternal question whether Valley of Adenture is the best (it is) or whether Ship of Adventure might not just be pretty fucking amazing…(it is) with consensus always reverting to the correct verdict that Valley is the best (Violet is a staunch Blyton fan and Valley #1 proponent). When we were stuck inside for so long (in my Uncle and Aunt’s classic pre-War six apartment on Park Ave., pretty much the least sad story ever) during hurricane Irene Zoe and Violet reenacted the thrilling scene where Dinah and Lucy-Ann wave their jumpers up and down on the ledge behind the waterfall in order to distract Pépi so the boys can get out of their hidden cave. God, I almost think they jumped up and down on Jon and Candy’s bed?! No, no way. Neh. Wey. Verdict on tinned peaches: yummy! Different food from real peaches, but yummy.


Phil 11.30.13 at 2:46 pm

Verdict on tinned peaches: yummy! Different food from real peaches, but yummy.

The availability of fresh & non-native fruit & veg has changed for the better in my lifetime (while the availability of fresh seasonal native produce has changed for the worse). As I remember I first tasted a fresh peach in 1978, and I was in Spain at the time – I think it was another year or two after that before they started appearing in British shops. At one point in My friend Mr Leakey J.B.S. Haldane (or his narratorial stand-in) eats a mango, talks about how unusually delicious they are, and apologises to us readers, as we were never likely to taste one unless we travelled to the countries where they grow some day. That was still true when I went to university; then all of a sudden it wasn’t.


Alison P 11.30.13 at 4:28 pm

I think ‘lashings of ginger beer’ comes from Five Go Mad in Dorset, IIRC the first program to be shown on Channel 4 in 1982.


Igor Belanov 11.30.13 at 7:22 pm

“Politically, Tony Judt makes a point early in Postwar of what rough shape Britain was in during the 40s, 50s, and into the 60s.”

Only relatively, if at all. Clearly there was a need for austerity policies after the war, but that was as much a question of priorities as anything else, as there was a lot of money pumped into the welfare state and a lot of attention given to promoting exports and improving the trade deficit.
There were good reasons why McMillan stated ‘You’ve never had it so good’, and in the twenty years after 1955 there were vast amounts of money invested in transforming the social and physical environment, with public and private housing, industrial modernisation, hospital building, commercial development and road construction. Not as much as in some other countries, but a lot compared to the period since 1979.


DiscoDollyDeb 11.30.13 at 8:44 pm

“Lashings of ginger beer” was used in the Famous Five parody on the Comic Strip show which featured Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Rik Mayal, etc. Not sure if that phrase ever actually appeared in an FF book.

I was born in London in 1957, my parents were children of the blitz, evacuated from London at Paddington Station with the cards hung around their necks, etc. I grew up on a post-war, pre-fab housing estate sandwiched between Beckton Road and the East Ham by-pass. That world is long gone–but I totally relate to the bare cupboards, milk delivery, and frequent lack of (hot) water. When my family moved to America in the late sixties, I remember being flabbergasted by the sheer amounts of–well, everything really. I try to explain to my own children not to take things for granted, but it’s always hard to be grateful for what you’ve always had.


Rosie 11.30.13 at 9:55 pm

The Tiger is a charming book, and I loved reading it to my niece.

I can’t say anything about the socio-economic influence behind it, but as far as literary influences go it’s in the English absurd tradition where ordinary people react with a straight face to something fantastic and bizarre happening in their lives. So Alice in Alice in Wonderland behaves like a well brought up girl to all the weird creatures she meets. N F Simpson’s A Resounding Tinkle starts with a couple grumbling about an elephant in their suburban garden. (Simpson said he had been influenced by Lewis Carroll and James Thurber). Shaun of the Dead remains in this tradition, with the main guy keeping a zombie as a mate in his garden shed. Tiger is a children’s version of happy absurdity – of a safe people whose absurdity isn’t Kafkaesque and menacing but light-hearted. There’s a sweetness in it.

So the author, fleeing from Nazis, found herself safe in England and paid a tribute to an English tradition of silliness.


Dan Hardie 12.01.13 at 1:27 am

Andrew Burday: ‘Politically, Tony Judt makes a point early in Postwar of what rough shape Britain was in during the 40s, 50s, and into the 60s. As there was no serious Communist threat in GB, there was no incentive for the USA to give them any breaks (e.g. on wartime loans), much less Marshall Plan $$$.’

I’m afraid you are wrong: the UK received considerable sums under the Marshall Plan. Between 1948 and 1951 the UK received approximately $3.297 billion under the Marshall Plan, according to the estimates in the 2001 study ‘The Marshall Plan: Fifty Years After’.

The UK also received a loan from the US of $3.75 billion agreed in July 1946. At about the same time the UK received a Canadian loan equivalent to US$1.19 billion. These loans preceded Marshall Aid, and the terms of the US loan were extremely severe- they included

I’m also afraid that Tony Judt never said that the UK received no Marshall Plan aid or other postwar US loans. The book I cite above, giving estimates of how many billion dollars the UK received in Marshall aid, was edited by Martin Schain and introduced by…Tony Judt.

I’m really not laughing at you, as you just made an honest mistake. I’ve made plenty of mistakes myself where I was sure that I knew something and didn’t check it.

There was slower postwar growth in the UK than in most European economies, and economic historians debate the causes. But lack of Marshall Aid wasn’t one of them.

My own candidate for one of the chief causes would be the far greater number of peasants and agricultural labourers, even in 1945, and even in putatively industrialised economies like Germany, than there were in the UK. To a degree that astonished me when I read up on the topic, countries like France, Italy and even Germany had an enormous pool of low-productivity rural labour in 1945. A lot of their growth came from the kind of process we have seen in China over the last forty years: getting people off the land and into the new cities and factories.


Dan Hardie 12.01.13 at 1:34 am

Sorry, sentence at the end of the third paragraph should have read:

These loans preceded Marshall Aid, and the terms of the US loan were extremely severe- they included lifting wartime controls to make sterling convertible a year after the loan agreement’s ratification. The result was a currency crisis. This crisis was one of the factors that pushed the British and some other European governments to ask the US for a large aid package in 1947, which (quite rapidly) became the Marshall Plan.


Chris Williams 12.01.13 at 5:32 pm

I too found Corey’s ‘immigrant’ explanation rather odd. Totally new to me. I’m with the ‘ginger cat retcon, with an undercurrent of POWERFUL THINGS EXIST’ faction. I read the tiger in a Prince Charles voice, in order to inculcate my children with suspicion of monarchy.

But if you do want a take on immigration from a British childrens’ author writing in the 1950s and 1960s, check out Michael Bond’s ‘Paddington’ books. Paddington is an immigrant – but so is his old friend Mr Gruber.

Before it got posh, Ladbroke Grove was where the DPs, the hippies, and the West Indians all lived: you can also get hold of this through Michael Moorcock’s work, and (back to children again) the artwork of Shirley Hughes.


guthrie 12.01.13 at 8:41 pm

Belle #43 – I preferred Circus of Adventure, I think. I always preferred them to the famous five books. The one in Wales and the one where they all got transported by airplane were kind of trippy, thinking about it as an adult. Get in a box, get out again in a mysterious other place that you don’t recognise, and all you can find to eat are canned food?


Belle Waring 12.02.13 at 8:46 am

52: the plane one is Valley of Adventure, dude! They get in the wrong plane, which is naturally being flown by smugglers and/or rogues, and end up in a valley in the Alps totally cut off from society because the only pass was dynamited in the war and has yet to be re-opened. The shed full of tins belongs to the smugglers, and that’s where the get the LOADS OF TINS! The one in Wales is Mountain of Adventure, and it is straight tripped out because it’s actually, quite randomly, an SF novel despite conforming to the template of all the others. The bad guy has developed some unknown (atomic?) energy and is using imprisoned men as slaves and testers for experimental, like, jet-packs–wings basically. It’s good, but it’s weird. They’re all good, you should re-read them. There’s only seven.


Phil 12.02.13 at 9:06 am

Actually, Belle, Blyton’s a terrible author; you obviously haven’t read…

no, wait. Sorry. I meant to say, er, wrong thread. I mean, wrong blog. I mean, gosh, is that the time?


Yods 12.02.13 at 10:44 am

I recently came across and re-read a few of Blyton’s ‘Five Find-Outers’ books I used to read obsessively as a child. Disturbingly the children’s intelligence scale directly to their socio-economic standing, which I didn’t notice as a child but could explain why I used to be such a snob.


Nickp 12.02.13 at 6:38 pm

Belle Waring:

Thank you, Thank you, thank you! Lo, these many years ago, I read a library book which I can now identify as Valley of Adeventure. It clearly made an impression, because for years afterwards, in my daydream adventures, I was named Philip. For some reason, I did not retain the title or the name of the author, and for 35 years I have wondered what book it was.

I read all the Famous Five and Secret Seven books, but that was obviously the only Adventure book that crossed my path. I have no idea why.

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