I came across this yellowing magazine in the vintage comic shop in Brewer Street, London W1. Rather than buy one of the Beanos or Dandys or even a TV21 that were more my era (and which would probably increase in value much more quickly), I spent my money on this odd publication instead.
It’s dated September 1938 and until I started writing this blog I thought it very much a product of its time. Britain was 12 months away from war and I assumed that the magazine was part of a determined effort by the government of the day to get the country’s youth fitter for the conflict that lay ahead. Turns out Health and Strength had been going for 40 years prior to 1938 and is indeed still going, er, strong today.
We invent post-modern irony one Tuesday afternoon
I bought the mag back in the 1980s, a time when you, being young, probably think irony didn’t exist. But it did (I think we invented it – it surely couldn’t have existed before then, could it?), and I remember taking the magazine back to the office and me and Jon, Caz and Gabby laughing like drains over ‘Pose of the Week’ and the ludicrous small ads promising ‘a new life free from care or suffering’. The pictures are hilarious – all these incredibly earnest young men adopting extraordinary poses in order to impress…well, other men I suppose. But, as a sort-of writer, it’s the ads and the articles that interested me. The authoritarian language, the nervousness surrounding anything deemed modern, and the cause of any physical or mental ailment always being identified as a lack of running about.
The greatest revelation was the problem page. This was before Agony Aunts, or indeed Agony Uncles, so readers’ ‘private problems’ were answered by a Mr. T. Bowen Partington, FIL, FRES. (If these qualifications meant something in 1938 they certainly don’t now.) The weird thing was, readers’ letters weren’t published – only Mr T’s replies. He’d identify the writer by their initials or by the name they’d given – FOOLISH of Surrey – then give them the benefit of his wisdom.
With only the answers to go by, we can only guess at the exact nature of the questions submitted (although some are glaringly obvious). I’ve abridged them slightly.
SEBASTIAN – I would rather advise that you stop using the belt and please remember that the condition you describe, on occasions when with your young lady, is the result of sexual excitement.
E.A.H.M (London) – Try to exercise greater control when with your girl.
WORRIED – Seeing that you have been stupid enough to enage in sexual intercourse, and now your “periods” are late, it is possible that you are pregnant.
H.M.S – There is absolutely no need for your pal to worry.
DOROTHY (Nuneaton) – Don’t think of it! He is almost old enough to be your father.
SORRY BOY (Swindon) – There is nothing to be gained by worry over your previous indulgence in self-abuse. Your physical state in regard to your chest may have nothing to do with your past.
NEDRAU – It will be all to the good that you stop the silly habit.
SOLEX (Esher) – I have already answered your former letter.
SPINNER (Leigh, Lancs) – Every three days or so.
Mr T didn’t miss an opportunity to flog his own publications, including ‘Sex and Morality’ (Probably no and yes, in that order) and ‘A Marriage Manual’. But most of his recommendations were in the spirit of the magazine he wrote for and included advice to take up some form of P.C. (Physical Conditioning?)
There’s agonising of a different sort over in the letters page, where an ongoing debate considers the advisability of adopting the German system of compulsory fitness training in the UK. (You want to travel back in time and tell them that a year from now, compulsory target practice will be more useful.) And here’s a handy suggestion for waterproofing a tent. Remember this for next year’s festival season:
‘The canvas should be coated with a mixture of: 1. Gelatine, 50 parts by weight, boiled in 3,000 parts of water free from lime; 2. Alum, 100 parts, dissolved in 3,000 parts of water; and 3. Soda Soap, dissolved in 2,000 parts of water.’ Do that and you’ll just have time to catch the headline act.