Ladybird expert Helen Day explains why one particular Ladybird book remains etched in the memories of a generation of British women…
When it comes to talking about Ladybird Books, there’s only so long I can put this one off. If you’re male, you may want to skip this post, as chances are you won’t get it. It’s a girl thing. It’s the 1964 version of Cinderella.
This is the most popular Ladybird Book of all time, by miles, according to the long-standing poll on my website.
There are thousands of different versions of Cinderella in the world. (Didn’t someone once say: “There are only seven stories in the world – and six of them are Cinderella”?) And there were four different Ladybird Book versions of the story issued between the 1950s and the 1980s. But this one – from the 606d series ‘Well Loved Tales’, written by Vera Southgate and illustrated lavishly by Eric Winter – is the definitive oeuvre. This is the book that shaped a generation of girls’ ideas of beauty and of the ‘posh frock’.
You see, Cinderella went to three different balls in this version and had three different dream dresses! And then a wedding dress! It was like a magical precursor to “What Not To Wear”. Yes, Cinderella gets the prince in the end – but she also gets a whole new wardrobe. Love and shopping – irresistible – like the “Rodeo Drive” scene in Pretty Woman (also one of those six stories in the world).
Just about every British woman now aged between 35 and 50 will remember those three glorious frocks – and will have strong opinions about which was the dream dress – the subconscious yard-stick for the wedding-dress decades later. You were either a ‘pink-silk-and-rosebuds girl’, a ‘blue-statin-and-net’ girl or a ‘white-gold-gauze’ girl. Personally, I was pink-silk – though blue-satin is just about the most popular according to the long-running poll on my website.
How tastes change! This picture seemed all that was subtle, poignant and understated to my young eyes.
I remember studying this picture and then asking my mother why the painting of the Mona Lisa was so famous and this picture wasn’t.
I remember my mother failed to give me an answer that I considered satisfactory.