It seems right to kick off the return of Ladybird Tuesday with what is probably the best Ladybird book in my whole collection. One which my husband bought me as a recent birthday present after I made a comment about not having any of the Uncle Mac series in my Ladybird collection. I’m proud to say that I now have three titles, but my favourite has to be In The Train with Uncle Mac.
You might be wondering just who Uncle Mac was. And why there was a series of Ladybird books in his name.
Uncle Mac was otherwise known as Derek McCulloch, star of the BBC Radio Programme Children’s Hour. In fact, he went on to be head of Children’s Broadcasting at the BBC from 1933 to 1951. Ladybird teamed up with him for series 455 as they could see the value of working with someone as high-profile as he was and a “trusted”name and voice in many households.
In The Train with Uncle Mac was actually the last book to be published in series 455. The series started in 1945, but by the time In the Train was published it was 1955. Written by Derek McCulloch, this book was illustrated in a photographic style by W. C. Watson. In fact, it appeared to outlive the other titles in the Uncle Mac series and the copy I have (with a dust jacket) only has the one title in the series listed on the inside endpaper.
Bob and Betty, and their dog Trigger, were introduced in the “beside the sea” with Uncle Mac book and they reappear to take a train journey with Uncle Mac in In The Train. The journey starts though with them travelling alone from Newtown to London, where they meet with Uncle Mac, take the Underground across London before boarding another train at Waterloo to their destination of Sandbay.
In The Train follows their journey, with each page pointing out various features of their journey and the runnings of the railway. It covers everything from stoking the engine, to the guard who looks after them when they travel alone, and level crossings that the train goes over. The London Underground also features as the children use it with Uncle Mac to get from one London mainline station to another.
The book is incredibly of its time in so many different ways. There’s the obvious steam train on the cover that features in the mainline sections of their journey, but also the simple fact that children of Bob and Betty’s age travel alone, and are well behaved enough to have been bought tickets to take dinner in the train’s dining car. Nowadays you’d be hard pushed to find a train in the UK with a dining car of the sort where you can order a three course meal at your table which is beautifully adorned with a white table cloth.
My love of old fashioned train travel and the London Underground means that combining these together in a vintage Ladybird book is simply my idea of perfection. A gorgeous look back at the 1950s in Ladybird-land.