Tuesday, February 26

Reader's Digest- Part of (My) Ancient History

I usually write medieval and about medieval, but for this post I'm going to look at something different.
I don't know how many people caught the news during the week that Reader's Digest has been put into bankruptcy to shed $465 million in debt as consumers shift to electronic media. Reader's Digest is a publication that has attracted a lot of criticism over the years but it's still a publication with a 91 year old history. I'll bet that many of you were introduced to it at dentists' surgeries (I know I was), it being forever linked in your mind with the sound of a whizzing drill in a nearby room and the urge to run somewhere very fast. Out the door, preferably. 
But I couldn't help just the tiniest twinge of nostalgia. I knew I had a copy that I'd kept years ago, simply for the novelty that it was published in the year I was born. 'Ah', you say. 'Here comes the ancient history part.' And indeed, it does. I present to you a little reminder of how the world was in March 1965- according to Reader's Digest.
Reader's Digest, March 1965 Edition
So here we have it, with its instantly recognizable format: articles listed along with their original publication, the picture in a band down the left hand side that fully covers the back. This one is imaginatively titled 'Playing Cards' and was 'specially painted' for RD. The opening pages are of course advert after advert: But these adverts aren't presented as such. Oh, no. 'Buy Lines', by Alison Grey, presented adverts as mini-tale. There's a man who writes to Alison: My wife wants a fully automatic washing machine and I'd like her to have it. I can see that an ordinary twin tub isn't the answer on wash day.'  Alison replies cheerily: 'The nice husband who confided in me this way might voice your views!'  Like hell. There wasn't a man alive in 1965 who gave a hoot about wash day. Alison is also thrilled that you can now buy frozen prawns and stick plastic on your books or maps (eh? Hope it folds, Alison). But she also provides reassurance. Apparently, what worries middle-aged men and women is 'not so much their increased size round the middle, but the increased discomfort and tiredness it brings.' She recommends a giant elastic thingy, called the RALLIE Health Belt which you strap on and pull hard (stop sniggering at the back) for just 5 minutes a day. Problem solved. 
Reluctant though I was to move on from Alison, I carried on and came to this chap.
Dress Sharp, Fly High
Yes, this man is pleased to announce: '£2 TO SATISFY A DREAM'. He asks 'Have you ever gone to the airport and seen someone walk out to a trim, eager airplane, climb into the cabin and shut the door on the outside world?' Well, yes. A pilot. Not sure about the door. And dressed like this guy? No. He's keen, though. 'You'll go along safely at 122 miles an hour and the feeling is wonderful.' And you need a coupon along with your £2. I don't know if it's a general rule but I think, in life, it's probably a good idea not to get in a plane with someone who is flying it via a coupon deal. The advert is also typical of the weird US/UK mix that was always present in Reader's Digest. The currency is in Pounds Sterling, yet he refers to an 'airplane' as opposed to the British 'aeroplane'.
We then leave the adverts for a page or two. Time for an article! 'What Every Young Cat Ought to Know.' Yep, it's an article about kitten-rearing, written charmingly in the voice of a first-person kitten. Aw. 
Just as well your heart is now well and truly warmed, because the next article is a an emotional glacier. Its title is 'IF ONLY THEY HAD WAITED', capitals courtesy of RD. It is written by Anonymous. Anonymous had to wait six months before writing her article because 'the hurt was so deep that only time could partially heal the wounds... and no matter how hard we try to avoid admitting it to ourselves, tragedy is what has occurred.' Sounds terrible! I braced myself.  Turns out Anonymous's son, Paul, had got his girlfriend, Nancy, pregnant. There followed a full five pages of how morally lax he'd been. Anonymous even narrowed it down to where the evil deed had taken place: 'Now, too late, I realized that our playroom was the place where the tragedy had started.' How?? Anonymous finishes off with: 'Paul, your life and the lives of those who love you will never be the same, will never be as contented or happy or or hopeful as they once were.' Poor Paul and Nancy. They sounded just fine. They got married, got jobs and presumably The Tragedy was a cutie. 
The mood lightens a bit again thanks to an advert for tights.

We can only guess that Nancy was a wearer of Kayser nylons, because it would appear that one doesn't wear any skirt with them. The use of a tiger skin in an advert is jaw-dropping but is indicative of how little awareness there was of conservation issues in 1965. Tiger numbers were already under threat but few people wanted to know. Tigers are of course now on the endangered species list and their numbers outside of captivity are in the low thousands. Leafing through more articles in our 1965 edition, we see that 'The Falling Tower of Pisa' is going to be flattened in 50 years.(Still up- yay!). We learn social etiquette from another advert: never chew gum in company, but you go for it when you're hurtling down the black slopes. Gulp.
Gum Etiquette
We continue with the usual Life's Like That and Humor in Uniform where readers would send in their own anecdotes. An article asks politely: 'Are You Well Adjusted?', another extols the virtues of saying 'Thank You.' Another is about 'Edward Durell Stone: Architect Extraordinary'. Nice. Then this one:
Wasn't Expecting This One...
Yes, a deadly serious article on the hunt for one of the surviving members of Hitler's elite. A war criminal that was still actively being hunted in 1965. And of course he was. It was only twenty years since the end of World War Two. Yet the article seems so incongruous in the middle of all the bland items in there. The article gives all of his last known movements as well as a physical description. It also bizarrely  notes: 'An indefatigable woman-chaser, he is said never to have met a female whom he didn't press for an affair.'  I do wonder about the breadth of that statement. If it were literally true, it would have made him quite easy to identify in any public place. The article ends with an astonishingly low-key instruction. It states: 'If you know or have seen a man whom you believe to be Martin Bormann, telephone the West German Embassy.' But because this is a British edition, it has a further footnote: to make sure you contact the right one: 'German Embassy, 23 Belgrave Square, London S.W.1. Telephone: BELgravia 5033). Were law enforcement agencies too busy??
We end on a more light-hearted note. Just look at the laughs you can have with your typewriter:

Typing Fun!

I don't know if you just sit there at your typewriter amusing yourself, or whether you type a funny , then rush across to another typist to show them. The working day must have flown by. 
So we bid good bye to Reader's Digest 1965. For some of you, I hope it's been an enjoyable nostalgia-fest. For the young, you should thank your lucky stars that someone invented the Internet, where things are completely different. On the Internet, you can look at funny cat pictures, stare at non-skirt wearing lady's legs, read moral diatribes, swap amusing word thingies...oh, I give up. Back to medieval for me.

My medieval thriller The Fifth Knight (published by Thomas & Mercer) can be found here on amazon.com or here on amazon.co.uk 


  1. I loved READERS DIGEST. My grandmother had a subscription, and it was always fun to read.

  2. A delightful read, EM. As someone who is a few (ahem) years older than you, I certainly remember Readers Digest. Interesting piece about Bormann - could be a novel in that one liner.


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