I grew up in Greece in the ’70s. A time when the country was going through a difficult but forward-looking transition period of re-establishing a stable and democratic political scene, after years of devastation and turmoil: monarchy, WWII, civil war, military junta… you name it, the country lived through it. And that was only the 20th century!
As usual in periods of instability, the education sector is one of the first to suffer; another – closely related, is culture but that’s altogether a different story. So while all attention was focused on leasing new life to the rusty wheels of the Hellenic government apparatus and lifting the country back to its feet after the ‘7-year itch’ nuisance of fascist rule (1967-74), it became apparent that the educational system, suffering from years of oppression, fund shortages and general ignorance, was not a priority.
Enter the private sector – opportunistic as ever – to cover the loopholes in education by employing young, enthusiastic in their newly found freedom, ready for hard work academia; private language schools sprang like mushrooms and multiplied fast. Of course, being private meant a substantial burden on the family budget but, as the country was going through a phase of economic development and the people were looking forward to a better future, a good number of families felt they could afford the extra yearly tuition fees…
If they had the will and foresight that is… Because back then, sending your kid to language classes was still very much regarded as a luxury – not a necessity. Thankfully, my parents were quite prudent so there I was, three afternoons a week after primary school, swapping Greek grammar and arithmetic books, made somewhat tedious by the occasional (very) dull public sector teacher, with the colourful, imaginative English language ones, filled with interesting stories, pictures and illustrations and backed by inspiring tutors, whose good humour and enthusiasm were contagious. And while the quality and extent of my linguistic skills is debatable and susceptible to a lot of improvement, it was my untamed childish nature that’s to blame, not those bright young tutors nor the precious books costing my parents a small fortune year in, year out.
Among them, it is the ”Access to English” series that I cherish most; ”Getting On” followed by ”Turning Point”, published by Oxford University Press. Written by Michael Coles and Basil Lord and designed & illustrated by Peter Edwards. My original copies have long been gone, victims of some spring cleaning or other, but were recently replaced, thanks to the wonders of on-line shopping. All along, I thought I loved the books because of their endearing characters: who wouldn’t sympathise with poor Arthur, his daily struggles and adventures? About to lose the love of his life, Mary, soon to be married to smart and wealthy Bruce? But now, leafing again through the pages filled with so many memories, I realize that it was all down to the beautiful illustrations by Peter Edwards, after all.
This is how I learned about New Year’s resolutions, the meaning of ”living in digs” and the health hazards of chain-smoking:
One cant’ help feeling for Arthur and his struggles to impress Mary:
He even goes shopping with her; but Mary is looking for a dress to impress her boyfriend Bruce:
This is the rival: Bruce; he is a successful car dealer but appearances deceive. Sheila, the plump young lady beside Arthur is in love with him but Arthur only has eyes for Mary:
Here, I learned about gas-fires that needed to be fed with coins to heat. I thought this was a made-up story until I first visited London in 1981; I actually stayed in a room exactly like this one, on the top floor of a row house in Acton.
We made sure to have enough coins to keep the metre turning… no late breakfast in front of the fire and a nice cuppa waiting for us!
Boring drills became exciting under Peter Edwards’ pen:
Page 130 brought hope and promise… and the last chapter of ”Getting On”:
”Turning Point” was about maturity, the dreaded domestic budget and burdens of married life:
And dealing with life’s dilemmas:
”Getting On” and ”Turning Point” covers:
I looked Peter Edwards up, of course I did! Not much to be found and the fact that more illustrators share the same name doesn’t help. But I believe our Edwards is the one who created graphics for the covers of first editions (Heinemann) of Graham Greene’s novels. He must also be the same who, together with his wife Guvnor Edwards, illustrated a number of the Rev. Awdry’s Railway Series (aka Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends), now out of print and, therefore, quite rare. Gunvor also illustrated ‘Stepney the Bluebell Engine’. If I’m right, these charming pictures are their design:
A talented couple, a pair of accomplished designers that deserve more recognition than they enjoyed. Mr Edwards, a well overdue thank you for making my learning English fun!