Friday, 25 April 2014

PBOTD 25th April: Eleanor Helme - Jerry, the Story of an Exmoor Pony

Eleanor Helme, like so many pony book writers after her, believed firmly in the superiority of the countryside over the town. Her first two books (Jerry, the Story of an Exmoor Pony (1930) and The Joker and Jerry Again (1932)) were both co-written with Nance Paul. 

The hero of the book, Robin Marson, and his family are well off enough to buy the pony. The only thing that stops them riding is the fact they live in London. Robin's foal is kept by a local farmer until the family move down from London to Exmoor.  Fortunately for the progress of the story, this move takes some years, by which time Jerry is old enough to be broken in and ridden about the moor.  

Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1930, 1st edn, illus Cecil Aldin
I do like the description of the pot-hunting boy who appears at Exford Show, which Robin and his pony Jerry have also entered. Here he is, dressed in splendid newness, but somehow all wrong. He's the precursor of Susan Pyke and all those other pot hunters who ruined things for the honest but poor pony lover. (And, if you read Horse and Hound, every year the correspondence columns bring the same thing up again: beautiful ponies, professionally produced, sweeping all before them at minor shows). 

The boy's beautiful black pony has won at Olympia. The Londoner has clothes which are loud and exaggerated , he has “artificial show-ring mannerisms” and has come down from London specifically to win at a small country show.  Not only that, he relies on a groom, rather than looking after his pony himself, a character defect that was to resonate through many pony books to come.

“Now then, Jerry boy, we’re just going to beat him.  He’s not going to come down from his old Olympia and think he can mop up everything just because it’s a little country show.  It’s a jolly good show, and I’d like to see him out on the moor…..  And what d’you think, he’s only just gone out – hasn’t done anything for the pony himself, and there’s the Olympia prize ticket stuck up on the post where the pony is!””

 The Londoner is a good rider, but Robin and Jerry eventually vanquish him; the honest, hardworking countryside wins out over the affected, idle  town.  

Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1949
Without Cecil Aldin, who illustrated both the Jerry books, there would have been no gymkhana. His grandchildren complained to him that very few classes in shows were open to children, so he organised a show at Cloutsham Meadow on Exmoor in 1926.  The show, with 14 classes open only to children, was a roaring success, and Aldin was asked to organise another at Dunster.  This he did, and it featured a Handy Hunter course designed by show expert Captain ‘Chips’ Russell Wood (then as now the worried parent was in evidence:  parents complained the course was dangerous, not realising the vicious barbed wire on the course was actually string which had been knotted and painted).  Cecil Aldin gave the pony book heroine and hero something to aim at:  the Handy Hunter class.  
The Jerry stories were the only pony books Aldin illustrated. They were done towards the end of his life, when his output had decreased because of his arthritis. Sadly, Jerry and the Joker fell victim in a later printing to a different non-Aldin jacket:  Aldin’s jackets had been produced when pen and ink drawings on the equine dustjacket were the preferred method of illustrating them (why, I am not quite sure.  The school story fan had colour in plenty, with the gaily jacketed offerings of Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School.  Biggles’ dustjackets were in full colour, so why was the horsy child denied?  Did the stern workmanlike appearance one was supposed to observe in one’s riding dress extend to what one read?)  Aldin’s jackets for Helme do appear a little dour, printed as they are on a wrapping paper brown background, with the red title lettering not quite managing to lift the whole.  The replacement is a reasonable effort but it is not Aldin.

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I have a page on Eleanor Helme on my website.

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