The Pony Club Annual - the last issues

I've finally finished my investigations into the Pony Club Annual. After the publication of Pony Club Book No 14 in 1963, there was something of a hiatus. The next Pony Club Annual for which I can find any details was published in 1965, and was called Pony Club Annual 1966. There was a new editor, Genevieve Murphy, then equestrian correspondent of the Observer, who remained as editor until 1983. The annual's focus shifted somewhat away from the educational model of the annual under Alan Delgado, and was more obviously aimed at children. This was most apparent in the illustrations, which were no longer the naturalistic equestrian portraits from artists like Joan Wanklyn and Sheila Rose: instead, most articles had almost cartoon like illustrations. Although the content wasn't hugely different, there was a shift of emphasis away from articles of general horsy interest to articles about the Pony Club.

In 1984, Genevieve Murphy, after 18 years as editor, was now succeeded by Toni Webber. The format of the annual changed dramatically, and it was now published by World International Publishing Company Ltd. The annual had a complete re-design, with a new font, and multiple photographs instead of just one on the cover. Inside, the change was even more radical: the album was now in full colour throughout, and seemed to be making a conscious attempt to appeal to the younger reader: the illustrations took up much more of the page, and large blocks of text were generally out. The contents weren’t changed too much, and the colour photograph was now standard, but unfortunately, some of the illustrations were very poor indeed.

A major cut in costs had obviously been made: these annuals are very badly made, and in both my copies, the pages started to detach as soon as I read them. The 1985 version took a further dive in illustration quality. An excellent article by Elwyn Hartley Edwards on Is Your Gadget Really Necessary? ends up looking like a filler in an annual of the cheapest and nastiest sort because of its truly terrible illustrations.

When you look back at the standard of illustration in the 1950s, the difference is truly goggling. Alas, the standard was nearly as bad throughout the rest of the 1985 annual.

Despite these efforts to cut costs and make the Annual profitable, I can only assume they failed. The Annual stopped publication after the 1985 edition. Toni Webber continued to write for the Pony Club, but the Annual was now defunct, and so it remained until the Pony Club’s 80th Anniversary in 2009, when a new annual was published.

This annual was issued free to all Pony Club members, and is available on the Pony Club website. It was sponsored by the Animal Health Trust, and is liberally sprinkled with advertisements. The Pony Club presumably didn’t want to get its fingers burned again, and I assume had made very sure it will not lose money on this Annual.

It has an almost total shift of emphasis away from articles of general horsy interest and stories over to page after page of Pony Club doings, interspersed with a few slightly more general articles, such as Belinda Wilkins on the three generations of her family who have experienced the Pony Club. A better name for the publication would be The Pony Club Year Book - alas, in its current format, it is of limited interest to the general horsy reader.

I wonder if it’s pushing things too far to argue that the changing annuals have reflected changing society: from the slightly paternalistic push for education in the 1950s, through to the Me, Me, Me generation now, apparently interested in reading mostly about themselves. To be fair, I think this annual isn't really intended for a wider audience: it was distributed free to every member, and any outside sales I think are just a bonus. The final thing that makes me convinced this Annual is aimed purely at its members is the font. It’s tiny, and at my advanced age I struggled to read it.

However, this is the first Annual for a very long time: who knows what the future will bring?

I've waffled on at greater length here.


Susanna said…
I owned and loved the 1984 annual. I seem to remember that it had a build-your-own-cross-country-course guide, which I used to pore over, and also a wonderful Caroline Akrill story about hunting on hired horses. I may have totally misremembered that though.
Jane Badger said…
You're completely right about the Caroline Akrill short story, and the build-your-own-jumps article. Looking at the 1984 annual again, I think I've been unfair to it. The standard of illustrationis a lot higher than the next one!

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