For those of us of a certain age, a Royal Wedding really wouldn’t be complete without it. The special edition Ladybird book that accompanied big events like royal weddings was a must have for school children everywhere – even if you didn’t want it, your parents would buy it for you anyway. There are no doubt copies of them lying in lofts or at the backs of cupboards across the country.
Ahead of this year’s Royal Wedding, Royal Central has been speaking to Helen Day who celebrates all things retro with her website, Ladybird Fly Away Home, and Twitter and Instagram accounts. She explained how the idea of special royal wedding books came about soon after the engagement of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer was announced, on February 24th 1981.
”The book of the wedding of Charles and Diana was a triumph of planning and organisation and something completely new for Ladybird. The editor, Audrey Daly travelled to London to meet the royal photographer, John Scott, just the evening before the wedding and he arranged for the photographs from 30 different photographers to be supplied to the company. From these 60 photographs were taken, while the text was written on the journey back from London to Loughborough. The factory staff worked through the night and just 4 days after the event 500,000 copies had been printed.”
This special acted as an easy go to for those who wanted to keep enjoying the highlights of the day.
”The book is packed with colour photos – some formal, some more relaxed, and the commentary takes the reader through a chronological account of the day, delighting in details of the dress, the invitations and those involved behind the scenes. It’s generally factual but happy and very light on analysis. The photographs do most of the work.”
Helen Day told Royal Central that the book became a huge success – with sales that many authors could only dream about.
”The book was priced at just 50p. It was sold everywhere – and within a few years sales had exceeded 2 million. I imagine that just about every child and a teenager at the time will have had, or seen, a copy. ”
Following the success of the Royal Wedding book, another special on Diana was produced and by the time Prince Andrew announced his engagement ot Sarah Ferguson, in 1986, there was every expectation of another special. Helen Day explained why this edition was so much easier to produce.
”This time Ladybird were following a familiar path and the organisation was less challenging – although the timescales are still impressive. I have vivid memories of being abroad when the wedding took place. At the time I was teaching English in Spain and had to work that morning. I remember the lesson seemed to drag on for me – (and no doubt for the students!) and then had to jog back over a mile to my apartment – uphill all the way, to catch the wedding on TV, half-way through. I remember being impressed by Sarah Ferguson’s wedding dress – but very unimpressed by her going-away outfit.”
The books were must haves for royal watchers but for those hoping to make their fortune with an old edition, Helen has disappointing news.
”These Royal Wedding books were printed in such vast numbers that they are certainly not rare today. Also, for a collector like me, they are hard to love because the harsh timescales meant that speed was more important than quality.”
But she says they provide an interesting social and historical take on royalty and our percption of it.
”The books are of interest from a different point of view – seeing how our ideas about the Royal Family and about Royal Weddings in particular have evolved over the years. Ladybird closed its UK printworks in 1999 and cut many ties with its previous activity. But in 2011 Ladybird brought out another ‘Royal Wedding’ souvenir book called William and Kate. Judging from the reviews, this book disappointed many readers who expected a book in the same format as the 20th century Royal Wedding books. This one was published before the wedding itself so had no wedding pictures, pictures of the dress or similar details. It’s clear from this though, that many adults bought this book for their children because they had very fond and lasting memories of the 1980s Ladybird Royal Wedding books.”
That retro feel, a touch of nostalgia for childhoods long gone, will be what springs to mind for many with even just a glimpse of these special souvenirs. Like bunting, street parties, warm orange squash and curled up jam sandwiches, it was part of what a royal wedding was all about. That special edition in your loft might not make your fortune but it will no doubt provide a wealth of memories.