EXCERPTS FROM LETTERS TO ENGLAND (grammar and spelling choices have been left intact)

Tripoli, 24th July 1984

“Another thing which is quite interesting is that some of the Tripoli Players are doing a sound recording for some educational tapes to teach Libyans English words and grammar, and they have asked me if I would consider doing some recording as well, since I have such a clear voice. Someone remembered me from the CALL MY BLUFF evening and suggested me. Nice to be remembered. Mind you, I’ll probably bungle it on the day, stutter so much that no one will understand a single word, English or otherwise.”

Focused on my “True” or “Bluff” words at the Call My Bluff Night

Tripoli, 31st July 1984

“The sound recording went very well last night. I was terribly nervous at first, particularly since I only knew a couple of the people there and I didn’t know them well. It was a proper recording studio with the soundproof booth in which the speakers had to sit, and out of which, guys ran around, twiddling knobs and setting up tapes. I had to read twice, long passages with Arabic names I had never seen before, certainly never had to say aloud before. You get the chance to read it once aloud and then you record. Well, it was fine. After I’d lost my nerves a bit, it wasn’t so bad at all. Listening to myself afterwards was the worst. I sound so high-pitched and I’ve always thought of myself as having quite a low voice. I’m having to train myself to speak more slowly; you know what I’m like, gabble gabble. I shall be there again twice next week and so on, until the whole book has been recorded. It is to teach children, a whole book with specialised grammar and words which the authorities here consider useful, like the life of bees, the use of a forklift truck, a visit to Sabratha. Honestly, when I think of *JANET AND JOHN, it makes me laugh!”

*JANET AND JOHN (from Wikipedia — (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janet_and_John)

Originally, these books were based on a series published by Row Peterson and Company as the Alice and Jerry books in the United States. Alice and Jerry was written by Mabel O’Donnell and the stories were illustrated by Florence and Margaret Hoopes. In 1949 United Kingdom publishers James Nisbet and Company licensed them and had them Anglicised by Mabel O’Donnell and Rona Munro to make a UK series of four books called Janet and John. The Janet and John books used the same artwork as the Alice and Jerry books but completely new text was written by Munro, originally a New Zealander. Also in 1949 a New Zealand series of seven books was released by Nisbet and used as a textbook in New Zealand primary schools.

The books became hugely popular and influential in the teaching of schoolchildren throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This was one of the first popular “look-and-say” reading schemes and, as such, introduced the less regular “Key words” at an earlier stage of reading than the phonics schemes.

Janet and John were portrayed as average English children, living a typical middle-class life that reinforced many of the stereotypes of the time, and the books consisted of stories that progressively incorporated key words needed in the development of reading skills:

  • Out and About, 1949
  • Off to Play, 1949
  • I Know a Story, 1949
  • Once Upon a Time, 1951
  • Snow-White and Red-Rose, 1951