Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ancient History? A 50 Year Old Copy of Reader's Digest

By E.M. Powell

I usually write medieval posts, but for this post I'm going to look at something a little different. I was digging around in the attic recently, opening box after box, including one containing items that had belonged to an elderly relative. Then I found this:

Reader's Digest March 1965 Edition

Yes, a copy of Reader's Digest. But this one is over half a century old, as it was published in March 1965. I opened it to have a look, expecting it to be very similar to today's publication. And indeed, some of it is. But not all. So I present to you a little reminder of how the world was in March 1965- according to Reader's Digest.

This edition has (for me) the instantly recognizable classic format: articles listed along with their original publication, the picture in a band down the left hand side that fully covers the back. This one is imaginatively titled 'Playing Cards' and was 'specially painted' for RD. The opening pages are of course advert after advert: But these adverts aren't presented as such.

Oh, no. 'Buy Lines', by Alison Grey, gives us adverts as mini-tale. There's a man who writes to Alison: 'My wife wants a fully automatic washing machine and I'd like her to have it. I can see that an ordinary twin tub isn't the answer on wash day.'  Alison replies cheerily: 'The nice husband who confided in me this way might voice your views!'  Like heck. There wasn't a man alive in 1965 who gave a hoot about wash day.

Alison is also thrilled that you can now buy frozen prawns and stick plastic on your books or maps (eh? Hope it folds, Alison). But she also provides reassurance. Apparently, what worries middle-aged men and women is 'not so much their increased size round the middle, but the increased discomfort and tiredness it brings.' She recommends a giant elastic thingy, called the RALLIE Health Belt which you strap on and pull hard (stop sniggering at the back) for just 5 minutes a day. Problem solved.

Reluctant though I was to move on from Alison, I carried on and came to this chap.

Dress Sharp, Fly High!

Yes, this man is pleased to announce: '£2 TO SATISFY A DREAM'. He asks 'Have you ever gone to the airport and seen someone walk out to a trim, eager airplane, climb into the cabin and shut the door on the outside world?' Well, yes. A pilot. Not sure about the door. And dressed like this guy? No. He's keen, though. 'You'll go along safely at 122 miles an hour and the feeling is wonderful.' 

And you need a coupon along with your £2. I don't know if it's a general rule but I think, in life, it's probably a good idea not to get in a plane with someone who is flying it via a coupon deal. The advert is also typical of the weird US/UK mix that was always present in Reader's Digest. The currency is in Pounds Sterling, yet he refers to an 'airplane' as opposed to the British 'aeroplane'.
We then leave the adverts for a page or two.

Time for an article! 'What Every Young Cat Ought to Know.' Yes, it's an article about kitten-rearing, written charmingly in the voice of a first-person kitten. Aww.

Just as well your heart is now well and truly warmed, because the next article is an emotional glacier. Its title is 'IF ONLY THEY HAD WAITED', capitals courtesy of RD. It is written by Anonymous. Anonymous tells us she had to wait six months before writing her article because 'the hurt was so deep that only time could partially heal the wounds... and no matter how hard we try to avoid admitting it to ourselves, tragedy is what has occurred.' Sounded terrible! I braced myself.

Turns out Anonymous's son, Paul, had got his girlfriend, Nancy, pregnant. There followed a full five pages of how morally lax he'd been. Anonymous even narrowed it down to where the evil deed had taken place: 'Now, too late, I realized that our playroom was the place where the tragedy had started.'  How?? Anonymous finishes off with: 'Paul, your life and the lives of those who love you will never be the same, will never be as contented or happy or or hopeful as they once were.' Poor Paul and Nancy. They sounded just fine. They got married, got jobs and presumably The Tragedy was a cutie.

The mood lightens a bit again thanks to an advert for tights.


We can only guess that Nancy favoured Kayser nylons, because it would appear that one doesn't wear any skirt with them. The use of a tiger skin in an advert is jaw-dropping but is indicative of how little awareness there was of conservation issues in 1965. Tiger numbers were already under threat but few people wanted to know. Tigers are of course now on the endangered species list and their numbers outside of captivity are in the low thousands.

Leafing through more articles in our 1965 edition, we see that 'The Falling Tower of Pisa' is going to be flattened in 50 years.(Still up- yay!). We learn social etiquette from another advert: never chew gum in company, but you go for it when you're hurtling down the black slopes. Gulp.

Skiing With Gum

We continue with the usual Life's Like That and Humor in Uniform where readers would send in their own anecdotes. An article asks politely: 'Are You Well Adjusted?', another extols the virtues of saying 'Thank You.' Another is about 'Edward Durell Stone: Architect Extraordinary'. Nice. Then this one:

Have You Seen...

Yes, a deadly serious article on the hunt for one of the surviving members of Hitler's elite. A war criminal that was still actively being hunted in 1965. And of course he was. It was only twenty years since the end of World War Two. Yet the article seems so incongruous in the middle of all the bland items in there.

The article gives all of his last known movements as well as a physical description. It also bizarrely  notes: 'An indefatigable woman-chaser, he is said never to have met a female whom he didn't press for an affair.'  I do wonder about the breadth of that statement. If it were literally true, it would have made him quite easy to identify in any public place.

The article ends with an astonishingly low-key instruction. It states: 'If you know or have seen a man whom you believe to be Martin Bormann, telephone the West German Embassy.' But because this is a British edition, it has a further footnote: to make sure you contact the right one: 'German Embassy, 23 Belgrave Square, London S.W.1. Telephone: BELgravia 5033). Were law enforcement agencies too busy?

We end on a more light-hearted note. Just look at the laughs you can have with your typewriter:

Typing Fun!

I don't know if you just sit there at your typewriter amusing yourself, or whether you type a funny , then rush across to another typist to show them. The working day must have flown by.

So those were the highlights for me and now we must bid good bye to Reader's Digest 1965. For some of you, I hope it's been an enjoyable nostalgia-fest. For the young, you should thank your lucky stars that someone invented the Internet, where things are completely different. On the Internet, you can look at funny cat pictures, stare at non-skirt wearing lady's legs, read moral diatribes, swap amusing word thingies... oh, I give up. Back to medieval for me.
Reader's Digest is still going strong. You can read some of their fascinating history here:

An version of this post first appeared on E.M. Powell's blog on February 26 2013.

E.M. Powell’s medieval thrillers The Fifth Knight and The Blood of the Fifth Knight have been #1 Amazon bestsellers. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. She blogs for EHFA, reviews for the Historical Novel Society and contributes to The Big Thrill.

Sir Benedict Palmer and his wife Theodosia are back in book #3 in the series, THE LORD OF IRELAND. It's 1185 and Henry II sends his youngest son, John (the future despised King of England), to bring peace to his new lands in Ireland. But John has other ideas and only Palmer and Theodosia can stop him. THE LORD OF IRELAND is published by Thomas & Mercer in March 2016. Find out more at


  1. Delightful! It's amazing what you can find lying around. A work mate brought some newspapers from 1926 that she had found when pulling up the carpet to donate to my library, but I had no way to look after it and gave ít to a local historical crime novelist who writes novels set in 1928-29. First, though, I took a look. It was fascinating what was important in 1926, which team was expected to win the football Grand Final, what the government expected, what was bring advertised. But these days, when I need to research, I look on the web site of the National Library of Australia, which has newspapers from 1803 and the Australian Women's Weekly from 1933 to the 1980s; you can download those. The wartime issues tell you how to use the food from your ration card to make a decent meal. All great stuff!

    1. Thanks, Sue! I've accessed newspapers via libraries before but never heard of magazines like WW being kept. That's definitely going in the research folder. :)

    2. I'm not sure if you can access that part of the site from where you live, though it is worth checking, but I bet your own National Library has something similar. I know these things because I'm a librarian and we've leaned how to look things up. ;-)

    3. There are several librarians to whom I owe a great debt, and archivists too. A skilled and knowledgeable Looker Up has saved me many times!

  2. Replies
    1. You're very welcome, Annie- glad you enjoyed it!

  3. this was such an amusing trip back in time! Thanks for the chuckles.

  4. SO interesting! I loved the bit about the washing machine, and about the tights. In 1965 I bought my first pair for the school Christmas party - they cost me 19 shillings and sixpence which were very expensive indeed. I bought them to wear under a mini skirt, but my mother wouldn't let me and I had to go in a dress - albeit new - which safely rested on my knee. I was so embarrassed, but made up for the short skirts later - so short, my fingertips would skim my thighs...happy days..poor Mum....

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

    1. You're very welcome! But, but 19/6 for a pair of tights- wow!! I couldn't resist looking up how much that must have been and I got around £18 in today's money. I think you can be forgiven for wanting to show off as much of them as possible! :)

  5. Great article! I probably read the American version of this edition when visiting my grandmother. I used to read her RD magazines cover to cover. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Lauren! There are clearly a lot of history fans who were reared on RD- I used to read it at my grandparents' house too.

  6. I love looking at old magazines. My grandmother had an old Life magazine from 1979 that she kept because it had a story on the Israel-Egypt peace treaty (which was a big deal since it was the first time in history that Israel and an Arab nation had signed a peace treaty). I will never forgive my dad for throwing it out along with the rest of her things after she died. Some people simply don't have an appreciation for history :-(.


    1. I can assure you I won't be throwing this one out, Tam! I love looking at them too. Also, my husband has kept the daily paper from the day our daughter was born and one from other significant milestones in her life. One day (we hope!) she'll treasure them.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.