My childhood books, part 4

This time I’m going to talk ramble about the Barney Mysteries and The Five Find-Outers.


I didn’t have all six Barney Mysteries as a child, I remember having at least two hardbacks – one or two in yellow and one in red, and at least one paperback, though I’m a bit unsure of the full story really (great blogger I am – “I might have had this book, but maybe not, isn’t that interesting?”) but I will tell as much of it as I can.

The book plate from "The Rockingdown Mystery"

The book plate from “The Rockingdown Mystery”

I know that I had the first book the Rockingdown Mystery in Collins hardback as I still have that now – and it’s yellow, so my memory is not entirely useless. Inside it has a book plate saying it was presented to my aunt Elizabeth in 1965 for “general excellence”.

The copy I currently have of the Rilloby Fair Mystery wasn’t originally mine as it has the name “Helen Daw” inside the front cover, and none of the images in the Cave of Books look familiar.

Ring O’ Bells Mystery I definitely had in an Armada paperback, in fact I’m sure I had two Armada copies of it, one with the cover and one without – goodness knows why!

Again, I know my hardback of the Rubadub Mystery isn’t one of mine as it used to belong to David Lake. The mystery deepens here as inside the front cover there is page 57/58 from a paperback copy of the same book. The idea that I noticed a page missing (or it was mentioned on eBay where it probably came from) and carefully tore out the matching text from a paperback copy is somewhat familiar, but I don’t recall having a paperback copy of this book nor do I recognise any of the versions from the Cave of Books. It’s possible I had a paperback with no cover, though. I hate unsolved mysteries!

I’m fairly sure the hardback copy I have of the Rat-a-Tat Mystery is one I’ve bought as it has “AG/148” and “1st” neatly pencilled inside the front cover – as if it has been in a second-hand shop at some point. Edit: in fact I now know it wasn’t mine – I had a yellow Collins hardback which I’ve just found in a box in the former airing cupboard.

Based on the above I’m forced to conclude that the Ragamuffin Mystery is the red Collins hardback I remember from my childhood. The tattiness of the spine certainly fits with the condition of most of my other inherited books, and the only markings inside are a small code I can’t make out and the price “6 / -“.

Having spent more time staring at the Cave of Books, the Armada paperback of the Rubadub Mystery is starting to look more familiar. It would sort of make sense if I’d had that copy – the extra page must have come from somewhere.

Armada paperbacks of "Ring o' Bells Mystery" and "The Rubadub Mystery" with covers by Mary Gernat

Armada paperbacks of “Ring o’ Bells Mystery” and “The Rubadub Mystery” with covers by Mary Gernat

All the books I had featured the original illustrations by Gilbert Dunlop, except Rat-a-Tat which was originally illustrated by Anyon Cook. My favourite Barney Mystery is and was Ring O’ Bells, followed by Rockingdown, and then Rubadub, with the other three sort of being in joint fourth/last place. I think my favourites here were more influenced by what I read as a child rather than their format or cover, the exception being Ragamuffin which is usually described by people as the weakest in the series anyway.


You may be surprised that I haven’t gotten to the Find-Outers sooner than ninth in these posts, but they weren’t a particular favourite of mine as a child. I enjoyed the ones I had, but I wasn’t driven to complete the collection (I don’t think I’d ever even wondered if there were more or not).

I had one Methuen hardback – The Mystery of the Hidden House which is the sixth book in the series. I also had several matching Dragon paperbacks and one Armada one.

By Dragon I had books 4, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, and 15: Spiteful Letters, Pantomime Cat, Invisible Thief, Strange Bundle, Tally-Ho Cottage, Missing Man and Banshee Towers. My Armada copy was of Strange Messages, the 14th book. 

Paperbacks of "Spiteful Letters", "Pantomime Cat", "Invisible Thief", "Strange Bundle", "Tally-Ho Cottage", "Mystery Man", "Strange Messages" and Banshee Towers

Paperbacks of “Spiteful Letters”, “Pantomime Cat”, “Invisible Thief”, “Strange Bundle”, “Tally-Ho Cottage”, “Mystery Man”, “Strange Messages” and “Banshee Towers”

The paperbacks had two different cover illustrators and a wide variety of internal illustrators.

Spiteful Letters and Pantomime Cat had a cover by Paul Wright (who also did covers for other Dragon series like Malory Towers), and internal illustrations my by Mary Gernat (the illustrator of Six Bad Boys as well as many Armada covers and internal illustrations such as the Secret Series) though both were originally illustrated by Joseph Abbey – who illustrated the hardback I had of Hidden House. 

Invisible Thief and Strange Bundle also had Paul Wright covers, but had internal illustrations by Jenny Chapple (who has also illustrated later versions of Malory Towers), both were originally illustrated by Treyer Evans.

Tally-Ho Cottage had the original Treyer Evans illustrations, and Missing Man the original Lilian Buchanan ones, both with covers by Mary Gernat. Banshee Towers, originally illustrated by Lilian Buchanan, reverts to illustrations by Jenny Chapple with a Mary Gernat cover.

I probably prefer the Mary Gernat covers to those of Paul Wright, though that doesn’t seem to have influenced my favourites, nor have the internal illustrations particularly. My favourite of the original illustrators is Lilian Buchanan, but Jenny Chapple is a decent illustrator as is Mary Gernat.

My current favourites from the series (in no particular order) are Spiteful Letters, Missing Man, Invisible Thief and Strange Messages – all titles I had as a child. My least favourites are Secret RoomTally-Ho Cottage, Hidden House  and Banshee Towers. The rest (Burnt CottageDisappearing Cat, Pantomime Cat, Strange Bundle, Holly Lane, Missing Necklace, and Vanished Prince) are somewhere in the middle – I like them more than my least favourites and less than my favourites.

I would say for this series I seem to be mostly influenced by childhood reading – all of my favourites are ones I first read as a child. My middle-of-the-list books are a mixture of old and new (to me) titles, and my least favourites are half-and-half though I imagine Banshee Towers appears on most people’s least favourites list.

Did you have any of these versions when you were younger, or are they what you are collecting now?

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3 Responses to My childhood books, part 4

  1. Well, Fiona, I’m going for a world record attempt here: this must be the latest reply to a blog posting you’ve ever gotten, over 8 years late! But it’s down to some mad quirk of my browser, which flagged this post/message as a recent one, and I read it without realising that it wasn’t quite so recent after all!

    My interest is that, as a kid, I actually had all the ‘Rockingdown’ series (except the 6th book, which I guess Armada, Red Dragon, and Knight all considered too weak to publish – if so, in my opinion they made an odd choice, because I’d rate ‘Banshee Towers’ as weaker, but Armada/Red Dragon or both did publish that one). And I had all fifteen of the ‘Find Outers’ mysteries.

    I can’t quite be sure, but it may have been the word ‘mystery’ on the cover of ‘The Rockingdown Mystery’ that led to me getting it for Christmas — I think, as best I recall, my mother got confused and thought it was another in the ‘Mystery Burnt Cottage’ series, because of the ‘mystery’ reference in the title. I already had a large number of the Find Outer books — my parents seemingly thought that anything that promoted me into reading books, and got me away from the telly, was a good thing; so books were always a major feature of Christmases and birthdays in my childhood.

    I was very surprised to open ‘Rockingdown’ on Boxing Day and find that the Fine Doubters weren’t in it. I don’t recall that as putting me off, and I still remember it as my favourite of what I know you refer to as ‘Barney’ mysteries, but some of us thought were ‘Snubby’ mysteries!

    It was interesting that the publisher you call Dragon had the Find Outer books listed for quite a young age group. I seemed to recall that I mostly got given Green Dragons, aimed at slightly older kids, but all the covers you’ve posted clearly show the Find Outers were considered suitable for younger kids, as they all have Red Dragon covers. I don’t recall my parents ever commenting on the difference, but I found it an amusing point — that a children’s publisher labelled its output as only being suitable for certain ages. I think they had a ‘nursery’ division – was that Blue Dragons? – of titles suitable only for the very young — when I was, mother was buying me such titles as ‘Now We Are Six’ and ‘When We Were Very Young’…But the memory of those has not remained with me. When I was 8, thankfully my parents had stopped buying me titles unless they were at least Red Dragons.

    I dunno if this was odd, but until I was about 11 I don’t have memories of going to bookshops or buying books. Parents, grandparent, and Aunts and


    • … Uncles would give me books at Christmas to last me until my birthday in the summer, or vice versa, and although I do recall visits to the local library, I don’t think I was much involved in buying books in those years. Except at school, where we were encouraged to read in junior school – aged 8 to 11 – and could buy paperbacks from the Armada list cheaply through the village school. I think that because the school ordered in bulk, Armada didn’t charge the usual postal rates, and we only paid two-and-six per volume, i.e. the cover price.

      I was probably buying too many paperbacks through the school’s reading club, so my mother figured there was no point letting me loose in the bookshops in the nearby town, or that it was too expensive to do so!

      Happy days, when a school would let you choose what you wanted from a publisher’s list, without worrying whether titles such as ‘Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School’ was too un-PC!


      • Fiona says:

        I’ve no objection to “late” replies. Some bloggers close comments after a matter of weeks or months which I find bizarre. Unless you are blogging about something very time-specific, surely comments are relevant for years to come?

        I remember having various Dragons as a child, red, green, blue, aimed at different ages but I tended to ignore that and read whatever I wanted be it older or younger!


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