Noddy is probably Blyton’s most famous and recognisable characters. The majority of the merchandise, DVDs and games that have been produced from her work are of Noddy. There have been more Noddy adaptations for TV than any other book series. And yet there are relatively few editions of the books.
I can only assume that Noddy was such an attractive and easy-to-sell character that they didn’t feel the need to change or update the books in the same way they did for other series. I’m only talking about the main 24 book series (1949-1963), here, though it appears that few few of the other Noddy books were ever reprinted at all.
Interestingly, though, despite every edition you could imagine being in the Cave of Books (minus some omnibus editions) I have two versions of Noddy books that are not in there.
It can be hard to tell what’s a true first edition with Noddy books as they are undated – but we can look at the first design all the same. They are all published by Sampson Low (though there are other names listed there too, which vary slightly).
The illustrator most associated with Noddy is Harmsen Van der Beek – Pictures by Beek is even written in the train’s steam on the covers of the books he illustrated – but he only illustrated seven of the twenty-four main books. Beek died in 1953, and so from book 8 onwards there were four other artists including his assistant Peter Wienk.
Of course it’s not an unfair association between Beek and Noddy as he illustrated 82 titles in total – including record sleeves and so on.
Anyway, he set the style for Noddy in the first seven books.
Every book in the first run has the same format. A square picture of events from the book on a bright single-coloured background. The title of the book is always in different coloured letters, though the colours vary presumably based on how they look against the colour of the background. The train is always present but the carriages change colour, again, probably depending on the background. The occupants of the train remain largely the same, but there are a few changes in the Beek books. On one Noddy and Big Ears are not waving, on another the middle carriage has two policemen in it with the Golly and so on.
As noted above the steam on the front reads Pictures by Beek, and on the back reads All aboard for Toyland. Noddy book and the number, plus a character or two are also on the back of each. It’s also worth saying that these books (and all subsequent of the 24) had dustjackets – but underneath the boards had the exact same design only on a shinier surface.
Moving on to the post 1953 books, and although the illustrator(s) change back and forth regularly the style does not. This is not at all like what we see in some of the other series with multiple illustrators where each artist is responsible for a book or consecutive set of books, and often taking an entirely different style while they are at it.
Or to put it in the words of Monty Python:
The [book covers] have been completed in an entirely different style at great expense and at the last minute.
I swithered (more than was probably reasonable as it really isn’t very important) over how to present the information regarding who illustrated what.
In the end I am going for a winner’s tally, as I like a good ratings chart.
Robert Tyndal – 10
Harsem Van der Beek – 7
Peter Wienk – 6
Robert Lee – 3
Mary Brooks – 2
Mathematicians amongst you will note that those figures add up to 28 books, and there are only 24. That’s because four of them were joint efforts, namely Tyndall/Wienk (#9 and #17, and Tyndall/Lee #15 and #16).
Tyndall/Wienk on the left and Tyndall/Lee on the right.
Brooks was the first replacement doing #8 and 11. Wienk on his own did #10, 13, 18 and the final book, 24, while Lee’s only solo book was #12, and Tyndall alone did all the rest, being #14, and 19-23.
Brooks, left, and Wienk, right.
Lee, left and Tyndall, right.
Still with me? I’m not even going to get onto the fact that there’s at least one book with different internal illustrators to those doing the cover!
The only change to the covers after Beek’s death is that the steam on the front and the back then both read All aboard for Toyland. Everything else stayed the same, or, changed in the same manner as before, re the colours and the passengers on the train.
I’m no art expert but I think that all the later illustrators do a brilliant job of emulating Beek’s original work and it’s pretty much a seamless transition back and forth between the other artists. I doubt anyone would really notice if they hadn’t been told.
Mystery paperbacks and other hardbacks
These are the two versions which are not in the cave.
The paperbacks are still Sampson Low (etc). They have almost the exact same cover design as the hardbacks, though they are slimmer volumes and also narrower and shorter. This difference in size means the train is shorter (missing the last carriage). As I only have 2 (I think – one is on my bookshelf as I don’t have it in hardback and there’s definitely one in Brodie’s room, but I could have more…) I can’t say if this is the same across them all, but on the ones I have either Noddy Book #– is removed, or just reads Noddy Book.
Although I only have 2 I’ve no reason to believe that the whole series wasn’t done. They are undated but the prices are certainly post-decimal being 35p. I would guess that that puts them in the 70s as I have various paperbacks from the 80s and 90s and they were more expensive than that.
Then the hardbacks, are again, a mystery. I have just the two of them – School and Aeroplane. Both are published by Sampson Low etc. The differences are small – the title on the boards is a different style with a black background. On one the writing on the back is black rather than white.
Confusingly my copy of School has a dustjacket with the original title style – I wonder if this is a mistake made by whoever sold it and it’s a jacket that should have gone on an earlier edition. Yet it has no price on the inner flap like the other early editions.
Again they are undated but the spines are just that bit squarer suggesting they are more modern, again perhaps 70s or 80s.
I (perhaps foolishly) thought that having few reprints would make this a short post. It did not so I will continue with the other editions another time.
Great memories flooding back Fiona.
I had a number of the hardcover editions with dust jackets in the early 80s.
Around the same time, softcover editions were also available – similar images but a lot less impressive.
“Pictures by Beek” is so evocative.