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Buffie, Rex, and the guardian angels

08 February 2013

Once upon a time, the Church Times opened the door of the nursery . . .

officially in the paper in 1937. Rosamund Essex, who was to become the editor in 1950, was already a member of staff in the '30s, and launched (and often, largely, wrote) the first regular "Children's Page".

She introduced a character, Buffie the elephant, who was to lend his name to Buffie's Book, a less-than-successful attempt at a children's spin-off, in 1938. Unfortunately, the children's page was a victim of war, as paper restrictions during the Second World War cut the size of the paper.

The feature made a return in 1952, during Miss Essex's editorial reign, and the page was looked after by Anne Francis Potts, from 1954 to 1971, and then by Joan Selby Lowndes, under the heading "Young Readers", until 1989.

Strip-cartoon series made regular appearances, initially eschewing the use of speech bubbles and employing the more literary technique of printing descriptive paragraphs under each picture.

"The Adventures of James and Jemima" in the 1950s followed the exploits of two children whose quest was to find their way to the "Great House of the Hidden Power", fighting evil on the way. In their task, they were aided by James and Jemima Angel, their guardian angels.

These remarkable celestial assistants thought nothing of bursting through the doors, wielding revolvers, in order to rescue their young charges.

In the '60s, younger readers of the Church Times were treated to "The Prince of Dreamers" - a contemporary take on the Old Testament story of Joseph, the spoiled son of Mr and Mrs Jacobs. Joseph sported a multi-coloured scarf rather than a technicolour dreamcoat, and used a scooter instead of a more traditional form of transport.

In the '80s, "Rex the Rectory Dog" - a kind of ecclesiastical cross between Lassie and Rin Tin Tin - wagged his tail for younger readers. Rex, a well-meaning hound, was as likely to eat his master's sermons as capture a thief intent on purloining the takings from the collection boxes.

But the page was not all merry japes. There was a great deal of overt instruction. In 1988, for example, childen were invited to make a cardboard cut-out vicar, and dress him appropriately. Sadly, those days of make-and-do are long gone.

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