Here’s another recently unearthed gem from my childhood library, Freddy the Fell Engine, published in 1966. Freddy is one of a group of colourful steam engines operating out of a town called Cross Creek.
Despite his popularity with the passengers, poor Freddy is a bit of slowcoach, generating a lot of smoke and heat as he chugs up and down the hill. Inevitably, Freddy falls victim to what grown-ups these days would no doubt call “progress”. He is put out to pasture and replaced by a slick but charmless new diesel train called Rex.
Don’t worry, kids, there is a happy ending for Freddy! A new career as a “historic locomotive” means that generations of youngsters (and presumably trainspotters) can enjoy clambering all over him.
There’s an anarchic quality to the illustrations here that reminds me a little of Ronald Searle’s wild-haired St Trinian’s girls. Every face here has real character – from the beak-nosed Prime Minister to the butterfly-catcher. So it comes as no surprise to learn that William Papas (who died in 2000) was a political cartoonist for The Guardian and Punch magazine.
Papas was born in South Africa, but his father was a Greek immigrant. That heritage is reflected in his superb watercolours of Greece – its people and places.
The back flap of this book advertises three other Papas books (The Story of Mr Nero, The Hare and the Tortoise, Tasso), all of which sound like variations on a theme – the drive for speed and modernity versus old-fashioned values. I suspect that message didn’t make much of an impression on me as a child in the mid-60s, but I loved the humour and colour of this book, which was a gift from my aunt.
I’m happy that my copy of Freddy the Fell Engine has survived the last 47 years with barely a crease.