During its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, the I-Spy club had half a million members. But it was still going strong when I joined up, for a brief but intense period, in the late 1970s. All the I-Spy books had a list of potential sightings on a particular theme, with points awarded for each spot.
After accumulating the requisite number of points, you got a parent to sign a disappointingly hedge-betting endorsement (‘I certify that I have examined the records in this book, and as far as I can judge, the entries are genuine’) and sent the book in the post to Big Chief I-Spy at the Wigwam-by-the-Green, which turned out to be just off London’s Edgware Road. By the time I sent off my books, Big Chief was no longer the I-Spy founder, Charles Warrell, but a man with the more indigenous-sounding name of Robin Tucek, although I imagine it was one of his braves who handled the paperwork and who sent me, by return of post, an I-Spy badge.
My friend Jo gave me two old I-Spy books this Christmas: I-Spy People (1963, 9d.), in which redskins could score 15 points for spotting a ‘man with a moustache’ - ‘perhaps it’s small as a toothbrush, or large as a handlebar; wafer-thin, or thick as a forest’ - and 30 points for spotting ‘a Star personality. Most young people have a favourite star. Perhaps it’s a singer, like Adam Faith; or an actress like Hayley Mills; or a famous scientist like Sir John Hunt. Whoever it is you’ll probably follow his career and collect photographs and autographs.’
In I-Spy the Unusual (no date but I would guess c. 1960), you got 15 points each for spotting signs that said ‘Caution – Peacocks’, ‘Beware of Adders’ and ‘Danger! Tree Pruning’, and 40 points for a thatched telephone kiosk. Accumulating 750 points entitled you to the Tribal Rank of ODD HUNTER Second Class (you needed 1500 points for first class honours). I shouldn’t imagine there were many graduates.
Mundane quote for the day: ‘Reading a newspaper is performed in silent privacy, in the lair of the skull. Yet each communicant is well aware that the ceremony which he performs is being replicated by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion … what more vivid figure for the secular, historically-clocked imagined community can be imagined.’ - Benedict Anderson