Tuesday, 12 January 2010

I-Spy the unusual

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


  1. I remember getting I Spy Birds when I was a kid and being wracked with disappointment that I was never going to complete the book until I saw a Hoopoe. I felt cheated - I still do ! They set the bar too high . . . Still great books and great to see them being re-issued recently.

    DW x

  2. You're right, they did set the bar too high. The dropout rates on those I-Spy courses must have been horrendous (and no one would ever have thought of cheating).

  3. I wrote the I Spy...Bicycles. Had great fun picking some obscure bikes it would have taken years to spot.

  4. An I-Spy author visiting my blog - I feel very honoured.

  5. The I Spy London was a very good introduction to the sights, arranged to form a series of walks around the centre.

  6. Anyone have a list of the titles in the I Spy series from 1950's & 60's? I am OTT if I latch onto something, I have the target of getting the lot. Must have come from brainwashing by I Spy books. Still trying to get all the Sun label Elvis & am forever drawing up lists. Anyone else so obsessed?

  7. Did you ever get the list or have you moved on from I-Spy?

  8. I've put a listing up at
    and more info will follow