George Clifton Hughes (b.c 1911): Reading & Writing

As a young man studying English, I can vouch for the fact that reading is a wonderful form of escapism which can trigger every emotion possible while sparking your imagination into life.  Literature is an incredible tool for educating children and young adults with regards to morality and other important factors that will affect them in later life.  George Clifton Hughes’s memoir, Shut the Mountain Gate, focuses mainly on his young life in the village of Rhosllanerchugog near Wrexham in North East Wales.  His education is the main focus of the memoir, which suggests that he considered his time in school to be important to his development as a person.

Hughes does not give many examples of influential literature during his time in school; however in the section ‘Ponciau School in Wartime’, there is a small section on reading and literature where he explains how his teacher was more interested in ‘hammering away at tables’. (21) This is an important section as we are introduced to Hughes’s first experience with literature.  ‘The phonetic groundwork in the Infants’ Department must have been thorough because our first acquaintance with Reading and Literature was through a thick, green, hard backed book.  I can’t remember the title but it must have been something like Aunt Minnie’s Adventures or Walks in the Country.’ (21)  Hughes was interested in reading as he mentions in this section; however it would seem as though he enjoyed literature from further afield than in school.  He enjoyed reading magazines as an adolescent and even into his adult life he enjoyed satirical, politics based magazines.

In the section ‘The Penny Dreadful’, Hughes recalls the excitement shared between him and his friends regarding a number of popular weekly magazines.  ‘While confined to the bedroom, I had found great solace in such periodicals as the Wizard and the Hotspur.’ (13) This is interesting as it links to the idea of adolescent space and the influence of literature on children and teenagers.  ‘It was from the Wizard and the Hotspur that week by week we collected the glossy photographs of sporting favourites.’ (13) This is interesting as this is a trend seen even to this day with children of the modern era.  Sport can inspire children to work hard in order to achieve their goals, and the important figures within these sports are symbols of the dreams that so many people have.  Despite this being nearly one hundred years ago, children still looked for heroes to set an example for them to follow.

Newspapers and political literature were also of interest to Hughes, as he explains in the section ‘Light Literature’.  ‘Three of the sources of light literature were Answers Library, Tit Bits and John Bull.  John Bull was the fore-runner to the Private Eye, equalled and possibly surpassed the News of the World in its anxiety to expose corruption and vices of the day.  Whereas the News of the World took a masochistical delight in bringing to light matters that conflicted with the moral code, John Bull was more purist in outlook.’  (54)  John Bull is the personification of Britain and supposedly represents everything that Britain should be.  In 1820, Theodore Hook created the ‘John Bull’ magazine which, as Hughes describes, was a political magazine similar to what Private Eye has offered since 1961 and continues to do so to this day, with the editor being Ian Hislop.  During Hughes’s lifetime, John Bull magazine was edited by the sometimes controversial Horatio Bottomley, and it was the UK’s bestselling magazine when the edition in this image was published in 1916.  It was a highly patriotic magazine but it ‘took an anti-establishment stance, championing grievances of troops in the First World War, even though this was illegal, under the opinionated Bottomley.’[1]

The front cover of John Bull Magazine in 1916 -
The front cover of John Bull Magazine in 1916 –

The influence of satire is evident in Hughes’s writing and it is clear that the magazines that he read during his lifetime have had a positive effect on him.  The section ‘Bullets & Big Money’ is brilliantly interesting as Hughes describes a competition that was running in the ‘John Bull’ magazine.  ‘A number of examples of one, two, three or four words were given…’ (56) It then required the participant to use all of their satirical creativity in order to produce ‘what one considered an apt commentary which would parallel this example.’ (56)  Hughes and his friends tried many times as the prizes were substantial; however none of them won.  This section is a perfect example of Hughes’s humour as he ends with a joke about his wife who he mentions for the first time.  Reading political satire such as John Bull clearly influenced him and his writing style; and as this final quote shows, the effect that it had was definitely a positive one.

‘The next time we had company my wife told them that John Bull sent me a booklet, telling me how to make bullets.  For forty years I have lived with this woman and I am still undivorced.  There must be a bullet hidden away here somewhere and I’d be making it if I had not already shot my bolt over bullets.’ (58)

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