Lord Northcliffe Killed the Penny Dreadful by the Simple Process of Producing a Ha’Penny Dreadfuller

A. A. Milne? Apocryphal?

northcliffe09Dear Quote Investigator: “Penny Dreadful” was the name given to a class of literature which emerged in the nineteenth century and was designed to appeal to young men and boys. I am trying to trace a comical saying about the eclipse of these serials. A publisher created a new lower-priced collection of booklets and periodicals that some believed was more lurid and sensational. The following quip described the situation:

He killed the penny dreadful by the simple process of producing the ha’penny dreadfuller.

Can you determine the identity of the publisher and the person who crafted this remark?

Quote Investigator: In 1948 the famous children’s author A.A. Milne wrote a review of a book titled “Boys Will Be Boys” in “The Sunday Times” of London. The book surveyed and discussed the “Penny Dreadful” literature, and Milne noted some of the complaints aimed at these works: 1

“Penny dreadfuls” have been the target of a good deal of wild shooting: from the leftish prig who condemned their snobbishness and patriotism to the righteous prig who condemned their idealisation of crime. Somewhere in between came the literary prig, who complained of their illiteracy.

In the review Milne also made the humorous observation which is under investigation. He named Lord Northcliffe as the inexpensive sensationalist publisher. Boldface has been added to excerpts:

It was Lord Northcliffe who killed the penny dreadful: by the simple process of producing a ha’penny dreadfuller. Rioting in its success, the editor of “The Marvel” quoted a letter “from a personal friend who has a son at Harrow. He informs me that at all the public schools there is a great rush for ‘The Halfpenny Marvel.'” I am afraid that I missed it; the rush must have been confined to Harrow. At my private school I read “The Boy’s Own Paper.”

Lord Northcliffe who was born Alfred Harmsworth was the founder of the popular British newspaper “The Daily Mail”. He acquired several important papers and became one of the most powerful publishing magnates in the English-speaking world.

Below is one additional selected citation together with the conclusion.

Continue reading Lord Northcliffe Killed the Penny Dreadful by the Simple Process of Producing a Ha’Penny Dreadfuller


  1. 1948 October 10, The Sunday Times (UK), Blood and Thunder by A. A. Milne, (Review of “Boys Will Be Boys” by E. S. Turner), Quote Page 2, Column 8, London, England. (Sunday Times Digital Archive; Gale NewsVault)

People Say Nothing Is Impossible, But I Do Nothing Every Day

A. A. Milne? Alfred E. Neuman? Winnie the Pooh? The Foolish Almanak? Theodor Rosyfelt? Anonymous?

foolish06Dear Quote Investigator: I saw the following entertaining quotation on several websites where it was ascribed to the Winnie-the-Pooh character of the author A. A. Milne:

People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.

I searched for this quote in The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh and was unable to find it. Perhaps it was used in one of the movies. Could you explore this funny statement?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this humorous remark located by QI appeared in 1906 in “The Foolish Almanak For Anuthur Year” by Theodor Rosyfelt. The book was filled with deliberate misspellings, and the author’s name may have been creatively altered. No attribution was given within the text for its prolix version of the jest: 1

It is said that nothing is impossible; but there are lots of people doing nothing every day.

The first collection of Winnie-the-Pooh stories was published in 1926, so the joke was already in circulation before A. A. Milne’s children’s classic was released. In addition, QI has found no substantive evidence that Milne wrote or said this jest.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading People Say Nothing Is Impossible, But I Do Nothing Every Day


  1. 1906, “The Foolish Almanak For Anuthur Year” by Theodor Rosyfelt, Section: March, Unnumbered Page, [First page for the month of March], John W. Luce and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Internet Archive) link  link