A. A. Milne? Apocryphal?
Dear 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.
- 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) ↩