‘There’s Nuffin’ like a Puffin’
The Puffin Club was the brainchild of Kaye Webb, the celebrated editor of Puffin Books. The club itself was born in 1967 after Kaye had persuaded Sir Allen Lane, the owner of Penguin Books, that the club would make children into adult readers.
Members were not sold books directly. News of new books and requests to review them and short stories by current Puffin writers would drive the young readers into the bookshops.
In the first year, 16,058 ‘readers’ had joined, and from that point on, Kaye and the rest of the team almost became members of an extended family.
Who needs a Blue Peter Badge!
What is a club without a members’ badge? The Puffin Club had one of the best.
A real enamel badge of the familiar Puffin Books logo would arrive with your welcome letter, membership book, a new copy of ‘Puffin Post’ and a set of bookplates when you became a member.
The founder members would eventually receive the ‘Gold Puffin Badge’ – an honour that would only be awarded to later members if they had done something outstanding. For other members, long service of four years would bring you the Black Badge. It required considerable patience for a nine year old!
The badge made it possible for young readers to identify each other. Members were always being asked to make suggestions to make the club better. The club code, passwords (‘Sniffup’ To be answered ‘Spotera’ – Puffins are Tops!) and the name ‘Puffineers’ to describe members of the club all came from members.
Every month, Puffin would place 50 coded messages into new books all around the country – such exclusivity! Only members would know how to decode it and win a new book!
Puffineers were regularly called upon to open their piggybanks or do something constructive to help the world, be it raising £3000 to buy a mile of Yorkshire Coastline as a Puffin sanctuary (quite a sum in 1972) or raising funds to buy a specially adapted minibus for physically handicapped children.
…and Getting Involved
Young writers were born in the pages of Puffin Post. From the first joke (Do you get fur from a skunk? Yes! As fur away as possible!), to the publishing of ‘The Pirates Tale’ by Puffineer Janet Aicheson – first published in the pages of ‘Puffin post’ in 1968.
Hail to the Chief!
Sir Allen Lane was the first enthusiastic President – without his support and belief in Kaye’s brainchild, the club would never have existed. Sir Allen died in 1971 whilst planning for a party for 200 lucky members at his farm. It seemed heartless to immediately appoint another president, so it was decided to leave the presidency open until the anniversary of his death as a mark of respect. Who could follow Sir Allen?
Sir Yehudi Menuhin accepted the call in 1972, and became a much loved and respected head of the club.
Let’s have a massive party!
It was always an aim to get young Puffineers together to share their love of reading and to give the opportunity of contact with their favourite authors.
Parties were held on a small scale all over the country with local groups meeting up, all listed in the back of Puffin Post along with news of new books, new Film and TV dramatisations.
1969 saw the first Puffin Exhibition held at the National Union of Teachers’ in London. It was thought that visitors would stay for an hour or so – but many stayed the whole day! For many years the events were held in different venues in London, getting bigger and bigger – but eventually the Exhibition would go on the road to visit other parts of the UK.
Members were able to meet their favourite authors and take part in various book related events. A veritable army of helpers made sure that demonstrations went off without a hitch, autographs were received, shows were safely attended and the shop stocked and serviced.
The events were always a visual feast, and from the early days, were aided by students from St Martins School of Art.
Designed for use…
The puffins that populated the pages of Puffin Post, the membership book and the badge were almost all the work of Jill McDonald. Of all the artists to provide artwork for the covers of Puffin Post, including Raymond Briggs and Quentin Blake, Jill did more than any of them put together.
Jill also created the characters that became enduring friends: Fat Puffin, a portly book loving old bird with a soft spot for doughnuts and a party, always leaping first and then looking.
The more thoughtful Odway the dog was created to encourage new writing that came into the magazine. If entries for competitions weren’t considered ‘up to scratch’, there wouldn’t be winners, and Kaye would let the members know! – a bit different from competitions today!
Finally there was TOMCAT the club computer (Totally Obedient Machine Cannot Actually Think) – even though in the early days, the membership was on manually processed file cards!
These ‘members of the team’ answered letters and appeared everywhere, commenting on events, and the work of the many authors that had written specially for the club.
Kaye used her position as editor of Puffin Books to great effect – If you were a Puffin author, you could expect to appear in the pages of Puffin Post and judge a suitably themed competition.
Members writing for the magazine leaked out into the pages of published books, be it the ‘Crack-a-Joke Book’ or ‘I Like this Poem’ (a personal project of Kaye’s). Readers had become writers, and if you were a member you knew you could be a writer.
There were efforts to be more targeted by the creation of the Junior Puffin Club with it’s own young Puffin, Smudge who appeared in the pages of the new magazine ‘The Egg’
With the untimely death of Jill McDonald in 1982 part of the identity of the club died too. Kaye had retired as editor of Puffin Books in 1979, but stayed as head the Puffin Club.
Puffin Post changed its format in 1984 as a new magazine. Authors still wrote, as did the members, but the content lacked the style of the past. The last Puffin Post was printed in 1989.
The members of the 70’s and early 80’s are now parents with a love of books that is now being encouraged to a new generation of younger readers.
Sherief Hassan (Member no.F182993)