How to Enjoy the Blackout

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My father used to say that one of the most dispiriting things about his childhood during the Second World War was the boredom. The very real fear of being bombed was one thing, but being cooped up in a blacked-out room or air-raid shelter with nothing to do was quite another. Certainly in the early 1940s families were thrown upon their own resources and their own company in a most unaccustomed way.

My father was saved from the tedium by the cheerful yellowcovered Brighter Blackout Book, published by George Allen & Unwin in 1939. This sturdy volume, laid out and illustrated to be easily read by torchlight, was written by the radio scriptwriter Howard Thomas (assisted by Marjorie Banks). Thomas had written many of the BBC’s biggest radio shows, and was determined to create a book that would not only entertain but also meet the challenges of the times.

The Brighter Blackout Book did both these things. Though much of its content was based on Victorian parlour games that had been popular earlier in the century, a great deal of it had been tweaked to reflect the background of the war. Crossword puzzles, for example, were shaped like swastikas, and in the familiar ‘inky blobs’ game, participants were asked to use their pens to transform ink stains on paper into ‘say – a portrait of Hitler, or a barrage balloon or Old Bill in his gas mask’. Readers were also challenged to complete a series of limericks which were nearly all, like this one, on war themes:

There once was a warden of Slough,
Who got a black eye in a row,
He once met a WAAF out
In a terrible blackout

My father particularly enjoyed a game called Soap Boxes, in which players had to make two-minute speeches on topics chosen by other members of the family. As an extra challenge, the speeches had to be made in the style of someone famous – for example, ‘Why

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About the contributor

Ruth A. Symes is a historian and freelance writer who lives in Manchester. She is rather relieved that she has never had to put the Brighter Blackout Book to use.

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