I-Spy books were small paperback volumes that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Each book covered a subject such as I-SPY Cars, I-SPY on the Pavement, I-SPY on a Train Journey, and so on and so on.
The object was to be vigilant and spot objects such as animals, trees, policemen, fire engines, sea shells etc. etc. and they were recorded in the relevant book, and this gained points. More points were available for the more difficult spots. Once you had spotted everything and the book was complete, it could be sent to Big Chief I-SPY for a feather and order of merit.
No, I kid you not!
The books was supposedly written by a Red Indian chief called Big Chief I-Spy who turned out to be a man called Charles Warrell who was a former school teacher and headmaster who created I-Spy in 1948. He retired in 1956, but lived on until 26th November 1995 when he died at the age of 106. For part of this time he also worked as an antiques dealer in Islington.
Those who played the I-Spy game became members of the I-Spy Tribe and were called Redskins. The head office was variously known as the Wigwam by the Water or the Wigwam-by-the-Green. Neither of these exotic sounding places were situated on the American Plains or in the Black Hills of Dakota, the former was located next to the Mermaid Theatre at Blackfriars and the latter was in London’s Edgware Road.
I had quite a collection of I-Spy books but to be honest I never finished any of them because some of the items were absurdly difficult to track down (how, for example, do you I-Spy fish unless you are a deep sea fisherman working on a trawler or a scuba diver?) and I never got a single feather although I did join the club and had an I-Spy badge that I used to wear on the lapel of my school blazer.
The original first thirty-two I-Spy books were in black and white only and cost sixpence each and the titles were:
|At the Seaside||The Army|
|On the Farm||The Wheel|
|On a Train Journey||People and Places|
|In the Country||Men at Work|
|At the Zoo- Animals||Antique Furniture|
|At the Zoo – Birds and Reptiles||The Universe|
|In the Street||Road Transport|
|On the Road||Town Crafts|
|The Sights of London||Country Crafts|
|Horses and Ponies||The Sky|
|Ships and Harbours||People in Uniform|
|Boats and Waterways||Motorcycles and Cycles|
Some of these books were extremely useful for parents, especially on long jouneys. For a small investment there would be short periods of peace while children were preoccupied with spotting things – ‘On a Train Journey’, ‘Road Transport’ and ‘Cars’ were good for this sort of thing.
On a long car journey my dad would invent his own I-spy games and challenge us to spot a red lorry, spot a black cow, spot a petrol station, in fact spot pretty much anything he could think of if it successfully kept us all quiet. This didn’t last very long of course and when he got desperate he would tell us to look out for the sea and when we were on the way to Cornwall or Wales he usually started this little distraction roughly at about Oxford which is of course just about as far from the sea as you can possibly get! That was very optimistic.
‘At the Seaside’ was also useful for parents because they could send you off for hours at a time staring into rock pools and poking around at the shoreline to find things while they sat and enjoyed the sunshine. I suppose some would be frowned upon today because they encouraged kids to go off to places that parents today would consider dangerous, ‘In the Street’, ‘Boats and Waterways’, ‘Bridges’ and especially, probably the most dangerous of all, ‘Wild Fruits and Funghi’!
Some were useless of course and we didn’t buy them, I mean what chance was there of completing ‘The Army’ I-Spy book unless your dad was a squaddie? And how were most normal kids supposed to spot ‘Aircraft’? I never went near an airport until I was twenty-two and neither did most of my mates.
Some people took this all a bit too seriously and here is an entry that I have found on www.doyouremember.co.uk : “Glad to know that others remember the I-SPY Books. I used the books regularly as a child in the 1950s and 1960s (and beyond), was a member of the I-SPY Tribe and won various prizes, including a wigwam (or tent!) I led my own local “patrol” and we met the second Big Chief I-SPY, Arnold Cawthrow, on a number of occasions. He visited my home in Barking twice and mentioned me and my Red Arrow Patrol in a number of his Daily Mail columns. I kept in touch until he retired in 1978 and remember the whole I-SPY experience with much affection.”
I-Spy a sad man!
how i would have LOVED these!! if i ever run across any here in the States while antiquing or at yard sales I will buy them!!
They were really good fun, children would probably laugh at them now! Thanks for the comment.
There are lots of them for sale on ebay and they are so light that the postage wouldn’t be very much at all.
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What a shame that they came out so late, 2 or 3 years earlier and I’d have enjoyed them for sure, Never heard of them until now, Thanks Andrew loved this post! 🙂
They were good fun. I had quite a collection when I was a boy.
I missed out 😦
Thanks for stopping by.
Those would have been fun.. now the kid just looks at a little screen..
Just last week my granddaughter was in the car and her battery ran down on her tablet. We ended up playing I-Spy. That was a blast from the past!
I kind of remember the books but never used one. What have I missed! I would love to win a wigwam 🙂 🙂
I remember having a play wigwam when I was a boy but I preferred being a cowboy so I made my sister be the Indian and use the tent!
I need one for the 6 year old 🙂 🙂
I only had a few but they were something that I greatly enjoyed. We lived near Swadlincote in South Derbyshire so we occasionally visited Burnaston and then the East Midlands Airport set up, so I got quite a few of the smaller airliners. We were also under the Severn-Trent flyway so we saw a lot of RAF types, and even a few Coastal Command aircraft such as Shackletons. Aircraft were very distinctive then such as Vulcans, Victors and Lightnings.
Did anybody collect car numbers though?
I know that I did. Sit by the side of the road outside the house and jot them down in an exercise book. How sad. I never did train spotting though.
I had a handful of them, but as you say some of them were so esoteric back when people didn’t travel the way they can now/. I seem to recall quickly getting bored with them because you simply couldn’t actually spy much of the stuff they told you to look for.
I am fairly certain that I never completed a single book. Thanks for adding your memory here.
Growing up on the Cumbrian coast At The Seaside was a doddle! Fish, rock pools, sand dunes, stones, flowers, ….. we had them all. We also used to vanish for a whole day at weekends into the woods and hills, returning late evening with ripped trousers and black from fire smoke! Happy days.
Happy days indeed, I remember school holidays when we went out in the morning and didn’t go homeagain until we were hungry!
We used to eat turnips and peas from the fields!
Sometimes, or roasted in a wood fire. Also we nicked eggs from barns and cooked them on hot rocks! Raw cockles and mussels too.
I remember these, but didn’t know about the big chief
I guess a lot of others didn’t either!
Here’s to us still blogging about ice pie at the age of 106.
I will have run out of WP storage space long before that!
Oh, I had quite a few ISpy books as a kid, and we used to invent ISpy games on long car journeys! I used to frequently
spot Ford Anglias, Minis for my sister!
My dad could keep a game of I-Spy going for miles!
I remember those, but didn’t have any. Maybe it was a boy thing?
Looking at the titles I think that maybe you are right about that Anabel!
I remember one of my brothers having these books. He used to go out with his mates, the little Gang of Four, not sure how well they did.
I was happy if I managed about 10%!
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