In pre-internet times where did the ambitious adventurer or sporting individual turn to for expert and accurate initial guidance? There were clubs, societies and practitioners aplenty, but where to actually begin the search? A wide ranging series of slim and affordable volumes came to the rescue.
Published by Educational Productions, the Know the Game series was an almost essential source of reassurance and tempered information for hundreds of thousands of readers and sporting participants.
In our current time, where just a few seconds online will provide access to guidance both good and bad, it can be difficult to appreciate just how helpful this book series used to be. But for half a century the gentle guidance, rules and codification within these little volumes was a first place of reference. Many a UK hiker or sporting enthusiast had one or more of these slim books on a shelf at home.
E.P. Publishing published a small Play the Game series of instructional volumes in the early 1950s “written especially for the young player” intended to improve the style and standard of play, Lawn Tennis, Association Football, Swimming, Cricket and Riding were amongst them. Chapter headings illustrate the scope of these early volumes- ‘First Principles, Paces of the Horse, Equipment, Care of the Horse, Recreation and Sport, More Advanced Horsemanship’. It was well written and authorative, not surprising given it was produced for, and received input from, the British Horse Society.
The expert credentials of these volumes pointed the way for decades to come. Every author was an expert in their field. Sport governing bodies advised and reviewed the content, and individual governing bodies provided correct and precise rules and ethics.
Books within the early series title were both too expensive for those with almost empty pockets nor did the series really fit expansion into other pastimes. Educational Productions had already settled upon their Know the Game series title which were subsequently published from the 1950s right through to the 1990s. These were far more concise, smaller and perhaps crucially, more affordable, volumes.
The cover design of these volumes very much capture their era, moving from bold and beautifully stylised, to incorporation of minimal ink palette, to seventies line and colour, to photographic- a final period where clothing and hair length go a long way in dating a volume.
Self-powered travel has been covered well in the series over the decades. Know the Game- Cycling was one of the earliest volumes published and other titles covering BMX, track and mountain biking followed in later decades as those sports became ever more popular. The production of Cycling was completed with the aid of the Cyclists Touring Club and the Road Time Trials Council. The latter organisation were dropped for subsequent editions. This may have been due to growing disquiet over bunched racing on public roads or the creation of the British Cycling Federation in 1959.
Printed by Hepworth & Co. of Tunbridge Wells, the first Know the Game- Cycling edition appeared in April 1952. Competitively priced at two shillings, the slim thirty-two page book dashes through the history of cycling, main bicycle parts and components, gearing and maintenance, before swiftly moving on to cycling clubs, group rides and time trials. Cycle touring is included and there is a presumption that:
“sooner or later every enthusiastic cyclist becomes a cycle tourist. Cycle touring is, after all, only a logical extension of the idea of day excursions and week-end trips”Know the Game- Cycling
Cycling had steady sales, the 1952 and 1954 editions ran to 44 000 copies and a further 15 000 in 1964. Other titles also covered self-powered outdoor pursuits and pastimes. Along with Cycling, one of the first Know the Game volumes in 1952 was Know the Game- Camping, produced in collaboration with The Camping Club of Great Britain & Ireland. This was a popular title with a first edition in 1952, second edition- 1954 and third edition- 1956. By 1962, 273 000 copies had been printed across the three editions. Priced at two shillings and sixpence, the slim books were easily affordable and 55 000 copies of the entirely revised 1963 edition were immediately printed. This edition was again revised in 1968 and the cover image changed. Possibly a young male and female couple disappearing into the bushes surrounding a campsite had offended fifties sensibilities and the more wholesome image of them cooking together was preferable.
“the pedestrian camper remains the élite of the camping world, and his kit forms the basis upon which all others are built”
The advice in these early volumes is very much of its time, though sound. The suggested gear list from the 1956 volume is both lightweight and practical. While todays backpacker may shy from the inclusion of some items- ‘two saucepans and a frying pan’, ‘aluminium butter and jam pots’ and table amongst them, it is also suggested that a pair of pyjamas are made from lightweight parachute silk- four ounces, a face towel be cut in half- two ounces. Three Points of the Compass agrees wholeheartedly with the capitalised warning regarding tin openers- “NEVER FORGET IT“.
The entire set-up, including a 2lb 9oz tent totals just 17lb 11 1/4oz and women and young people are advised not to exceed 15lbs. In the 1987 volume this gear list has increased considerably-
“with a bit of careful planning the all-up weight should be feasible at a mere 25lbs or so. Beyond that the pack becomes tedious”
A new edition of this slim volume was printed in 1974, again revised in 1975. Reflecting the change to the decimal system the limp cover books price was 45p. In 1983 the Camping Club had changed its name to The Camping and Caravanning Club to reflect the change in its membership. It was the new organisation that collaborated in the final edition of Know the Game- Camping. No further editions were produced but the 1980s print continued to be sold into the following decade.
It wasn’t just the book’s collaborating body that had changed. In 1984 A&C Black (Publishers) Ltd. purchased E.P. Publishing. This bought the large Know the Game series to the new owner and dramatically increased their sports publication listings as a result. A&C Black is perhaps most famous for having published Who’s Who since 1897. It was the final edition of Know the Game- Camping that A&C Black bought to print, this time with a new full colour photographic cover and a new cover price to match. At £1.50 this was now quite a high price for a slim volume of just 29 pages.
Know the Game- Rambling and Youth Hostelling was published in collaboration with two bodies- The Ramblers Association and the Youth Hostels Association. First published in 1967 it did not go beyond the 1972 second edition, republished in 1976. 16 000 copies of the first edition were published and for young people looking to escape into the countryside it was packed with essential information.
The snippets of wisdom must have been reassuring to both parent and budding adventurer. By staying at a hostel, the inexperienced was almost assured of rubbing shoulders with those best placed to impart hard-learned advice.
By combining rambling with youth hostelling this enabled a cheap means of accessing the countryside for the outdoors explorer, young or old. An advertisement in the 1967 first edition informs us that a nights accommodation and meals were- ‘cheaper than 14/- for those under 21‘. By the time the second edition had been published, both inflation and decimalisation had caught up and a three-course evening meal, bed and breakfast in a youth hostel then cost £1.
“Rambling is walking for pleasure. Walking is man’s natural means of progression and is therefore a healthy, satisfying exercise. But rambling is more than this. It is by far the best way of gaining an intimate knowledge of the countryside”Introduction to Know the Game-Rambling and Youth Hostelling
When this volume was published it was possible to walk many of the long distance walks in Britain while moving from hostel to hostel each night. This hasn’t been the case for many years.
E.P. Publishing was not the only one producing these volumes. Physical printing could also be out-sourced by Educational Productions. Ladybird Books published Know the Game- Birdwatching, and Know the Game- Fossil Collecting was jointly published with the Palaeontographical Society.
When Niblick Publishing Company printed 18 000 copies of the 1958 edition of Know the Game- Rock climbing, at the same time, E.P. Publishing Co. printed another 48 000 copies of the same edition. That is 66 000 copies covering quite a niche pastime printed in one year.
Know the Game-Rock climbing was a popular volume that was published from the 1950s right through to the 1990’s. As usual, its credentials were impeccable, produced in collaboration with the British Mountaineering Council. As with other long-lived titles, the information imparted in its pages altered over editions to reflect improvements in both equipment and technique.
The sport of orienteering had only been introduced to Britain on a national basis in 1962 by the constitution of the Scottish Orienteering Association. Only three years later L.E.Liddell, H.A.L.Chapman and J.M.Macfadyen of that august association wrote the content for the first edition of Know the Game- Orienteering.
86 000 copies of the first edition of Know the Game- Orienteering were printed. The clear instruction was excellent at the time and still holds up to this day. Two pages from the 1965 volume looking at reading land features and contours are reproduced above. (Three Points of the Compass looks at reading slope angles in a separate post).
Seeing obvious opportunity for crossover of skill and sport, 1965 also saw the first edition of Know the Game- map reading published. J.D.Watson took up the responsibility of revising the next edition of Know the Game- Orienteering and another edition appeared in 1980.
“the best reminder of a holiday is not an ornament inscribed with a resort’s name but a map on which you can trace the by-ways you explored, find once again the villages you visited and recall the whereabouts of that place with a magnificent view”from- final page of Know the Game- map reading
The aim was not only to offer instruction in the rudiments of reading a map but also explain how to select the correct type of map for an activity. The quality is outstanding and benefited from the inclusion of some clear colour printing. This quality was reflected in a higher cover price. While most Know the Game subjects were now costing three shillings and sixpence, in 1965 the Orienteering book was five shillings.
Know the Game- map reading was not simply aimed at those reading Ordnance Survey maps and from the outset each edition included colour examples from ’10 miles to 1″ R.A.C. map of Kent’, ‘3 miles to 1″ Mobil map of the Great Yarmouth area’, ‘1:100 000 Bartholomew map of Bristol and North Somerset area’, ‘1:50 000 O.S. map of the Castleton area’, ‘1:25 000 Ordnance Survey map of the Malham Tarn area’ and ‘1:250 000 O.S. map of the St. David’s Head area of Wales’. Keys were included for maps and following the basic but relevant instruction, short tests for the reader were included.
An interesting addition to the book series was Challenge Walking, published in 1991. Written by Alan Castle, this was produced in collaboration with The Long Distance Walkers Association.
The subject was somewhat compressed for its modest 40 pages, covering day walks, multi-day walks, long distance events, mountain marathons, foreign challenges, sponsored walks and more.
One such event mentioned is the coast to coast Ultimate Challenge, the original title for todays Great Outdoors Challenge (formerly TGO Challenge). A chapter on footwear, clothing, food and drink runs to just three pages. It worked as just an informative taster of what was ‘out there’ and listings of further reading, organisations and useful addresses were possibly the most useful content in this pre-internet volume. Covering a subject so thinly and priced at £1.99, it is unsurprising that a second edition failed to materialise.
Water sports such as canoeing, windsurfing and sailing were covered within the Know the Game series. Alongside these were various swimming titles, lifesaving and water safety.
Think of a participant sport and invariably there was a title- golf, pigeon racing, various disciplines of fishing, ski-ing and snowboarding, archery, pistol and shotgun shooting, the list goes on.
Of course we can all argue as to what is a game, a sport, a pastime or a skill. Some subjects covered in this series have been pure games- Mah-Jong, Backgammon, Chess, Inn Games, Bridge and Scrabble amongst them, but surely Map Reading is more a skill? Albeit essential for some outdoor sports such as Orienteering.
Just about any ball sport you can think of had a Know the Game guide to rules published in association with the disciplines governing body. Track and field athletics were covered, as were spectator sports such as motor and motorcycle racing. Even gliding, hang gliding, rowing, sailing, canal and river cruising had their respective volumes.
While the series was aimed at just about anyone, sports volumes enabled children to find out about a sport and its rules, teachers, coaches and other adults could use them as a source of reference for the latter. After all, it was invariably the governing body that had collaborated with each volume. To complement their early printed Know the Game volumes, Educational Productions also sold 16mm film loops, filmstrips and projectors for clubs to teach correct play in lawn tennis, hockey and football. The cost and logistics in buying or hiring these must have been considerable and the resource did not continue.
In 2000 British publisher A&C Black were taken over by Bloomsbury Plc but retained their identity as a wholly owned subsidiary of Bloomsbury. More recently A&C Black again revamped the series. After this overhaul, almost all former titles vanished, consigned to history. A handful of team sports and cycling were concentrated on instead. Each book now included stories from, and photographs of, the great players. Most recently a ‘downloadable certificate’ was made available for teachers and trainers to award to their charges, perhaps following a sports day or similar.
The new series was published as Know the Sport. Some titles never even changed beyond its new series title- carrying the same cover image with simply a change in title. Know the Game- Mountain biking became Know the Sport- Mountain biking. As to camping, walking and most other outdoor activities, all seemed to be forgotten. Newly priced at £3.99 for just 48 pages, rising to £6.99, this series well and truly priced itself out of the market.
Three Points of the Compass is not recommending the purchase of any of these earlier titles. The internet has largely made them redundant. Instead, this has been a brief glance at a series that would have been represented on the personal book shelf of just about anyone in the last half of the twentieth century that was seeking authorative guidance in their chosen activity. Most of the titles can be readily found second hand as they were published in their millions but some short-lived titles can be difficult to track down. Today though, they are more just for the curious.
For a series that lasted some fifty years, a complete bibliography of the Know the Game books would be extremely long and fall outside the self-imposed remit of this blog. Instead, listed below are the various Know the Game volumes that have appeared that are related to self-powered outdoor pursuits or pastimes, other than those which are purely sport based events. Any titles illustrated above are indicated by an *.
- Angling *, in collaboration with- National Federation Of Anglers
- Birdwatching, published by Ladybird Books Ltd
- Boating, Rowing, Canoeing, Punting *, in collaboration with- Amateur Rowing Association / The British Canoe Union
- Camping *, in collaboration with- Camping Club / Camping and Caravanning Club
- Challenge Walking *, in collaboration with- The Long Distance Walkers Association
- Coarse Fishing, in collaboration with- National Federation of Anglers
- Cycle Racing, in collaboration with- The Cycling Council of Great Britain
- Cycling, in collaboration with- The Cyclists’ Touring Club / Road Time Trials Council
- Float Fishing, Colin Dyson
- Fly Casting, James Tomlinson
- Fossil Collecting, in collaboration with- Palaeontographical Society
- Game Fishing, in collaboration with- The Salmon and Trout Association
- Kayak Canoeing– in collaboration with- The British Canoe Union
- Map Reading *
- Mountain Biking *, Brant Richards
- Potholing and Caving, in collaboration with-Regional Councils of Caving Clubs in Great Britain
- Orienteering *, in collaboration with- The Scottish Orienteering Association
- Rambling and Youth Hostelling *, in collaboration with- The Ramblers Association and Youth Hostel Association
- Riding, in collaboration with- British Horse Society
- Rock Climbing *, in collaboration with- British Mountaineering Council
- Sailing * in collaboration with- Royal Yachting Association
- Sea Angling, in collaboration with- National Federation of Sea Anglers
- Shotgun shooting, in collaboration with- British Field Sports Society
- Ski-ing, in collaboration with- Ski Club of Great Britain
- Ski-ing and Snowboarding, in collaboration with- English Ski Council
- Scuba Diving, in collaboration with- British Sub Aqua Club International
- Sub Aqua, in collaboration with- British Sub Aqua Club
- Trout and Salmon Fishing, in collaboration with- The Salmon and Trout Association
- Underwater Swimming *, in collaboration with- British Sub-Aqua Club
- Weather, in collaboration with- Royal Meteorological Society
- Windsurfing, in collaboration with- Royal Yachting Association
Answers to the questions set in the image above from Know the Game- Map Reading
- 2 miles by road
- The average gradient is 1 in 62
Three Points of the Compass has included a little further detail on what is possibly a more relevant library for today’s backpacker here.