Oldies like me were lucky enough to grow up in an age before computers, electronic games and (anti) social media. We may even remember a time before television. Yet, we weren’t deprived or disadvantaged. As a family we were collectively enthralled by radio serials like Paul Temple and Journey into Space, each episode ending in a cliff hanger, the hook for the following week.

Those serials stimulated our imaginations and family discussion as we pictured the earthly perils confronting amateur detective Temple and his wife Steve and the galactic dangers threatening to engulf Jet, Mitch and Lemmy. Paul Temple was reinvented as a 1960s TV series, but the visual incarnation didn’t spark the imagination or recreate the excitement of the earlier audio episodes.

Another benefit and joy of growing up BC (Before Computers), was time for reading. I don’t think my memory is playing tricks when I remember reading Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities and The Pickwick Papers while still at primary school. Our teacher was way ahead of her time, tasking us each week to read a newspaper story and explain it to our classmates. I can still recall my pal explaining the ins and outs of the Suez crisis to a class of nine- and ten-year-olds.

The biggest and most enduring joy however, was the wide range of comics we devoured each week. We started with the visual and colourful Dandy and Beano. We looked forward to our weekly doses of anarchy supplied by the likes of Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, Desperate Dan and the Bash Street Kids. Oh, and not forgetting Lord Snooty, Dudley Watkins’ 1930s template for Jacob Rees Mogg.

From there we graduated to one or more of DC Thomson’s “Big Five”: Adventure, Rover, Wizard, Hotspur and the shorter-lived Skipper. The reach of those titles should not be underestimated. The 1922 first edition of the Rover had a print run of 375,000 copies. The combined weekly sales of Adventure and Rover was a staggering 848,000. It was estimated that two thirds of boys in Scotland read at least one of the big five.

In 1950, Hulton Press published the glossy and colourful Eagle, introducing space hero Dan Dare. In those simpler and more rational times, it was acceptable to have comics aimed specifically at boys or girls. Girls’ titles included the legendary Bunty, closely followed by Judy and Mandy. Hulton produced The Girl to complement The Eagle. Their characters and heroines included The Four Marys, Ella on Easy Street and Billy Bunter’s glutinous sister, Bessie. Fat-shaming wasn’t a big issue in those days.

I was an avid reader of at least two of the titles each week, promiscuously shifting my affections between the Rover, Hotspur and Wizard. I could be won over with the promise of a freebie, like the balsa glider propelled by an elastic catapult that inevitably nosedived to earth a couple of feet away.

There was also the “Acme Thunderclap”, made from cardboard and brown paper and advertised as loud enough to “scare the neighbours”. In decibel terms, the reality was more modest, leading my father to make the indelicate, if accurate comparison with breaking wind, or words to that effect. Cards depicting famous footballers with centre partings but sans tattoos, were eagerly swapped.

Freebies aside, what I remember most was the volume of print in each edition. The complete stories and serials consisted of pages of dense print, set out in proper sentences and paragraphs, enriching both vocabulary and imagination. Each week we devoured the exploits of the legendary “Alf Tupper, The Tough of the Track”, who combined welding with astonishing athletic achievements, usually at the expense of dastardly foreigners. Limp Along Leslie turned physical infirmity to his advantage on the football pitch. There were echoes of war in V for Vengeance and Matt Braddock, Flying Ace.

Of course, the golden age of comics and indeed reading, didn’t last. The volume of print in comics shrunk along with youngsters’ attention spans. The emergence of television meant entertainment became more visual and less intellectually demanding. The titles that sold in their hundreds of thousands in the 1950s and 1960s were no longer viable and one by one, vanished.

The decline in reading has quickened, accelerated by computer technology and electronic gaming. For many youngsters and adults too, reading has become old hat and yes, way too hard work. The National Literacy Trust estimates that only around 25% of UK children and young people read daily, spending much more time online, texting, playing games and browsing. On average, adults read for a miserly sixteen minutes a day, preferring to spend around three hours watching television.

This isn’t just another oldie’s lament that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Reading is fundamentally important to educational and social development. It transports children to unfamiliar places and events, promotes imagination, deeper understanding of the world and empathy with others.

I still savour the excitement of reading Treasure Island for the first time. It builds concentration; readers need to sit still. Family and social relationships are strengthened when parents and children read and discuss together. Libraries are a crucial support, but are often the first to be threatened by budgetary vandalism.

The decline of reading is not down to our children. Our busy adult lives mean it’s easier to sit them at the computer or television than do the hard miles, developing their enjoyment of the written word. Instead, we should be guided by American author Kate DiCamillo: “Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift.”

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