When I was about seven years old, I remember two Giles annuals appearing in the house, probably bought from a jumble sale or at a bring and buy at my primary school. I was an instant fan. Giles attention to detail in his backgrounds, the fantastic extended Giles family, and particularly their exploits in the snow and at Christmas, bowled me over. I read the annuals again and again, along with the usual childhood fare of Enid Blyton, Biggles and TV 21.
Years went by, and I was in my twenties, had some spare cash of my own and a girlfriend who attended the Guildford School of Speech and Drama. At the top of the High Street was a wonderful secondhand bookshop - Thomas Thorpe, sadly long gone. It was on their shelves that I found some other old Giles annuals one day while passing time before meeting my paramour.
They were priced at thirty or forty pence each at the time (this was 1978). First I bought the more recent ones, then the older ones as the collection grew. Even the early ones were less than a pound I think.
Roll on another five years and with the launch of Book and Magazine Collector in 1983, I started dealing in books in a small way. Even by then prices had started to rise for early Giles books, and I set about acquiring the missing copies and passing on the spares.
Why is Giles so popular? I think even from an early age I knew why. His cartoons are not just a picture with a laugh line; in a way they are a social history of England since the Second World War. They create a whole world; realistic in many respects, but in the same vein as H.E. Bates Larkin family, the Giles family, for all their faults and problems, were kind-hearted people who endured life's problems with slightly grim-faced British stoicism. You felt you were never more than a few minutes from a laugh no matter what catastrophe might befall them. The children were naughty but not wicked. The Giles family problems were cosy ones of dog-eaten homework, appalling weather and Grandma's over-indulgence in milk stout, rather than the more serious social problems of teenage pregnancy and drug taking.
Giles joined the Daily Express in 1943, and his first cartoon appeared on October 3rd 1943. The Giles Family first appeared on 5th August 1945. The first annual appeared in 1946, and contains cartoons from 1945-1946. Subsequent annuals have appeared yearly ever since, although Giles died in 1998. Since then the annual collections have been from previous years.
Since 1994 Pedigree books have published a new Giles facsimile annual every year. These are now quite sought after by collectors who have them in place of, or until they can find a copy of, the corresponding original Giles annual.
In fact from about number ten onwards the annuals are relatively easy to find. The first five are much more difficult.