Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"The Little Boy Laughed" and Censorship in Australia

I couldn't resist picking up this little gem from Any Amount of Books.  It's a 48 page stapled digest published by Whitman Press in Sydney, and is a reprint of a US crime pulp by John Dow published by Mystery House in 1945.

Melbourne book seller and collector of penny bloods and all things macabre, John P. Quaine, mentions it in his letters to Stanley Larnach, now housed in the State Library of Victoria.

In February 1951 he wrote to fellow Bloods collector Larnach: "If you see a sixpenny thriller, pub in 
Sydney, called Curse of the Mummy, grab a copy as a curio. It has a ferocious illus heading to chap one, worthy of an oldtime blood.  A skull, a dagger, a wild dark shape in the background, a gory axe in the air, a hideous ape, a hanging corpse, and a rat about to dine off a human arm poking out of a dustbin!  Lumme!  I’ve got one as a treasure.  It is just a recent publication.  Another, which I have not got, and I’d like, if you see a spare one, after landing one for yourself, is The Little Boy Laughed.  This is another sixpenny thriller.  The cover was reproduced in the Argus a few weeks ago as an example of the degraded literature now being printed!"

In April 1951 Quaine has managed to acquire the book: "I have two copies of The Little Boy Laughed, and I will send you one later.  One turned up just before I went to 
Bendigo with the wife for Easter, the other I found in a junk shop up there!  It was published by The Whitman Press, 21 Macquarie Place, Sydney."  

As Quaine mentions, the pamphlet was the subject of media attention at the time.  The following appeared in the Argus on
6 December 1950 under the headline:

Do your children read this trash?
Trashy literature, advertisements and films which polluted children's minds were condemned yesterday by the Federation of Victorian Mothers' Clubs' quarterly conference.

Holding up copies of cheap paper covered books now on sale in Melbourne, Mrs. Howells said that such literature should be banned.

"The time has come," she said, "when parents must rise and say we will not have our children's minds polluted with this trash."

Books condemned by the federation included "The Phantom Ranger-A Rescue from the Gallows," and "The Little Boy Laughed," a horror story, full of bashings, violent language and sadistic threats.The second book, which is printed in Sydney includes such passages as: 
"When the jugular vein is cut, see, the blood gushes out all over this side of hell. Like a geyser."

"There she was. Jeeze! What a sight. I wouldn't have missed that for a 100 ice- cream sodas. I never seen a murder before." (A little boy speaking).

Delegates decided to send copies of this and similar books to the Premier, asking him to ban their sale in this State.

The following two articles appeared in the Brisbane Sunday Mail on 10 December 1950:

Laughter for the Boy in “Bucket of Blood”
Yesterday I picked out from a Brisbane bookstall a 'sixpenny dreadful' that should make lovely light reading for the kiddies.

Horror, bashings, murder, sex, illicit love, and bad language fill this book. It is entitled "The Little Boy Laughed," is pocket-size, and printed on cheap paper. Children can buy the book for sixpence. On almost any page they can read this sort of thing:—

"When the jugular vein is cut, see, the blood gushes out all over this side of hell. Like a geyser."

"There she was. Jeeze! What a sight. I wouldn't have missed that for 100 ice cream sodas. I never seen a murder before."

That was the 'Little Boy' talking— the lad on the cover with the bloodstained razor.

Little Eddie again: "There's another corpse. I just found it. Jeeze! There's an old woman. . .and she's as dead as a doornail!"

A police spokesman said last night that the police had authority to examine any books offered for sale. They could make a report recommending that any book be banned.

He added that the Australian books, 'Love Me, Sailor' and 'We Were the Rats’ were banned in Queensland as obscene publications.

Customs officers also have a 'banned' book list. On it are 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' and several Thorne Smith books, including 'The Bishop's Jaegers.' Customs men may also seize any in coming books they consider may be morally unsuitable for Australians.

A leading' Queen Street bookseller, Mr. J. Thomson, said: "No reputable Brisbane bookshop, I am sure, would sell a book like 'The Little Boy Laughed.'" Mr. Thomson said James Joyce's 'Ulysses' could be imported into Australia. But it must be sold only to "members of the medical or legal professions, or to students." Gore Vidal's book 'The City in the Pillar' was in the same category.

Sold Like Hot Cakes
The owner of a street paper stall said to-day that "'The little Boy laughed' sold like hot cakes."

"The cover was terrific," he said.

'The Little Boy Laughed' was the focal point of a fierce attack this week by the president of the Federation of Victorian Mothers' Clubs (Mrs. E. B. Howells). 

Following protests by the federation, the Premier (Mr. McDonald) said on Wednesday that the Government would probably legislate next year to ban 'horror books and horror literature' being printed in Australia for school children. He said: "I feel strongly on this matter. I object to children having their minds polluted and warped by trash and sensationalism produced for profit".

Mrs. Howells introduced 'The Little Boy Laughed' to a federation conference during the week. She described the book as "a horror from beginning to end— leaving nothing to the imagination."

Some Western novels, including 'Rescue from the. Gallows,' in the 'Phantom Ranger' series, were also criticised by Mrs. Howells. Mrs. Russell Scott, a delegate from Benalla East, defended 'The Phantom' as "one of the goodies."

"There's nothing wrong with him," she said; "we're all dying to know when he's going to be married."


  1. Fun post and brought back childhood reading memories. It was a thrilling day indeed when my siblings and I found the key to the locked bookcase in our physician father's library and were finally able to peruse books marked with 'must be sold only to "members of the medical or legal professions.' We were just young enough to know we didn't know very much at all about life's great mystery, though we heard scandalous snippets at school. Needless to say, we were quite let down by books such as "The History of Flagellation" and "Chinese Foot Binding." We perked up at a drably bound set of "My Secret Life," with the more tantalizing warning that these books were 'printed in Holland for Private Subscription,' though as it turned out the binders got the pages out of order and a scene with a group of sailors led jarringly to an escapade with a farmer's wife and we ended up far more confused than at the start. We gave it one last go with a copy of "The Well of Loneliness," but gave up when we couldn't find anything scandalous, let alone informative, so shut and locked the cabinet for good and went back to reading the collected Sherlock Holmes.

  2. Nice reminiscence. Doctors and lawyers of the time must have felt all their Christmases had come at once, though I can't say that even a copiously illustrated "Chinese Foot Binding" would be particularly titillating.