Anyone who has read this blog before, or who follows me on Instagram, will know just how much I love vintage children’s books. As well as collecting Ladybird books I’m also rather fond of old Topsy and Tim books. When I was a child I recall the small soft-back format that was published by Blackie and these are the ones that I look out for in charity shops and at car boot sales, although they are very hard to come by these days.
Before these smaller format ones, Blackie actually published larger versions of the same books. With so many Topsy and Tim editions over the years I’ve always struggled to find a complete lists of titles and that’s why about four years ago I attempted to compile my own list here on the blog. I also then looked at two different versions of Topsy and Tim at the zoo and highlighted some of the differences between them.
Since then though I’ve managed to acquire more books and looking at the lists of titles on the back of them I’m no longer convinced that my original list was complete. One book that really grabbed my attention was an old (large format Blackie) version of Topsy and Tim Visit the Doctor. Now there’s a modern version of this called Topsy and Tim Go to the Doctor (why change the title?) and the basic storyline is the same, but there’s one rather large omission. Topsy and Tim’s sister Tansy.
What’s that I hear you say? Topsy and Tim don’t have a sister? Well, I’ve got even more of a surprise for you. Tansy also happens to be black.
Now, I have to admit that I have no recollection of Tansy at all from reading Topsy and Tim as a child, but a bit of searching online does find people who remember her, but very little evidence of quite who she is or where she came from. It is believed that Tansy was adopted, which would explain why her skin is a different colour from her older brother and sister. However, it being the internet there are also some people putting about the theory that Topsy and Tim’s mum had an affair of which Tansy was the product. Well you never know I guess…
What I have managed to find online is someone writing about another book in the series (which is listed on the back cover of Topsy and Tim Visit the Doctor) called Topsy and Tim’s New Brother. The description of this book reads as follows: “After having previously adopted Tansy (much to Tim’s disappointment – he didn’t want another girl in the house!), Topsy and Tim’s parents decide to adopt a baby brother – a Southeast Asian boy they call Teddy.”
It appears that at some point Tansy (and Teddy) mysteriously vanish. I certainly don’t remember them from the smaller format books of my childhood and they’re definitely not in the books I’ve picked upon charity shops for my kids. So where do they go? And why? Does anyone know?
Much as with Topsy and Tim go to the Zoo, and Topsy and Tim Learn to Swim (which I looked at here), there are other changes in the Topsy and Tim stories to take account of general changes that have happened since they were first published. The main one in this book is when Topsy and Tim have their scarves over their noses and then Topsy announced that they are “bad cowboys, going to rob a bank”. Tansy then joins in by saying “bang, bang!” and the illustration makes it look like Topsy is holding up her fingers in the shape of a gun. Today’s version has Tim still wearing his scarf over his mouth, but the robbing a bank game is no longer there.
I must have spent hours online looking to try and find out if anyone has really looked at the evolution of Topsy and Tim books, but I’ve come up with very little. I’m sure that somewhere there must be some records or something about the changes that have been made and why, but they certainly don’t seem to have been made public at all. I see plenty of people arriving here having searched for various Topsy and Tim related subjects suggesting that people are interested in some of the old books, but I’m damned if I know all the answers to what they want to know!