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The Grey Family

The Grey Family was first published in 1956. It is now out of print.

Story | Thoughts | Editions and Availability


The Grey family consists of Mr and Mrs Grey, Edward, Sarah, Bill and Polly. Mr Grey is a lawyer, but because it is "very difficult to earn a lot of money at the beginning of being a lawyer" (The Grey Family, 1967 Red Knight edition:7), the Greys are not very well off. Edward wants to be a farmer when he grows up. Sarah, who is very clever but not particularly pretty, plans to get married and have lots of children. Bill (who is Sarah's twin) is exceptionally good-looking, and wants to be a television announcer or a film star. Polly doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up.

The other member of the household is Nana. After Nana's husband died, and her children moved to Australia, she felt lonely, so she went to see Mrs Grey's mother, who she had once nursed: although she was financially independent, she wanted to work. This was three days after Sarah and Bill had been born, and when she learned about this Nana immediately went to help. Although Mr and Mrs Grey will not let her work for nothing, when money is particularly tight they "put her wages in her book", to be paid later.

Two events early on in the book become the major plot points: a ballet teacher discovers that Polly has a talent for dancing, which means that money must be found for her to have lessons; and Edward saves a dog from drowning, earning the gratitude of the dog's owner, Lord Pink.


(This section contains "spoilers" for those who have not read the book.)

The Grey Family is like a bland version of The Bell Family. It, too, deals with the day to day life of an "ordinary" family (although with the obligatory daughter who has a talent for dancing), and much of the plot is driven by problems arising from a lack of money. Interestingly, the actual members of the Grey family can be seen to parallel the Johnsons in White Boots: one who has "no brains" but wants to work on the land (Edward and Alec), one who is very clever (Sarah and Toby), one who is very good-looking and wants to become "a television announcer, or a film star" (Bill and Edward), and one who displays a talent in the course of the book (Polly for dancing, and Harriet for skating).

However, The Grey Family appears to be designed for a younger readership. It was originally published by Hamish Hamilton as part of their "Reindeer" series, which seems to have been aimed at the under-10s. The Grey Family is rather longer and more eventful than Noel's other books published by Hamish Hamilton - Bertram and Old Chairs to Mend (both in the "Antelope" series), and Let's Go Coaching ("Gazelle").

Probably because of the different audience, The Grey Family is much shorter than earlier works such as The Bell Family and White Boots, and the characters are less complex. Unfortunately, this also makes them less interesting. Furthermore, in White Boots, all of the characters except Edward have their careers paths mapped out - Mr Pulton will pay for Alec to go to an agricultural college, and then to set him up in a market garden; this means that there will be enough money for Toby to go "somewhere like Oxford and be a professor of mathematics" (White Boots, 1951:252), and Harriet is already well on the way with her skating career. By contrast, in The Grey Family the children's plans don't seem to extend much beyond "when I grow up". Polly is the exception to this, as by the end of the book she has obtained a dancing scholarship. However, Edward is simply going to "become" a farmer (no suggestion of where the capital to buy a farm will come from - perhaps Lord Pink will provide it). Sarah should obtain a scholarship, but there is no sense of what her ultimate career will be, and she herself simply says that she is "going to marry, and have lots and lots of children. Six of each. Six boys and six girls" (The Grey Family, 1967 Red Knight edition:9). The sheer number of children make it clear that this is still a very childish ambition. Bill expects that his good looks will simply enable him to walk into a film career: Edward in White Boots has the same belief, but this makes him the least realistic of the Johnsons, whereas in this regard Bill is like his brother and sister - he has a goal, but no planned method of achieving it.

The Grey Family is one of the few of Noel's books in which the parents are invariably referred to as Father and Mother, rather than by their Christian names.

Editions and Availability

UK Editions

The Grey Family was first published by Hamish Hamilton Ltd in 1956, with illustrations by Pat Marriott. By 1964 there had been six impressions.

In 1967, Knight Books released a paperback edition, with the original Pat Marriott illustrations. Another paperback was released in 1973, by Hodder.

US Editions

The Grey Family does not appear to have had a US release.

Out of Print

The Grey Family is out of print, and surprisingly rare. In February 2004, second hand copies through online booksellers start in price at 24. (Source: Addall Used and Out of Print Book Search.)


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