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
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
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.
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.)