I've read a few of Raymond Briggs' books now. Probably my favourite so far has been When the Wind Blows, which I read for the first time just a few months ago and I feel the need to reread it, think about it some more and do a post about it. I have also read Burglar Bill, Fungus the Bogeyman and Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age.
I must say that I have a bit of a hit and miss relationship with Raymond Briggs. Sadly Ethel & Ernest was more of a miss for me. I wanted to like it. I expected to like it more. Lauren from Lauren and the Books recently included it in her Mid Year Best Books of 2017, it was a reread for her, and she feels so kindly towards it that she wants everyone to love it too. I wish I had.
Ethel was a ladies maid when she caught Ernest's eye as he rode past on his bike.
Certainly Ethel & Ernest has the gentle charm of Raymond Briggs' rather distinctive cartoon strip artwork. And there are a few moments of wry humour, but I just didn't get a great feeling for the characters of Ethel or Ernest. The book felt more like a vehicle for the historical facts- which I did particularly enjoy.
Ernest was a milkman, he was a Labour voter true to his working class roots, and he was always reading the paper and commenting on the news of the day. There were quite a few fascinating details about life in London especially during the war. Of course young Raymond was evacuated to the countryside to escape the Blitz, but it was the small details that were especially intriguing to me.
Scrap metal such as gates and saucepans were collected for the war effort, said to be turned into Spitfires. (What became of the gates and railings is even worse that that)
Baths were allowed to be 5 inches deep. Even the baths at Buckingham Palace had the 5 inch lines on them!
I also learnt about the Beveridge Report (1942) which was instrumental in setting up essential social welfare still in existence in the UK. Sick pay, unemployment benefits, government pensions and free, universal health care were all thought up during the rationing and hardships of World War II!