Was Jill’s pony black or piebald?

And what was his name?

When Jill fans get together, there is one topic that always exercises them. Was Jill’s pony, Black Boy, black, or was he piebald, and was his name Black Boy or Danny Boy? The answer is ‘both’, and that it depends on what edition of the books you read.

In the original hardbacks, Black Boy was black, and Jill calls him Blackie when she first sees him.

Not very far from our cottage there was a farm, and next to the farm was a paddock, and in the paddock was a black pony. …After that Mummy simply never had a carrot left; I took them all for Blackie, as I called him… “Do you call him Blackie?” said the farmer. “His real name’s Black Boy.”

(Jill’s Gymkhana, 1949 first edition)
Jill’s Gymkhana, 1st edn, 1949

Black Boy remained black in the first series of paperback reprints, which appeared in the 1960s. They were produced by Armada Books, the paperback arm of Collins, and generally included the original text and illustrations, though A Stable for Jill and Jill has Two Ponies had covers by Mary Gernat, and Pony Jobs for Jill had one by Peter Archer.

It was in the late 1960s paperback reprints by Hodder, under their Knight imprint, that matters started to change. Knight commissioned a new illustrator, the New Zealander Bonar Dunlop, to provide covers and internal illustrations for the five titles they had not licensed to Armada. He did five covers, including Jill’s Gymkhana, and illustrated the first three titles; in all five, Black Boy has become piebald in both text and illustrations. In a further complication, Dunlop’s cover for Jill’s Gymkhana shows him as skewbald if we assume, as I think we can, that the picture is of him and Jill.

Jill’s Gymkhana, Knight, 1968

In that 1968 edition of Jill’s Gymkhana, Black Boy also becomes Danny Boy. That 1968 edition of Jill’s Gymkhana is the single, solitary title in which Danny Boy is used. Not even the Bonar Dunlop edition of A Stable for Jill, the next book in the series,which also appeared in 1968, used Danny Boy. The pony reverted to his original name in all succeeding editions over the decades, leaving that one lone, exception.

Not very far from our cottage there was a farm, and next to the farm was a paddock, and in the paddock was a piebald pony. …After that Mummy simply never had a carrot left; I took them all for Patchy, as I called him…. “Do you call him Patchy?” said the farmer. “His real name’s Danny Boy.”

(Jill’s Gymkhana, 1968 Knight reprint)

My mother is very well known as a writer of children’s books, and I suppose some children must buy her books and read them … because simply huge numbers of them are sold and keep Mummy and me and the cottage and Black Boy, my pony, going.

(A Stable for Jill, 1968 Knight reprint)

A Stable for Jill, Knight, 1968

Two explanations suggest themselves here for the original decision to use a different name: first, that the publishers intended Black Boy to be renamed, although it is unlikely that the name would have caused problems of political correctness in 1968. Perhaps the winds of change were blowing over from America, post-Martin Luther King. The second scenario is that through error or an incorrect brief the illustrator simply got it wrong, and rather than ask him to redo the illustrations, the publishers decided to adapt the text to suit.

Perhaps the use of Danny Boy in the first book but in no other was simply a huge proofreading fail.

I have heard from a fan of the series who bought these paperbacks when they came out, and wrote to the publishers when Black Boy’s colour was changed. The explanation she was given was that it was too difficult to print a black pony on the paper used, though bearing in mind the publishers were quite happy to use the original Caney illustrations in some editions, which showed Black Boy as black, this does seem an unlikely excuse.

The fact remains that someone, somewhere, decided Black Boy was going to be a piebald pony, and a piebald pony is what he remained in every edition from the late 1960s until the Fidra paperback editions, which returned Black Boy to his original colour.

I should add, if you want to read the originals, that Jane Badger Books is now reprinting the books, and Jill’s Gymkhana and A Stable for Jill are already available as eBooks (click on the titles to buy). The books use the full first edition text, so yes, Black Boy is black, so if you’ve read them and wondered why, I hope this piece does manage to explain it.

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A visit from the Ministry for the Future of British Sport and Recreation

11th April 2022

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