Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A revision of an iconic textbook on invertebrates—the famous ‘BEPS’—was panned by a reviewer in 1958

It is hard to imagine that one of the advanced textbooks which you only got your hands on in the VIth form and which lived with you until the end of an undergraduate course in zoology took a pasting from a reviewer for New Scientist

The mention of ‘BEPS’, as the book was known throughout the world often brought forth the chant of its authors as a sort of mediaeval religious incantation: Borradaile...Eastham.....Potts.......and Saunders*.

This is what the review (New Scientist 17 July 1958) of the third edition said:

The Invertebrata. A manual for the use of students. By L. A. Borradaile, F.A. Potts, L. E. S. Eastham and J. T. Saunders. 3rd Edition revised by G. A. Kerkut. (Cambridge University 
Press, 795 pp., 55s.) 
BEPS has been the standard English text-book on invertebrate animals for twenty-five years, and will be familiar to anyone who has taken even the briefest University course in zoology. It is a fact book for undergraduates, for more senior zoologists in search of their memories, and for sixth-form libraries This new edition will maintain, but not enhance, its reputation as a useful but dull book. Of the four original Cambridge authors, only one. Professor Eastham, has been in a position to revise his part, and the whole has been undertaken by Dr. G. A. Kerkut, of Southampton. 
     The changes in the text are not large, and much of the increase of seventy pages is due to the addition of a useful appendix on zoological literature and to an increase in the number of illustrations. The text has been broken up into a series of paragraphs with sub-headings. which gives a somewhat staccato effect to the whole. Many errors of fact have come through unaltered, as have many general passages which were badly in need of reshaping in the light of new information. Some of the alterations have been made necessary by changes or expansions in the classifications used. Some of these are for the better, some for the worse; but the reader is now given a minimum of 400 group names to be learnt, in place of 280. 
     The earlier editions left out a few small groups. Some of these have now been included, but others are still ignored. For example, Kinorhyncha and Priapulida now appear, but Mesozoa and Symphyla, both of which are of more interest, are absent. 
     Most of the old and excellent illustrations reappear, and these have been improved by transferring the names of structures illustrated from the captions to the guide lines. But they are supplemented by new drawings, and some of the old ones have been redrawn. Manyof these arc technically execrable and some banal in content as well. A comparison of Figure 218 in the second edition with Figure 226 in the new will illustrate both these faults. 
     Revision of a standard text-book is an onerous task which no one would undertake lightly, and, where the textbook is one that will be largely used by students, its publishers must carry considerable responsibility. This one falls short of what is to be expected of so distinguished a house. 
R. B. Freeman.

[Richard Broke Freeman (1915-1986) was Reader in Taxonomy at University College London although he is probably best remembered as a bibliographer and expert on Charles Darwin.]

The first edition of BEPS was published in 1932 By 1958 two of the original authors (Lancelot Alexander Borradaile 1872-1945; Frank Armitage Potts 1882-1937) were dead. John Tennant Saunders 1888-1965 (grandfather of Jennifer Saunders the comedian and actress) had recently retired as Principal of University College, Ibadan, Nigeria. Leonard Ernest Sydney Eastham (1893-1977) was about to retire from the chair of zoology at Sheffield but revised his section on insects. Gerald Allan Kerkut (1927-2004) was responsible for the revision of the third and fourth editions; it was not his last book to be panned by a reviewer.

Was the poor reception of the third edition of BEPS in 1958 the reason why a fourth appeared in 1961?

What I think this rather sad tale for the original BEPS quartet means is that textbooks do not age well. The whole style and treatment makes revision beyond a certain point difficult especially in such a wide-ranging book by a single author. BEPS was essentially a 1920s book hanging on into the 1960s. As fashions changed and as soon as an alternative appeared, in the form of Invertebrate Zoology by R.D. Barnes (Saunders, 1963), it was dropped. However, BEPS is still a good starting point for looking things up—if only I could find my copy.

L.A. Borradaile
F.A. Potts (from here)
L.E.S. Eastham (from here)

...and I cannot find a photograph of J.T. Saunders.

*The order of the authors is BEPS on the jacket and BPES on the title page, Eastham and Saunders being described as having ‘chapters by’.