Thursday, February 26, 2009

Paradise Regained

William George Bunter (Billy Bunter), the Fat Owl of the Remove, was created by Frank Richards (Charles Hamilton) 15 February 1908 in the 1st issue of the Magnet Library (see HERE.) Harry Wharton was the original hero of the tales but it was Billy Bunter who caught the imagination of the British schoolboy.The first Magnet illustrator was Hutton Mitchell and the last was H.C. Chapman. A.T. Pease illustrated one of the many comic strips for Billy Bunter's Knockout in 1961.

The following article appeared in the Calgary Herald on Monday, 10 December 1951.

Paradise Regained

by Andrew Snaddon of the Herald's London Bureau

At a press conference recently, television writers registered a protest against a proposed BBC program for children - the critics whose acid prose has shattered many a TV actors' dreams were being sentimental and wanted the performances scheduled at a later hour for adults.

I'm glad the critics spoke up because I have already planned to play hookey and sneak home in the afternoon to see the plays about Greyfriars School. A lot of Canadians, now grown up, will understand the nostalgic memories of the critics for such fictional names as Harry Wharton, Billy Bunter, Bob Cherry, Herbert Vernon-Smith and, of course, the master of the Fourth at Greyfriars, Mr. Quelch.

* * *
The adventures of Wharton and Co.were chronicled each week in a paper called The Magnet and the arrival of the UK mail was eagerly awaited. It was one of several such papers, which included the Champion, Ranger and Bullseye, but while the others were more general adventure stories, the Magnet dealt exclusively with Greyfriars.

A special treat and a surefire Christmas present which covered the range of all these papers was the Chums Annual. It was generally believed by parents that the English papers were better reading material for growing boys than the slangy American funnies. Typically Canadian lads, we accepted both, reading the English papers at home and trying to read the others, at the expense of that great and long-suffering man "Gus", who ran the Elbow View Confectionary, while spending a nickel on a coke.

The war and paper shortages brought an end to the publication of the English "mags" and times have changed. It is true that the life at Greyfriars, which was completely foreign to most of the readers, certainly the Canadian readers, was faintly snobbish and depended on the old class system. Yet the stories stressed such things as fair play, honesty and team spirit ("for the honor of the Fourth") which sometimes seem overlooked by the uplifters do-gooders and planners who envisage a society where all men are supposedly equal.

It will be interesting to see Mr. Quelch on television. His "gimlet eye" transfixed wrong-doers in his classes and piercingly penetrated the gap of ocean and continent between England and Western Canada to where young Canadians were reading the Magnet instead of doing their homework. Mr.Quelch rarely missed a week when his eyes did not "bore into the wretched boys."

The master never shirked his duty and administered "six of the best" with his cane when he felt it served the ends of justice to apply it to the ends of the boys. An English friend has just righteously proclaimed that the cane is no longer used in English schools and, unwittingly, has decreased my admiration for English boys. The lads of the Fourth at Greyfriars always took their punishment so well that our Canadian aversion to the "strapping" administered from time to time (with good cause and I hope with good effect) by our own teachers, Mr.Geiger, Mr. Parker, Mr. Cartwright, etc., seem rather cowardly in comparison.

* * *
Joy Harrington, a BBC producer, who has traveled Canada with theatrical road companies, expressed no surprise that a Canadian should be interested in the doings at Greyfriars School. The stories, written by "Frank Richards", were translated into many languages and were even published in Braille. Mr.Richards is now 83 years of age and keenly interested in the TV show, although not actively participating with activities.

Miss Harrington has one or two fears about the show. For one thing such expressions as "Go and eat coke" and "What the thump", may not appeal to modern young Britons. On the other hand, if the programs are produced for adults, those who became fans over the years from 1910 to 1939, have in their imagination built up pictures of the boys which may not jibe with the actual actors chosen.

I hope they decide to put it on at night for adults. If not, Boss, the neighbors' kids can move over because I'm coming home early to watch.

*Note: The live Billy Bunter TV show proved so popular it was shown twice on Tuesdays, at 5:25 pm for kids and at 8:pm for adults. Billy Bunter was played by 29 year old Gerald Campion. The show aired approximately 120 half hour episodes on BBCTV from 1952 to 1961.

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