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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The ghost of Billy Bunter



As a youngster I read all of the Billy Bunter books, yet decades later I wonder why. Why did they appeal to a lad brought up on a Derby council estate who knew nothing of private boarding schools or the etiquette of wealth?

Perhaps the social gulf was easily bridged by ignoring it, but Bunter was not even a character one could admire or with whom one could identify. According to those inky swots at Wikipedia -

Bunter's defining characteristic is his greediness and dramatically overweight appearance. His character is, in many respects, a highly obnoxious anti-hero. As well as his gluttony, he is also obtuse, lazy, racist, inquisitive, deceitful, slothful, self-important and conceited.

His compatriots at Grefriars School weren’t much better either as far as I recall. The beastly place was crawling with snobs and fearsome beaks such as Mr Quelch. So what was the attraction all those years ago?

Looking back I think the books were straightforward stories with a beginning, middle and end. They were available from the local library and easily spotted in the shelves because of their yellow dust jackets. Bunter was good enough rather than appealing, with the added benefit of being a series so a chap knew what to expect.

Perhaps Billy Bunter brings out the mechanical aspect of reading. Beneath the literary flim flam books are usually something to do, entertainments as Graham Greene called his own output. Something to pass the time on a rainy day or when there isn’t anything else. Holiday reading without being on holiday.

There is a mechanical aspect to all forms of entertainment. It doesn’t have to be uplifting or even entertaining - available and easily digested will do. Eventually we learn to discriminate, to select according to our mood and passing inclinations, to learn, to muse, to delve, laugh, think, agree or disagree, to be angry, indignant or resigned.

Or we don’t.

4 comments:

Michael said...

Now if you applied all this to Jennings, you'd be even nearer to the truth! But you have made an incisive post, and instantly understandable!

Ozard prang...

Woodsy42 said...

Maybe because ordinary folk like you and I could see their faults and nasty natures and therefore feel generally superior to those of higher social rank.
As such the Bunter stories maybe should be classed as first rate left wing propoganda?

Demetrius said...

They were written in a period when the great majority of people went to an Elementary School until the age of 14. I am fairly sure few of them took or read The Magnet or read the books so we need to be careful of equating them with the later and wider TV audience, a BBC offering for children. For those that did read Bunter on the one hand it was fantasy but on the other we all knew people like that. After all the chaps at Greyfriars would be the bosses when you did start work.

A K Haart said...

Michael - I read a few Jennings books but couldn't get on with them, although I do remember "addlepated clodpoll".

Woodsy - I think you are right, the general impression wasn't one to stir the ambitions.

Demetrius - my father read The Magnet as a lad and mentioned it once or twice. I bought him a copy towards the end of his life but he managed to spill port all over it.