Billy Bunter the original Spud

Idly channel-hopping the other evening in the hope of finding something vaguely interesting to watch other than the interminable diet of repeat after repeat shows fed to us by DStv these days, I happened to come across the movie Spud II, featuring the incomparable John Cleese – remember him in the English comedy classic, Faulty Towers.

It was the sequel to Spud, a story set at a posh boys’ school in the Natal midlands where the boys get up to all sorts of mischief.

Another repeat of course, but at least it was entertaining and brought to mind a topic of conversation round a braai one evening in Komani (Queenstown) many years ago when the chit-chat turned to childhood book favourites.

Diana Holliday, wife of my late colleague Ted Holliday, said how much she and her children had enjoyed the Just William stories by Richmal Crompton, whom I had always believed to be a man but is in fact, a woman.

Diana said her daughter Jill wrote to Crompton once and received a very nice letter in return, along with her autograph.

On that long ago evening, we spoke about authors such as Enid Blyton and Frank Richards. Our collective children had all read Blyton’s books of course, but Richards goes back a bit further.

How many readers, I wonder, remember Billy Bunter, one of the most famous characters in British fiction? He was created by a man called Charles Hamilton who preferred to write under the pseudonym of Frank Richards.

The adventures of Billy Bunter, the greedy, scrounging Fat Owl of the Remove at Greyfriars College, entertained nearly three generations of schoolboys all over the world and was one of my own favourites as a young boy.

Billy Bunter books passed from popular literature during World War 2 and was perhaps one of the major casualties of that period.

At the end of the war, however, Bunter, by popular demand, was revived as the hero of a series of boys’ novels which Richards churned out over 30 years until his death.

The genius of Richards lay in keeping Greyfriars alive as a going concern for decades through wars and social revolutions and making the Greyfriars community organically real to his readers,

Perhaps in Spud we have today’s version of Billy Bunter.

Regarding my bellyaching at the start of this piece about the constant television repeats being inflicted upon us poor, defenceless viewers, I see The Weakest Link is now being thrust upon us again. Could it be the old Anne Robinson series we saw a decade or so ago?


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