The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, June 29, 2004


Today's Independent carries a full-page obituary of Anthony Buckeridge (1912 - 2004), who died yesterday. The author of the Jennings books (comedies about boys at an English boarding school) turns out to have had a full as well as a long life.

There's often something sad about comedy, or so I find it. When I was around the same age as their protagonists, I read the Jennings books, the William books, and the Molesworth books, and their effect was very different. Nigel Molesworth is clearly a boy well in touch with his inner adult, who is doing something unpleasant in Personnel. William Brown, whose adventures I read voraciously, is a creature - a wonderful creature - of the imagination, not, or not so much, of observation. What William and Nigel have in common is a sense that growing up and becoming an adult is something you are doomed to, and that's what gives them their poignancy behind the laughs.

Buckeridge has no truck with that. The adults in Jennings world are, as it were, on the same level as the boys. The whole trick is that you see the teachers' point of view at the same time as seeing that of Jennings and his pals. The collisions of their world-views are the engine of the comedy, and the product is pure laughing gas, an unalloyed joy to read. The Jennings books made me laugh more than anything in print before I met Jeeves.


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