24th December 1961. ‘The Owl of the Remove’.
Billy Bunter first arrived on the scene in an unpublished work in the late 1890s and was said to be derived from three people known by his originator Frank Richards (real name Charles Hamilton), who died Today in 1961.
Bunter first appeared in the Magnet magazine in a story called the making of Harry Wharton in 1908 and was originally a minor character.
However he was eventually to became the driving force in the plots and with his large glasses and corpulence, he eventually became the immortal ‘Owl of the Remove’.
The stories of Greyfriars a public school, originated in the weekly magazine which ran in The magnet from 1908 to 1940, and was subsequently seen on 1950s BBC TV, plays, comic-strips and novels.
Aged 14-15 he was in the Lower Fourth of Greyfriars, known as The Remove. His character which might have covered all the Deadly Sins, was defined by his greed, being overweight, obnoxious and as anti-hero.
However a fuller description would say he was obtuse, racist, lazy, deceitful, inept, untruthful, slothful, self-important and conceited, all of which failings weren’t recognized by Bunter, who saw himself as handsome, talented, aristocratic, describing everyone else as ‘beasts’.
His redeeming features were his honesty and courage when necessary, saving his form master’s niece Cora Quelch from a bull for instance. However even here he had to wildly exaggerate and boast,(1)
He could be generous, when he had food and cash, which wasn’t often, as he was always optimistically expecting cheques, but all the time managing to retain a cheery optimism.
As novelist and writer George Orwell was to write: ‘His tight trousers against which boots and canes are constantly thudding, his astuteness in search of food, his Postal Orders which never turn up, made him famous where ever the Union Jack waves’.
Billy Bunter of Greyfriars was extremely popular in Black and White BBC TV running from 19th February 1951 to 22nd July 1961.
He was the constant despair of his Form Master Mr Quelch played by Kynaston Reeves, whose constant refrain was ‘Bunter’!, whose response was ‘Oh Lor’!, when he wasn’t tittering ‘He He He’.
The series also included a young Anthony Valentine as Harry Wharton and Michael Crawford as Frank Nugent, and all memorably introduced by Vaughan-Williams’, ‘Portsmouth’ from his sea-songs. Marvellous memories.
That was at a time when we hadn’t got ‘hang-ups’ about portraying middle-class life and just accepted it for what it was; jolly good fun which though alien to most we easily identified with.
The ‘sin’ of obesity was to await the future as was any nonsense concerning so called racial allusions.
Bunter made his last appearance, posthumously for Richards, in the book, Bunters Last Fling, in 1965.
(1) Fayne Jenkins p 52. History of the Magnet. 1972. Kent Museum Press.
Ref: wikipedia.org/billy_bunter/Pic Images.
Ref: George Orwell, Boys Weeklies. 1940.