As mentioned earlier, I first encountered Billy Bunter at the library of St.Xavier, Jaipur. They had a whole shelf of the earlier era hardbound Cassell version of the stories. Simiilarly, Oxford library during my Kolkata stay had several yellow-jacketed hardbound version of ‘Bunter and the Cannibals” …and several other titles. As a young bachelor sentenced to the chummery food in Kolkata, I remember thanking my stars for this oasis of literary delight in an otherwise exile post.
I remember reading ‘Billy Bunter’s cruise’ at the Rajasthan University Library -and ultimately did get that copy in my collection from Daryagunj’s Kabadi Bazaar. I remember picking up ‘Billy Bunter in Brazil’ from the Happy Corner stores after my class Xth exams in 1975 (with the support of my late maternal grandmother). My entire collection is of the paperback Armada version.
William George Bunter is a fictional schoolboy created by Charles Hamilton using the pen name Frank Richards. He features in stories set at Greyfriars School, originally published in the boys’ weekly story paper, ‘The Magnet’, from 1908 to 1940. The character has appeared in novels, on television, in stage plays, and in comic strips.
Frank Richards built Bunter as an unlikely protagonist – and I quote the Wikipedia here:
His character is, in many respects, that of a highly obnoxious anti-hero. As well as his gluttony, he is also obtuse, lazy, racist, nosy, deceitful, slothful, self-important and conceited. These defects, however, are not recognized by Bunter. In his own mind, he is an exemplary character: handsome, talented and aristocratic; and he dismisses most of those around him as “beasts”. The negative sides of Bunter are offset by several genuine redeeming features; such as his tendency, from time to time, to display courage in aid of others; his ability to be generous, on the rare occasions when he has food or cash; and above all his very real love and concern for his mother. All these, combined with Bunter’s cheery optimism, his comically transparent untruthfulness and inept attempts to conceal his antics from his schoolmaster – the gimlet eyed Mr.Quelch – and schoolfellows, combine to make a character that succeeds in being highly entertaining but which rarely attracts the reader’s lasting sympathy.
Magnet weekly story book for boys published 1683 issues between 1920 and 1948 – and Frank Richards evolved the character of Billy Bunter over the years- from being one of the schoolboys in the crowd to the key protagonist who overheard a conversation in a sneaky manner across a keyhole, or while he ducked under a table (Oh, Crikey!) – and in his quivering fear, revealing it to more robust characters in the author’s fold with disastrous results for the villain of the piece!
With Bunter at the center of his story, Richards did an amazing task of building the script with a range of other characters, with the astute Hurre Jamset Singh- the’ Nabob of Bhanipur ‘and Harry Wharton, the Captain of the Fourth – with his strength of fair play and excellent character – as my favorites!
Billy Bunter in Egypt formed a series of Armada novels, tracing the Egyptian adventures of the fatuous fool with his famous five school-friends. The story starts with ‘Billy Bunter’s Bad Luck’ and continues thru ‘ Billy Bunter on the Nile’ , ‘ Billy Bunter’s Bargain’ and ‘Bunter and the Secret of the Scarab’. Unfortunately, the missing link was the concluding book where the villain Kalizalos is finally trounced and the mystery of the scarab is resolved!
I am happy to say that after nearly 35 years of Bunter quest, that missing piece fell in place – thanks to my friend, Vineeth Abraham. I had given him the digitized versions of JSF picture library around 2013-14…and I guess I was one of those who started him off on internet and torrents. As usual, the pupil outdid the master – he collated and shared a wonderful collection of downloads from the net.
And in those downloads was the complete collection of the 1683 magnets! And, in those digitized weeklies, was the original version of Bunter in Egypt – with the missing ending. Yes, the secret of scarab was finally revealed – and Lord Maulever’s enemy, Kalizelos, was finally trounced -and saw the legendary diamond only to lose it to Mauly!
For the uninitiated, let me share that it was in 1946 that Frank Richards was able to get a release from Amalgamated Press for publishing Bunter in a book format. First 9 books were published by Skilton – and subsequently this moved to Cassell who went on to publish 29 Bunter books. Armada published 14 books between 1965 and 1972 – I have most of these in my collection. As you can see the collection also has some of the stories published by Merlin – and some abridged versions that I picked up at a railway station book stall in my travels.
However, the most exciting promise is that in those 1683 stories of the Magnet weekly, there are several of the nearly century old Bunter stories – that I have not yet read – that, someday, I will discover!
If u wish to discover more of Bunter, the net has its pages on him – and here is one site to start you off…
My Previous Posts on this reader’s journey:
Travel my reading journey… with my next Post :. I rest my case, Your Honor… (Perry Mason)
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