Solipsism and Me

Idle reports from an idle fellow

Further researches into Molesworthiana

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Encouraged by friendly email from the distinguished author of Bullies, Beaks and Flannelled Fools: An Annotated Bibliography of Boys’ School Fiction 1742-2000, I have been doing a little more investigation of the Molesworthian avant-texte, in particular the first appearances of some of the texts we now regard as canonical. Following the success of the books Down with skool (1953), and How to be topp (1954), it would appear that Willans was requested to contribute to  Young Elizabethan (“The magazine to grow up with”) on a regular basis, starting in January 1955. Like the books, each of his contributions was illustrated by the late great Ronald Searle, who just happened to be married to YE’s editor Kaye Webbe. As far as I can tell almost all of these pieces were subsequently republished in book form, some in Wizz For Attoms (1956), and the rest in the posthumous  collection Back in the Jug Agane (1958).

I spent a happy hour or two this afternoon in the Lower Reading Room of the Bodleian Library looking through Young Elizabethan for 1955 to 1957, in order to prepare the table at the end of this article, and also in the rather forlorn hope of discovering some more lost Molesworthiana. I found some mildly interesting letters from readers of YE either disparaging (“I am sure that quite a number of readers will agree with me about The Curse of St Custards! This month’s report is particularly stupid”, wrote Diana Herbert from Johannesburg in June 1955) or defending the Goriller of 3B (“Nigel is a true representation in a humorous way of an English form of activity which is unknown and hence unappreciated in South Africa” wrote Jill Asquith from Upminster in the next issue). I also found a couple of non-Molesworth-related pieces from Willans, one reporting an interview with the  (unnamed) “head of the Rocket Research Department of a famous aircraft manufacturing firm” confidently predicting that “within fifty years man will move into space”; another a set of book of reviews. But the most enjoyable piece I found was called Molesworth the Inside Story. This appeared in April 1957 and has not, so far as I know, been reprinted. It explains how “the doings, musing, and ‘obiter dicta’ (lat.) of this gifted schoolboy are recorded at Molesworth House in the City.”

“The great boy drives up in his Rolls Royce at ten in the morning, sucking an acid drop. The chauffeur (an ex-master) opens the door of the car; the doorman (M.A. Cantab.) salutes, the liftman (who once taught fr. and P.T.) touches his cap. Molesworth reaches his office. It is a simple place, nor more than a hundred yards long, decorated with the skulls of several headmasters…”

But the most interesting part of this article is the following in which Willans waxes historical:

“Of course I can say with all due modesty, that I am Molesworth’s oldest slave and he might find it difficult to do without me. It was as long ago as 1936 that I was by his side when he first jotted down the note: ‘You have been Warned book on beastly schools’ : I was with him on that famous day in 1939 when his first original diary appeared in ‘Punch’: it was I who was his main support during the production of ‘Down With Skool’ and, whenever we came to a particularly difficult part we would write a caption and leave a large space for Ronald Searle to do a drawing.

After all this time there is nothing much I do not know about Molesworth. Originally the first of his books was to have been produced during the war illustrated by a very brilliant ‘Punch’ artist, called ‘Pont.’ But ‘Pont’ died very young while M. and I were together in a corvette in the Mediterranean — so nothing came of it. I shared his disappointment at that time. But we kept on and many of his diaries were written in my cabin — a very different sort of
place from his luxurious office today. “

It is an interesting speculation as to how we would think of Molesworth today had he been illustrated by Pont, that great observer of the British character. Would he perhaps have resembled the small boy in this famous cartoon?

Willans’ contributions to Young Elizabethan, 1955-1957

1955-01 pp 28-29 Introducing Molesworth (Elizabethan)
1955-02 p 31 Guide to Gurls
1955-03 p 23 Tee Hee for Tee Vee
1955-04 p 9 Boo to tinies
1955-05 p 22 Who will be Wot?
1955-06 pp 16-17 Six-Gun Molesworth
1955-07 pp 24-25 Oeufs are Oafs…
1955-08 pp 14-15 Ho For The Hols!
1955-09 pp 8-9 A Grim Subjekt
1955-10 pp 14-15 Produktivity in Skool
1955-11 pp 11-12 Moon News
1955-11 pp 16-17 More about Masters introducing
Sir Petrovitch and Sir Hickenhopper
1955-12 pp 34-35 A Few Tips from the Coarse
1956-01 pp 38-39 A Teacher’s World (O horor, horor!)
1956-02 pp 31-32 Attoms v Culture
1956-03 pp 12-13 Goodby to Skool (for a bit)
1956-05 pp 16-17 Learning About Life (also
traktors, aggriculture, ect.)
1956-06 pp 22-23 Taking Wings!
1956-07 pp 25-26 The Flying Molesman
1956-09 p 21 here we go agane!
1956-10 p 10 So Far So Good
1956-11 p 25 Secret of Success  [Book reviews]
1957-02 p 11 the karakter kup
1957-03 p 30 the grate master trap
1957-04 p 15 Molesworth — The Inside Story
1957-05 pp 16-17 molesworth cleens up dodge city
1957-06 p 13 kno yore ennemy!
1957-10 pp 16-17 back in the jug agane, (hem hem)
1957-12 pp 12-13 a few rools for xmas

Written by Lou

January 16, 2012 at 22:34

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