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Billy Bunter

Billy Bunter

Overview

William George Bunter is a fictional character created by Charles Hamilton
Charles Hamilton (writer)
Charles Harold St. John Hamilton , was an English writer, specializing in writing long-running series of stories for weekly magazines about recurrent casts of characters, his most frequent and famous genre being boys' public school stories, though he also dealt with other genres...

 using the pen name Frank Richards. He featured originally in stories set at Greyfriars School
Greyfriars School
Greyfriars School is a fictional English public school used as a setting in the long running series of stories by the writer Charles Hamilton, who wrote under the pen-name Frank Richards. Although the stories are focused on the Remove , whose most famous pupil was Billy Bunter, other characters...

 in the boys weekly story paper The Magnet
The Magnet
The Magnet was a United Kingdom weekly boys' story paper published by Amalgamated Press. It ran from 1908 to 1940, publishing a total of 1683 issues. Each issue contained a long school story about the boys of Greyfriars School, a fictional public school located somewhere in Kent, and were written...

first published in 1908, and has since appeared in novels, on television, in stage plays, and in comic strips.

Charles Hamilton invented the character for an unpublished story in the late 1890s.
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Encyclopedia

William George Bunter is a fictional character created by Charles Hamilton
Charles Hamilton (writer)
Charles Harold St. John Hamilton , was an English writer, specializing in writing long-running series of stories for weekly magazines about recurrent casts of characters, his most frequent and famous genre being boys' public school stories, though he also dealt with other genres...

 using the pen name Frank Richards. He featured originally in stories set at Greyfriars School
Greyfriars School
Greyfriars School is a fictional English public school used as a setting in the long running series of stories by the writer Charles Hamilton, who wrote under the pen-name Frank Richards. Although the stories are focused on the Remove , whose most famous pupil was Billy Bunter, other characters...

 in the boys weekly story paper The Magnet
The Magnet
The Magnet was a United Kingdom weekly boys' story paper published by Amalgamated Press. It ran from 1908 to 1940, publishing a total of 1683 issues. Each issue contained a long school story about the boys of Greyfriars School, a fictional public school located somewhere in Kent, and were written...

first published in 1908, and has since appeared in novels, on television, in stage plays, and in comic strips.

Origins


Charles Hamilton invented the character for an unpublished story in the late 1890s. He claimed Bunter was derived from three persons: a corpulent editor, a short-sighted relative, and another relative who was perpetually trying to raise a loan on the strength of the anticipated arrival of a cheque. The name Bunter was in common use at the time, due to the popularity of a patent medicine known as Bunter's Nervine Tonic. It also meant a low vulgar woman. The name Bill Bunter was used by Hamilton for a story in The Gem
The Gem
The Gem was a story paper published in Great Britain by Amalgamated Press in the early 20th century, predominately featuring the activities of boys at the fictional school "St. Jim's". These stories were all written using the pen-name of Martin Clifford, the majority by Charles Hamilton who was...

 only months before the launch of The Magnet
The Magnet
The Magnet was a United Kingdom weekly boys' story paper published by Amalgamated Press. It ran from 1908 to 1940, publishing a total of 1683 issues. Each issue contained a long school story about the boys of Greyfriars School, a fictional public school located somewhere in Kent, and were written...

. There was a previous character called Billy Bunter, created by H Philpott Wright, who appeared in a series of stories in The Vanguard Library from 1907, but whose character bore no resemblance to his more famous namesake .

Magnet Stories


Billy Bunter was not a major figure in the earliest days of The Magnet. Within a few years, however, Hamilton realised the comic potential of the character and made him the focal point of many of the stories. As his prominence grew, so did his cunning, enabling his actions to drive a wide variety of plots.

Bunter appeared in 1,670 of the 1,683 issues of The Magnet published during the thirty years from 1908 to 1940. In addition to stories set at Greyfriars School, his adventures also included many travel series: with trips to China, India, Egypt, Sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, Hollywood, and the South Seas.

Some stories which had originally seen publication in The Magnet, appeared during the mid-1960s, and as late as 1972, from Armada Books and from Paul Hamlyn. Furthermore, most of the 1,683 issues of The Magnet were reprinted in hardback form by publisher W Howard Baker, under his Howard Baker and Greyfriars Book Club imprints, between 1969 and 1990.

Other Greyfriars stories


Following the closure of The Magnet in 1940, Hamilton had little work; but he became known as the author of the Greyfriars stories following a newspaper interview he gave to the London Evening Standard
Evening Standard
The Evening Standard, now styled the London Evening Standard, is a free local daily newspaper, published Monday–Friday in tabloid format in London. It is the dominant regional evening paper for London and the surrounding area, with coverage of national and international news and City of London...

.

Although he had written many thousands of stories published between 1900 and 1940 by the Amalgamated Press, he had written them under dozens of pen names: so he himself was quite unknown prior to the appearance of the newspaper article. Nor was it even widely known, until then, that all of the stories written under those pen names were in the main all the work of one man.

Hamilton was not able to continue the Greyfriars saga immediately, as the Amalgamated Press claimed ownership of the rights to the names Greyfriars and Bunter (and even began publishing a long-running comic strip featuring Billy Bunter in Knockout comic). However, by 1946 the A.P. (who had never held a registered Trademark
Trademark
A trademark, trade mark, or trade-mark is a distinctive sign or indicator used by an individual, business organization, or other legal entity to identify that the products or services to consumers with which the trademark appears originate from a unique source, and to distinguish its products or...

 on either name) had relented, and Hamilton was then able to obtain a contract from publishers Charles Skilton for a series of hardback novels. The first of these, Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School, was published in September 1947. It began a series that continued for the rest of Hamilton's life. In the 1950s the initial novels were reprinted by Cassells, who took over publication of the series, which continued until 1967, the final novels being published posthumously.

Television



Billy Bunter was played by Gerald Campion
Gerald Campion
Gerald Theron Campion , was an English actor best-known for his role as Billy Bunter in a 1950s television adaptation of books by Frank Richards....

 in a BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 television series. 40 half hour episodes were broadcast over seven series, between 1952 and 1961; and there were also three television specials. The television show was totally centred on Bunter, with the other characters playing only a peripheral role.

All the television scripts were written by Charles Hamilton. The programme's memorable theme music was the "Portsmouth" section of Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams OM was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many...

's Sea Songs
Sea Songs
Sea Songs is an arrangement of three British sea-songs by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. It is based on the songs "Princess Royal", "Admiral Benbow" and "Portsmouth". The work is a march of roughly four minutes duration...

.

The programmes were filmed in black and white, and a dozen still exist in the BBC's Film & Videotape Archive. The survivors are the complete third series, five episodes from the sixth series, and a single, poor quality episode from the seventh series. Some of these have appeared on YouTube.com.

So few survive because they were transmitted live rather than from film. Videotape had yet to be invented, and programmes only survived if special arrangements were made to film the transmission off a television monitor during broadcast.

Stage


There were also Christmas stage shows with different casts:
  • 1958. Billy Bunter's Mystery Christmas (Palace Theatre, London
    Palace Theatre, London
    The Palace Theatre is a West End theatre in the City of Westminster in London. It is an imposing red-brick building that dominates the west side of Cambridge Circus and is located near the intersection of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road...

    )
  • 1959. Billy Bunter Flies East (Victoria Palace Theatre
    Victoria Palace Theatre
    Victoria Palace Theatre is a West End theatre in Victoria Street, in the City of Westminster, opposite Victoria Station.-Origins:The theatre began life as a small concert room above the stables of the Royal Standard Hotel, a small hotel and tavern built in 1832 at what was then 522 Stockbridge...

    )
  • 1960. Billy Bunter's Swiss Roll (Victoria Palace Theatre)
  • 1961. Billy Bunter Shipwrecked (Victoria Palace Theatre)
  • 1962. Billy Bunter's Christmas Circus (Queen's Theatre
    Queen's Theatre
    The Queen's Theatre is a West End theatre located in Shaftesbury Avenue in the City of Westminster. It opened on 8 October 1907 as a twin to the neighbouring Gielgud Theatre which opened ten months earlier. Both theatres were designed by W.G.R...

    )
  • 1963. Billy Bunter meets Magic (Shaftesbury Theatre
    Shaftesbury Theatre
    The Shaftesbury Theatre is a West End Theatre, located on Shaftesbury Avenue, in the London Borough of Camden.-History:The theatre was designed for the brothers Walter and Frederick Melville by Bertie Crewe and opened on 26 December 1911 with a production of The Three Musketeers, as the New...

    )

Comics


After The Magnet closed in 1940, Bunter appeared in children's comics, as a strip cartoon character: initially, from 15 June 1940, he appeared in Knockout
Knockout (comic)
-1939 series:The first ran from 4 March 1939 to 16 February 1963, 1251 issues, when it merged with Valiant. Magnet was discontinued in 1940; but its lead character, Billy Bunter, was thereafter granted his own cartoon strip in Knockout. Comic Cuts merged with it in 1953...

(which, like The Magnet
The Magnet
The Magnet was a United Kingdom weekly boys' story paper published by Amalgamated Press. It ran from 1908 to 1940, publishing a total of 1683 issues. Each issue contained a long school story about the boys of Greyfriars School, a fictional public school located somewhere in Kent, and were written...

, was published by The Amalgamated Press). Although Knockout had begun only in 1939, it already had a circulation several times that of The Magnet. C H Chapman
C. H. Chapman
Charles Henry Chapman , who signed his work as C. H. Chapman, was a British illustrator and cartoonist best known for his work in boys' story papers such as The Magnet where the character Billy Bunter appeared...

, the last illustrator for The Magnet, drew the first nine Knockout strips, after which several artists were tried, before Frank Minnit established himself with a beaming and bouncy Bunter, which at first followed Chapman's style, then later branched into a style of his own, concentrating on slapstick humour. Soon the Famous Five vanished from the strip, replaced by Jones minor, who had all the good qualities Bunter lacked, but who was prone to being led astray by Bunter. The form-master, Mr Quelch, stayed (at least in name), but he lost his dignity and aloofness.

Minnit continued producing the strip until his death in 1958. Reg Parlett then took over until Knockout ceased publication in 1961, when the strip transferred to Valiant
Valiant (comic)
Valiant was the title of a British boys adventure comics anthology which ran from 1962 to 1976. It was published by IPC Magazines and was one of their major adventure titles throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.-Publication history:...

comic, and then to TV Comic
TV Comic
TV Comic was a British comic book published weekly between November 9, 1951 and June 29, 1984 for 1,697 issues. With its bright, eye-catching covers, it featured stories based on television shows running at the time of publication. The first issue had 8 pages and had Muffin the Mule on the cover....

, where it ran until 1984. Bunter also appeared in many Knockout annuals, even on some covers.

C. H. Chapman drew a strip for The Comet comic in 1956, which featured the classical old Bunter of The Magnet and the Famous Five, consisting of twelve weeks of 2-page strips (24 pages in all). Altogether, Bunter's appearances in Comet lasted from March 1950 until June 1958, with picture stories from February 1952.

From 1955, Billy Bunter comic strips were published in Holland, in the Dutch language comic Sjors
Sjors
Sjors, the Dutch name for George, may refer to:* Sjors van Driem , Dutch linguist at Leiden University* Sjors Verdellen , Dutch soccer player...

, with the character renamed "Billie Turf". Bunter thus became one of the house characters of that comic and its successors, and so continued appearing in anthology-style collections in Dutch until the end of the 20th century. "Billie Turf" comic strip albums were published from 1963 onwards, and have continued into the 21st century. Three Billie Turf movies were made between 1978 and 1983, mostly spelling the name of the main character as "Billy Turf".

Appearances in other fiction

  • Billy Bunter appears in Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Black Dossier, and still resides at the now closed Greyfriars in 1958 as an old man. He sells information about the former students of the school, which is supposed to have been a recruiting ground for spies and agents for the crown since the 16th century.
  • Bunter appears in the Viz
    Viz (comic)
    Viz is a popular British comic magazine which has been running since 1979.The comic's style parodies British comics of the post-war period, notably The Beano and The Dandy, but with incongruous language, crude toilet humour, black comedy, surreal humour and either sexual or violent storylines...

     cartoon strip 'Baxter Basics' (the title spoofing a slogan of the Conservative Party, 'Back to Basics'), as Sir William Bunter, conservative MP for Greyfriars Central. The character was immediately killed off by Baxter, so that he could take over that Parliamentary seat.
  • In Bunter Sahib by Daniel Green, Bunter's identical ancestor is placed in 19th century India.
  • David Hughes in But for Bunter creates the idea that the Greyfriars stories were based on real people, and set out to find them and hear their stories. This echoed the theme of a contemporary BBC radio documentary, Whatever Happened to... Henry Samuel Quelch.
  • A thinly veiled version of the character appears in the Doctor Who story The Celestial Toymaker
    The Celestial Toymaker
    The Celestial Toymaker is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 2 April to 23 April 1966.-Plot:...

    . As the character was still under copyright, a BBC continuity announcer was obliged to deny any deliberate similarity between the characters after the episodes aired.

Character



Bunter is essentially a comic anti-hero, whose actions puncture and deflate the serious world of the English public school, inverting conventional values like a 'Lord of Misrule'. His main physical characteristics are obesity (he weighs about 14 stone, or 200 pounds, which, at a time when many people did not get enough to eat, was huge), brought about by over-eating, and short-sightedness (hence his nickname 'the fat owl of the Remove', because his round glasses and short-sighted squint give him the appearance of an Owl blinking in the daylight). He is dishonest, greedy, pathologically self-centered, snobbish, conceited, lazy, cowardly, mean-spirited and stupid. Nevertheless, he succeeds in achieving reader sympathy by virtue of the humour the character generates, partly through his brazen effrontery and partly through his persistence in the face of inevitable failure: for his schemes (generally involving 'snooping' other fellows' tuck) never succeed and always bring punishment.

His one talent is that he is a skilled ventriloquist
Ventriloquism
Ventriloquism, or ventriloquy, is an act of stagecraft in which a person manipulates his or her voice so that it appears that the voice is coming from elsewhere, usually a puppeteered "dummy"...

, able to mimic any voice and to make it appear to be coming from any location. This unlikely ability often forms part of his schemes of deception, and thus serves to advance the storylines. It got himself and others into trouble many times. He also borrows clothes, wrecking them because of his size. He is such a poor fighter that even his younger brother Sammy, in the second form, doesn't fear him.

He is allowed very little pocket money by his father, so is perpetually attempting to raise a loan on the strength of the legendary postal order he always claims to be expecting. Due to his insatiable appetite, his life at Greyfriars is taken up with devising ways of pilfering food; he has little or no interest in anything else, especially classwork and sports. His schemes are invariably discovered, leading to physical chastisement - both from masters (canings) and schoolfellows (kickings).

His speech is notable for a series of frequently-repeated catchphrases. These include his invariable opening line, "I say you fellows"; his reply to criticism, "Oh really Wharton" (or whoever is speaking); his characteristic giggle, "He, he, he"; and his exclamation of pain, "Yarooh" (which is "hooray" spelled backwards).

George Orwell
George Orwell
Eric Arthur Blair , better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist...

 described him as "...a real creation. His tight trousers against which boots and canes are constantly thudding, his astuteness in search of food, his postal order which never turns up, have made him famous wherever the Union Jack
Union Flag
The Union Flag, also known as the Union Jack, is the flag of the United Kingdom. It retains an official or semi-official status in some Commonwealth Realms; for example, it is known as the Royal Union Flag in Canada. It is also used as an official flag in some of the smaller British overseas...

 waves."

Family


The family home is Bunter Villa in Surrey, which Bunter frequently mis-describes as Bunter Court, representing it as a stately home. Prominent among the many family members who have appeared in the stories are:
  • Sister - Bessie Bunter
    Bessie Bunter
    Elizabeth Gertrude Bunter, better known as Bessie Bunter, is a fictional character created by Charles Hamilton, who also created her more famous brother Billy Bunter.-History:...

     - a pupil at the nearby Cliff House Girls School. Shares similar characteristics to Billy.
  • Younger brother - Sammy Bunter - in the Second Form at Greyfriars.
  • Father - Mr Samuel Bunter - a portly, largely unsuccessful, stockbroker with a severe manner. He is perpetually complaining about income tax and school fees and has little interest in his children.
  • Mother - Mrs Amelia Bunter - only appears briefly in seven stories; she is a kindly lady, the one person for whom Billy feels genuine affection.

See also

  • Charles Hamilton
    Charles Hamilton (writer)
    Charles Harold St. John Hamilton , was an English writer, specializing in writing long-running series of stories for weekly magazines about recurrent casts of characters, his most frequent and famous genre being boys' public school stories, though he also dealt with other genres...

  • The Magnet
    The Magnet
    The Magnet was a United Kingdom weekly boys' story paper published by Amalgamated Press. It ran from 1908 to 1940, publishing a total of 1683 issues. Each issue contained a long school story about the boys of Greyfriars School, a fictional public school located somewhere in Kent, and were written...

  • Greyfriars School
    Greyfriars School
    Greyfriars School is a fictional English public school used as a setting in the long running series of stories by the writer Charles Hamilton, who wrote under the pen-name Frank Richards. Although the stories are focused on the Remove , whose most famous pupil was Billy Bunter, other characters...

  • Bessie Bunter
    Bessie Bunter
    Elizabeth Gertrude Bunter, better known as Bessie Bunter, is a fictional character created by Charles Hamilton, who also created her more famous brother Billy Bunter.-History:...


External links