Alice Dryden (huskyteer) wrote,
Alice Dryden

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Ozard Squared

Anthony Buckeridge, author of the Jennings and Darbishire stories, died yesterday aged 92.

Buckeridge was a schoolmaster when he started making up tales of the well-meaning, impetuous Jennings and his cautious, literal-minded friend. At first he told the stories to his pupils before Lights Out; later they were broadcast on Children's Hour and published in book form.

The inhabitants of Linbury Court Preparatory School, with their Damon Runyon-style epithets (Blotwell, the youngest boy in the school) and silly nicknames (Temple, initials C. A. T, altered to Dog, lengthened to Dogsbody and shortened to Bod) never acquired the cult following of certain other schoolboys, but have nonetheless been quietly and continuously cherished for over fifty years and several generations.

Once a decade or so, an attempt would be made to update the books: 'gym shoes' would be swapped for 'plimsolls', then 'trainers'. And each time it was discovered that the latest recruits preferred the stories to be left in their timeless, postwar world.

Buckeridge didn't want to use contemporary school slang, knowing how quickly it would date. Instead, he gave us 'fossilized fishhooks', 'clodpoll' and 'ozard' (the opposite, of course, of 'wizard').

I have never heard an unkind word said about Jennings. There have been no articles deploring the lack of female role models or demanding black pupils at Linbury Court.

This can only be because the stories are so irresistible. Charming and affectionate, yes, but above all funny, with positively Wodehousian situations and dialogue. Buckeridge really gets under the skin of a schoolboy, writing convincingly about the triumphs and disasters of boarding-school life. Whatever scrapes and fallings-out Jennings gets into, though, we know it will all be resolved satisfactorily at the end of term, Drake House will win the Cup, and even Mr L. P. 'Doh! Corwumph!' Wilkins will prove that his gruff exterior masks a heart of gold.

I would be hard put to name a favourite Jennings moment. There's the time when Jennings gets a glass display case stuck on his head while pretending it's a space helmet; Bromwich Major's goldfish's swimming lessons; losing all the Es from the printing set; the many crazes that sweep the school, from breath-holding competitions under the bathwater to cocoa can walkie-talkies.

When I try to imagine Anthony Buckeridge, I always picture one of his schoolmaster characters. Like Mr Carter, M.A. (Oxon), he was kind, wise and funny. He took an active interest in the Jennings Fan Club right up to the end, and was known for replying to his fanmail.

He was wizard cubed times a trillion billion, no returns.

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