Forgotten authors: No 2: Geoffrey Willans
Sunday 17 August 2008
Here's an example of an author who is not quite forgotten, so much as placed on the wrong shelf. The best of his charming adult books is 'My Uncle Harry', a Pooterish study of the British Clubman. Harry prides himself on his club tie, his stiff white collar, his rolled umbrella and his complete lack of imagination.
However, it was Willans's collaboration with the rococo artist Ronald Searle that was to propel him into the blazer pocket of every British schoolboy. Nigel Molesworth, the Curse of St Custard's (pictured below), rocketed to fame in four lunatic children's books, starting with 'Down With Skool!' With chapters on how to avoid lessons and how to torture parents, it mainly caused outrage because of its deliberately awful spelling, and was regarded as a bad example to set before children.
The second diary, 'How To Be Topp', scales the heights of the surreal. A new term begins; "No more dolies of William the bear to cuddle and hug, no more fairy stories at nanny's knee it is all aboard the fairy bus for the dungeons." New boy Eustace is trussed to a chair and gagged with socks. His mother rings up and is reassured. "Eustace mater ring off very relieved cheers cheers and telephone all the other lades about it. An owl hoot and Eustace is insensible. St Custards hav begun another term." The roster of pupils includes the "uterly wet" Fotheringtom-Thomas, "skipping like a girlie", and Grabber, "skool captane and winer of the mrs joyful prize for rafia work".
Willans's catchphrases such as "chiz", "enuff said" and "as any fule kno" have passed into the English language, but the books were designed to be enjoyed by generations of kids rather than preserved as adult classics – as any fule kno.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 4 Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
- 5 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
Fast & Furious 7 overtakes Frozen to become 5th highest grossing movie of all time
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Avengers: Age of Ultron: Nearly 700 German cinemas refuse to show film
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
HSBC review into moving headquarters from UK 'underway'