Andrew Bowden on Margot Pardoe Bunkle books, SF Issue 72

Bowled Over by Bunkle

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Bunkle began it for me. Searching for a gentle, undemanding get-me-to-sleep read, I happened on my wife’s childhood copy of a book called Bunkle Began It by Margot Pardoe. On a quick skim, I discovered that it was set in a seaside town on the edge of Exmoor which was my own home territory during the war. It also took me back to a Children’s Hour play with Bunkle as the lead character which had scared the wits out of me but was compulsive listening.

However, this book wasn’t exactly soporific; in fact I was still deep in it at 2 a.m. It was fun, it was realistic, it was well-written and it was a real page-turner. Its hero is a gloriously anarchic schoolboy, 10 years old when we first meet him, who is unsquashable, unafraid, his own person, a fluent linguist, with a talent for getting himself into and out of trouble. He is attractively unpretentious and has a natural talent for getting on with people. His real name is Billy, but his older siblings call him Bunkle ‘because he talks such bunk’. I can think of only two people I’ve ever met who were remotely like him, but Bunkle is a wholly endearing and believable character.

He is also part of an equally believable family. It is 1940 and his father, Major de Salis, is a wartime James Bond in what would now be called MI6, a quick-reacting operator who thinks outside the box and is sent all over the country to investigate what is going on ‘when funny things start to happen’. He is also a parent who listens to his children, trusts them and expects them to act as sensible adults. Mrs de Salis has to balance following the maverick movements of her husband with looking after three teenagers. She is somewhat given to retiring to bed with a headache, but she trusts her children and believes that they need challenge and adventure.

Jill, the oldest, is 17, and often left in charge. An uncertain teenager, still at the stage of blushing to the roots of her hair when having to ‘ente

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About the contributor

Andrew Bowden is a retired rural parish priest living in Gloucestershire. He loves rediscovering children’s books and is an avid collector. He has also written a few books about the rural church, which have been well received but are never likely to feature in Slightly Foxed.

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