Robin Blake on the works of Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle

The Prunes Are Revolting

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In Slightly Foxed, No. 17, I wrote of my childhood addiction to Anthony Buckeridge’s stories about Jennings and Darbyshire, pupils at the agreeable but not very realistic prep school of Linbury Court. That obsession ended abruptly when, in the late 1950s, I was myself plunged into prep-school life, and a very different school filled my imagination.

GRIMES stand on the platform, smiling horribly at the pitiable colection of oiks, snekes, cads, oafs and dirty roters below.

‘Welcome back,’ he snarl, ‘Welcome back to st. custards for a new term. I hope you had a good hols? I did myself – spane, the s. of france, then on for a couple of weeks to the italian riviera. This term of course the fees will be higher to meet the mounting costs.’

But this evidence of good humour is short lived. Without warning he bare his fangs.

‘Now listen, scum,’ he yell, ‘The last mum hav departed in tears. You are in my clutches agane and there is no escape.’

The book in which it appeared was titled Back in the Jug Agane and purported to be the latest instalment of the no-holds-barred, first-person memoirs of a dyslexic 11-year-old called Nigel Molesworth, pupil at St Custard’s prep school. We real-life prep-school boys loved every aspect of the Molesworth saga, with its brutal disregard for grammar and spelling, its scorching invective and ink-splattered, gothic-horror pictures. The books served, too, as an accessibly mordant glimpse into the grown-up world, for Molesworth was at least half an adult, with a knowledge of class, culture and psychology well ahead of ours, and an underlying view of politics that was satisfyingly subversive. We revelled in the sharpness of these books without necessarily grasping the detail or reach of their satire.

Born in 1911 their author, Geoffrey Willans, was of the same generation as Anthony Buckeridge. He had been – of course – a prep-school boy and subsequently, in the 1930

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About the contributor

Robin Blake served three years at a preparatory school in Yorkshire. He has been out on licence since 1960.

The illustrations in this article by Ronald Searle are taken from Down with Skool (1953), reproduced with the kind permission of the artist and the Sayle Literary Agency.

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