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I must confess that the decision to write about P G Wodehouse in this series of literary classics has opened up the floodgates, in a manner I find immensely pleasurable. Discussing someone whose main contribution, indeed his only one if we accept David Cecil’s characterization, was humour suggests a much more extensive, or perhaps I should say liberal, interpretation of the parameters of this series. It seemed obvious then that I should also write about the man who, at least according to his Wikipedia entry, has written more words that have been published than any other writer ever.
I had to have recourse to Wikipedia because, once again, after many years of not reading the man’s work, I felt that memory required to be supplemented by research. This was a good thing, because I found that the man I wanted to talk about was called Charles Hamilton. I had previously thought of him as Frank Richards, writer of the Billy Bunter series. I had thought that was his actual name, rather foolishly, for I also knew that he was also called Hilda Richards, author of books about Billy’s sister Bessie.
In fact he wrote under different names a few other series of books about schoolboys too, at a period in which this was a well established and popular genre. The usual books of the genre dealt with public schools, what seems a strange British locution for private schools, where boys were sent to become gentlemen, and potential rulers of other breeds, as Kipling termed them, in the Empire.
The locution was not however quite so strange, because the term originated at the time when, following a Royal Commission on such schools, they ceased to be bastions of irresponsible privilege for scions of the aristocracy. They were expected to develop a sense of social responsibility and educational achievement, and under a selection of remarkable headmasters, they developed into really rather good training centres for young men who could think as well as lead.