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Soon after the First World War, there emerged a new type of schoolboy story which was very different to the public school sort of which Frank Richards was the most famous, if somewhat subversive, exponent. As noted last week, the values that such books celebrated – in general, if not in the person of Billy Bunter – were those the ruling classes were expected to uphold in the service in particular of the British Empire.

Both the Empire and the ruling classes however were less supremely in control  after the War, and titles such as ‘Play Up, Royals’ and ‘Our Fellows at St Mark’s’, redolent of exhortations to a collective to live up to common ideals, had to compete with the very different priorities of the emerging middle class. Of course it may be argued that I am reading too much into different tastes amongst different groups at different periods, but to me the title of the first book in a series that was to dominate schoolboy fiction over the half century after the war sums up the very different approach to life that took over Britain during this period.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2010
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