Creator of Billy Bunter, the Famous Five
(that's the original Famous Five, of Greyfriars, not the later Blyton 5),
Tom Merry, Jimmy Silver and many others.
Page updated 12th June, 2022.
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'Frank Richards' was just one pseudonym of Charles Harold St John Hamilton (CH from hereon), born in Ealing, Middlesex, England on August 8, 1876. The most prolific boys' fiction author of all time (you'll find him listed in the Guinness Book of Records), Charles attended a local private school, Thorne House, His first story is said to have been penned in 1885, possibly for one of the Trapps Holmes boys' story papers. Using in excess of 20 pen-names, he wrote not only school stories but, adventure, travel, crime - every genre imaginable.
Pen-names listed in 'The Men Behind Boys' Fiction' (see 'Recommended Reading' further on): Harry Clifton, Martin Clifford (St Jims), Clifford Clive, Sir Alan Cobham, Owen Conquest (Rookwood), Gordon Conway, Harry Dorian, Frank Drake, Freeman Fox, Hamilton Greening, Cecil Herbert, Prosper Howard, Robert Jennings, Gillingham Jones, T Harcourt Lewelyn, Clifford Owen, Ralph Redway, Ridley Redway, Frank Richards (Greyfriars and Carcroft), Hilda Richards, Raleigh Robbins, Robert Rogers, Eric Stanhope, Robert Stanley, Nigel Wallace and Talbot Wynyard.
Charles Hamilton is most remembered for his school stories, the most famous of which were those centred on Greyfriars School, a fictitious private school in Kent. These stories, penned for THE MAGNET, an Amalgamated Press weekly paper which ran for 1683 issues (1908 to 1940), featured history's most famous schoolboy, Billy Bunter. With the arrival of WW2 and the closing down of most juvenile STORY PAPERS, Bunter may have disappeared from public view but publisher Charles Skilton had other ideas. He commissioned CH to write a series of books around Bunter's adventures and these rapidly became bestsellers in the years after the war and through the 1950s. 38 books were written in all with the last few, published after CH's death on Christmas Eve, 1961, being finished by other authors. Cassell took over publication from Skilton early on.
Certainly the most popular and arguably the finest school storywriter of all time, CH is said to have written well over 5000 full-length stories (of 25,000 words or more). He was ahead of his time, being one of the very few early 20th century writers to have championed non-Anglo Saxon characters in his stories as well as giving snobs and the uppers classes short shift. Self-opinioned critics, few if any of who have ever read his stories, have been quoted in the press over the years, as saying the opposite was often true. The self-evident affection for CH from all classes, colours and creeds of people, both male and female following his death, put these statements into perspective. A number of books have been written on CH. He also wrote an autobiography in the early 1950s but this wasn't very revealing of the real CH.
For a remarkable insight into CH's life around the 1900 period, read 'Champagne Charley', a report on a talk given by Una Hamilton Wright at the London Old Boy's Book Club in September, 1999. You'll find it in the Collector's Digest (don't know the issue but assume late 1999), details of which appear on the Clubs page. Thanks for the information, Bill.
RED MAGNET MAGIC! A page on the very early issues of 'The Magnet'.
Number 1, 1953
Number 2, 1954
Number 3, 1955
|bc||My favourite story from THE MAGNET.
From 1931 comes a 2-part story involving Vernon-Smith and Mr Quelch which switches back and forth from riotous fun to drama. 'Bluffing the Beaks' and 'The Impossible Schoolboy', issues 1222 and 1223, can be found in Howard Baker facsimile volume no.63, 'Bunter's Orders'. The pace is fast and furious, the drama brilliantly handled, the characterisation without equal in any other school story. Also included in this volume is the only lengthy example of a story featuring the mathematics master, Larry Lascelles. Larry's past comes back to haunt him - he used to earn his living in the ring. There are some great action sequences in this collection, even if you don't (and I don't) like boxing.
Another favourite (well, it's hard to pick just one from 1683 issues!) is 'The Fellow who wouldn'd be Caned!' issue 1042 from 1928. You'll find this in facsimile volume no.64, 'Billionairing with Bunter'. It stars the remarkable Horace Coker and his long-suffering master, Mr. Prout. For anyone interested in the Greyfriars Fifth Form, this is a 'must read' and contains some information on the actual layout of the school I've not previously noticed anywhere else.
WITHOUT A NAME and RIVALS AND CHUMS
THE HOUSE-MASTER'S HOME-COMING
Books' in order of publication:
(First published by Charles Skilton)
1. Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School, 1947
2. Billy Bunter's Banknote, 1948
3. Billy Bunter's Barring Out, 1948
4. Billy Bunter in Brazil, 1949
5. Billy Bunter's Christmas Party, 1949
Bessie Bunter of Cliff House School, 1949
6. Billy Bunter's Benefit, 1950
7. Billy Bunter Among the Cannibals, 1950
8. Billy Bunter's Postal Order, 1951
9. Billy Bunter Butts In, 1951
10.Billy Bunter and the Blue Mauritius, 1952*
(*This is alleged to be the rarest title.)
(First published by Cassell)
11.Billy Bunter's Beanfeast, 1952
12.Billy Bunter's Brainwave, 1953
13.Billy Bunter's First Case, 1953
14.Billy Bunter the Bold, 1954
15.Bunter Does His Best, 1954
16.Billy Bunter's Double, 1955
17.Backing Up Billy Bunter, 1955
18.Lord Billy Bunter, 1956
19.The Banishing of Billy Bunter, 1956
20.Billy Bunter's Bolt, 1957
RICHARDS and 'THE MAGNET'
A number of you have asked for more on 'The Magnet' and the works of Charles Hamilton 'Frank Richards'. It will take a while to give CH the coverage he deserves. There are numerous books about Hamilton, 'The Magnet' and Greyfriars which you'll find listed on the REFERENCE page. There are also LINKS to the branches of the English Old Boys Book Clubs. However, as 'The Magnet' is one of my favourite interests, I will run reviews of series read recently and articles previously included in 'Golden Years', but will not reveal any parts of the stories which will spoil it for those who haven't yet read same . We now have a separate page on The Magnet and Greyfriars. Your comments will be appreciated via the visitor's book.
REMOVE (Our guess, compiled from issues of
the Collectors Digest.)
According to contributor Tommy Keen, the following members of the Remove were present when Harry Wharton arrived in issue #1.
Frank Nugent, George Bulstrode, Peter Hazeldene, Dick Russell, Harold Skinner, Trevor and Treluce, and Billy Bunter. Bob Cherry arrived in #2, Inky in #6, David Morgan in #8, Micky Desmond in #15, Smith Minor in #32, Stott in #35, Wun Lung in #36, David Ogilvy in #43, Mark Linley and Sidney Snoop in #45, Tom Brown in #86, Smithy in #119, Alonzo Todd in #125, Fish in #150, Johnny Bull in #151, Percy Bolsover in #182, Mauly in #184, Dick Penfold in #194, Monty Newland in #216, Dick Rake in #258, Oliver Kipps in #268, Peter Todd in #271, Wibley in #322, Squiff in #343, Delarey (a sub invention) in #432, Jimmy Vivian in #471, Tom Redwing in #517, Napoleon Dupont in #540 and Richard Hilary in #559. A total of 38, but who really knows?
GREYFRIARS GUIDE: A Comprehensive Who's Who,What's
What and Where's Where by Peter McCall, Howard Baker
Steve answers - The man your chap met was Alexander Mitchell who lived in Brisbane for many years. His father was the first Greyfriars artist, drawing the first 39 or so issues of The Magnet. Hutton Mitchell (1870-1934) had four sons in all, and all four were used as models -- with a pillow stuffed down the trousers to emulate Bunter when necessary. One of the sons, Capt. Alan Mitchell later wrote for The Gem and a few other papers before moving with another brother, Bruce, to Canada. Alan Mitchell died in 1980 but I've not managed to trace any birth/death dates for the other brothers, although it seems unlikely they are still around.
I collect the Magnet volumes detailing
the exploits of Billy Bunter, with a particular
preference for the Howard Baker volumes, and a mild
aversion to the substitute writers collections, although
I admire and respect the integrity of Howard Baker in
keeping these apart from Charles Hamilton's' writing. I
have Cassell and Penguin editions, as well as the
Greyfriars Book Club collection series. I avoid any
editions edited by Kay King, and lament at this lady's'
failure to see the point in retaining the original style,
politically incorrect as that style may be.
Steve: Re printing of
the facsimile editions
There are some peculiarities of Frank
Richards' writings that I have never seen comments on.
COLLECTORS REVEAL HOW THEY DISCOVERED BILLY BUNTER and GREYFRIARS
Since the bus time-table allowed me to spend half an hour every afternoon after school in the library, I found myself reading a lot of books that weren't available to me in our little local library (which was only open a couple of evenings a week, anyway). For reading matter, I'd often had to rely on my family, so from the age of 8 I'd been reading whatever came to hand -- and it was a diverse crop. Since I only had a children's ticket for the library I was reading everything from the juvenile section: a few I remember with huge amounts of nostalgia (although I've not read them for thirty years) are the Adventure series by Enid Blyton, the Famous Five and Secret Seven; reprints of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew stories; the Lone Pine adventures from Malcolm Saville; a smattering of Biggles; Jennings by Anthony Buckeridge; Swallows and Amazons.
I guess that's a fairly normal list for a young boy. But at home, when I couldn't get to the library, I read Agatha Christie (my grandmother, who lived nearby, was a big fan) and my dad's books which meant lots of John Creasy (Insp. West, Department Z, etc.) and James Hadley Chase. The only thing I didn't read were westerns.
I notice now that most of the junior books involve young children going off and having adventures, which is probably what made them so captivating -- we were not well-off as a family and holidays usually consisted of day trips down to the seaside. The only extended (week-long) holidays away from home we had were also to the coast and usually to dull, touristy bits of the coast. In stories, children went to all sorts of interesting places, some of them inland - the Lone Pine Club members went exploring fog-shrouded stones on Dartmoor or mountainous parts of Shropshire. I'd never seen a mountain! (I grew up -- and still live - in Essex which is just about flat as a pancake.)
Back to the big school and the big library. There I found the Magnet reprints by Howard Baker, and devoured all the volumes they had over a very short period. This would be 1973-74. And I suspect what I really liked about them was the camaraderie of the Remove boys, Harry Wharton & Co. I was also a bit on the chubby side, but never felt any anger towards the portrayal of Bunter. He was a bit of a weasel; told outright lies about his forthcoming postal order, stole food, lied and cheated. Not a very nice boy, and certainly somebody I didn't identify myself with.
The other boys, Bob Cherry, Frank Nugent, et al were extremely well-drawn as characters and displayed some very fine qualities, of friendship, of loyalty, of honesty... and this is the second reason that move up to a new school played a part. Nearly everyone I knew went to the local Secondary School in the village. I went to the Grammar School where I didn't know anyone and I was quite painfully shy of making new friends. Reading about a group of young boys who really looked out for each other was a vicarious way of interacting with others and sharing their adventures.
Two other points before I stop. I never found the books to be old fashioned, even tho' I knew (from the dates on the covers of the reprints) that they were forty-year-old stories. It didn't seem to be a problem, especially when the boys were on holiday in, say, Egypt. I had no experience of what Egypt was like, so for all I knew it could still be exactly as Hamilton described it.
Lastly, being a grammar schoolboy in the 1970s reading about private schooling in the 1930s... well, I didn't have a problem with that either. Again, for all I knew boarding schools were like that, with studies and teas and football and cricket matches going on. I imagined that there was probably some modernisation of lessons, but they seemed to be doing much the same stuff as we did, including Latin which I took for three years (without learning much).
Even forty years on, the stories were still able to hold the attention of a new generation despite their age. To me, their age didn't show. What did show was the strength of characterisation in the writing.#
My real name is David (I just thought it would be fun to use a pseudonym), and I am a 45 year old accountant in the UK (Gt.Yarmouth actually), married, with two teenage daughters.
Much as I could imagine myself part of the Famous Six I actually attended Gt.Yarmouth Grammar, as it was called at the time, which this year celebrates its 450th anniversary since being founded in 1551. I could not believe the coincidence therefore when I realised recently that the date top left on the definitive map of Greyfriars and surrounding area is also 1551 and is quoted as being when Edward VI restored the former monastery and opened it as a school! I wonder if the current Head of my old school is aware of the illustrious company he is in?
The headmaster in my day was called Marsden not Locke (and was certainly fond of the cane), and there were several Quelchs and a couple of Prouts, but I cannot recall a Bunter in my year. The teachers were not allowed to administer corporal punishment, and the worst you could get from a prefect was lines or a detention. The school building itself was, like Greyfriars, very old, which helps me imagine some of the scenes in the books. Reading the Magnet takes me back to happier days than we seem to have now, when nobody was really bad (except perhaps Ponsonby), baddies always got their just desserts, whodunit was obvious from page one, and everything always ended up happily ever after.
RICHARDS' POLITICAL and SOCIAL ATTITUDES
1. Racism. Despite many foolish epithets, typical of the times, FR seems to have detested it. There is a splendid passage in a Magnet of the 1920s where he tears Fishy to shreds for his racist attitudes. FR deliberately created Hurree Singh, the cleverest member of the Famous Five, to combat racism among his readers.
2. Politics. In the early part of his career FR was interested in socialist ideas, and his treatment of capitalism in the USA is especially negative. In later years his main political idea is that politicians are detestable hypocrites.
3. Snobbery. Arguably, it is FR's least favourite human characteristic. His waifs and strays usually make good, unlike his snobs.
4. Women. Again, despite some foolish language now and again, FR is relatively fair to suffragists. His strong women aren't simple termagents: I find the treatment of Miss Bullivant in the Skip series quite moving.
5. War/violence. The best illustration of FR's contradictory (but generally negative) attitude to war is his treatment of Richard Hilary, with his CO views. This was a remarkable series to appear in a British boys' magazine in 1918. I particularly like FR's scornful treatment of warmongering gents past the age of conscription.
In my view the key to FR's philosophy, in almost every area, is his hatred of bullying - and, especially, cruelty to animals. It explains a lot. If FR had been a dunderheaded Tory he couldn't have created the complex fiction we admire so much.
[This article originally appeared in Billy Bunter Digest Number 342 which is accessible via the link below.]
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