Sunday, June 25, 2006

Anthony Buckeridge - 'Just Like Jennings'

I used to love Jennings books. The ones I had were '80s paperbacks with photos on the covers which made me wonder if there was a TV series I'd missed. If there wasn't, then why did they go to the expense of getting actors to pose? If there was, why didn't it say 'Now a major BBC TV series' on the front? And why was it never on TV? This copy of 'Just Like Jennings' looks nothing like the ones I remember. A hardback from 1961, a first edition even, which cost all of £6 from an Oxfam book shop. Its line drawn illustrations aren't something I remember, and I'm fairly sure they didn't appear in my paperbacks, perhaps because they didn't fit the almost-a-TV-series image. They have a freshness and an innocence which say '50s rather than '60s. They don't smack of franchise.

This isn't the first Jennings book I've read lately, and for this reason I can't get too excited about it. It's enjoyable enough, and does have in it some of the wonderful convolutions which make Jennings so great - such as the episode in which (deep breath) Jennings becomes convinced he's on the trail of a criminal mastermind because he's seen a man out birdwatching with some sophisticated equipment. Lacking a magnifying glass, he borrows the lens from a slide projector and smothers large areas of the school in chalk dust - not in a direct attempt to catch his man, but more because he's caught the detective bug and likes the attention. He and Darbishire do make an attempt to get the suspect's finger prints (by covering a pop bottle in chalk dust and pretending they can't open it - at least this is the plan until they notice, with relief, that he's wearing gloves). This makes them late for roll call, and some teachers amble along in search of them . They come across the bird watcher too, realise he's rather a distinguished fellow, and invite him to give a talk to the boys. The talk requires a projector, the projector requires its lens back... there's plenty of confusion to be had here, and Buckeridge uses it to good comic effect.

The problem is that this is only one of four stories which occupy the term, and the two which follow don't quite measure up. They certainly don't measure up to 'Jennings Goes To School', the other one of the series I read recently, which was hilarious all the way through: as funny, it seemed to me at the time (perhaps affected a little by nostalgia - but not too much) as any Wodehouse novel, and in much the same vein, but with school masters instead of aunts. This one sort of peters out, which is a shame.

2 comments:

Joe C said...

Interesting reading your comments about the editions from the 70s with the photos on the covers - I'd wondered exactly the same thing! It does seem to be a lot of bother to go to for the cover of a book, doesn't it? As far as I know, there are no films or TV productions of Jennings from that era, so I guess it remains a mystery!

Chris said...

It does, rather. Although it was the era of 'As Seen On TV' children's books, so perhaps they were trying to make it look like it had been...

What I would like to track down are Buckeridge's readings of Jennings - I distinctly remember one involving a pig running amok(shades of Wodehouse again) and a potting shed. Presumably they were on Radio 4 at some point.

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