Costumes of Literary English Characters: Jennings


Figure 1.--Jennings was one of the most famous English school boys. The school uniforms shown in the TV shows, movies, and bool illustrations showed typical prep school uniforms in the post-war era.

Jennings is one of the most famous English school boy. Jennings as he was usually referred to is a prep school boy. (Although elementary age boys, they used their last names.) In fact I do not even know what his first name was. The other famous schoolboy was of course William Brown, a boy a generation earlier who went to who went to a state elementary school. Of course William by the time the Jennings book were written, old enough to be Jenning's father--a challenging thought. Some HBC readers remember the Jennings series with considerable affection. Other readers tell us that that they paint a rather "rosy" picture of prep school life.

The Series

The first Jennings story was serialised on the radio in 1948. Two years later the first Jennings book was released, authored by Anthony Buckeridge. One musical, several plays, 22 books and nearly 10 million sales later, the doings of Jennings and Darbishore are still enjoyed, and generation after generation have been able to read about "that boy Jenning's exploits". Jennings Goes to School was published by Collins in 1950 and introduced us to Jennings, his friend Darbishire, accompanied by Bromwich, Atkinson and the master Mr. Wilkins. The last new Jennings book Jennings at Large was published in paperback in 1977. Collins decided then to start reissuing the older books before publishing new ones.

Linbury Court

The Jennings books are set a a artchtypical British preparatory boarding school, Linbury Court Boys Prepartatory School in Dunhambury, Sussex. (Unlike the Our William books which are set at home.) John Christopher Timothy Jennings, better known as Jennings, is an 11 year old English prep schoolboy when we fitst meet him about 1948. He first appears in the author's imagination as stories he told his students at the Ramsgate prep school. where he taught. Jennings of course also attends a boy's boarding school--Linbury Court Boys Preparatory School. There are may references to the school in the book There were about 70 boarders, small for a modern prep school, but before the 1970s there were more smaller prep schools. Many have since closed. The building was rather old. Few prep schools were purpose-built schools, but rather took over a country estate whose owner could no longer afford it. While the building was not new, it might kindly be described as having character. The school had a park, gardens and playground. Other buildings were added specifically by the school. There are dormitories for the boarders, class rooms, common rooms for leisure time, and a dining hall--all the basic prep school facilities. Many of the Jennings stories take place in these facilities, but the scene sometimes shifts to locactions like the attics, terraces, boiler room, garages, as well as other places.

British Prep Schools

A British prep school is different than an American prep school. A British prep school is an elementary school preparing boys for entry to the country's elite Public (private) schools. The boys are typically from 8 to 13 years old at most prep schools. Until the 1970s almost all prep schools were single gender schools. British authors often have terrible stories about their prep schools and until the 1970s there were many schools that were in fact to many that were not very happy places, especially for the younger prep school boys. The Jennings books, however, glossed over that and produced a light-hearted view of the English prep school in the years after World War II. HBC readers interested in learning more about actual British prep schools may want to look at the Apertures Press photographic study on these unique schools. The book includes many never before published color and balack and white photographs as well a great deal of written material from the children describing their schools. There is also information on prep schools in the HBC school uniform section. Readers in fact may like to compare how real prep schools and their pupils comapre to Linbury Court and Jennings and his mates.

Jennings

Jenings is always known just as Jennings. Boys at British schools were alwats known by their last names. This is no longer the case, especially at prep schools like the one Jennings attended. While always called just Jennings, he did have a first (Christain) name, infact he had three which covered several of the popular first names for Engkish boys. His Christian names were John Christopher Timothy. Jennings was a suposedly a typical prep school boy. I have only read a few of the books and some time ago. So I can not adequately describe him at this time. But I will try to acquire some morre information. We first find him as a new boy, which means he would probably been about 8. Most of the stories appear to have been set with him at about 10 or 11, although the exact agevis often not apparent. He is usually referred to as just Jennings. I do not recall what his first name was. I also know nothing about his parents or home as the books I am familiar with are set at school. Buckeridge provided this description of Jennings in Jennings Follows A Clue, "Jennings was the taller of the two, a friendly looking boy of ten with an untidy fringe of brown hair ans a wide-awake look in his eye." His friend Darbishire is described as, "... fair and curly; he had a pink and white complexion and pale blue eyes that gazed beadily at the chess board though large spectacles."


Figure 2.--When the Jennings books first began appearing during the early 1950s, prep school boys would have worn rather baggy flannel shorts. Jennings and Darbishire pictured here are wearing Terryln shorts with crisp creases.

The Uniform

I am not sure how the uniform was depicted in the books first published in the 1950s. I have some copies published in the 1960s. There are no illistrations except for the book jacket. Here the boys wear no caps, mroon blazers, white shirts without ties, long knee-length shorts, kneesocks with patterned turn over tops, and shoes rather than sandals, The uniform portrayed in the paperback versions prep school uniform updated to the 1970s and 80s. I am not sure if these photographs reproduced here were just done for book covers or if thy were based on a television prodution. Ar any rate,Jennings and his school mates wear traditiinal caps, blazers, ties, short trousers, and kneesocks. The shorts are shorter and better fitted Terryln shorts that appeared in the 1970s. Generally the boys are depicted in their sweaters and not their blazers which was normal during the schoolm day. The kneesocks worn at Linbury Court had the solid color turn over top rather than the more common colored stripes. They also wear traditional school sandals.

The Author

Anthony Buckeridge was often asked where his ideas came from. In fact, he had a lot of material to work from, considering that he went to boarding school himself (as did Jennings) and then became a master at one. Anthony Buckeridge was born on June 20, 1912 in London. His father was a bank clerk who, like too many of his generation, was tragically killed during World War I when Anthony was very young. Anthony like many boys from affluent families was sent to a preparatory boarding school at age 8. It was a virtual rite of passage for boys of his class. His prep school was in Sussex near London. He then went on to a Public school wherevhe also boarded until finish school at 18. So like Jenning's, Buckeridge was educated at private boarding schools. Buckeridge was the first writer to use Prep Schools as a story setting. His first audience were the boys at his Ramsgate prep school in St. Laurence's and Buckeridge developed Jennings from one of the characters at the school. The boys would clamor for "another Jennings story, please sir," at bedtime before lights out. Jennings himself soon took control and it was not long before all his creator had to do was to outline a situation and leave it to Jenning's peculiar method of reasoning to work things out to their logical conclusion. Collins in 1966 produced an omnibus edition, entitled A Bookful of Jennings, which was re-released in 1972 as The Best of Jennings. Buckeridge kept writing the books at a rate of around one a year, and he said that he always considered his last book to be his best. He claimed that "I receive so much enjoyment from re-reading all the Jenning's books, and I hope that others have received the same enjoyment". Anthony Buckeridge has published a autobiography While I Remember. We note that one of the books was dedicated to the "'Jennings Club' at Warden House School".

Illustrations

Both drawings and photographs have been ued to illustrate the Jenningsbooks, although th photogrphs were just used for the covers. Quite a number of different illustrators have worked on the Jennings books. We have a complete list of Jenning illustrators, although our information on many of the illustrators is limited at this time. Mays Collins illustrated the Jennings books from 1958 through the 1960s. We have little information on her at this time besides her work on Jennings. We also note illustrations by Rodney Sutton for Jennings, Of Course! (New ed, London: Macmillan, 1991). We note that some editions were illustrated with photographs as illustrated on this page. We are not sure at this time what the source of these photographs were. We do not know if these photographs were posed just for the book covers or perhaps are from the 1960s TV series. A British reader writes, "I cannot recall a Jennings TV programme that went with the book. If it was linked to a TV serial then it would have said this on the cover. It does not so I have always been under the impression that the pictures were posed for the books." The editions with the photographs on the cover were printed in the late 70s. Take Jennings for Instance was originally published in 1958, but the cover here was to a 1979 edition (figure 4). There is no indication in the book as to the source of the cover photograph. Given the boys' hair styles, it was surely taken at about the time the edition was published. Thse photographic covers show the same boys at about the same age in the same uniforms.


Figure 3.--Notice the classic school sandals that Jennings and Darbishire are wearing. In the paper back editions the bous are often pictured wearing their caps.

Popularity

The Jennings books are of course best known in England, but they proved quite popular in other countries as well. Interestingly they were popular in some countries where few boys attended boarding schools.

England

Jenning's first public appearence was as a new boy in the London Children's hour on BBC Radio in the fall of 1948. Presumably it was mostly day boys in state schools that listened to him. I doubt if boarding school boys had a lot of time to tune into the "wireless". Jennings' exploits were soon published in book form. The Jennings stories are probably the most popular school stories ever written. Both boys and girls loved Buckeridge's humorous stories. It is interesting that girls liked the stories as girls rarely appear in the Jennings stories. Almost all prep schools in the 1950s were single gender schools. Girls at the time were and still are willing to read books about boys, witness the current Harry Potter craze. Boys on the other hand generally decline to read books where the main character is a girl. Children recognise their authentic, true to life ring of the books. They recognize that they themselves just like Jennings, often do the most fantastic things for reasons which the average adult is unable to appreciate. Undoubtedly they readily identify themselves with the carefree boys of Linbury Court School.

It is also interesting to speculate on how British boys that were not from afflluent families and went to day schools thought about Jennings and his boarding school exploits. Jennings was clearly not universally loved. One HBC contributor informs me that he never read the books as a kid. However, as a boy, he recalls a teacher reading to his class from a Jennings book when he was at junior school and that it all sounded rather "twee" and very middle class. Of course our American HBC readers will not understand the contributors selection of the word "twee". He defines it as "affected...arch...contrived," but that does not fully get at his meaning. Twee is a British adjetive which appears about 1900-1905 and means affectedly dainty or elegant. It apparently derived from "tweet" which presumably mimiking the efforts of young children tring to pronounce "sweet". Thus for boys to assign the adjective "twee" to the Jennings books would be a very strong condimnation indeed.

Foreign

The Jennings books, despite the English setting, have proved popular in many (but not all countries). The books have been translated into twelve foreign languages and marketed abroad; to date the books have appeared in French, German, Norwegian, Spanish, Dutch, Welsh, Swedish, Finnish, Indonesian, and even Modern Hebrew. Jennings has been renamed Bennett in France (because apparently Jennings in French is unpronounceable), Fredy in Germany and Stompa in Norway.

An Australian HBC contributor reports that he read them as a young boy and found them enlightening. He has since encouraged his boys to read the books. They also have enjoyed reading them, in particular to visualize what schooling was like in that time period.

Jennings and his mates appear to be most popular of all in Norway, for some strange reason. Norway has produced three full-length Jennings films. Jennings' exploits are still dramatised annually on Norwegian State Radio. The books never proved particularly popular in the United States. I am not sure why the books would have proven popular in Norway and even France, but not the United States. The setting in a boarding school may have detracted from their popularity in the United States. That does not explain, however, why they proved popular in European coyntries wearing boarding schools were also not common.

Internet

There is quite a lot of intetresting informationa about Jennings on the internet. The Jennings radio seres theme music is on a website called Radio Days. There is a sound download of the signature tune to the BBC radio plays. It is quite a catchy tune. I saw a web page about the original radio plays. This I have downloaded onto a floppy disc. There is an especially good French web site about Jennings. Fear not non-French speaking readers. a click on the union flag and the language changes to English.


Figure 4.--The boys are always pictured wearing their school tie in the paperback editions. This was quite common in prep schools. Earlier editions often showed the boys wearing their collars open without ties. The boys are also commonly shown wearing sandals. This was also vey common at prep schools, especially before the 1980s, but junior boys still wear them today.

The Series

The Jennings series included: Jennings Goes To School (1950), Jennings Follows A Clue (1951), Jennings Little Hut (1951), Jennings and Darbishire (1952), Jennings Diary (1953), According to Jennings (1954), Our Friend Jennings (1955), Thanks to Jennings (1957), Take Jennings For Instance (1958), Jennings As Usual (1959), The Trouble With Jennings (1960), Just Like Jennings (1961), Leave It To Jennings (1963), Jennings of Course (1964), Especially Jennings (1965), Jennings Abounding (1967), Jennings In Particular (1968), Trust Jennings (1969), The Jennings Report (1970), Typically Jennings (1971), Speaking Of Jennings (1973), Jennings At Large (1977), Jennings Again (1991), and That's Jennings (1994). While these are the the various titles. There are of course many different printings of these books. We do not at this time know if any changes were made in the various ptintings.

The Jennings Companion

A fascinating assessment and review of the Jennings series is available. The Jennings Companion was written by David Bathurst and published by Summersdale (ISBN 1873475497). The book according to one Jennings enthusiast is a "must" read and will prove interesting for anyone who has enjoyed the Jennings books.

Overseas Printings

It appears that Jennings had many foreign fans. The Jennings books hav been translated into many foreign languages. Interestingly they never proved very popular in America where no translaions wer needed. A French reader reports, "I know the "Bennett" série of books in French in two different collections, "Rouge et or" and "Bibliothéque verte". The boy is always portrayed with his tie and his English round cap." There is even a French web page about Jennings. It lists the principal characters and details his prep school.

Rex Mulligan

Anthony Buckeridge is best known for his Jennings books, but he also wrote a series entitled Rex Milligan. Four books were published, entitled, Rex Milligan's Busy Term, Rex Milligan Raises the Roof, Rex Milligan Holds Forth and Rex Milligan Reporting. These were published by Lutterworth Press. The Jennings books were all published by Collins between 1953 and 1961. The characters were not unlike Jennings and company, but were a few years older.

Final Years

Anthony Buckeridge, creator of Jennings, died June 28, 2004 aged 92 after a long illness. Condolences, to his wife, children, grandchildren and many fans.

Media

HBC has received the following inquiry, "I was wondering if HBC had any knowledge of The Jennings books being transferred to film or TV. This point came up in a conversation a friend sparked by some stills on the net that would seem to indicate that a film or program had been made at some point in time." Another British reader confirms that he also has never heard of a an English Jennings movie. Surprisingly, in Norway there have been four films about Stompa the name which Jennings is known by in that country. The Norwegian films are: Stompa and Co" (1962) with Rolf Kirkvaag as Stompa, "Stompa Selvfølgelig!" (1963), "Stompa Forelsker seg" (1965), and "Stompa til Sjøs!" (1967) with Ole Enger in the role of Stompa. HBC has no further information at this time, but will add anything we may learn to this page. HBC at this time has only limited information on television or movie productions of Jennings. Perhaps a prep school boy like Jennings has not had the same popularity as a less affluent school boy like Just William. HBC knows of no British movie version of Jennings. I have read that there was a Norwegian film of Jennings but I don't know the title or the date. In the Norwegian translations of the books Jennings is called Stompa, or something very like that, so possibly that appears in the title. We do know of some TV productions. The first media production was a BBC radio series in the 1950s. There have also been two series of Jennings on BBC television. The first was in 1956 (ten episodes) and the second in 1966 (six episodes). I didn't see the 1956 series which was produced by Kevin Sheldon. The cast included: John Mitchell (Jennings), Derek Needs (Darbishire), Jeremy Ward (Atkinson), Peter Wood (Temple), Colin Spaull (Venables), Geoffrey Wincott (Mr Carter), and Wilfred Babbage (Mr. Wilkins ). I can remember that I thoroughly enjoyed the 1966 series. Unfortunately I have not seen any stills from the programmes. The producer was Johnny Downes. The cast included David Schulten (Jennings), Robert Bartlett (Darbishire), Edward McMurray (Atkinson), William Burleigh (Temple), Iain Burton (Venables), Ian Gardiner (Mr Carter), and John Moore (Mr Wiliams). We also recall a British TV series rather like Jennings--AJ Wentworth, BA, but this seies was set around a prep school master rather than one of the boys. We thought that the photographic book covers might have come from the TV series, but the boys' hair cuts look rather long for 1966, especially at a prep school. Hopefully our British readers who remember the series can tells us if the covers were from the TV series.

Reader Comments

A Canadian reader writes, "Thanks for the website. I grew up in rural Ontario and read many of the Jennings books, but for the life of me cannot come across anyone who remembers the books, even my old teachers who also taught some of my kids. I saw some of the Harry Potter movie and realize it would be hard to put Jennings and his exploits up against Potter, but every time I see the old Halley Mills movie "The Touble with Angels", it reminds me of Jennings with girls instead. And those movies hold up quite well. Thanks." -- Mike

A British reader writes, "The Jennings books are fanstic stories and are not now as popular as they once were. None-the-less they are coming back. I recently read that the author has signed an agreement for the stories to be re-published." -- William

A New Zealand teacher foundly remembers the Jennings books. She read them as a girl and found them very humourous. She reads them to her children. She says that the book was passed around quite a bit because the reader laughed so much.

Another British reader writes, "It was by accident that I came to Jennings as an adult reader rather than one as a boy. I noticed the illustration on the cover of Jennings Again! And I couldn’t help wondering how much of a resemblance there was between Jennings and one of my school friends. I picked the book up and read the first page and from then on I was hooked on the antics of Jennings and his friends at Linbury Court. It is said that laughter is the best medicine, when I’m feeling low I will pick up a Jennings book and within a few minutes my troubles seem to have melted away. If I was asked, which character I related to, I would have to say Darbishire, with perhaps a bit of Venables thrown in for good measure." -- Anthony

A British reader writes, "I met Anthony Buckeridge in 1996 when I attended the first meeting of the Jennings Society in Leicester. I've been an admirer of his work eversince I came to Jennings in 1993 and have most of the Jennings books and two of his lesser known works about Rex Milligan which is a set in a comprehensive school. The character of Jennings was based on the Diamaid Jennings who Anthony Buckeridge knew when he was at school with him and I believe the real life Jennings was very much like his ficticious counterpart. Furthermore, the real life Jennings emigrated to New Zealand."

A British reader writes, "I attended both a prep and public school in the 1950s-60s. I read your page here with interest and have read several pf the Jennings series. I note that were written by a prep school master. They give a rather rosy view of prep school life. I don't know if he was ever a kid at one. There were also the Just William books by woman called Richmal Crompton which were about a day school boy, very funny. And when I was doing my hard time at a British prep school there were the Nigel Molesworth books: Down With Skool! and How To Be Topp! are two that I had. I still have my old copy of How To Be Topp! It is a biting and accurate satire on prep school life, purporting to be written by a 10 year old boy. They are hilarious and cruel, but come closer to the reality than anything else I know. Needless to say they were not allowed at prep school. My copy of Down With Skool was confiscated."

Sources

Buckeridge, Anthony. While I Remember.






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Created: November 9, 1999
Last updated: 4:35 PM 9/14/2009