A Fat Lot Of Good That Will Do
I say you fellows do listen to a chap for a minute….
Professor Graeme Davis, an expert in linguistics at Buckingham University says that Billy Bunter should be taught in schools because children need more fat heroes.
Davis says that William George “Billy” Bunter would be a more suitable hero for children and young people because of his imperfections.
But who is Billy Bunter?
For starters, he comes from the most prolific author in the world.
Billy Bunter is a character in stories by Charles Harold St John Hamilton (1876-1961), published under the pen name Frank Richards. Hamilton is the most prolific author ever, and his Bunter stories are almost beyond count, running to the equivalent of many hundreds of novels over more than half a century.
Bunter, the fat Owl of the Remove, was a gluttonous schoolboy and permanent comic victim.
He was “an enormously greedy, wonderfully fat, hopelessly dishonest, simple-minded schoolboy.”
The Bunter stories, set in the fictitious English public school Greyfriars, were originally published in cartoon form in 1908 in the Magnet. The first hardback, Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School, was published 70 years ago in September 1947 by Charles Skilton.
Horace Henry Samuel Quelch is the beastly form master famous for caning Billy Bunter and his classmates.
The issue, according to Professor Davis, is that today children have role models that are out of their league.
Children’s fictional characters such as Harry Potter and Alex Ryder are just too good with either magical powers or a portfolio of different talents and skills that are just unattainable. I get that. Roald Dahl’s Matilda is a great role model in one sense but her super-powers are just surreal.
Professor Davis thinks that the down to earth character Billy Bunter is far more relatable because he is far from perfect and just muddles through. He says that Billy Bunter could be the hero children need today.
But why should children want to be like Billy Bunter?
He is overweight, he is not very clever, he is not good at his school work, he is certainly not good at sport but he doesn’t take it to heart. What he is is relentlessly cheerful, he is convinced that tomorrow will definitely be a better day and it usually is. He has relentless good humour, he doesn’t give up, he bungles through and in the end something comes right.
So, should teachers use Billy Bunter in schools? Is this character “a feast of fun for everyone“? Is this a cult that we should leave buried in the past? Should we also introduce children to Bessie Bunter, Billy’s sister?
I think not.
Children have better role models to follow than clinically obese Billy with all his “lovable faults”. Even the President of his own fan club (known as the Friars, after Greyfriars School) says so.
Peter McCall once said,
“Of the seven deadly sins he is the living embodiment of pride, envy, avarice, greed, sloth, wrath and gluttony. His name has endured and is used to describe obesity by people who might have no idea about who he was. Bunter’s selfish, self-centeredness is a prominent feature throughout the Greyfriars saga. His needs are paramount and any chap not concerned with them alone is a selfish rotter.
“He is deluded and has a firm belief in his own superiority, which is reinforced when he speaks with foreigners.”
Bunter was also a racist, using taunts that are unsuitable for a family newspaper. Mr McCall said: “Bunter is a lazy coward who thieves, blackmails, has an aversion to washing, is poor at games and will do anything for his own ends. Bizarrely the only thing he is really good at is ventriloquism.”
For years, every overweight child was called Bunter and was made fun of. What is Professor Davis thinking of when he says that Billy would be a good role model?
I cannot quite understand the thinking of promoting Billy Bunter when this will actually open the floodgates to body-shaming and bullying.
I do understand the importance of letting children know that it is okay to be less than perfect. That makes perfect sense.
Perhaps Professor Davis could take a dive into children’s modern literature because he will see that there are plenty of heroes and heroines we could choose instead of Billy.
Can we focus on children who aren’t perfect but will inspire other children because of their kindness, their goodness and their gentle approach to life such as Augie Pullman from the brilliant book Wonder by R.J. Palacio?
What about Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter. Pollyanna lives according to her own philosophy, the glad game – which she learned from her father – and spreads her unrelenting cheer and optimism throughout the little New England town. Pollyanna finds a silver lining in every cloud and has an unbreakable spirit even in the face of terrible misfortune.
What about Annie by Thomas Meehan? Annie is the story of a remarkable little girl with a feisty spirit and unshakable sense of optimism. She’s not perfect.
I know, perhaps Professor Davis could consider a remarkable tale of a young girl’s survival spirit in Chinese Cinderella, the harrowing true-life story of Adeline Yen Mah’s gruelling upbringing.
If we want to promote imperfection and resilience then why not select a female character like Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Strong, determined and full of faults, Katniss is a far better choice.
Or what about Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery, or Tracy Beaker from Jacqueline Wilson’s The Story of Tracy Beaker, or Sara Crewe from A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Being imperfect is about being human so what better book could we offer young children than Emma Hearne’s book Why Is Nita Upside Down?
This wonderful children’s book celebrates individuality and encourages self-confidence in children.
Sometimes, we fear that others won’t accept us because of the things that make us unique – whether we look different to others, think differently or have other interests. The reality is that everyone of us is different in some way, and that is our strength. This book is all about being different and children can learn important lessons about the value of being proud of who they are and that everyone is different.
But back to Billy.
Quite apart from the huge issues surrounding bullying, do we want children to think that it is okay to be lazy?
Bunter’s main aim in life (apart from eating) was to avoid work of any description – he often spent twice as long trying to avoid it as doing it in the first place!
Umm, that’s not the sort of role model we want children to follow now is it?
Billy Bunter of Greyfriars was extremely popular in Black and White BBC TV running from 19th February 1951 to 22nd July 1961. I think we should just leave him there.
Professor Davis has got this in a muddle. Children do need imperfect role models but not one that will make the lives of some children an absolute misery. Billy Bunter is probably the worst role model we could offer children today.
The more I think about it, I reckon Professor Davis meant this as a bit of a medieval joke. Surely he did?