Ho for Hogwarts!
In the 1950s writer Geoffrey Willans and cartoonist Ronald Searle (creator of St Trinians) blew the whole concept of Boarding School stories out of the water with a series in the magazine “New Elizabethan”. The series grew into several books. The protagonist and narrator is a semi-literate, adolescent boy called Nigel Molesworth, scourge of St Custards, a run-down school for the sons of faded and arriviste gentry. Its orthography is eccentric, its spelling is surreal, and it as anarchic as all-hell. The phrase “as any fule kno” has passed into the middle-class, middle-aged vernacular of the United Kingdom, and each year brings new converts.
The funny thing is that if you Google an image for Nigel Molesworth, two of the pictures that come up are for Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe. The even funnier thing is this – that in a chapter of Molesworth’s adventures which skits classical theatre there is a play in Latin, written by Marcus Plautus Molesworthus, entitled… The Hogwarts! And here he is writing it…
Small wonder that Molesworth fan Alice Dryden, along with her artist collaborator Kate Manson, came up recently with a Molesworthian lampoon of a certain set of stories by a certain Scottish writer (known in my household as “She-who-must-not-be-named-on-pain-of-getting-a-knuckle-sandwich”). Their web page, “Ho For Hogwarts”, is a must-see for any Molesworth fans, or simply for people like me who love to see H**** P***** desecrated [evil grin].
Interestingly I see Potteresque archetypes throughout the Molesworth canon, notwithstanding its being a work of satire without a trace of the magical. Nigel M himself is a laconic and cynical antitype of H**** P***** of course. Although Alice Dryden has recruited one of Ronald Searle’s schoolgirls as Hermione
the original for her has to be the effete “girlie” Basil Fotherington-Thomas who, for all his lack of laddish virtues, is a swot and absolutely brilliant a tennis.
Ron Weasley’s place in the pantheon of St Custards is taken by Moleworth’s “grate frend” Peason,
and whilst it might be stretching it a bit to see Headmaster Grimes
as an original for Dumbell-bore, the ghastly figure of Sigismond the mad Maths Master (seen here in his role as evil overlord of an interstellar invasion force)
mutates from Snape to Voldemort in one easy mental bound. Draco Malfoy? Well Grabber, head of skool, winner of the Mrs Joyful Prize for Rafia, and skool bully (unfortunately I can’t find a pic of him) fills some of the Malfoysian functions.
Which only leaves Scabbers. I suppose the mangy “skool dog” will do for him, at a pinch. Well the skool dog is hardly Sirius Black…
Okay, I’m not claiming that She-who-etc filched anything at all from Willans and Searle (with the possible exception of the name “Hogwarts”?). That would be taking my disdain and jealousy for a writer with no more than 75% of my talent (which is enough, apparently), a propensity for hard work (which is essential), the backing of a superb marketing and publicity team (which doesn’t hurt), and Honorary Doctorate at Edinburgh University (honestly, they’re giving away the bloody things free with Cornflakes!), and a damn sight more good looks than myself (chiz chiz chiz!), a step too far. No, if she plagiarized anything I doubt it was from the Molesworth canon; but still I am loving to draw these analogies…
Sir Henry John Newbolt
There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"…