Thanet Writers Spotlight Anthony Buckeridge

David Chitty highlights the life, works and legacy of writer Anthony Buckeridge, and spotlights his connection to Thanet.

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Anthony Malcom Buckeridge is an author best known for his series of children’s books: Jennings and Rex Milligan, and for his book A Funny Thing that was serialised multiple times for the BBC radio show Children’s Hour. Anthony started his journey into the Jennings series of novels while teaching at St. Lawrence College in Thanet. He was awarded an OBE in 2003.

Anthony spent his early years in in a boys’ preparatory school in Sussex. It was here that he began developing the characters that would later become his most well-known: Jennings and Darbishire. He would often be found telling his friends stories in the dormitory of the school.

Stock / Fair Use

Stock / Fair Use

Shortly before Anthony’s fifth birthday, his father was killed in action serving in World War One. This, in part, formed his ant-military beliefs and, during World War Two, Anthony was called up to join the National Fire Service. When the war ended, Anthony went back to teaching at St. Lawrence College in Thanet. The school had forbidden drama studies and activities due to its evangelical origins. Anthony remedied this quickly while writing plays. One such farce, Draw the Line Somewhere, was too topical to reach the West End in time. It was at this time that he turned to radio plays. The events of his time at St. Lawrence College allowed him to bring the character of Jennings back to the forefront of his mind and work begun on Jennings’ first story. This was largely inspired and influenced by what he saw and heard whilst teaching.

“Merely by keeping my eyes and ears open as I walked round the school and noted what was happening, I gathered a store of material which I could shape to suit the personality of my characters. Much of the comedy came from noting the different way in which a situation would be viewed from the adult and the youthful point of view. For example, boys will explode with hilarity at some fatuous joke which leaves Mr Wilkins baffled.”

Anthony Malcom Buckeridge

Anthony wrote numerous radio plays that were well received by the broadcasters and the audience. In 1948, he wrote the first of Jennings’ tales; Jennings Learns the Ropes. This was sent to BBC Children’s Hour who commissioned five further radio plays from Anthony.

After the phenomenal success of the Jennings radio plays, Anthony released his first book in the series; Jennings Goes to School. The series received an amazing level of success, with over twenty new books being added to the line-up during the following decades.

The Jennings series of books followed schoolboy J.C.T. Jennings during his time at a prep school. The humorous tales that Anthony detailed were, at least in part, based on a friend he had during his own time at school: Diarmaid Jennings. Jennings’ literal-mindedness and impulsive nature played a major role in the humour that Anthony crafted in the series, leading to the numerous misunderstandings that the character got himself into, engrossing a generation of children. Anthony also managed to capture the changing times around him extremely well in the books as the social revolution hit in the sixties.

The books, however, were divisive amongst critics and some described them as ‘elitist’ due to their settings in a preparatory school.

“Extremely popular, if of no great literary merit.”

John Rowe Townsend, children’s author and literary scholar

Regardless of whether or not Anthony’s work had any literary merit, it had an immeasurable effect on post-war British humour and his work is still held in that regard even today. He was a prolific writer, with his Jennings series running well into the seventies and reprints being released for decades after that, numerous radio plays and a variety of his work being the base of TV shows and films across the globe. His contribution to children’s literature and British culture will long be remembered, as will his contribution to post-World War Two Thanet.

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David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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