Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Greyfriars

Go To
Bend over that chair, Bunter! note 

"Bunter ... is a real creation. His tight trousers against which boots and canes are constantly thudding, his astuteness in search of food, his postal order which never turns up, have made him famous wherever the Union Jack waves."

The Greyfriars school stories ran for thirty years in the boy's weekly paper "The Magnet" and, after that ceased publication during the war, continued as a series of novels. The stories were credited to 'Frank Richards', but were almost all the work of a single and astonishingly productive man, Charles Hamilton, who also wrote under other names for several other story papers.

The stories documented the trials and tribulations of the Remove form, particularly the straight-laced, high-spirited, sporting "Famous Five" (no, not that one) of Wharton, Nugent, Huree Jamset Ram Singh, Bob Cherry and Johnny Bull. However they were rapidly eclipsed in popularity by their greedy, short-sighted, pathologically self-centred classmate, Billy Bunter, who took on the title role in the novels, and later television, stage and comic adaptations. Already rather far removed and outdated from the reality of boarding school life at their inception, the students, school, slang and storytelling remained pretty much unaltered during the 50+ years that the series ran.

Although Bunter's depiction varied wildly once other authors tried to write stories about him, the original author always allowed Bunter some saving graces to prevent him from becoming totally unlikeable. So, although Bunter was greedy and would steal food from almost anyone who he knew wouldn't report him to the police, and was a pathological liar, nevertheless he would never deliberately steal anyone's money (asking for a "loan" wasn't stealing, to Bunter's mind), and although usually depicted as a coward, Bunter did have a spot of courage which he could draw upon when the plot demanded he do so.

Bunter at his most exaggerated lived on alone after Greyfriars in a comic strip in Knockout from 1939 onwards.


  • Anti-Role Model: Skinner, Snoop and Stott happily smoke, gamble, visit pubs, lie, cheat, etc. Funnily enough, they're also poor fighters, terrible at sports, unfetchingly described and disliked by most of the form. While Vernon-Smith was much the same in his early appearances, his redemption came hand in hand with an increase in wit, strength and sporting prowess.
  • Bad Liar: Bunter. "I say, keep that beast Coker off! I wasn't in his study when he found me there, the suspicious beast! I wasn't after his cake! There wasn't any cake, and I never touched it, and I had hardly a mouthful when the brute came in! I say, you fellows - ow! Oh crikey!"
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Good characters generally have the manly good looks to match (Wharton, Wingate, Nugent, Linley, Redwing, Singh, etc.) while bad characters are usually freakish (Bunter, Fisher T. Fish), dandies (Ponsonby et al.) or are just generally unattractive (Bolsover, Stott, Vernon-Smith). The one notable aversion of the the trope is Bob Cherry, who is probably the series' most thoroughly good-natured character, and yet looks "cheerful, healthy" but "not handsome".
  • Big Eater: Bunter's insatiable appetite is the cause of much of his misfortune, to the point that his name was still used as a real-life insult long after the popularity of the character had waned.
  • Black-and-White Morality: The narrative never leaves the audience guessing at the distinction between right and wrong, and many of the protagonists are willing to make ridiculous sacrifices rather than cross the line.
  • Boarding School: Greyfriars is pretty archetypal for this trope.
  • Break the Haughty: Pride comes before a fall. Wharton and Vernon-Smith never quite learn from their mistakes, however.
  • Broken Record: fatfatfatfat. e.g.: "it might really have been supposed that the fat Owl had something on his fat mind which quite excluded our island story from his plump thoughts."
  • Brownface: Hurree is played by various white actors in Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School.
  • The Bully: Loder is a cruel prefect held in poor regard by most of the school. Bolsover major plays this role within the Remove itself.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Look, just don't gamble, drink, smoke, lie, cheat, sneak, steal, go out of bounds, consort with ruffians, refuse to do your lines, mercilessly provoke the mentally feeble, gang up on people in fights or steal other people's cakes. It's not worth it. Go outside and play cricket instead.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Bunter: "I say, you fellows!" "He he he!".
    • Hurree Jamset Ram Singh: "The (whatever)fulness is terrific!" or "the (whatever)fulness is the esteemed proper caper."
    • Lord Mauleverer: "Yaas."
  • Character Development: When he first joins the Remove, Vernon-Smith is a weedy Spoiled Brat with no skills in fighting nor sports, and who gets his confidence from his father's standing with Dr Locke. By the end of the series he is one of the Remove's best fighters and footballers, and utterly self confident.
  • Class Trip: From the mid-1920s onwards The Magnet ran holiday series which coincided with the real-life school holiday times and often featured Harry Wharton and Co, Bunter and other characters journeying abroad, particularly in the long summer holidays.
  • Crossover: Greyfriars' students are familiar with characters from other associated school stories, e.g.: St Jim's (The Gem) and Cliff House (Schoolgirl's Own).
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: To the surprise of all, when the situation demands Lord Mauleverer can make winning plans, play a hard game of football, educate headmasters about property laws and take anyone in a fair fight. He prefers not to trifle his noble head with such matters, though.
  • Deadly Prank: Pranks have a bad habit of getting out of hand and going awry, to the surprise of the characters but often not the reader. For example, when the Highcliffe nuts lie in wait on a coastal path to give Redwing a ragging, the reader is alerted to the sheer drop over the cliff edge, while the nuts apparently don't notice until Ponsonby and Redwing fall off of it.
  • Delinquents: Vernon-Smith well earns his nickname "The Bounder", although is ultimately redeemable. Skinner, who has all of Vernon-Smith's bad qualities but none of his good, and his two lackeys, Snoop and Stott, are the true outcasts of the form.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The writing style.
  • Disaster Dominoes: A common plot - often escalating from trivial to incredibly serious as the dominoes fall.
  • Distaff Counterpart: A female version of Billy Bunter was created as a separate series: Bessie Bunter.
  • The Ditz: Alonzo Todd is an extraordinarily simple soul, with an endlessly trusting nature and absolutely zero common sense. For him, every day is April Fools Day.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: The Headmaster, Form Masters and all prefects are able to dispense corporal punishment, and do so with great frequency.
  • Fat Bastard: Bunter is an archetypal fat bastard. Also, whenever he does something remotely bastard-ish, you will be reminded several times that he is fat. Of course, you're reminded that he's fat about six times a paragraph anyway.
  • Fat Comic Relief: Billy Bunter himself.
  • First-Name Basis/Last-Name Basis: You can often get an idea of where a character stands in the series' estimation of Black-and-White Morality by how the narration refers to them. Most characters, from thoroughly good fellows (e.g.: Harry Wharton, Tom Redwing, Mark Linley) to the flawed but essentially harmless (e.g.: Billy Bunter and Horace Coker) are regularly referred to by their full names. A very few thoroughly good fellows, such as Bob Cherry, make it to a chummy First-Name Basis. Those black sheep who have crossed the line, however, are kept at a little distance; Vernon-Smith, Skinner and Bolsover, for example, seldom have their first names mentioned at all.
  • Food Porn: As you'd expect with in a series headed by one of the most gluttonous characters ever written, tuck hampers full of moist, sugar-encrusted plum cakes, rich chocolates, sweet and crumbly macaroons, etc., etc., feature prominently. Not to mention all the hot muffins and steaming cocoa by the study fire on a foggy November evening...
  • Fun with Foreign Languages: Whoever taught Hurree Jamset Ram Singh English decided to save time when it came to proverbs and idioms by combining several into a single phrase, e.g.: "it is the unexpected that happens to a bird in the bush and makes the cracked pitcher go longest to a stitch in time."
  • Funny Foreigner:
    • To modern eyes the portrayal of Hurree Jamset Ram Singh is pretty cringe-worthy, though at least he was always shown as a good-natured fellow, a first-rate cricketer and nobody's fool.
    • Fisher T. Fish, the American member of the Remove, hardly showed the USA in a good light.
    • Wun Lung and his younger brother Hop Hi were stereotypical Chinese, including (in the early days) their mode of dress, including pigtails. Wun Lung would often cook disgusting meals, which the other boys believed consisted of rats and mice.
  • Greed: Bunter, and how. There are few lengths he won't stoop to for a slice of someone else's cake.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Even after Wharton learns to control it early in the series, it still bubbles up from time to time.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • One less common example that might have you looking up etymology is when Fisher T. Fish declares himself and others to be 'cute'.
    • "Bunter the Hypnotist" from 1938 contains a chapter in which Harry Wharton is looking for his Latin dictionary. The opening line is "Seen my dick?"
  • High Hopes, Zero Talent: Bunter mistakenly fancies himself as everything from a world-class footballer to a world-class detective.
  • Honor Before Reason: Wharton and Co. fall foul of this on many occasions. Oh, the trials of being a upright, English schoolboy; you've no choice but to play up, play up, and play the game. 'Sneaking' is one of the worst sins and the more honourable characters would risk a flogging or even expulsion rather than to snitch on a genuine enemy. There's also plenty of awkwardness caused by money. It's fine to accept loans, favours, offers of places to stay in the holls, etc., unless you are in real, genuine need. Then no matter how pressing, how miserable, how desperate your circumstances, or how the donor begs you to accept, it is charity, and must therefore be refused.
  • I Have Many Names: Although the nicknames are less impenetrable than in other boarding school settings, some characters have so many, and they are used so interchangeably, that it's hard to keep track. For example, on a single page Vernon-Smith might be refered to as 'Vernon-Smith', 'Smithy', 'The Bounder', and 'the Scapegrace of Greyfriars'.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Many of the characters are too good for their own good. Redwing is a particularly shining example - lying, cheating, sponging, cruelty, pettiness and the like are utterly alien to him and his poor-but-honest upbringing.
  • Invisible Writing: One of the stories had a main character receive a letter from a missing relative, asking whether he remembered a particular party trick. He doesn't, but the letter is left out in the hot sun for a while, which reveals the real message saying that the relative has been kidnapped.
  • I Owe You My Life: Many, many quarrels, misunderstandings and feuds are resolved by one character saving another - usually from drowning.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Vernon-Smith. Although unscrupulous, aggressive, surly, ruthless and possessing many frowned-upon habits ranging from visiting pubs to ragging the form masters, Vernon-Smith is at heart more good than bad.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The Bounder's 'phenomenal luck' in avoiding expulsion by the narrowest of narrow squeaks time, and time, and time, and time again is well known and commented on.
  • Lonely at the Top: Wharton's duties as headboy often put him at odds with the rest of the form.
  • Malaproper: Bunter is wont to mangle any non-pedestrian word he is forced to repeat, coming out with monstrosities such as 'unparallelogramed' and 'voluntaciously'.
  • Manly Tears:
    • Blubbing, of course, is utterly shameful. However, in the depths of deepest woe and blackest injustice it is acceptable to lock oneself in one's study and roughly rub one's eyes with the back of one's hand.
    • Somewhat subverted in the first few stories, where several times the young Harry Wharton has to force back tears in front of his new classmates - but they aren't caused by sorrow, they're tears of rage from the "rotten temper" he hasn't yet learned to control.
    • Bulstrode breaks down and sobs in the form-room while his young brother lies dying. Nobody thinks any the worse of him.
  • Morality Pet: Redwing to Vernon-Smith. A slight variation in that while Redwing's steadying influence generally helps Smithy stay on the straight-and-narrow (well, roughly), when Smithy flat-out means to be bad, Redwing's intervention is met with a hypersensitive hostile backlash. Later in their friendship (for example, the Smedley series) Redwing learns not to waste a 'pi-jaw' on Smithy, and simply waits anxiously for the moment to beat some sense into him.
  • Nouveau Riche: Vernon-Smith's out-spoken, purse-proud father.
  • Odd Friendship: Vernon-Smith and Redwing. Smithy's reckless rule-breaking is a constant source of anxiety and dismay to Redwing, but his faith in Smithy's true good nature makes him stand by Vernon-Smith during his frequent wars with the Famous Five, tolerate Vernon-Smith's Highcliffe friends who openly mock and despise him, and weather the worst of Vernon-Smith's bitter, vengeful, cruel temper. Meanwhile, Vernon-Smith finds Redwing a kill-joy to his fun, a cramp on his freedom, a weakness his enemies can exploit and, when things go badly for Smithy, a shining example of the happy life that goodness brings that drives Smithy further into the depths of rage or bitterness. And yet, he remains devoted to Redwing, and knows he would pick a boring life of saintly virtue with Redwing over a shady life of thrills and danger without.
  • One-Gender School: Greyfriars, as was de rigeur at the time. A nearby girls' school, Cliff House, is attended by female relatives of several characters.
  • Only Six Faces: Crowds of identical boys populate the illustrations. A few are instantly recognisable; Bunter, being spherical and wearing specs and checked trousers; Alonzo Todd with his awkward, gangling limbs, big nose and huge, innocent eyes; Fisher T. Fish with his big glasses and pinched face. Vernon-Smith can sometimes be distinguished by his (literal) low brow, firm chin, centre parting and fondness for pinstriped trousers. Singh sports a healthy crop of cross-hatch shading to indicate his skintone. Everyone else could be...well, anyone else.
  • Poor Communication Kills: A common recurring plot. Many mountains are made out of molehills when characters become too overcome with pride or pique to talk things through.
  • Sadist Teacher: Especially in the comics, where Billy is often beaten by the headmaster, even when something wasn't exactly his own fault.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: Bunter.
  • Scholarship Student: Mark Linley, a Lancashire lad who worked in a factory, and Tom Redwing, a (temporarily) orphaned fisherman's boy.
  • Serious Business: School sports are serious business and no mistake.
  • Smug Snake: Ponsonby has elegant looks, dresses like a dandy, speaks with a high-class drawl and can be good-humoured company when he pleases. He enjoys being a beastly cad so much, however, that he can barely bother to conceal it.
  • Snowball Lie: A common recurring plot. Usually, a minor prank gets played and the perpetrator chooses or is forced to deny their involvement. As the hunt for the culprit heats up and the punishments begin to pile on, things start to turn serious for those suspected, and the longer they keep up the lie, the more wildly things spin out of control until they're eventually found out.
  • Sour Supporter: Johnny Bull. His plain-speaking country wisdom spots the flaw in every plan and, when it all goes wrong, he doesn't forget that he told them so.
  • Spin-Off: Cliff House Girls' School, and its three most established pupils (Bessie Bunter, Marjorie Hazeldene and Clara Trevelyn), were established in the Greyfriars stories and subsequently spun off to their own series of girls' school stories, supposedly written by Frank Richards' sister, Hilda Richards. Oddly, after the first few issues (which were actually penned by Charles Hamilton himself) there is almost no overlap between Cliff House as it appears in The Magnet and how it appears in its own papers, The School Girl and The School Friend. Bessie, Marjorie and Clara appear concurrently in both series with no reference to the other, so that they gradually develop rather different personalities and appearances. Greyfriars characters (including Billy Bunter) are never mentioned in the Cliff House stories, and the major players introduced in the Cliff House stories (Barbara, Mabel and Jemima) never appear in the Greyfriars stories.
  • Stern Teacher: Mr Quelch's firm but fair manner as a form master wins him the respect of most of the form. However, he in not nearly fierce enough to earn the obedience of all.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: A celebrated virtue.
    "Whatever might be [Vernon-Smith's] private troubles, a fellow was expected to carry on without advertising it to all and sundry. A fellow was expected to keep a stiff upper lip. Vernon Smith's way was not really the Greyfriar's way. It showed there was somewhere a streak on inferior quality in Smithy."
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Billy, Sammy and Bessie Bunter are extremely alike in habits and (alas for Bessie) looks.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: A typical plea of innocence for Bunter is about 90% confession. "Don't you go telling Smithy I had his chocs. He never had any chocs, as far as I know, and they weren't in a box, and the box wasn't on his study table..."
  • True Companions: Known variously as "The Famous Five", "The Co.", "The Chums" etc. Wharton, Bob Cherry, Nugent, Huree Jamset Ram Singh and Johnny Bull are the main driving force of the Remove, and will back one another up through thick and thin.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Bunter, after he took the title role.
  • Unusual Euphemism: The slang. Some of it is general boarding school stuff, a lot is nicked from "Jabberwocky" and some is just made up.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Lord Mauleverer. Slightly inverted as he does, in fact, have many skills. 90% of his time is spent lolling in armchairs and replying to everything with "yaas", however.
  • Viewers Are Goldfish: The writing style, particularly in some of the novels. For example, in Bunter the Bad Lad we are constantly reminded who wrote the limerick (Coker), what it said (his form master is an idiot), who now has a hand written copy (Bunter), what he doing with said copy (blackmail), what will happen to Coker if a master reads it (expulsion), what Coker is in (a jam), etc, etc, pretty much every chapter (of which there are 35).
  • Was It All a Lie?: Vernon-Smith has a well-developed sense of honour and soon leans the value of playing the game and pulling with the team, but has a dark streak in his nature that draws him to the shadier pursuits in schoolboy life. His periodic slips cause his friends to doubt him, while his old comrades are always happy to welcome him back.
  • Written Sound Effect: Very common. There's a lot of fights and corporal punishment in the series and most of it is rendered as sound effects and bizarre exclamations. The most famous is "Yarooh!" which perhaps not by chance is "Hooray" spelt backwards. The spelling of Bunter's yells also contains more or less O's, depending on how hard he's being caned, kicked etc. A typical example of a caning: Whop! "Wow!" yelled Bunter. Whop! "Whooooooop!" Whop! "Yarooooh!" Whop! "Yow-ow-ow! Leggo!"

Alternative Title(s): Billy Bunter