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Literature / Jennings

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A 25-volume series of comic Boarding School novels by Anthony Buckeridge, which was also adapted for radio. The first volume, Jennings Goes to School, was published in 1950. Sequels were published regularly until 1977, then after a 14-year gap, two more were released in the 1990s. All bar one are set in Linbury Court, a single-sex prep school (private school, ages 8-13 or so) catering to the middle classes.

Jennings is a well-meaning but impulsive boy, who frequently gets himself into comic scrapes — an attempt to help a cow over a fence ends with him trapped in a unlit basement cupboard. His best friend, Darbishire, attempts to act as the voice of common sense, but usually just gets dragged into the mire. The other boys in the dorm eventually catch on to this and, in one plot, set Jennings up with a broken radio, confident that the ensuing hilarity would be much more entertaining than any radio programme.

The principal teachers were the brusque but secretly kind-hearted Mr Wilkins, who had great difficulty understanding Jennings, and Mr Carter, an admitted Author Avatar, who was more tolerant but always knew exactly what was going on.

All the characters were usually addressed by surname only, though their first names were known.

The books and radio dramas were and still are hugely popular in Norway. "Stompa" (as Jennings' Norwegian nickname is) is a well-known and beloved character in Norwegian culture, in part thanks to translator Nils-Reinhardt Christensen's somewhat liberal translations, which moves the location from England to Norway and swaps English names, customs and traditions with Norwegian ones — though some of the credit has to go to Gisle Straume, who played "Lektor Tørrdal" (Mr. Wilkins) in the Norwegian radio dramas and whose stellar performance turned the character into one of the most memorable and quotable characters in Norwegian radio.

The Stompa series even spawned four movies, which were produced in The '60s and are still regarded as classics in Norway — or at least the first two are, since Gisle Straume reprised his role as Lektor Tørrdal in those, and the tone sticks closely to the books. The last two movies are less fondly remembered, both due to a lack of Gisle Straume and because, since the main actors were growing older, the scripts tried to follow suit by including some more mature themes and Freudian images that... really didn't fit the characters or the settings.

     Books in the series 
  • 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) (also called Jennings Unlimited)
  • 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)
  • That's Jennings (1994)
  • A Bookful of Jennings (1996) (compilation of the first four books)

The books have been adapted into radio dramas, TV series, audiobooks, and a stage play.

These books include examples of:

  • Accidental Bid: In Typically Jennings, Jennings accidentally acquires a painting and a cooking-stove when he raises his hand, trying to ask a question about the next lot. He and Darbishire decide that since they have the items, they ought to try to do something with them, and this fuels the rest of the plot of that book.
  • Adults Are Useless: Often discussed and taken as an undeniable fact by Jennings and the other boys, but almost as often completely subverted by the actual adults in the stories, particularly Mr. Carter.
  • Aerosol Spray Backfire: In Trust Jennings, Jennings is playing around with an aerosol spray, but without paying attention to the nozzle direction, he ends up coating his hair with silvery grey paint. He then has to concoct one of his famous schemes to sneak into town and visit a hairdresser without the teachers' knowledge.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: In Jennings and Darbishire's "Flixton Slick" story:
    Bang! Bang! Bang! Three shots rang out. Two policemen fell dead and the third whistled through his hat.
  • Angrish: Mr Wilkins, who mastered saying "D'oh!" long before Homer Simpson.
    Temple's impersonation of him: "I - I - I - you - you - you...corwumph! Temple, you miserable specimen! Don't you know that the angles at the base of an isoceles triangle are jolly nearly equal?! Write it out a hundred and fifty million times before tea!"
  • Author Avatar: Mr Carter. At the end of the first book, he advises Jennings to make his first term at school into a work of fiction for the school magazine: "You might call it - er - something like Jennings Goes to School. To which Jennings replies "Well, sir... if you think it's such a good idea, why don't you do it yourself?" And Mr Carter is really quite taken with this idea...
  • Awesome McCoolname: Jennings and Darbishire's Great Detective creation, Flixton Slick — Super Sleuth.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Darbishire.
  • Broken Glass Penalty: A broken pane of glass causes much hilarity in Jennings' Little Hut.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: The headmaster, Mr Pemberton-Oakes, although this characteristic only appeared once or twice.
  • Catchphrase: "D'oh! You silly little boy!" (Mr Wilkins) "Fossilised fish-hooks!" "Petrified paint-pots!" "Crystallised cheesecakes!" (Jennings, Darbishire and their fellows).
  • Comically Missing the Point: Most of the students get this from time to time.
  • Competition Coupon Madness: In Especially Jennings, Jennings and Darbishire exploit the fact that the school orders hundreds of boxes of a certain cereal to collect hundreds of the prize coupons that come with each pack (but without noticing you also have to include a cash contribution when ordering the prize). Darbishire has a nightmarish Imagine Spot of a family force-feeding themselves to death in order to accumulate the same number of coupons.
  • Cool Old Guy: The adult members of staff insist that the boys be on their best behaviour for General Merridew's visits. Merridew himself tends to sympathise more with the boys, finding their antics amusing.
  • Covered in Mud: Happens to Jennings in Jennings' Little Hut and Jennings, Of Course.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Several of the boys have traces of this, Temple especially. Mr. Wilkins sometimes seems to think he is this, but is not nearly "deadpan" enough.
  • Economy Cast: While there are 80 students, five teachers and other staff in the school, the majority of adventures focus on Jennings and his close friends, and Mr. Carter and Mr. Wilkins.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Mr Wilkins keeps his first name, Lancelot, as a closely guarded secret.
  • "Fawlty Towers" Plot (a lot). An example from Jennings Goes to School is Mr. Wilkins wanting to convince the boys that he has the power to cancel football matches. The match is then actually cancelled by the other school because of illness, but Mr. Wilkins tells the boys it was his doing, as a punishment for the boys. Then the other school says the match is to be played after all.
  • Fictionary: The slang. Buckeridge invented it because he realised using real contemporary slang would rapidly have become dated.
  • Forced into Their Sunday Best: In Jennings' Little Hut, the pupils are forced to wear their best uniforms when General Merridew, the school's most revered former pupil, is visiting.
  • Formally-Named Pet: Variation when Jennings names a guinea pig "F. J. Saunders" and the school cat is named "George the Third" (maybe just indicating he was the third cat called George, but the Headmaster assumes the House of Hanover connection).
  • Gretzky Has the Ball: Darbishire about football.
    Mr Carter: What position would you like to play?
    Darbishire: ...I think I'd like to be wicket-keeper, sir.
  • Hardboiled Detective: Flixton Slick - Super Sleuth (as created by Jennings and Darbishire).
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: Mr Wilkins has this beneath his impatient and short-tempered exterior. It takes considerable effort to find it, but it is found at least once in every book.
  • The Inspector Is Coming: In Thanks to Jennings, an inspector is scheduled to visit the school. Word gets around the boys, but several of them jump to mistaken conclusions about what kind of inspector. This leads to chaos when the inspector arrives, and the boys meet him before the staff do.
  • It Makes Sense in Context:
    • Teachers are often baffled by the boys' logic for this reason. For example, why Jennings decided to name a guinea pig "F. J. Saunders".
    • Temple's nickname being "Bod" seems to come out of nowhere... until you get the story behind it. His full name is "Charles A. Temple", which means his initials are "C.A.T." Naturally, because of this, the kids started calling him "Dog", which was eventually lengthened to "Dogsbody", which was then shortened again to "Bod".
  • Last-Name Basis: Everyone. It's rare to hear any first names, be they of students or teachers. (This was in fact long the norm in British private schools.)
  • Literal-Minded: Both Jennings and Darbishire, in their conversations with each other — if one of them uses a metaphor or exaggeration, it's a pretty sure bet that the other one's going to take it literally.
    Jennings: We can do all sorts of things with a camera, can't we, Darbi!
    Darbishire: We'll bust it, if we do. Much better just to use it for taking photos with.
  • Long-Running Book Series: 25 volumes...
  • Malaproper: Jennings and Darbishire, especially in their detective story "Flixton Slick - Super Sleuth", which includes references to "uninformed constables" and "The Minister without Portfolio - that means he didn't have one of those despatch case things".
  • Meaningful Name / Prophetic Name: Jennings claims that all characters from fiction must have them, with Dickensian examples. Darbishire disagrees:
    Darbishire: But that means that if you've got a name like Fuzziwig you can never be as bald as a coot no matter how hard you try, and if your name's Marlinspike Mainbrace, f'r instance, you've just got to be a sailor, even if you don't want to be!
    • Later, based on examples such as Sherlock Holmes, Sexton Blake and Ferrers Locke, they decide that if your character is a Great Detective, they must have a two-syllable first name and a one-syllable surname.
      Jennings: We've got a policeman at home—he's not a detective, of course, but he might be one day—and he's called Bill Smithson.
      Darbishire: Well he'll never get anywhere as a detective! Unless he turns it around and calls himself "Billson Smith".
  • Mysterious Teacher's Lounge: In Thanks to Jennings the boys become convinced that the teachers go up to their room after every meal in order to secretly snack on an extra course.
  • New Meat: Jennings and Darbishire get treated this way in the first book, Jennings Goes To School; ironically, after Temple and Atkinson convince them the school is a horrible place they must escape, their "heroic" failed escape attempt serves to make Jennings' reputation and ensure they are immediately accepted as equals. Especially lampshaded when, after much advice from "veteran" Atkinson, Jennings asks him how long he's been there:
    Atkinson: Me? Oh, I've been here donkeys' years. Ages and ages. Well... two terms, anyway.
  • Not This One, That One: Inverted when Jennings is expecting to be sent a new bike. The delivery man arrives, opens up his van and pulls out a beaten-up old wreck, much to the amusement of Jennings' classmates — then explains that that's his own bike, and produces the one that Jennings was expecting.
  • Oddball in the Series: Jennings at Large is the only book that largely takes place during the school holidays. Jennings doesn't meet any of his classmates until he returns to school at the end; the Deuteragonist role is filled by a girl named Emma Sparrow he meets in his aunt's block of flats.
  • Painting the Medium: The first book mentions that Darbishire's father speaks "in block capitals".
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: "Ozard" (bad), being the opposite of wizard (good), supposedly derived from The Wizard of Oz.
  • Prized Possession Giveaway: In Jennings in Particular, Jennings and Darbishire are hoping to obtain some of a new issue of stamps, but their plans are foiled when Darbishire becomes ill and Pettigrew fails to buy the stamps. Jennings concocts a complicated scheme and is able to obtain one stamp, while Darbishire is given one by the doctor. Both of them independently decide to give their one-and-only stamp to each other.
  • Poor Communication Kills: A staple of the series, both as throwaway gags and important plot points. How many nerve-wrecking or humiliating moments could Mr Wilkins have saved himself if he'd just bothered to explain to his students why their latest scheme was a bad idea instead of just dismissing them outright or exploding in anger at their thoughtlessness? Or, for that matter, bothered to listen when they tried to explain instead of automatically assuming they're trying to make fun of him?
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Most of the teachers, deep down, although the students don't always agree — and in the case of Mr. Wilkins, his "reasonable" moments are far outshone by the moments where he's being unreasonable. Only Mr. Carter is genuinely and consistently accepted by all the students as a reasonable and understanding teacher.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni:
    • Jennings and Darbishire have this dynamic; Jennings impulsive and over-enthusiasthic, Darbishire timid and cautious.
    • Mr. Wilkins and Mr. Carter have a similar dynamic going on, with Wilkins as the often irrationally temperamental and not very understanding Red Oni, Carter as the calm, reasonable and thoughtful Blue Oni.
  • Secret Pet Plot:
    • In Thanks to Jennings, Atkinson's grandmother gives him a guinea-pig when he is ill. Since pets are not allowed in school, Mr Wilkins has to look after it until she returns. The animal escapes and is found by Jennings and Darbishire, who decide to keep it as a secret pet. Then Darbishire spots the school cat prowling around, and for the sake of the guinea-pig's safety, locks the cat in Mr Wilkins's room....
    • In Jennings at Large, Jennings is staying with his aunt, and befriends a girl who lives in her block of flats. The girl, Emma, has a whole menagerie of secret pets that she acquired accidentally at various times. Jennings suspects (wrongly) that the local gossips are close to discovering her secret, and concocts an elaborate plan to smuggle the pets into his aunt's flat for a while. Unfortunately, the gossips happen to call on his aunt, and are surprised to see various animals floating past the window....
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Jennings and Darbishire have a knack for these.
  • Serious Business: Much of the humour comes from the boys treating random crazes in this way. One example is the Great Underwater Breath-holding Championships that form the opening scene of Especially Jennings.
  • Sherlock Can Read: In Jennings Follows a Clue, shortly after Jennings has first read Sherlock Holmes, he practises the Sherlock Scan on Darbishire, deducing that he had egg for breakfast that morning. Of course, as the two are at school together, they had the same breakfast.
  • A Simple Plan: Oh, how many times.
  • Spoonerism:
    • Darbishire on photographing a squirrel. "It'd make a snappersonic soupshot...I mean, a supersonic snapshot."
    • Darbishire also says "thud and blunder" for "blood and thunder" over twenty years before Poul Anderson popularized the former term.
    • Darbishire turns "sanitary inspector" into "insanitary spectre".
  • Stylistic Suck: Expect this any time we see snippets of writing by the boys, whether it's a detective story, a play, or poetry.
  • Sugar Bowl: Is this the sweetest, loveliest school ever? All the teachers are nice guys really, no one ever gets into any real trouble and bullying doesn't exist. Often, the fun part is how the characters manage to convince themselves otherwise, Jennings in particular. He has a tendency to forget or downplay in his mind just how reasonable and understanding the teachers in reality are, and tends to violently exaggerate and blow out of proportion any problems he might run into or inadvertently cause — going to ludicrous lengths to keep the teachers from finding out and thrashing him within an inch of his life. Though he deep down knows they'd never actually do this (though corporal punishments are occasionally hinted to take place, they are very rare and never to the extent of Temple's horror stories), he generally acts as if he's convinced they will.
  • Tech Marches On: Pay phones and an in-school darkroom the kids have access to figure in stories. And a crystal radio set, although that is said to be old-fashioned even at the time.
  • That Syncing Feeling: In Jennings, as Usual Jennings tries to convince Mr. Wilkins he's playing the piano by putting on a record. Mr. Wilkins doesn't suspect a thing... until the record gets stuck.
  • Tormented Teacher: The masters, especially the short-tempered Mr Wilkins, have to deal with many antics of the boys. A notable occasion is at the beginning of term, when supervising the boys as they write postcards home, and one boy writes "I hope you are quite", then discovers he has no space to write any more.
  • Two-Teacher School: We're told there are other teachers, but the only ones we meet are Mr Carter and Mr Wilkins, plus occasional appearances by art and music teacher Mr Hind.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Darbishire is said to resemble "a small-scale edition" of his father.
  • Unknown Relative: In Jennings and Darbishire, the protagonists encounter a stranger at a cafe, and open up to her about their sufferings under Mr Wilkins. It's only later that they discover the stranger is in fact Mr Wilkins's sister (who is, fortunately, highly amused by the whole affair).
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Fossilized fish-hooks!" etc.
  • Updated Re-release: Periodically to keep the references constant. The more recent ones divide fans to say the least, but this was true even of the earliest editions of the books, which had themselves been altered from the radio drama originals. For example, the radio version of Jennings Goes To School, which went out in the late 1940s, included a line by Temple blaming the bad school food on "that's what voting for Socialism has got us".
  • Who Would Want to Watch Us?: At the end of the first book, Mr Carter rejects Jennings and Darbishire's detective story and suggests they write about something they know more about... such as an account of their first term at school. Jennings thinks that no-one would want to read about that, but Mr Carter isn't so sure.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Venables is said to be twelve in Jennings Goes to School, even though that would preclude him being in the same form as (then) ten-year-old Jennings. Later books retcon his age to eleven, but in Thanks to Jennings he is once again twelve. This can't be explained as him having just had a birthday, because he says he will turn thirteen in a month's time; since the book is set during Easter term, that should make him one of the youngest in his form.
  • Writing Lines: In the first book, when Temple is giving a comically exaggerated impression of Mr Wilkins to scare the New Meat, he says that he had to write out "The angles at the base of an isoceles triangle are jolly nearly equal" 150 million times. Darbishire takes this literally and tries to work out how long it would take, eventually arriving at a figure of just over 47 years.
  • Zany Scheme: Jennings is a master of these. Their success rate is about fifty-fifty.

The Norwegian translations/adaptations include examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Frequent. The original plotlines are kept more or less intact, but a lot of "excess fat" has been trimmed in order to not only fit the Norwegian setting better (such as removing the very English cricket matches, the Latin lessons and puns, and references to Cambridge and Oxford), but also to give a smoother dramaturgy and more clarity — on average, a Stompa book is about 30% shorter than the Jennings book it's based on.
    • The first three movies in their turn take plotlines from several books and places them together in a single narrative, with a few more switches and adaptational changes.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Since the Stompa series takes place in Norway, all the characters have been given different names. The notable exception is Mr. Hind, the music teacher, whose name apparently sounded Norwegian enough that it didn't need changing. The rest of the characters get new names, though most of the students are Only Known By Their Nicknames, usually given to them based on where in Norway they are from. note 
    • Linbury Court: Langåsen Pensjonatskole.
    • Jennings: Stein Oskar Magell Paus-Andersen, nicknamed "Stompa" for his initials.
    • Darbishire: Christian Fredrik Breidangen, nicknamed "Bodø" for his birthtown.
    • Temple: "Bergen."
    • Venables: "Nøtterø." (It's mentioned in one book that his real name is "Arne Didriksen," which may or may not be a Shout-Out to the guy who played him in the movies — and incidentally the only actor who appeared in all four movies — Didrik Arnesen.)
    • Atkinson: "Sørlandet."
    • Mr. Wilkins: Lektor Tørrdal.
    • Mr. Carter: Lektor Brandt.
    • Mr Pemberton-Oakes: Rektor Ulrichsen.
    • Matron: Fru Madsen.
    • Old Nightie: Haukås.
    • Aunt Angela: Tante Emma.
    • Miss Thorpe: Fru/Frøken Torp ("fru" meaning "Mrs" and "frøken" meaning "Miss" — the books are a little unclear on her marital status).
  • Age Lift: For various reasons, and perhaps particularly since Norway doesn't really have any boarding school traditions, Stompa and his classmates are aged up from 10-12 to 13-14 in the Norwegian books, making it a little more acceptable for the Norwegian public that they would have been sent away to school instead of living with their parents. A lot of the more "childish" conversations and character traits had to be cut for this, but the shift actually works better than you might think.
    • A second, and less successful, case of Age Lift happens in the third and fourth movies, where Stompa and the others (thanks to the young actors growing older) are seventeen and as such written at a little more hormonal with an added interest in girls.
  • Canon Immigrant: In the first ten or so books there were only five boys in Stompa's dormitory — Stompa, Bodø, Bergen, Nøtterø and Sørlandet. The movies introduced two more boys, Orkanger and Stavanger, and so in later books Orkanger is also in the same dorm without any real explanation. Stavanger is mentioned a couple of times as one of the boys in the grade above Stompa's.
  • Catchphrase: Lektor Tørrdal's exclamation "Du store alpakka!" ("Great Alpaca!") Mostly used in the movies and radio plays, but occationally shows up in the books as well.
  • Character Exaggeration: One of the more notable changes from the original books; the characters have had certain traits excaggerated — in the case of the students, this usually means that their personalities confirm more to the stereotypical traits from their birthplaces. It's clearest with Bergen, Nøtterø and Sørlandet (Temple, Venables and Atkinson), who are fairly interchangeable in the original version but in the Norwegian version have very clear, distinct personalities; Bergen as a bragging Motor Mouth, Nøtterø as a Deadpan Snarker and Sørlandet as a calm and phlegmatic Nice Guy with a knack for telling stories.
    • Lektor Tørrdal (Mr. Wilkins) and Lektor Brandt (Mr. Carter) have had their traits exaggerated as well; Brandt has become even calmer, more reasonable and more clearly the school's Only Sane Man, while Tørrdal has become sillier and more blustery compared to his English counterpart.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Lektor Tørrdal, whose name manages to top that of his English counterpart — at least Mr. Wilkins's first and middle names were not Petronius Theobald!
  • Large Ham: Gisle Straume, who played Lektor Tørrdal (Mr. Wilkins) in the radio series and films, turned the character into one of the most beloved hams in Norwegian broadcasting history, and is often credited as one of the main reasons why the series got so popular.
    • Straume got so well-known for the role that he declined to appear in the last two films for fear of being permanently typecast, the character being written out as having gone off to get married and replaced by his equally-temperamental brother (played by popular Norwegian comedian and impressionist Rolf Just Nilsen). Unfortunately for Straume, by that point it was already far too late.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Almost all the students. Only Stompa and Bodø ever get their full names mentioned by the narrative; with the exceptions of a few hints from various dialogues we don't learn the other boys' real names.
    • This is even Lampshaded in the first movie with the line: "In this school, only the teachers get to keep their real names!"
    • And the absurdity of such a custom is also Lampshaded in a couple of the books, in scenes where Lektor Tørrdal talks with some of the parents or grandparents of the boys, and desperately tries to hide that he has no idea whose parents or grandparents they are because he can't remember the boys' real names. During such instances he'll invariably question whether the nicknaming tradition of the school is really such a good idea.
  • The Other Darrin:
    • Stompa is played by Rolf Kirkvaag Jr. in the first movie and Ole Enger in the following three.
    • Most of the characters are played by different actors in the movies and the radio dramas, though the actors for Lektor Tørrdal (Gisle Straume), Lektor Brandt (Arne Lie) and Fru Madsen (Ragnhild Michelsen) reprised their roles for the movies.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Orkanger, who was first introduced in the movies, turned out to be an apt flutist in Real Life. This was used as a plot point in the second movie, and even ended up being referenced in the books a number of times when Orkanger is mentioned practicing the flute.
  • Retool: The fourth and final movie threw out most of the characters and even the Boarding School setting; it takes place after Stompa graduates and gets a job at sea. Of his old classmates, only Nøtterø appears in the movie, having gotten a job on the same ship — and to their surprise the ship's cook turns out to be the identical twin brother of the second Lektor Tørrdal (played by the same actor). This change did not go over well with fans.
  • She's a Man in Japan: Oddly enough, Darbishire's oft-quoted father has become his grandmother in this version.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: When Gisle Straume left the movie series after the second movie, Lektor P. T. Tørrdal was written out and replaced by his brother B. F. Tørrdal. Who is pretty much the same character, just played by a different actor.