1 9 5 2 – 1 9 6 1 (UK)
120 x 30 minute episodes
At a time when young children were enthralled by Andy Pandy, their older siblings were tucking into the adventures of Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School.
The serial was one of the first successes from the fledgeling BBC Children’s Department at the tiny Lime Grove studios.
Bunter was also popular with adults – in fact, the show used to go out live twice every Friday – at 5.25 pm for children and two hours later for their parents.
Written by a scholarly man named Frank Richards (real name Charles Hamilton) who produced a great flow of school stories in the early years of the century, published in weekly magazines like The Magnet, Bunter came to television in 1952 and ran (or rather, waddled) intermittently for ten years.
The rotund Bunter was one of several boys in the class known as ‘The Remove’ year and his round face and horn-rimmed glasses earned him the nickname ‘The Fat Owl of the Remove’.
Producer Joy Harington had great difficulty in finding someone suitable to play the ‘Fat Owl’.
She said at the time; “Every fat boy in England came for the part but none was right. Then a friend suggested Gerald Campion. Of course, he isn’t fat enough in the tummy – we’ll have to arrange that. But he’s got the face for it”.
And so Gerald Campion became Bunter. At 11 stone 12 pounds, he wasn’t really fat; and at 29 years of age, married with two children, he certainly wasn’t a schoolboy! But he did read the Magnet in which the Bunter stories appeared and was confident he could solve his weight problem.
Bunter’s vocabulary sounds dated now, with phrases like “I say, you fellows” and exclamations such as “Beast!”, “Blimey!” and “Crikey!”, but the use of “Crikey!” got the series into trouble when an Enfield vicar criticised it for bad language. He counted Bunter saying “Crikey!” thirteen times in one episode and pointed out that the dictionary defines the word as ‘vulgar’ . . .
Bunter’s great adversary was the form-master, Mr Quelch, played in the 50s by Kynaston Reeves and in the 60s by John Melford.
Bunter’s chums included Harry Wharton, Bob Cherry, Johnny Bull, Frank Nugent and Hurree Singh (an Indian boy whom the others referred to as ‘Inky’ – an unfortunate sign of the times).
Among those who appeared as boys were Melvyn Hayes, David Hemmings and Michael Crawford.
Plots centred around Bunter’s plans to gain extra “tuck” (jam tarts and doughnuts being particular favourites) while the other boys made fun of his greed and size and played a variety of pranks on him. No viewers complained about this comic bullying.
Gerald Campion retired from television in 1968 to run a succession of restaurants in London’s West End and around the Home Counties. In 1986 he bought the Woodmans Arms at Hastingleigh, near Ashford.
Campion passed away on 9 July 2002 in Agen, Aquitaine, France. He was 81.
Kynaston Reeves (1)
Raf de la Torre (2)
John Woodnutt (3)
John Melford (4)
Michael Danvers-Walker (1)
Peter Marden (2)
Laurence Harrington (3)
Michael Crawford (4)
Michael Briant (5)
John Charlesworth (1)
Anthony Valentine (2)
Richard Palmer (3)
Julian Yardley (4)
David Spenser (1)
Ron Moody (2)
Barry Barnett (3)
James Doran (4)
Leonard Davey (5)
Brian Tipping (6)
Hugh Ward (7)