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July/August 2010
 
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But For Bunter, by David Hughes (1985)

BEFORE Harry Potter, Billy Bunter was Britain's best-known schoolboy hero—or antihero. Created by Frank Richards for The Magnet in 1908, the bespectacled "Fat Owl" of Greyfriars School lied, cheated, stole, indulged in huge gluttony, and left any heroics to braver schoolmates.

David Hughes's comedy unveils a secret history in which the Greyfriars boys are real people: Frank Richards himself, Field-Marshal Montgomery, Pandit Nehru (the comic Indian lad), Oswald Mosley (the school rotter), novelist J. B. Priestley, future Prime Minister Anthony Eden, the Prince of Wales (later, briefly, King Edward VIII), and more.

Bunter himself—real name Archibald Aitken—has left his sticky fingerprints all over the twentieth century. In the world as it would be without his bumbling intervention, the noted murderer Dr. Crippen escaped, the Titanic never sank, World War I ended two years sooner with millions of lives saved, Edward VIII didn't have to abdicate after meeting a certain lady through Bunter, Mosley's UK Fascist party lacked its trademark black shirts—a specialty of Bunter's tailor—and D. H. Lawrence failed to write Lady Chatterley's Lover.

The narrator, a nostalgic fan of Bunter's fictional exploits, is jolted to learn that Aitken/Bunter is still alive. Incredibly aged, the Fat Owl has a vast fund of stories (some very tall) about his impact on society. Relevant papers were suppressed by the British government because "they embarrass the entire century. They make history itself look ridiculous." Can our hero expose the truth? Perhaps notů.

—David Langford

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