I went down to London last weekend for a drink with some old friends. As is normal the conversation got around to the price of a pint. I was about to compare London prices with those in Hertford and began by stating that; ‘I admit to enjoying a pint or two.’ To which one of the assembled number said: ‘Ever since I’ve known you JB you’ve always enjoyed a pint or three.’
This is true. It has led to what we used to euphemistically call ‘middle-aged spread’. In more colloquial terms, I am getting fat. Or fatter! We can’t use that term anymore, apparently its quite non-PC. The word to use is obese.
I have always been called fat by friends and some less than flattering acquaintances; or large, rotund, chubby, corpulent, plump, possessed of a corporation, having a large circumference, a Continental Shelf and so on. I don’t think anyone has ever called me obese – not even my GP who prefers to state that I am carrying a little too much weight for a man of my age.
Consider Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School. No one ever called him obese. He was fat. He is universally known as the Fat Owl of the Remove. Obese Owl of the Remove just doesn’t have that same ring about it. And what is ‘the Remove’? I often asked myself this question and eventually found its origins. It is the lower Fourth Form in public schools or in modern parlance which I understand even less – Year Ten.
For those of us who never went to public school much of Billy Bunter’s life at Greyfriars School was a complete mystery. As was those of his companions – Harry Wharton, Bob Cherry, Hurree Jamset Ram Singh (Inky to his non-colonial chums), Frank Nugent and Johnny Bull – known as The Famous Five or Harry & Co. Can’t help wondering if J K Rowling was a fan.
The Magnet and Gem were popular boys comics from the turn of the twentieth century to about 1950 by which time two world wars had destroyed what was left of the days of innocence.
Greyfriars School presented a world of privilege unknown to the working classes but one in which they could empathise owing to the oft put upon and usually bullied Billy Bunter.
He wore small round glasses hence the ‘owl’ and was large, fat if you will, always looking forward to the next hamper from home which was either confiscated by Mr Quelch the House Master or one of his class mates. At which point he would often exclaim: “I say you fellows”; or “Oh really Wharton” (or whoever is speaking); sometimes accompanied by his characteristic giggle, “He, he, he”; and the exclamation of pain, “Yarooh” (which is “hooray” spelled backwards) – a few of Billy Bunter quotes which became national catchphrases.
So Billy – one more last cosmic Yarooh! When will we see your like again!
You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1508745856ebrab1508745856nhoj@1508745856tcatn1508745856oc1508745856