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George Orwell > Boys' Weeklies and Frank Richards's Reply > Essay

Boys' Weeklies and Frank Richards's Reply


You never walk far through any poor quarter in any big town without
coming upon a small newsagent's shop. The general appearance of these
shops is always very much the same: a few posters for the DAILY MAIL and
the NEWS OF THE WORLD outside, a poky little window with sweet-bottles
and packets of Players, and a dark interior smelling of liquorice
allsorts and festooned from floor to ceiling with vilely printed twopenny
papers, most of them with lurid cover-illustrations in three colours.

Except for the daily and evening papers, the stock of these shops hardly
overlaps at all with that of the big news-agents. Their main selling line
is the twopenny weekly, and the number and variety of these are almost
unbelievable. Every hobby and pastime--cage-birds, fretwork,
carpentering, bees, carrier-pigeons, home conjuring, philately, chess--
has at least one paper devoted to it, and generally several. Gardening
and livestock-keeping must have at least a score between them. Then there
are the sporting papers, the radio papers, the children's comics, the
various snippet papers such as TIT-BITS, the large range of papers
devoted to the movies and all more or less exploiting women's legs, the
various trade papers, the women's story-papers (the ORACLE, SECRETS,
PEG'S PAPER, etc. etc.), the needlework papers--these so numerous that a
display of them alone will often fill an entire window--and in addition
the long series of 'Yank Mags' (FIGHT STORIES, ACTION STORIES, WESTERN
SHORT STORIES, etc.), which are imported shop-soiled from America and
sold at twopence halfpenny or threepence. And the periodical proper
shades off into the fourpenny novelette, the ALDINE BOXING NOVELS, the

Probably the contents of these shops is the best available indication of
what the mass of the English people really feels and thinks. Certainly
nothing half so revealing exists in documentary form. Best-seller novels,
for instance, tell one a great deal, but the novel is aimed almost
exclusively at people above the 4-a-week level. The movies are probably
a very unsafe guide to popular taste, because the film industry is
virtually a monopoly, which means that it is not obliged to study its
public at all closely. The same applies to some extent to the daily
papers, and most of all to the radio. But it does not apply to the weekly
paper with a smallish circulation and specialized subject-matter. Papers
like the EXCHANGE AND MART, for instance, or CAGE-BIRDS, or the ORACLE,
or the PREDICTION, or the MATRIMONIAL TIMES, only exist because there is
a definite demand for them, and they reflect the minds of their readers
as a great national daily with a circulation of millions cannot possibly

Here I am only dealing with a single series of papers, the boys' twopenny
weeklies, often inaccurately described as 'penny dreadfuls'. Falling
strictly within this class there are at present ten papers, the GEM,
MAGNET, MODERN BOY, TRIUMPH and CHAMPION, all owned by the Amalgamated
Press, and the WIZARD, ROVER, SKIPPER, HOTSPUR and ADVENTURE, all owned
by D. C. Thomson & Co. What the circulations of these papers are, I do
not know. The editors and proprietors refuse to name any figures, and in
any case the circulation of a paper carrying serial stories is bound to
fluctuate widely. But there is no question that the combined public of
the ten papers is a very large one. They are on sale in every town in
England, and nearly every boy who reads at all goes through a phase of
reading one or more of them. The GEM and MAGNET, which are much the
oldest of these papers, are of rather different type from the rest, and
they have evidently lost some of their popularity during the past few
years. A good many boys now regard them as old fashioned and 'slow'.
Nevertheless I want to discuss them first, because they are more
interesting psychologically than the others, and also because the mere
survival of such papers into the nineteen-thirties is a rather startling

The GEM and MAGNET are sister-papers (characters out of one paper
frequently appear in the other), and were both started more than thirty
years ago. At that time, together with Chums and the old B[oy's] O[wn]
P[aper], they were the leading papers for boys, and they remained dominant
till quite recently. Each of them carries every week a fifteen--or
twenty-thousand-word school story, complete in itself, but usually more
or less connected with the story of the week before. The Gem in addition
to its school story carries one or more adventure serial. Otherwise the
two papers are so much alike that they can be treated as one, though the
MAGNET has always been the better known of the two, probably because it
possesses a really first-rate character in the fat boy. Billy Bunter.

The stories are stories of what purports to be public-school life, and
the schools (Greyfriars in the MAGNET and St Jim's in the GEM) are
represented as ancient and fashionable foundations of the type of Eton or
Winchester. All the leading characters are fourth-form boys aged fourteen
or fifteen, older or younger boys only appearing in very minor parts.
Like Sexton Blake and Nelson Lee, these boys continue week after week and
year after year, never growing any older. Very occasionally a new boy
arrives or a minor character drops out, but in at any rate the last
twenty-five years the personnel has barely altered. All the principal
characters in both papers--Bob Cherry, Tom Merry, Harry Wharton, Johnny
Bull, Billy Bunter and the rest of them--were at Greyfriars or St Jim's
long before the Great War, exactly the same age as at present, having
much the same kind of adventures and talking almost exactly the same
dialect. And not only the characters but the whole atmosphere of both Gem
and Magnet has been preserved unchanged, partly by means of very
elaborate stylization. The stories in the Magnet are signed 'Frank

Richards' and those in the GEM, 'Martin Clifford', but a series lasting
thirty years could hardly be the work of the same person every week.
Consequently they have to be written in a style that is
easily imitated--an extraordinary, artificial, repetitive style, quite
different from anything else now existing in English literature. A couple
of extracts will do as illustrations. Here is one from the MAGNET:


'Shutup, Bunter!'


Shutting up was not really in Billy Bunter's line. He seldom shut up,
though often requested to do so. On the present awful occasion the fat
Owl of Greyfriars was less inclined than ever to shut up. And he did not
shut up! He groaned, and groaned, and went on groaning.

Even groaning did not fully express Bunter's feelings. His feelings, in
fact, were inexpressible.

There were six of them in the soup! Only one of the six uttered sounds of
woe and lamentation. But that one, William George Buntcr, uttered enough
for the whole party and a little over.

Harry Wharton & Go. stood in a wrathy and worried group. They were landed
and stranded, diddled, dished and done! etc., etc., etc.

Here is one from the Gem:

'Oh cwumbsl'

'Oh gum!'



Arthur Augustus sat up dizzily. He grabbed his handkerchief and pressed
it to his damaged nose. Tom Merry sat up, gasping for breath. They looked
at one another.

'Bai Jove! This is a go, deah boy!' gurgled Arthur Augustus. 'I have been
thwown into quite a fluttah! Oogh! The wottahsl The wuffians! The feahful
outsidahs! Wow!' etc., etc., etc.

Both of these extracts are entirely typical: you would find something
like them in almost every chapter of every number, to-day or twenty-five
years ago. The first thing that anyone would notice is the extraordinary
amount of tautology (the first of these two passages contains a hundred
and twenty-five words and could be compressed into about thirty),
seemingly designed to spin out the story, but actually playing its part
in creating the atmosphere. For the same reason various facetious
expressions are repeated over and over again; 'wrathy', for instance, is
a great favourite, and so is 'diddled, dished and done'. 'Oooogh!',
'Grooo!' and 'Yaroo!' (stylized cries of pain) recur constantly, and so
does 'Ha! ha! ha!', always given a line to itself, so that sometimes a
quarter of a column or there-abouts consists of 'Ha! ha! ha!' The slang
('Go and cat coke!', 'What the thump!', 'You frabjous ass!', etc. etc.)
has never been altered, so that the boys are now using slang which is at
least thirty years out of date. In addition, the various nicknames are
rubbed in on every possible occasion. Every few lines we are reminded
that Harry Wharton & Co. are 'the Famous Five', Bunter is always 'the fat
Owl' or 'the Owl of the Remove', Vernon-Smith is always 'the Bounder of
Greyfriars', Gussy (the Honourable Arthur Augustus D'Arcy) is always 'the
swell of St Jim's', and so on and so forth. There is a constant, untiring
effort to keep the atmosphere intact and to make sure that every new
reader learns immediately who is who. The result has been to make
Greyfriars and St Jim's into an extraordinary little world of their own,
a world which cannot be taken seriously by anyone over fifteen, but which
at any rate is not easily forgotten. By a debasement of the Dickens
technique a series of stereotyped 'characters' has been built up, in
several cases very successfully. Billy Bunter, for instance, must be one
of the best-known figures in English fiction; for the mere number of
people who know him he ranks with Sexton Blake, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes
and a handful of characters in Dickens.

Needless to say, these stories are fantastically unlike life at a real
public school. They run in cycles of rather differing types, but in
general they are the clean-fun, knock-about type of story, with interest
centring round horseplay, practical jokes, ragging roasters, fights,
canings, football, cricket and food. A constantly recurring story is one
in which a boy is accused of some misdeed committed by another and is too
much of a sportsman to reveal the truth. The 'good' boys are 'good' in
the clean-living Englishman tradition--they keep in hard training, wash
behind their ears, never hit below the belt etc., etc.,--and by way of
contrast there is a series of'bad' boys, Racke, Crooke, Loder and others,
whose badness consists in betting, smoking cigarettes and frequenting
public-houses. All these boys are constantly on the verge of expulsion,
but as it would mean a change of personnel if any boy were actually
expelled, no one is ever caught out in any really serious offence.
Stealing, for instance, barely enters as a motif. Sex is completely
taboo, especially in the form in which it actually arises at public
schools. Occasionally girls enter into the stories, and very rarely there
is something approaching a mild flirtation, but it is entirely in the
spirit of clean fun. A boy and a girl enjoy going for bicycle rides
together--that is all it ever amounts to. Kissing, for instance, would
be regarded as 'soppy'. Even the bad boys are presumed to be completely
sexless. When the GEM and MAGNET were started, it is probable that there
was a deliberate intention to get away from the guilty sex-ridden
atmosphere that pervaded so much of the earlier literature for boys. In
the nineties the BOYS' OWN PAPEr, for instance, used to have its
correspondence columns full of terrifying warnings against masturbation,
and books like ST WINIFRED'S and TOM BROWN'S SCHOOL-DAYS were heavy with
homosexual feeling, though no doubt the authors were not fully aware of
it. In the GEM and MAGNET sex simply does not exist as a problem.
Religion is also taboo; in the whole thirty years' issue of the two
papers the word 'God' probably does not occur, except in 'God save the
King'. On the other hand, there has always been a very strong
'temperance' strain. Drinking and, by association, smoking are regarded
as rather disgraceful even in an adult ('shady' is the usual word), but
at the same time as something irresistibly fascinating, a sort of
substitute for sex. In their moral atmosphere the GEM and MAGNET have a
great deal in common with the Boy Scout movement, which started at about
the same time.

All literature of this kind is partly plagiarism. Sexton Blake, for
instance, started off quite frankly as an imitation of Sherlock Holmes,
and still resembles him fairly strongly; he has hawk-like features, lives
in Baker Street, smokes enormously and puts on a dressing-gown when he
wants to think. The GEM and MAGNET probably owe something to the old
school-story writers who were flourishing when they began, Gunby Hadath,
Desmond Coke and the rest, but they owe more to nineteenth-century
models. In so far as Greyfriars and St Jim's are like real schools at
all, they are much more like Tom Brown's Rugby than a modern public
school. Neither school has an O.T.G., for instance, games are not
compulsory, and the boys are even allowed to wear what clothes they like.
But without doubt the main origin of these papers is STALKY & CO. This
book has had an immense influence on boys' literature, and it is one of
those books which have a sort of traditional reputation among people who
have never even seen a copy of it. More than once in boys' weekly papers
I have come across a reference to STALKY & CO. in which the word was
spelt 'Storky'. Even the name of the chief comic among the Greyfriars
masters, Mr Prout, is taken from STALKY & CO., and so is much of the
slang; 'jape', 'merry','giddy', 'bizney' (business), 'frabjous', 'don't'
for 'doesn't'--all of them out of date even when GEM and MAGNET started.
There are also traces of earlier origins. The name 'Greyfriars' is
probably taken from Thackeray, and Gosling, the school porter in the
MAGNET, talks in an imitation of Dickens's dialect.

With all this, the supposed 'glamour' of public-school life is played for
all it is worth. There is all the usual para-phernalia--lock-up,
roll-call, house matches, fagging, prefects, cosy teas round the study
fire, etc. etc.--and constant reference to the 'old school', the 'old
grey stones' (both schools were founded in the early sixteenth century),
the 'team spirit' of the 'Greyfriars men'. As for the snob-appeal, it is
completely shameless. Each school has a titled boy or two whose titles
are constantly thrust in the reader's face; other boys have the names of
well-known aristocratic families, Talbot, Manners, Lowther. We are for
ever being reminded that Gussy is the Honourable Arthur A. D'Arcy, son of
Lord Eastwood, that Jack Blake is heir to 'broad acres', that Hurree
Jamset Ram Singh (nicknamed Inky) is the Nabob of Bhanipur, that
Vernon-Smith's father is a millionaire. Till recently the illustrations
in both papers always depicted the boys in clothes imitated from those of
Eton; in the last few years Greyfriars has changed over to blazers and
flannel trousers, but St Jim's still sticks to the Eton jacket, and Gussy
sticks to his top-hat. In the school magazine which appears every week as
part of the MAGNET, Harry Wharton writes an article discussing the
pocket-money received by the 'fellows in the Remove', and reveals that
some of them get as much as five pounds a week! This kind of thing is a
perfectly deliberate incitement to wealth-fantasy. And here it is worth
noticing a rather curious fact, and that is that the school story is a
thing peculiar to England. So far as I know, there are extremely few
school stories in foreign languages. The reason, obviously, is that in
England education is mainly a matter of status. The most definite
dividing line between the petite-bourgeoisie and the working class is
that the former pay for their education, and within the bourgeoisie there
is another unbridgeable gulf between the 'public' school and the
'private' school. It is quite clear that there are tens and scores of
thousands of people to whom every detail of life at a 'posh' public
school is wildly thrilling and romantic. They happen to be outside that
mystic world of quad-rangles and house-colours, but they can yearn after
it, day-dream about it, live mentally in it for hours at a stretch. The
question is, Who arc these people? Who reads the GEM and MAGNET?

Obviously one can never be quite certain about this kind of thing. All I
can say from my own observation is this. Boys who are likely to go to
public schools themselves generally read the GEM and MAGNET, but they
nearly always stop reading them when they are about twelve; they may
continue for another year from force of habit, but by that time they have
ceased to take them seriously. On the other hand, the boys at very cheap
private schools, the schools that are designed for people who can't
afford a public school but consider the Council schools 'common',
continue reading the GEM and MAGNET for several years longer. A few years
ago I was a teacher at two of these schools myself. I found that not only
did virtually all the boys read the GEM and MAGNET, but that they were
still taking them fairly seriously when they were fifteen or even
sixteen. These boys were the sons of shopkeepers, office employees and
small business and professional men, and obviously it is this class that
the GEM and MAGNET are aimed at. But they are certainly read by
working-class boys as well. They are generally on sale in the poorest
quarters of big towns, and I have known them to be read by boys whom one
might expect to be completely immune from public-school 'glamour'. I have
seen a young coal miner, for instance, a lad who had already worked a
year or two underground, eagerly reading the GEM. Recently I offered a
batch of English papers to some British legionaries of the French Foreign
Legion in North Africa; they picked out the GEM and MAGNET first. Both
papers are much read by girls, and the Pen Pals department
of the GEM shows that it is read in every corner of the British Empire, by
Australians, Canadians, Palestine Jews, Malays, Arabs, Straits Chinese,
etc., etc. The editors evidently expect their readers to be aged round
about fourteen, and the advertisements (milk chocolate, postage stamps,
water pistols, blushing cured, home conjuring tricks, itching powder, the
Phine Phun Ring which runs a needle into your friend's hand, etc., etc.)
indicate roughly the same age; there are also the Admiralty
advertisements, however, which call for youths between seventeen and
twenty-two. And there is no question that these papers are also read by
adults. It is quite common for people to write to the editor and say that
they have read every number of the GEM or MAGNET for the past thirty
years. Here, for instance, is a letter from a lady in Salisbury:

I can say of your splendid yams of Harry Wharton & Co. of Greyfriars,
that they never fail to reach a high standard. Without doubt they are the
finest stories of their type on the market to-day, which is saying a good
deal. They seem to bring you face to face with Nature. I have taken the
Magnet from the start, and have followed the adventures of Harry Wharton
& Co. with rapt interest. I have no sons, but two daughters, and there's
always a rush to be the first to read the grand old paper. My husband,
too, was a staunch reader of the Magnet until he was suddenly taken away
from us.

It is well worth getting hold of some copies of the GEM and MAGNET,
especially the GEM, simply to have a look at the correspondence columns.
What is truly startling is the intense interest with which the pettiest
details of life at Greyfriars and St Jim's are followed up. Here, for
instance, are a few of the questions sent in by readers:

What age is Dick Roylance?' 'How old is St Jim's?' 'Can you give me a
list of the Shell and their studies?' 'How much did D'Arcy's monocle
cost?' 'How is it that fellows like Crooke are in the Shell and decent
fellows like yourself are only in the Fourth?' 'What arc the Form
captain's three chief duties?' 'Who is the chemistry master at St Jim's?'
(From a girl) 'Where is St Jim's situated? COULD you tell me how to get
there, as I would love to sec the building? Are you boys just "phoneys",
as I think you are?'

It is clear that many of the boys and girls who write these letters are
living a complete fantasy-life. Sometimes a boy will write, for instance,
giving his age, height, weight, chest and bicep measurements and asking
which member of the Shell or Fourth Form he most exactly resembles. The
demand for a list of the studies on the Shell passage, with an exact
account of who lives in each, is a very common one. The editors, of
course, do everything in their power to keep up the illusion. In the GEM
Jack Blake is supposed to write answers to correspondents, and in the
MAGNET a couple of pages is always given up to the school magazine (the
GREYFRIARS HERALD, edited by Harry Wharton), and there is another page
in which one or other character is written up each week. The stories run
in cycles, two or three characters being kept in the foreground for
several weeks at a time. First there will be a series of rollicking
adventure stories, featuring the Famous Five and Billy Bunter; then a run
of stories turning on mistaken identity, with Wibley (the make-up wizard)
in the star part; then a run of more serious stories in which
Vernon-Smith is trembling on the verge of expulsion. And here one comes
upon the real secret of the GEM and MAGNET and the probable reason why
they continue to be read in spite of their obvious out-of-dateness.

It is that the characters are so carefully graded as to give almost every
type of reader a character he can identify himself with. Most boys'
papers aim at doing this, hence the boy-assistant (Sexton Blake's Tinker,
Nelson Lee's Nipper, etc.) who usually accompanies the explorer,
detective or what-not on his adventures. But in these cases there is only
one boy, and usually it is much the same type of boy. hi the GEM and
MAGNET there is a model for very nearly everybody. There is the normal
athletic, high-spirited boy (Tom Merry, Jack Blake, Frank Nugent), a
slightly rowdier version of this type (Bob Cherry), a more aristocratic
version (Talbot, Manners), a quieter, more serious version (Harry
Wharton), and a stolid, 'bulldog' version (Johnny Bull). Then there is
the reckless, dare-devil type of boy (Vernon-Smith), the definitely
'clever', studious boy (Mark Linley, Dick Penfold), and the eccentric boy
who is not good at games but possesses some special talent (Skinner
Wibley). And there is the scholarship-boy (Tom Redwing), an important
figure in this class of story because he makes it possible for boys from
very poor homes to project themselves into the public-school atmosphere.
In addition there are Australian, Irish, Welsh, Manx, Yorkshire and
Lancashire boys to play upon local patriotism. But the subtlety of
characterization goes deeper than this. If one studies the correspondence
columns one sees that there is probably NO character in the GEM and
MAGNET whom some or other reader does not identify with, except the
out-and-out comics, Coker, Billy Bunter, Fisher T. Fish (the
money-grabbing American boy) and, of course, the masters. Bunter, though
in his origin he probably owed something to the fat boy in PICKWICK, 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.
But he is not a subject for day-dreams. On the other hand, another
seeming figure of fun, Gussy (the Honourable Arthur A. D'Arcy, 'the swell
of St Jim's'), is evidently much admired. Like everything else in the GEM
and MAGNET, Gussy is at least thirty years out of date. He is the 'knut'
of the early twentieth century or even the 'masher' of the nineties ('Bai
Jove, deah boy!' and 'Weally, I shall be obliged to give you a feahful
thwashin'!'), the monocled idiot who made good on the fields of Mons and
Le Gateau. And his evident popularity goes to show how deep the
snob-appeal of this type is. English people are extremely fond of the
titled ass (cf. Lord Peter Wimscy) who always turns up trumps in the
moment of emergency. Here is a letter from one of Gussy's girl admirers;

I think you're too hard on Gussy. I wonder he's still In existence, the
way you treat him. He's my hero. Did you know I write lyrics? How's this
--to the tune of'Goody Goody'?

Gonna get my gas-mask, join the ARP.
'Cos I'm wise to all those bombs you drop on me.
Gonna dig myself a trench
Inside the garden fence;
Gonna seal my windows up with tin
So the tear gas can't get in;
Gonna park my cannon right outside the kerb
With a note to Adolf Hitler: 'Don't disturb!'
And if I never fall in Nazi hands
That's soon enough for me
Gonna get my gas-mask, join the ARP.

P.S.--Do you get on well with girls?

I quote this in full because (dated April 1939) it is interesting as
being probably the earliest mention of Hitler in the GEM. In the GEM
there is also a heroic fat boy. Fatty Wynn, as a set-off against Bunter.
Vernon-Smith, 'the Bounder of the Remove', a Byronic character, always on
the verge of the sack, is another great favourite. And even some of the
cads probably have their following. Loder, for instance, 'the rotter of
the Sixth', is a cad, but he is also a highbrow and given to saying
sarcastic things about football and the team spirit. The boys of the
Remove only think him all the more of a cad for this, but a certain type
of boy would probably identify with him. Even Racke, Grooke & Co. are
probably admired by small boys who think it diabolically wicked to smoke
cigarettes. (A frequent question in the correspondence column; 'What
brand of cigarettes does Racke smoke?')

Naturally the politics of the GEM and MAGNET are Conservative, but in a
completely pre-1914 style, with no Fascist tinge. In reality their basic
political assumptions are two: nothing ever changes, and foreigners are
funny. In the GEM of 1939 Frenchmen are still Froggies and Italians are
still Dagoes. Mossoo, the French master at Greyfriars, is the usual
comic-paper Frog, with pointed beard, pegtop trousers, etc. Inky, the
Indian boy, though a rajah, and therefore possessing snob-appeal, is also
the comic babu of the PUNCH tradition. ("The rowfulness is not the
proper caper, my esteemed Bob," said Inky. "Let dogs delight in the
barkfulness and bitefulness, but the soft answer is the cracked pitcher
that goes longest to a bird in the bush, as the English proverb remarks.")
Fisher T. Fish is the old-style stage Yankee ("Waal, I guess", etc.)
dating from a peroid of Anglo-American jealousy. Wun Lung, the
Chinese boy (he has rather faded out of late, no doubt because some of
the MAGNET'S readers are Straits Chinese), is the nineteenth-century
pantomime Chinaman, with saucer-shaped hat, pigtail and pidgin-English.
The assumption all along is not only that foreigners are comics who are
put there for us to laugh at, but that they can be classified in much the
same way as insects. That is why in all boys' papers, not only the GEM
and MAGNET, a Chinese is invariably portrayed with a pigtail. It is the
thing you recognize him by, like the Frenchman's beard or the Italian's
barrel-organ. In papers of this kind it occasionally happens that when
the setting of a story is in a foreign country some attempt is made to
describe the natives as individual human beings, but as a rule it is
assumed that foreigners of any one race are all alike and will conform
more or less exactly to the following patterns:

FRENCHMAN: Excitable. Wears beard, gesticulates wildly.
SPANIARD, Mexican, etc.: Sinister, treacherous.
ARAB, Afghan, etc.: Sinister, treacherous.
CHINESE: Sinister, treacherous. Wears pigtail.
ITALIAN: Excitable. Grinds barrel-organ or carries stiletto.
SWEDE, Dane, etc.: Kind-hearted, stupid.
NEGRO: Comic, very faithful.

The working classes only enter into the GEM and MAGNET as comics or
semi-villains (race-course touts, etc.). As for class-friction, trade
unionism, strikes, slumps, unemployment, Fascism and civil war--not a
mention. Somewhere or other in the thirty years' issue of the two papers
you might perhaps find the word 'Socialism', but you would have to look a
long time for it. If the Russian Revolution is anywhere referred to, it
will be indirectly, in the word 'Bolshy' (meaning a person of violent
disagreeable habits). Hitler and the Nazis are just beginning to make
their appearance, in the sort of reference I quoted above. The war-crisis
of September 1938 made just enough impression to produce a story in which
Mr Vernon-Smith, the Bounder's millionaire father, cashed in on the
general panic by buying up country houses in order to sell them to 'crisis
scuttlers'. But that is probably as near to noticing the European situation
as the GEM and MAGNET will come, until the war actually starts.
That does not mean that these papers are unpatriotic--quite the
contrary! Throughout the Great War the GEM and MAGNET were perhaps the
most consistently and cheerfully patriotic papers in England. Almost
every week the boys caught a spy or pushed a conchy into the army, and
during the rationing period 'EAT LESS BREAD' was printed in large type on
every page. But their patriotism has nothing whatever to do with
power-politics or 'ideological' warfare. It is more akin to family
loyalty, and actually it gives one a valuable clue to the attitude of
ordinary people, especially the huge untouched block of the middle class
and the better-off working class. These people are patriotic to the
middle of their bones, but they do not feel that what happens in foreign
countries is any of their business. When England is in danger they rally
to its defence as a matter of course, but in between-times they are not
interested. After all, England is always in the right and England always
wins, so why worry? It is an attitude that has been shaken during the
past twenty years, but not so deeply as is sometimes supposed. Failure to
understand it is one of the reasons why Left Wing political parties are
seldom able to produce an acceptable foreign policy.

The mental world of the GEM and MAGNET, therefore, is something like

The year is 1910--or 1940, but it is all the same. You are at
Greyfriars, a rosy-cheeked boy of fourteen in posh tailor-made clothes,
sitting down to tea in your study on the Remove passage after an exciting
game of football which was won by an odd goal in the last half-minute.
There is a cosy fire in the study, and outside the wind is whistling. The
ivy clusters thickly round the old grey stones. The King is on his throne
and the pound is worth a pound. Over in Europe the comic foreigners are
jabbering and gesticulating, but the grim grey battleships of the British
Fleet are steaming up the Channel and at the outposts of Empire the
monocled Englishmen are holding the niggers at bay. Lord Mauleverer has
just got another fiver and we are all settling down to a tremendous tea
of sausages, sardines, crumpets, potted meat, jam and doughnuts. After
tea we shall sit round the study fire having a good laugh at Billy Bunter
and discussing the team for next week's match against Rook-wood.
Everything is safe, solid and unquestionable. Everything will be the
samefor ever and ever. That approximately is the atmosphere.

But now turn from the GEM and MAGNET to the more up-to-date papers which
have appeared since the Great War. The truly significant thing is that
they have more points of resemblance to the GEM and MAGNET than points of
difference. But it is better to consider the differences first.

There are eight of these newer papers, the MODEM BOY, TRIUMPH, CHAMPION,
WIZARD, ROVER, SKIPPER, HOTSPUR and ADVENTURE. All of these have appeared
since the Great War, but except for the MODERN BOY none of them is less
than five years old. Two papers which ought also to be mentioned briefly
here; though they are not strictly in the same class as the rest, are the
DETECTIVE WEEKLY and the THRILLER, both owned by the Amalgamated Press.
The DETECTIVE WEEKLY has taken over Sexton Blake. Both of these papers
admit a certain amount of sex-interest into their stories, and though
certainly read by boys; they are not aimed at them exclusively. All the
others are boys' papers pure and simple, and they are sufficiently alike
to be considered together. There does not seem to be any notable
difference between Thomson's publications and those of the Amalgamated

As soon. as one looks at these papers one sees their technical
superiority to the GEM and MAGNET. To begin with, they have the great
advantage of not being written entirely by one person. Instead of one
long complete story, a number of the WIZARD or HOTSPUR consists of half a
dozen or more serials, none of which goes on for ever. Consequently there
is far more variety and far less padding, and none of the tiresome
stylization and facetiousness of the GEM and MAGNET. Look at these two
extracts, for example:

Billy Bunter groaned.

A quarter of an hour had elapsed out of the two hours that Bunter was
booked for extra French.

In a quarter of an hour there were only fifteen minutes! But every one of
those minutes seemed inordinately long to Bunter. They seemed to crawl by
like tired snails.

Looking at the clock in Classroom No. 10 the fat Owl could hardly believe
that only fifteen minutes had passed. It seemed more like fifteen hours,
if not fifteen days!

Other fellows were in extra French as well as Bunter. They did not
matter. Bunter did! (The Magnet)

* * *

After a terrible climb, hacking out handholds in the smooth ice every
step of the way up. Sergeant Lionheart Logan of the Mounties was now
clinging like a human fly to the face of an icy cliff, as smooth and
treacherous as a giant pane of glass.

An Arctic blizzard, in all its fury, was buffeting his body, driving the
blinding snow into his face, seeking to tear his fingers loose from their
handholds and dash him to death on the jagged boulders which lay at the
foot of the cliff a hundred feet below.

Crouching among those boulders were eleven villainous trappers who had
done their best to shoot down Lionheart and his companion, Constable Jim
Rogers--until the blizzard had blotted the two Mounties out of sight
from below. (The Wizard)

The second extract gets you some distance with the story, the first takes
a hundred words to tell you that Bunter is in the detention class.
Moreover, by not concentrating on school stories (in point of numbers the
school story slightly predominates in all these papers, except the
greater opportunities for sensationalism. Merely looking at the cover
illustrations of the papers which I have on the table in front of me,
here are some of the things I see. On one a cowboy is clinging by his
toes to the wing of an aeroplane in mid-air and shooting down another
aeroplane with his revolver. On another a Chinese is swimming for his
life down a sewer with a swarm of ravenous-looking rats swimming after
him. On another an engineer is lighting a stick of dynamite while a steel
robot feels for him with its claws. On another a man in airman's costume
is fighting barehanded against a rat somewhat larger than a donkey. On
another a nearly naked man of terrific muscular development has just
seized a lion by the tail and flung it thirty yards over the wall of an
arena, with the words, 'Take back your blooming lion!' Clearly no school
story can compete with this kind of thing. From time to time the school
buildings may catch fire or the French master may turn out to be the head
of an international anarchist gang, but in a general way the interest
must centre round cricket, school rivalries, practical jokes, etc. There
is not much room for bombs, death-rays, sub-machine guns, aeroplanes,
mustangs, octopuses, grizzly bears or gangsters.

Examination of a large number of these papers shows that, putting aside
school stories, the favourite subjects are Wild West, Frozen North,
Foreign Legion, crime (always from the detective's angle), the Great War
(Air Force or Secret Service, not the infantry), the Tarzan motif in
varying forms, professional football, tropical exploration, historical
romance (Robin Hood, Cavaliers and Round-heads, etc.) and scientific
invention. The Wild West still leads, at any rate as a setting, though
the Red Indian seems to be fading out. The one theme that is really new
is the scientific one. Death-rays, Martians, invisible men, robots,
helicopters and interplanetary rockets figure largely: here and there
there are even far-off rumours of psychotherapy and ductless glands.
Whereas the GEM and MAGNET derive from Dickens and Kipling, the WIZARD,
CHAMPION, MODEM BOY, etc., owe a great deal to H. G. Wells, who, rather
than Jules Verne, is the father of 'Scientifiction'. Naturally it is the
magical Martian aspect of science that is most exploited, but one or two
papers include serious articles on scientific subjects, besides
quantities of informative snippets. (Examples: 'A Kauri tree in
Queensland, Australia, is over 12,000 years old'; 'Nearly 50,000
thunderstorms occur every day'; 'Helium gas costs 1 per 1000 cubic
feet'; 'There are over 500 varieties of spiders in Great Britain';
'London firemen use 14,000,000 gallons of water annually', etc., etc.)
There is a marked advance in intellectual curiosity and, on the whole, in
the demand made on the reader's attention. In practice the GEM and MAGNET
and the post-war papers are read by much the same public, but the mental
age aimed at seems to have risen by a year or two years--an improvement
probably corresponding to the improvement in elementary education since

The other thing that has emerged in the post-war boys' papers, though not
to anything like the extent one would expect, is bully-worship and the
cult of violence.

If one compares the GEM and MAGNET with a genuinely modern paper, the
thing that immediately strikes one is the absence of the leader-principle.
There is no central dominating character; instead there are fifteen
or twenty characters, all more or less on an equality, with whom
readers of different types can identify. In the more modem papers
this is not usually the case. Instead of identifying with a schoolboy of
more or less his own age, the reader of the SKIPPER, HOTSPUR, etc., is
led to identify with a G-man, with a Foreign Legionary, with some variant
of Tarzan, with an air ace, a master spy, an explorer, a pugilist--at
any rate with some single all-powerful character who dominates everyone
about him and whose usual method of solving any problem is a sock on the
jaw. This character is intended as a superman, and as physical strength
is the form of power that boys can best understand, he is usually a sort
of human gorilla; in the Tarzan type of story he is sometimes actually a
giant, eight or ten feet high. At the same time the scenes of violence in
nearly all these stories are remarkably harmless and unconvincing. There
is a great difference in tone between even the most bloodthirsty English
paper and the threepenny Yank Mags, FIGHT STORIES, ACTION STORIES, etc.
(not strictly boys' papers, but largely read by boys). In the Yank Mags
you get real blood-lust, really gory descriptions of the all-in,
jump-on-his-testicles style fighting, written in a jargon that has been
perfected by people who brood end-lessly on violence. A paper like FIGHT
STORIES, for instance, would have very little appeal except to sadists
and masochists. You can see the comparative gentleness of the English
civilization by the amateurish way in which prize-fighting is always
described in the boys' weeklies. There is no specialized vocabulary. Look
at these four extracts, two English, two American;

When the gong sounded, both men were breathing heavily and each had great
red marks on his chest. Bill's chin was bleeding, and Ben had a cut over
his right eye.

Into their corners they sank, but when the gong clanged again they were
up swiftly, and they went like tigers at each other. (ROVER)

* * *

He walked in stolidly and smashed a clublike right to my face. Blood
spattered and I went back on my heels, but surged in and ripped my right
under the heart. Another right smashed full on Ben's already battered
mouth, and, spitting out the fragments of a tooth, he crashed a flailing
left to my body. (FIGHT STORIES)

* * *

It was amazing to watch the Black Panther at work. His muscles rippled
and slid under his dark skin. There was all the power and grace of a
giant cat in his swift and terrible onslaught.

He volleyed blows with a bewildering speed for so huge a fellow. In a
moment Ben was simply blocking with his gloves as well as he could. Ben
was really a past-master of defence. He had many fine victories behind
him. But the Negro's rights and lefts crashed through openings that
hardly any other fighter could have found. (WIZARD)

* * *

Haymakers which packed the bludgeoning weight of forest monarchs crashing
down under the ax hurled into the bodies of the two heavies as they
swapped punches. (FIGHT STORIES)

Notice how much more knowledgeable the American extracts sound. They are
written for devotees of the prize-ring, the others are not. Also, it
ought to be emphasized that on its level the moral code of the English
boys' papers is a decent one. Crime and dishonesty are never held up to
admiration, there is none of the cynicism and corruption of the American
gangster story. The huge sale of the Yank Mags in England shows that
there is a demand for that kind of thing, but very few English writers
seem able to produce it. When hatred of Hitler became a major emotion in
America, it was interesting to see how promptly 'anti-Fascism' was
adapted to pornographic purposes by the editors of the Yank Mags. One
magazine which I have in front of me is given up to a long, complete
story, 'When Hell Game to America', in which the agents of a
'blood-maddened European dictator' are trying to conquer the U.S.A. with
death-rays and invisible aeroplanes. There is the frankest appeal to
sadism, scenes in which the Nazis tie bombs to women's backs and fling
them off heights to watch them blown to pieces in mid-air, others in
which they tie naked girls together by their hair and prod them with
knives to make them dance, etc., etc. The editor comments solemnly on all
this, and uses it as a plea for tightening up restrictions against
immigrants. On another page of the same paper: 'LIVES OF THE HOTCHA
CHORUS GIRLS. Reveals all the intimate secrets and fascinating pastimes
of the famous Broadway Hotcha girls. NOTHING IS OMITTED. Price 10c.' 'HOW
the outside of the glass you see a beautiful girl, innocently dressed.
Turn it around and look through the glass and oh! what a difference! Set
of 3 transfers 25c.,' etc., etc., etc. There is nothing at all like this
in any English paper likely to be read by boys. But the process of
Americanization is going on all the same. The American ideal, the
'he-man', the 'tough guy', the gorilla who puts everything right by
socking everybody on the jaw, now figures in probably a majority of boys'
papers. In one serial now running in the SKIPPER he is always portrayed
ominously enough, swinging a rubber truncheon.

The development of the WIZARD, HOTSPUR, etc., as against the earlier
boys' papers, boils down to this: better technique, more scientific
interest, more bloodshed, more leader-worship. But, after all, it is the
LACK of development that is the really striking thing.

To begin with, there is no political development whatever. The world of
the SKIPPER and the CHAMPION is still the pre-1914 world of the MAGNET
and the GEM. The Wild West story, for instance, with its cattle-rustlers,
lynch-law and other paraphernalia belonging to the eighties, is a
curiously archaic thing. It is worth noticing that in papers of this type
it is always taken for granted that adventures only happen at the ends of
the earth, in tropical forests, in Arctic wastes, in African deserts, on
Western prairies, in Chinese opium dens--everywhere in fact, except the
places where things really DO happen. That is a belief dating from thirty
or forty years ago, when the new continents were in process of being
opened up. Nowadays, of course, if you really want adventure, the place
to look for it is in Europe. But apart from the picturesque side of the
Great War, contemporary history is carefully excluded. And except that
Americans are now admired instead of being laughed at, foreigners are
exactly the same figures of fun that they always were. If a Chinese
character appears, he is still the sinister pigtailed opium-smuggler of
Sax Rohmer; no indication that things have been happening in China since
1912--no indication that a war is going on there, for instance. If a
Spaniard appears, he is still a 'dago' or 'greaser' who rolls cigarettes
and stabs people in the back; no indication that things have been
happening in Spain. Hitler and the Nazis have not yet appeared, or are
barely making their appearance. There will be plenty about them in a
little while, but it will be from a strictly patriotic angle (Britain
versus Germany), with the real meaning of the struggle kept out of sight
as much as possible. As for the Russian Revolution, it is extremely
difficult to find any reference to it in any of these papers. When Russia
is mentioned at all it is usually in an information snippet (example:
'There are 29,000 centenarians in the USSR.'), and any reference to
the Revolution is indirect and twenty years out of date. In one story in
the ROVER, for instance, somebody has a tame bear, and as it is a Russian
bear, it is nicknamed Trotsky--obviously an echo of the 1917-23 period
and not of recent controversies. The clock has stopped at 1910. Britannia
rules the waves, and no one has heard of slumps, booms, unemployment,
dictatorships, purges or concentration camps.

And in social outlook there is hardly any advance. The snobbishness is
somewhat less open than in the GEM and MAGNET--that is the most one can
possibly say. To begin with, the school story, always partly dependent on
snob-appeal, is by no means eliminated. Every number of a boys' paper
includes at least one school story, these stories slightly outnumbering
the Wild Westerns. The very elaborate fantasy-life of the GEM and MAGNET
is not imitated and there is more emphasis on extraneous adventure, but
the social atmosphere (old grey stones) is much the same. When a new
school is introduced at the beginning of a story we are often told in
just those words that 'it was a very posh school'. From time to time a
story appears which is ostensibly directed AGAINST snobbery. The
scholarship-boy (cf. Tom Redwing in the MAGNET) makes fairly frequent
appearances, and what is essentially the same theme is sometimes
presented in this form: there is great rivalry between two schools, one
of which considers itself more 'posh' than the other, and there are
fights, practical jokes, football matches, etc., always ending in the
discomfiture of the snobs. If one glances very superficially at some of
these stories it is possible to imagine that a democratic spirit has
crept into the boys' weeklies, but when one looks more closely one sees
that they merely reflect the bitter jealousies that exist within the
white-collar class. Their real function is to allow the boy who goes to a
cheap private school (NOT a Council school) to feel that his school is
just as 'posh' in the sight of God as Winchester or Eton. The sentiment
of school loyalty ('We're better than the fellows down the road'), a
thing almost unknown to the real working class, is still kept up. As
these stories are written by many different hands, they do, of course,
vary a good deal in tone. Some are reasonably free from snobbishness, in
others money and pedigree are exploited even more shamelessly than in the
GEM and MAGNET. In one that I came across an actual MAJORITY of the boys
mentioned were titled.

Where working-class characters appear, it is usually either as comics
(jokes about tramps, convicts, etc.), or as prize-fighters, acrobats,
cowboys, professional footballers and Foreign Legionaries--in other
words, as adventurers. There is no facing of the facts about
working-class life, or, indeed, about WORKING life of any description.
Very occasionally one may come across a realistic description of, say,
work in a coal-mine, but in all probability it will only be there as the
background of some lurid adventure. In any case the central character is
not likely to be a coal-miner. Nearly all the time the boy who reads
these papers--in nine cases out often a boy who is going to spend his
life working in a shop, in a factory or in some subordinate job in an
office--is led to identify with people in positions of command, above
all with people who are never troubled by shortage of money. The Lord
Peter Wimsey figure, the seeming idiot who drawls and wears a monocle but
is always to the fore in moments of danger, turns up over and over again.
(This character is a great favourite in Secret Service stories.) And, as
usual, the heroic characters all have to talk B.B.C.; they may talk
Scottish or Irish or American, but no one in a star part is ever
permitted to drop an aitch. Here it is worth comparing the social
atmosphere of the boys' weeklies with that of the women's weeklies, the

The women's papers are aimed at an older public and are read for the most
part by girls who are working for a living. Consequently they are on the
surface much more realistic. It is taken for granted, for example, that
nearly everyone has to live in a big town and work at a more or less dull
job. Sex, so far from being taboo, is THE subject. The short, complete
stories, the special feature of these papers, are generally of the 'came
the dawn' type: the heroine narrowly escapes losing her 'boy' to a
designing rival, or the 'boy' loses his job and has to postpone marriage,
but presently gets a better job. The changeling-fantasy (a girl brought
up in a poor home is 'really' the child of rich parents) is another
favourite. Where sensationalism comes in, usually in the serials, it
arises out of the more domestic type of crime, such as bigamy, forgery or
sometimes murder; no Martians, death-rays or international anarchist
gangs. These papers are at any rate aiming at credibility, and they have
a link with real life in their correspondence columns, where genuine
problems are being discussed. Ruby M. Ayres's column of advice in the
ORACLE, for instance, is extremely sensible and well written. And yet the
world of the ORACLE and PEG'S PAPER is a pure fantasy-world. It is the
same fantasy all the time; pretending to be richer than you are. The
chief impression that one carries away from almost every story in these
papers is of a frightful, overwhelming 'refinement'. Ostensibly the
characters are working-class people, but their habits, the interiors of
their houses, their clothes, their outlook and, above all, their speech
arc entirely middle class. They are all living at several pounds a week
above their income. And needless to say, that is just the impression that
is intended. The idea is to give the bored factory-girl or worn-out
mother of five a dream-life in which she pictures herself--not actually
as a duchess (that convention has gone out) but as, say, the wife of a
bank-manager. Not only is a five-to-six-pound-a-week standard of life set
up as the ideal, but it is tacitly assumed that that is how working-class
people really DO live. The major facts arc simply not faced. It is
admitted, for instance, that people sometimes lose their jobs; but then
the dark clouds roll away and they get better jobs instead. No mention of
un-employment as something permanent and inevitable, no mention of the
dole, no mention of trade unionism. No suggestion anywhere that there can
be anything wrong with the system AS A SYSTEM; there arc only individual
misfortunes, which are generally due to somebody's wickedness and can in
any case be put right in the last chapter. Always the dark clouds roll
away, the kind employer raises Alfred's wages, and there are jobs for
everybody except the drunks. It is still the world of the WIZARD and the
GEM, except that there are orange-blossoms instead of machine-guns.

The outlook inculcated by all these papers is that of a rather
exceptionally stupid member of the Navy League in the year 1910. Yes, it
may be said, but what does it matter? And in any case, what else do you

Of course no one in his senses would want to turn the so-called penny
dreadful into a realistic novel or a Socialist tract. An adventure story
must of its nature be more or less remote from real life. But, as I have
tried to make clear, the unreality of the WIZARD and the GEM is not so
artless as it looks. These papers exist because of a specialized demand,
because boys at certain ages find it necessary to read about Martians,
death-rays, grizzly bears and gangsters. They get what they are looking
for, but they get it wrapped up in the illusions which their future
employers think suitable for them. To what extent people draw their ideas
from fiction is disputable. Personally I believe that most people are
influenced far more than they would care to admit by novels, serial
stories, films and so forth, and that from this point of view the worst
books are often the most important, because they are usually the ones
that are read earliest in life. It is probable that many people who would
consider themselves extremely sophisticated and 'advanced' are actually
carrying through life an imaginative background which they acquired in
childhood from (for instance) Sapper and lan Hay. If that is so, the
boys' twopenny weeklies are of the deepest importance. Here is the stuff
that is read somewhere between the ages of twelve and eighteen by a very
large proportion, perhaps an actual majority, of English boys, including
many who will never read anything else except newspapers; and along with
it they are absorbing a set of beliefs which would be regarded as
hopelessly out of date in the Central Office of the Conservative Party.
All the better because it is done indirectly, there is being pumped into
them the conviction that the major problems of our time do not exist,
that there is nothing wrong with LAISSEZ-FAIRE capitalism, that
foreigners are un-important comics and that the British Empire is a sort
of charity-concern which will last for ever. Considering who owns these
papers, it is difficult to believe that this is un-intentional. Of the
twelve papers I have been discussing (i.e. twelve including the THRILLER
and DETECTIVE WEEKLY) seven are the property of the Amalgamated Press,
which is one of the biggest press-combines in the world and controls more
than a hundred different papers. The GEM and MAGNET, therefore, are
closely linked up with the DAILY TELEGRAPH and the FINANCIAL TIMES. This
in itself would be enough to rouse certain suspicions, even if it were
not obvious that the stories in the boys' weeklies are politically
vetted. So it appears that if you feel the need of a fantasy-life in
which you travel to Mars and fight lions bare-handed (and what boy
doesn't?), you can only have it by delivering yourself over, mentally, to
people like Lord Camrose. For there is no competition. Throughout the
whole of this run of papers the differences are negligible, and on this
level no others exist. This raises the question, why is there no such
thing as a left-wing boys' paper?

At first glance such an idea merely makes one slightly sick. It is so
horribly easy to imagine what a left-wing boys' paper would be like, if
it existed. I remember in 1920 or 1921 some optimistic person handing
round Communist tracts among a crowd of public-school boys. The tract I
received was of the question-and-answer kind:

Q,. 'Can a Boy Communist be a Boy Scout, Comrade?'
A. 'No, Comrade.'
Q,. 'Why, Comrade?'
A. 'Because, Comrade, a Boy Scout must salute the Union Jack, which is
the symbol of tyranny and oppression,' etc., etc.

Now suppose that at this moment somebody started a left-wing paper
deliberately aimed at boys of twelve or fourteen. I do not suggest that
the whole of its contents would be exactly like the tract I have quoted
above, but does anyone doubt that they would be SOMETHING like it?
Inevitably such a paper would either consist of dreary up-lift or it
would be under Communist influence and given over to adulation of Soviet
Russia; in either case no normal boy would ever look at it. Highbrow
literature apart, the whole of the existing left-wing Press, in so far as
it is at all vigorously 'left', is one long tract. The one Socialist
paper in England which could live a week on its merits AS A PAPER is the
DAILY HERALD: and how much Socialism is there in the DAILY HERALD? At
this moment, therefore, a paper with a 'left' slant and at the same time
likely to have an appeal to ordinary boys in their teens is something
almost beyond hoping for.

But it does not follow that it is impossible. There is no clear reason
why every adventure story should necessarily be mixed up with
snobbishness and gutter patriotism. For, after all, the stories in the
HOTSPUR and the MODERN BOY are not Conservative tracts; they are merely
adventure stories with a Conservative bias. It is fairly easy to imagine
the process being reversed. It is possible, for instance, to imagine a
paper as thrilling and lively as the HOTSPUR, but with subject-matter and
'ideology' a little more up to date. It is even possible (though this
raises other difficulties) to imagine a women's paper at the same
literary level as the ORACLE, dealing in approximately the same kind of
story, but taking rather more account of the realities of working-class
life. Such things have been done before, though not in England. In the
last years of the Spanish monarchy there was a large output in Spain of
left-wing novelettes, some of them evidently of anarchist origin.
Unfortunately at the time when they were appearing I did not see their
social significance, and I lost the collection of them that I had, but no
doubt copies would still be procurable. In get-up and style of story they
were very similar to the English fourpcnny novelette, except that their
inspiration was 'left'. If, for instance, a story described police
pursuing anarchists through the mountains, it would be from the point of
view of the anarchist and not of the police. An example nearer to hand is
the Soviet film CHAPAIEV, which has been shown a number of times in
London. Technically, by the standards of the time when it was made,
CHAPAIEV is a first-rate film, but mentally, in spite of the unfamiliar
Russian background, it is not so very remote from Hollywood. The one
thing that lifts it out of the ordinary is the remarkable performance by
the actor who takes the part of the White officer (the fat one)--a
performance which looks very like an inspired piece of gagging. Otherwise
the atmosphere is familiar. All the usual paraphernalia is there--heroic
fight against odds, escape at the last moment, shots of galloping horses,
love interest, comic relief. The film is in fact a fairly ordinary one,
except that its tendency is 'left'. In a Hollywood film of the Russian
Civil War the Whites would probably be angels and the Reds demons. In the
Russian version the Reds are angels and the Whites demons. That is also a
lie, but, taking the long view, it is a less pernicious lie than the

Here several difficult problems present themselves. Their general nature
is obvious enough, and I do not want to discuss them. I am merely
pointing to the fact that, in England, popular imaginative literature is
a field that left-wing thought has never begun to enter. ALL fiction from
the novels in the mushroom libraries downwards is censored in the
interests of the ruling class. And boys' fiction above all, the
blood-and-thunder stuff which nearly every boy devours at some time or
other, is sodden in the worst illusions of 1910. The fact is only
unimportant if one believes that what is read in childhood leaves no
impression behind. Lord Camrose and his colleagues evidently believe
nothing of the kind, and, after all, Lord Camrose ought to know.

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