Book name: Jennings as Usual
Author: Anthony Buckeridge
Format: Print, audiobook
Genre: Vintage children’s book
Publication Date: 1951
Star Rating: 5/5
The 'Jennings' series of school stories for boys was published between 1950 and the mid 1970s, with a further two books appearing in the 1990s.
There were 24 novels, all but one of which feature Jennings at school in term time.
The origin of the characters is particularly interesting in that they were designed for radio programs for children broadcast in the late 1940s. Jennings regularly appeared on Children’s Hour.
Out of this popularity, the book series was born.
Jennings, or to give him his full name John Christopher Timothy Jennings, is at a boarding school in England called Linbury Court.
This is a prep school, which means that Jennings and his buddies are all under the age of thirteen.
Jennings’ best friend is Darbishire. The boys are routinely referred to simply by their surnames, so we often don’t know their first names at all.
On the other hand, a wonderful array of nicknames and contractions of these surnames keeps the boys’ tone around each other informal.
Jennings is a pleasant lad, but very prone to being into trouble and with virtually no resources to prevent him getting caught every single time.
The refrain echoes around Linbury Court: Jennings as Usual.
The boys sleep in a dorm with a form master sleeping in another room nearby and one of the boys is designated as prefect.
In the case of Jennings’ form, his naughtiness and tendency to get caught mean that he has never been graced with the title of prefect. Instead, the marginally more reliable Bromwich has been chosen.
However, the schoolmasters agree that Jennings’ form is a rather uninspiring bunch. They are unanimous as picking Jennings, who is never out of trouble, as the worst of the bunch.
When Bromwich falls ill, they are at a loss as to who to choose as a replacement temporary prefect from among these lacklustre candidates.
One of the masters suggests, with considerable good sense, that giving Jennings some responsibility might encourage him to be more serious.
The headmaster sees the validity of this argument, and Jennings is told that he will stand in for Bromwich as dorm prefect until his classmate returns.
Jennings longs to do right by his school and to be fair in his dealings. The trouble is that he has just agreed with Venables to borrow his roller skates in return for lending Venables his own book, snorkel and torch. Together these can be used for reading under the covers after lights out.
Jennings therefore faces a quandary. Having given Venables the items before he became prefect, Jennings is now duty bound to confiscate them and report Venables in his role as prefect.
However, that seems very unfair. He suggests a compromise: take the items but not report Venables.
When Jennings attempts to do this, Venables creates such a fuss that one of the schoolmasters appears and demands an explanation. Jennings has the items in his hands, and the teacher instantly identifies them as belonging to him.
There is some justice in Jennings’ decision to cover for Venables by not telling the teacher exactly what happened, even though he faces punishment for being found with the offending items by the teacher.
This sequence is just one in a number of subplots that sees the story move on quickly. Jennings lurches from scrape to scrape, loyally supported by Darbishire.
All the teachers despair, but a happy ending is managed as the Christmas terms ends and Jennings manages to create a short period of good behaviour. For the rest of the term, it is really just one incident after another.
The ‘Jennings’ book series is very perceptive, not just about boys’ behaviour but also about the mindset of the adults who are responsible for their care and development and the cynicism that they often feel in any of their pupils turning out well.
Jennings is a highly likeable lad. He’s no naughtier than any boy of that age. He’s loyal to his friends and decent to his enemies. There are even signs of a fledgling honour code emerging that might just see him confidently into adulthood.
His limitations lie in how often he is caught. This, if anything, makes him more interesting to the reader. A more proficient evader of discipline would have exploits that are very different in nature and there would be a lot less sympathy of the lad from the reader.
Thank you for reading my review.
Click on this link https://amzn.to/3YusGD5 to buy this book from Amazon via affiliate marketing, for which I receive a small commission. Thank you for supporting John C Adams Reviews blog in this way.
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might like to subscribe to my blog.
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of Clover by Susan Coolidge.
Or you might like to take a look at my review of William the Detective by Richmal Crompton here.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my article about Creativity and Darkness (Genius and Inspiration in Horror Fiction).