Jennings and Darbishire are back!

WOW! Crystallised cheesecakes! Jennings is back! Anthony Buckeridge's stories about the trouble prone, 11 year-old schoolboy, his loyal, bespectacled friend Darbishire and their classmates and teachers at Linbury Court Preparatory School are being reissued for the entertainment of a new generation.

For those of us aged between 10 and 13 during the innocent days before the Beatles, publication of a new Jennings book was as eagerly awaited as our weekly copy of the Eagle, Hotspur, or Wizard. All disappeared in an early wave of dumbing down. The Eagle was too intelligent, Hotspur and Wizard contained no comic strips - only pages of engrossing prose - and Jennings, in his Sussex boarding school, was too posh and removed from the lives of ordinary children.

When I was 11 I did not know that someone like me, from a council house and an ordinary primary school, was supposed to be alienated by Jennings. I enjoyed the stories. They were easy to read and amusing. Unlike Billy Bunter and his chums at Greyfriars, Jennings did not catch burglars, spies or jewel thieves. His troubles arose out of real school life: the search for the missing English jotter, the dormitory scrum after lights out and the unreasonableness of the adult - teacher - world.

The boarding school setting may have been foreign to me but it fired my imagination. I wrote my own Jennings stories and introduced plagiarised phrases and descriptions into school compositions. When my teacher congratulated me on my invention, I accepted the praise fulsomely and remained silent about my debt to Buckeridge.

To criticise Jennings for being irrelevant to the lives of most children is silly and patronising. The joy and purpose of fiction is to introduce us to worlds and ideas beyond our personal experience. Classic children's novels like Robert Westall's The Machine Gunners (wartime Tyneside) or Leon Garfield's Smith (18th century London) inhabit worlds far removed from that of the modern child.

One "authority" even dismissed the Jennings stories as "of no literary merit"."You addle-pated clodpole," as Jennings might say. The most important thing is that children enjoy the experience and that it engages their imaginations. A recent reading of my 1960 first edition of Jennings As Usual, shows an author remarkably sensitive to the quirks and enthusiasms of 11-year-old boys. I have met his characters in real life many times, although none has exclaimed: "Fossilised fish-hooks!" Despite his problems, Jennings has never been away.

The books may be difficult to find in Britain but they have sold 6 million copies worldwide and been translated into 12 languages. Typing "Anthony Buckeridge" into a computer search-engine produced more than 1,000 references. There is a Jennings website and an annual Jennings convention - do the middle-aged delegates turn up in uniform? - which includes a contribution from Anthony Buckeridge, now aged 90. On being asked if he regretted missing out on the pot of gold which JK Rowling has found in writing about a boarding school, Buckeridge replied, modestly, that Jennings had made the most of the opportunities available at the time: children's hour on radio and a series on black and white television.

The same Ms Rowling is credited with breathing new life into Jennings. Harry Potter has made boarding schools fashionable so publishers are dusting off Jennings in the hope of a profit from reissuing the novels alongside a possible television series.

Old fans are delighted at the prospect of sharing our hero with a new generation but can we sound a note of caution? No updating, please. Jennings and Darbishire would not fit into Grange Hill. Modernising the characters and stories would destroy them.

Oh, and Jennings must never, ever, be allowed to wear long trousers. Gosh! Petrified paintpots! What would the world be coming to!

Brian Toner is headteacher of St John's primary in Perth.

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