For Beverly Hills, read Blaenavon

15th July 2005 at 01:00
His uncle created much-loved cartoon characters in Hollywood, but James Hanna has no designs on life in Beverly Hills.

Instead, the 59-year-old nephew of the man who helped to make Tom and Jerry famous would rather help pupils make their fortunes in the green, green grass of the Welsh valleys.

He has set up shop in the former pit town of Blaenavon, in Torfaen, and has become a fully-fledged part of the community. Earlier this week, Mr Hanna helped classroom entrepreneurs from Abersychan comprehensive dust off books in his attic for an online bookshop they are setting up. He says he admires their desire to learn, a trait shared by his uncle, who gave up a career in engineering to become a cartoonist.

From the MGM studios in Hollywood, Uncle Bill, who died in 2001, along with partner Joe Barbera, dreamed up a veritable toon empire, including Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo and the Flintstones.

James Hanna sold up his bookshop in the French quarter of New Orleans, to move to Blaenavon, a town best-known for its ironworks and more than 100 pits. He set up his own shop, Blaenavon Books, and helped reverse the fortunes of a town blighted by high unemployment and poverty. He said:

"When I came to Blaenavon, all I saw was shop after shop boarded up. It was like a ghost town.

"The transformation here has been remarkable. It's pleasing that I've been part of a town revival built on my love of books."

He agreed to help Abersychan pupils after they contacted him asking him how to sell books. Mr Hanna said: "They are better to talk to than adults. They listen and really want to do the best they can. It has been a pleasure to help them."

Business-studies teacher Christine Thomas said her Year 10 pupils were excited about their new venture. Each pupil is searching for good buys at a cheap price from charity shops and car boot sales. The books are then sold online to the highest bidder.

The knack is to buy good-quality books at the lowest price possible. So Mr Hanna advises the children what buyers will want from a book, such as a good spine and full-page content.

The pupils were delighted to be able to look through some of his old stock for good purchases. And they have been offered perks of the job for setting up the business, including school trips and pocket money from the sale of their own books.

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