Lashings of jolly japes

10th March 2000 at 00:00
A publisher exploits enduring appeal of the Alpine adventures of Chalet School gals. Alison Brace reports.

TALES of adventure and hi-jinks in the Alps have charmed generations of schoolgirls from the 1920s onwards. But who could have guessed that Elinor M Brent-Dyer's Chalet School books would have a loyal following in 2000?

Two societies for the fans of the girls' story books are thriving and this week saw the re-printing of the latest book written in 1995 - albeit penned by a ghost-writer based on notes made by Brent-Dyer before her death in 1969.

Next month, her first book - Gerry Goes to School - is being republished.

Although the Friends of the Chalet School and the New Chalet Club emphasise their membership ranges in age from eight to 80, it is fair to say that most have long since hung up their hockey sticks.

Select groups make pilgrimages each year to Achensee in the Austrian Tyrol to retrace the steps of their heroine, Joey Bettany, her twin brother and sister Dick and Madge, who set up the Chalet School, and their trusty St Bernard, Rufus.

And there are many steps to retrace: Brent-Dyer, born in 1894 in South Shields, Tyne and Wear, wrote 98 books and the settings for the adventures range from Austria to Switzerland, Guernsey and Herefordshire, where she herself established a school.

"Our members come from all types of backgrounds," said Clarissa Cridland of the Friends, which has 1,150 members worldwide. "We have members who are highly academic, others who are in highly-paid office jobs, or teachers and housewives."

Members are divided into three "houses" - Le Petit Chalet for the youngest, St Clare's for 14 to 17-year-olds and St Theresa's for the old girls.

The abiding fascination rests in Brent-Dyer's characterisation and her attention to geographical detail means exact locations can still be foun. Two weeks ago Elspeth Insch, head of King Edward VI Handsworth girls' school in Birmingham, donned her hiking boots to stride out in the Bettanys' footsteps.

"I thoroughly enjoy exploring the locations and I will also occasionally comfort-read the books," said Miss Insch, 50, who bought her first book when she was a 12-year-old Leicester grammar-school girl.

"Even at school it was a clandestine activity ... I never had friends to share the interest with. The first time I came across anybody who had read one of the books was my roommate at university."

With the arrival of the 21st century, the Chalet School fans have gone hi tech. The friends now have their own email address and website - designed by a male fan in Australia.

And with the Duke and Duchess of York's daughter, Princess Beatrice, set to take up her place at Aiglon College near the Swiss ski resort this September, one book in the Chalet School series is sure to attract fresh interest: the aptly named The Princess of the Chalet School.

"Visitors for the Chalet School" by Helen McClelland, published by Harper Collins, pound;3.99.

Friends of the Chalet School, 4 Rock Terrace, Coleford, Bath, BA3 5NF, Tel. 01373 812705. Email:focs@rockterrace.demon.co.uk. Web site: www.rockterrace.demon.co.ukFOCS

CHALET SPEAK

Elsie and Maria, both deprived of the weekend trip to the Sonnalpe, returned to prep sadder and wiser girls.

"Rats, it can't be done," said Elsie scornfully. "But it can," maintained Maria sticking to her point with

unusual pertinacity for her.

For the first time in Barbara's life she had the joy of being given a plate and a cake fork and going to the counter where trayfuls of

luscious cakes were set out and choosing for herself before she sat down at the little table with a big cup of coffee with a blanket of whipped cream.


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