William George Bunter (a.k.a. Billy Bunter, the "Fat Owl of the Remove") is a fictional character created by Charles Hamilton using the pen name Frank Richards. He featured originally in stories set at Greyfriars School in the boys' weekly story paper The Magnet, first published in 1908. Bunter has since appeared in novels, on television, in stage plays, and in comic strips.
Charles Hamilton invented the character for an unpublished story in the late 1890s. He claimed Bunter was derived from three persons: a corpulent editor, a short-sighted relative, and another relative who was perpetually trying to raise a loan on the strength of the anticipated arrival of a cheque. The name "Bunter" was in common use at the time, due to the popularity of a patent medicine known as Bunter's Nervine Tonic. It also meant a low vulgar woman. The name "Bill Bunter" was used by Hamilton for a story in The Gem only months before the launch of The Magnet. There was a previous character called Billy Bunter, created by H. Philpott Wright, who appeared in a series of stories in The Vanguard Library from 1907, but whose character bore no resemblance to his more famous namesake.(Cadogan 1988:53–55)
Magnet stories 
Billy Bunter was not a major figure in the earliest days of The Magnet. Within a few years, however, Hamilton realised the comic potential of the character and made him the focal point of many of the stories. As his prominence grew, so did his cunning, enabling his actions to drive a wide variety of plots.
Bunter appeared in 1,670 of the 1,683 issues of The Magnet published during the thirty years from 1908 to 1940. In addition to stories set at Greyfriars School, his adventures also included many travel series, with trips to China, India, Egypt, Sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, Hollywood and the South Seas.
Some stories which had originally seen publication in The Magnet appeared during the mid-1960s, and as late as 1972, from Armada Books and from Paul Hamlyn. Furthermore, most of the 1,683 issues of The Magnet were reprinted in hardback form by publisher W. Howard Baker, under his Howard Baker and Greyfriars Book Club imprints, between 1969 and 1990.
Other Greyfriars stories 
Following the closure of The Magnet in 1940, Hamilton had little work; but he became known as the author of the Greyfriars stories following a newspaper interview he gave to the London Evening Standard.
Although he had written many thousands of stories published between 1900 and 1940 by the Amalgamated Press, he had written them under dozens of pen names: so he himself was quite unknown prior to the appearance of the newspaper article. Nor was it even widely known, until then, that all of the stories written under those pen names were, in the main, all the work of one man.
Hamilton was not able to continue the Greyfriars saga immediately, as the Amalgamated Press claimed ownership of the rights to the names "Greyfriars" and "Bunter" (and even began publishing a long-running comic strip featuring Billy Bunter in Knockout comic). However, by 1946 the A.P. (who had never held a registered trademark on either name) had relented, and Hamilton was then able to obtain a contract from publishers Charles Skilton for a series of hardback novels. The first of these, Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School, was published in September 1947. It began a series that continued for the rest of Hamilton's life. In the 1950s the initial novels were reprinted by Cassells, who took over publication of the series, which continued until 1967, the final novels being published posthumously.
Billy Bunter was played by Gerald Campion in a BBC television series. Forty half-hour episodes were broadcast over seven series, between 1952 and 1961; and there were also three television specials. The television show was totally centred on Bunter, with the other characters playing only a peripheral role.
All the television scripts were written by Charles Hamilton. The programme's memorable theme music was the "Portsmouth" section of Ralph Vaughan Williams's Sea Songs. The programmes were transmitted "live" in black and white, and a dozen still exist in the BBC's Archive as telerecordings (see also Wiping). The survivors are the complete third series, five episodes from the sixth series, and a single, poor quality episode from the seventh series.
There were also Christmas stage shows with different casts:
- 1958. Billy Bunter's Mystery Christmas (Palace Theatre, London)
- 1959. Billy Bunter Flies East (Victoria Palace Theatre)
- 1960. Billy Bunter's Swiss Roll (Victoria Palace Theatre)
- 1961. Billy Bunter Shipwrecked (Victoria Palace Theatre)
- 1962. Billy Bunter's Christmas Circus (Queen's Theatre)
- 1963. Billy Bunter meets Magic (Shaftesbury Theatre)
After The Magnet closed in 1940, Bunter appeared in children's comics, as a strip cartoon character: initially, from 15 June 1940, he appeared in Knockout (which, like The Magnet, was published by The Amalgamated Press). Although Knockout had begun only in 1939, it already had a circulation several times that of The Magnet. C H Chapman, the last illustrator for The Magnet, drew the first nine Knockout strips, after which several artists were tried, before Frank Minnitt established himself with a beaming and bouncy Bunter, which at first followed Chapman's style, then later branched into a style of his own, concentrating on slapstick humour. Soon the Famous Five vanished from the strip, replaced by Jones minor, who had all the good qualities Bunter lacked, but who was prone to being led astray by Bunter. The form-master, Mr Quelch, stayed (at least in name), but he lost his dignity and aloofness.
Minnitt continued producing the strip until his death in 1958. Reg Parlett then took over until Knockout ceased publication in 1961, when the strip transferred to Valiant comic, and then to TV Comic, where it ran until 1984. Bunter also appeared in many Knockout annuals, even on some covers.
C. H. Chapman drew a strip for The Comet comic in 1956, which featured the classical old Bunter of The Magnet and the Famous Five, consisting of twelve weeks of 2-page strips (24 pages in all). Altogether, Bunter's appearances in Comet lasted from March 1950 until June 1958, with picture stories from February 1952.
From 1955, Billy Bunter comic strips were published in Holland, in the Dutch-language comic Sjors, with the character renamed "Billie Turf". Bunter thus became one of the house characters of that comic and its successors, and so continued appearing in anthology-style collections in Dutch until the end of the 20th century. "Billie Turf" comic strip albums were published from 1963 onwards, and have continued into the 21st century. Three Billie Turf movies were made between 1978 and 1983, mostly spelling the name of the main character as "Billy Turf".
Appearances in other fiction 
- Billy Bunter appears in Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Black Dossier, and still resides at the now closed Greyfriars in 1958 as an old man. He sells information about the former students of the school, which is supposed to have been a recruiting ground for spies and agents for the crown since the 16th century.
- Bunter appears in the Viz cartoon strip 'Baxter Basics' (the title spoofing a slogan of the Conservative Party, 'Back to Basics') as Sir William Bunter, conservative MP for Greyfriars Central. The character was immediately killed off by Baxter, so that he could take over that Parliamentary seat.
- In Bunter Sahib by Daniel Green, Bunter's identical ancestor is placed in 19th century India.
- David Hughes in But for Bunter creates the idea that the Greyfriars stories were based on real people, and set out to find them and hear their stories. This echoed the theme of a contemporary BBC radio documentary, Whatever Happened to... Henry Samuel Quelch.
- Cyril, a thinly veiled version of Billy Bunter, appears in the Doctor Who story The Celestial Toymaker. As the character was still under copyright, a BBC continuity announcer was obliged to deny any deliberate similarity between the characters after the episodes aired.
George Orwell described him as "...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." (Orwell 1940)
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The family home is Bunter Villa in Surrey, which Bunter frequently mis-describes as Bunter Court, representing it as a stately home. Prominent among the many family members who have appeared in the stories are:
- Sister—Bessie Bunter: a pupil at the nearby Cliff House Girls School. Shares similar characteristics to Billy.
- Younger brother—Sammy Bunter: in the Second Form at Greyfriars.
- Father—Mr Samuel Bunter: a portly, largely unsuccessful, stockbroker with a severe manner. He is perpetually complaining about income tax and school fees and has little interest in his children. In the book entitled "Billy Bunter's Benefit" his name is recorded as W.S. Bunter.
- Mother—Mrs Amelia Bunter: only appears briefly in seven stories; she is a kindly lady, the one person for whom Billy feels genuine affection.
- Report of Gerald Campion's passing: ComicsUK.co.uk website. Retrieved on October 4, 2007
- Beal, George (Editor) (1977), The Magnet Companion, London: Howard Baker.
- Cadogan, Mary (1988), Frank Richards: The Chap Behind The Chums, Middlesex: Viking.
- Fayne, Eric; Jenkins, Roger (1972), A History of The Magnet and The Gem, Kent: Museum Press.
- Hamilton Wright, Una; McCall, Peter (2006), The Far Side of Billy Bunter: the Biography of Charles Hamilton, London: Friars Library.
- Lofts, W.O.G.; Adley, D.J. (1975), The World of Frank Richards, London: Howard Baker.
- McCall, Peter (1982), The Greyfriars Guide, London: Howard Baker.
- Orwell, George (1940), "Boys Weeklies", Horizon.
- Richards, Frank (1940), "Frank Richards Replies to Orwell", Horizon.
- Richards, Frank (1962), The Autobiography of Frank Richards, London: Skilton.
- Richards, Jeffery (1991), Happiest Days: Public Schools in English Fiction, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
- Turner, E.S. (1975), Boys will be Boys – 3rd edition, London: Penguin.
- Friardale Collection of Charles Hamilton material: Novels, story papers, etc.
- The Magnet 1908-1940 Original Greyfriars stories: facsimilie editions of The Magnet
- Collecting Books and Magazines Detailed article
- Greyfriars, The Magnet & Billy Bunter Facts and Figures
- Greyfriars Index Detailed listing of Hamilton's work
- The Friars Club Enthusiasts’ Club
- The Magnet Detailed site about The Magnet
- Bunterzone Enthusiasts’ site
- Index of Boys Weeklies