The Magnet was a United Kingdom weekly boys' story paper published by Amalgamated Press. It ran from 1908 to 1940, publishing a total of 1683 issues. Each issue contained a long school story about the boys of Greyfriars School, a fictional public school located somewhere in Kent, and were written under the pen-name of Frank Richards. The vast majority of the stories were written by author Charles Hamilton, although substitute writers were sometimes used. The most famous Greyfriars character was Billy Bunter, of the Remove. Most issues of The Magnet also included a shorter serial story (a variety of detective, scouting, and adventure yarns were featured), and many issues also included a newspaper ostensibly produced by the characters themselves and called the Greyfriars Herald. These parts of the paper were not written by Charles Hamilton.
The stories began before the First World War, in 1908, and continued through the privations of that war and the Great Depression of the 1930s which followed. The Magnet was aimed primarily at working-class boys who would never go to a public school themselves, hence part of the appeal of the stories was to portray the unattainable, which was not merely the public-school education itself, but also, in part, an affluent and well-fed lifestyle.
Red Magnet – 1908–1915
So called because of the colour of its cover in this period, it was created by an Amalgamated Press staff editor named Percy Griffiths, building on the success of the earlier boys' paper, The Gem. These early years saw the creation of nearly all of the characters who would populate Greyfriars for the remainder of its history.
Blue and White era – 1915–1922
The cover changed to blue and white, as a result of the unavailability of red dye due to the war. This era saw a profusion of stories written by authors other than Hamilton, one of whom was the editor J N Pentelow, the only substitute writer whose work was given preference over that of Hamilton. Wartime paper shortages reduced the length of each weekly issue.
Blue and Orange era – 1922–1937
Blue and Orange covers were introduced, and a growing proportion of stories were written by Hamilton, as he came to see The Magnet as the main focus of his attention. The idea of a series of several linked stories appearing in consecutive issues started to dominate and become the key ingredient of this period, allowing increased complexity of plotting and stimulating finer writing. Most of the best remembered stories appeared in this period, including the Courtfield Cracksman, Methuselah, Lancaster, and Brander rebellion series, as well as several ambitious travel series to far away places such as India, China, South Seas, Egypt and East Africa, which its readers would never see, and in truth most of which Hamilton himself never saw, either, being hugely in demand as an author.
Some Hamilton enthusiasts and scholars have suggested that the central years of this era represent a "Golden Age" of The Magnet, a sustained period which saw a consistently high standard in the quality of stories and series, occurring from the late 1920s to the early 1930s. Charles Hamilton himself agreed that his best work for The Magnet took place around this time.
Salmon Pink era – 1937–1940
The use of long serials continued, albeit often recycling the plots of earlier years. The covers changed to salmon pink for the last four years. A decline in circulation, coupled with paper shortages, meant that The Magnet could not survive the Second World War. The final issue was the opening story in a new series; at least four other issues are known to have been already completed, but these were never published, and are now presumed lost. After closing, it 'merged' into the comic 'Knockout' making 'Knockout Comic and The Magnet', in which the characters of Billy Bunter and Sexton Blake carried on appearing.
After 1940, new Greyfriars stories by Hamilton continued to appear in book form, published initially by Charles Skilton and later by Cassells, in a series which continued until Hamilton's death in 1961 (although some of the novels appeared posthumously even later); and in a television series, also written by Hamilton, which ran from 1951–61 on the BBC.
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.
- Percy Griffiths – 1908–1911. Nicknamed 'Pushful Percy' owing to his dynamic character. He left Amalgamated Press suddenly in 1911 and nothing is known of his subsequent history.
- Herbert Allen Hinton – 1911–1916. A military man who left to take up a wartime commission.
- John Nix Pentelow 1916–1919 – A cricket authority and writer who took over when many of the editorial staff were occupied with the war. He contributed many stories himself on the pretext of a shortage in supply from Charles Hamilton and other writers. His writing is remembered for one story when an established character, Courtney of the Sixth Form, was killed off.
- Charles Maurice Down – 1919–1940. A former public schoolboy, who conceived the idea of the very popular Holiday Annual. Probably the editor with whom Charles Hamilton got along the best. The author in fact stated that many attributes of Mr Down could be discerned in the schoolboy character Arthur Augustus D'arcy, found in the other companion paper—the Gem story-paper. "Gussy" the character in question had a kind-heart, and was known for his sartorial elegance and many positive traits.
A large part of the appeal of The Magnet lay in the illustrations, which reinforced the olde worlde charm of the school (a picture being worth a thousand words), of which there would typically be five per issue as well as the cover.
- Hutton Mitchell – 1908. Produced the original drawings of Billy Bunter. His characters tended to be more prominent with the background detail kept to a minimum. He had a clear-cut style.
- Arthur H Clarke – 1908–1911. The second Magnet artist. Some consider his depiction of the school masters a bit grim-looking and Victorian in appearance, and there was generally much of a sameness about his characters. However his work was well up to standard. Arthur Clarke died suddenly in 1911, though it is unlikely that he did so while actually illustrating a Greyfriars scene as has been claimed in some reference works.
- C.H. Chapman – 1911–1940. First gave Bunter check trousers. In the beginning he was told to emulate the style of Arthur H. Clarke, but then came into his own during the early 1920s. Carried on illustrating Greyfriars stories after The Magnet closed.
- Leonard Shields – 1926–1940. From his inception in the India series of 1926, and throughout the remainder of The Magnet (sharing some drawings with CH Chapman), illustrated some very fine drawings including very many covers.
- 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 ed.), London: Penguin.
- Friardale Hamilton material
- Collecting Books and Magazines Detailed article
- Greyfriars, The Magnet & Billy Bunter Facts and Figures
- Greyfriars Index Detailed listing of Hamilton material
- The Friars Club Enthusiasts’ Club
- Friardale Detailed site about The Magnet
- Bunterzone Enthusiasts’ site
- Index of Boys Weeklies
- Map of Greyfriars School