The Jennings series is a collection of novels written by Anthony Buckeridge (1912–2004), as children's literature, and concern the humorous escapades of J.C.T. Jennings, a schoolboy at Linbury Court preparatory school in England. There are 23 novels in the series, excluding reprints and other material. The first of the series, Jennings Goes to School (ISBN 0-333-65523-0), appeared in 1950, and new titles were published regularly until the mid-1970s (the last was Jennings at Large, published in 1977, the only novel to feature Jennings during the school holidays), with two more volumes following in the 1990s (Jennings Again in 1991, and That's Jennings in 1994).
The earliest ten novels in the series were reprinted in the UK in paperback, by Armada Books, in the late 1960s; and many of the novels were translated from the original English into foreign languages. Quite often, the character's name was not even retained: when published in France, Jennings' name was changed to "Bennett"; in Norway he was known as "Stompa"; and in Brazil, when published during the 1970s, the character's name became "Johnny".
Much of the humour rests on misunderstandings attributable to Jennings's literal-mindedness and impetuosity. In the earliest novels in the series there are some Latin puns (typically omitted from later reprints), but Buckeridge discontinued these, apparently to maximise their appeal. The earlier novels present an idealised version of rural or small-town, middle class English life in the years between the Second World War and the social revolution of the 1960s; the later ones are still rooted in this era (as Buckeridge admitted) but reflect the changing times surprisingly well. Unlike many of his fans, Buckeridge tended to prefer his later books to his earlier ones, possibly because he was a man of the Left and had more positive political memories of the post-1964 period; when the books were reprinted in paperback in the late 1980s, he chose some of the later books for early publication ahead of those originally written in the 1950s.
The stories invented some vernacular language for the boys to use. In particular they coined the word "ozard". The post-war slang "wizard" generally meant "good" or "very good". "Ozard" derives from "Wizard of Oz" and was used to describe anything the boys disliked or dreaded. It was also used to describe the anger of Mr. Wilkins, which could be "ozard", "ozard squared" and occasionally "ozard cubed".
- J. C. T. (John Christopher Timothy) Jennings — son of a businessman whose home is at Haywards Heath in the stockbroker belt. He is good-natured and well-meaning, but his tendency to act on impulse results in him getting in to trouble frequently. Buckeridge told BBC reporter Michael Crick that the fictional Jennings had been modelled on a schoolfriend, Diarmaid Jennings (1913–2009).
- C. E. J. (Charles Edwin Jeremy) Darbishire — mild-mannered and short-sighted, the son of a clergyman, the Reverend Percival Darbishire, from whom he has inherited a habit of sententiously citing proverbs (generally prefixed with "My father says..."). Darbishire is Jennings's right-hand man. Inherently more cautious than his best friend, he usually finds himself drawn into situations in which he would rather not be involved.
- Venables, Atkinson, Temple, Bromwich (Major) — all are classmates of Jennings in Form 3, and fellow boarders, who share dormitory 4 with Jennings and Darbishire. Temple's nickname was Bod, by a tortuous schoolboy logic involving his initials: CAT (Charles A Temple), was changed to DOG, then amended to 'Dogsbody', which was finally shortened to 'Bod'.
- Pettigrew, Marshall — day boys in Jennings' form, whose privileges Jennings frequently "borrows" in order to assist him in bending school rules.
- Binns Minor, Blotwell — shrill-voiced first-formers who are treated with the condescension appropriate to their junior years by Jennings and his contemporaries.
- Mr L. P. (Lancelot Phineas) Wilkins (Old Wilkie) — Jennings's form master, a man of limited patience and a volcanic temperament, redeemed by a hidden heart of gold at least once in every book.
- Mr Michael Carter — Jennings's housemaster, a friendly man of great imperturbability and patience, with a phenomenal and unfortunate ability to detect dissembling and violations of school rules. Nicknamed "Benedick", from his use of the Latin phrase "benedicto, benedicatur" (the second word sounding like "Benedick Carter"). This character was said by Buckeridge to be based on himself.
- Mr M. W. B. (Martin Winthrop Barlow) Pemberton-Oakes (The Archbeako) — the headmaster, a classical scholar with a capacity to command immediate discipline, although he generally remains reserved and softly-spoken, and never hesitates to deliver praise when it is due.
- Mr Hind — Music master, mild of manner (though occasionally acerbic), trailing clouds of smoke from his cherrywood pipe — also teaches art to Form I.
- Mr Topliss — teaches shooting once a week in shooting range behind gymnasium.
- Matron — the school matron: she is sympathetic and understanding, but, like Mr Carter, has a keen ability to spot malingerers.
- Miss Angela Birkenshaw (Aunt Angela) — Jennings's absent-minded but generous aunt, who sometimes comes to visit Jennings on half-term holidays. In the book "Jennings at Large", she is revealed to be a social worker.
Most of the first names of characters have been revealed (John Christopher Timothy Jennings; Charles Edwin Jeremy Darbishire; Graham Venables; Robin Atkinson; Charles Temple, etc.), but true to the form of British boarding schools, they generally are known exclusively by their surnames. Similarly, the masters too generally address one another by their surnames.
Minor recurring characters:
- Hawkins (Old Nightie) — the night watchman.
- Robinson (Old Pyjamas/Old Robbo) — the oddjob man. His nickname is obviously a pun on the nightwatchman's nickname of Old Nightie (a shortening of nightgown).
- Lieutenant General Sir Melville Merridew DSO MC Bart — retired general, the school's most distinguished alumnus, and frequent bestower of half-holidays.
- Miss Thorpe — tireless voluntary charitable worker within the Linbury community.
- PC Herbert Honeyball — Linbury's gruff but kind-hearted village policeman, who has more than once had wearying encounters with Jennings and his classmates.
- Mr and Mrs Lumley - She runs the local cafe and is renowned for her excellent cakes and doughnuts, while her husband is less renowned as a repairer of bicycles.
- Mr Herbert Higgins - local jeweller and watch-mender.
- Farmer Jim and Mrs Arrowsmith — owners of a farm adjoining the school grounds.
- Dr Basil Featherstonehaugh Hipkin — an absent-minded zoologist who meets Jennings and Darbishire when they accidentally push him into the river while they are on an illicit boating expedition.
- Mrs Amanda Hipkin - Dr Hipkin's formidable but kindly wife
- Miss Margaret Wilkins - Old Wilkie's pleasant and attractive younger sister, a London-based nurse, who occasionally visits her brother and nearly always has him wrapped round her little finger, especially when she needs him to look after her Siamese kitten, Pyewacket.
- George the Third — Matron's cat, a large ginger tom.
- Mrs Caffey — Linbury Court's housekeeper; pronounced Café, hence nicknamed "Mother Snackbar".
- Mrs Connie Hackett - the school's part-time kitchen assistant.
- Mr 'Pinky' Parkinson - mild-mannered headmaster of the nearby Bracebridge School; Linbury Court frequently play Bracebridge in football matches.
- Mr 'Foxy Type' Fox - a notoriously strict and hatchet-faced teacher, who is also at Bracebridge.
List of novels
- Jennings Goes to School 1950. The first novel. Jennings's first term at Linbury Court. He befriends Darbishire, foxes into town in disguise, displays too much (or not enough) initiative during fire practice, and has a hair-raising incident with a poisonous spider. Excerpts have been recorded by Stephen Fry for BBC7 as five 15 minute readings. It is available as an MP3 download.
- Jennings Follows a Clue 1951. Jennings founds the Linbury Court Detective Agency, tracks a suspected burglar to his thieves' kitchen, sees mysterious lights in the Sanatorium, and solves the burglary of the trophies from the library on Sports Day.
- Jennings' Little Hut 1951. Jennings and Darbishire build a hut by the pond in the grounds (as do all their friends), take a goldfish for a walk in the swimming pool and have a trying afternoon with a pane of glass. Jennings falls into the pond while he, Darbishire, Temple and Venables are sailing their home-made yacht 'The Revenge' on an illicit Sunday visit to said pond - and this, together with the small matter of Jennings and Darbishire's hut collapsing on the visiting Archbeako, leads to a temporary ban on hut-building. Darbishire makes his one and only appearance in an inter-house match and makes a memorable last wicket stand. This has been recorded by Mark Williams for Radio 4.
- Jennings and Darbishire 1952. Jennings and Darbishire set up their own newspaper, the Form Three Times, have a confusing chat with some French natives, and get lost in the environs of Pottlewhistle Halt. Old Wilkie's sister comes to their rescue when Venables makes a ghastly bish, and gives them a scoop about Old Wilkie's sporting past.
- Jennings' Diary 1953. Jennings undertakes to keep a diary for the year: it records his attempts to start a Form 3 museum, to find the missing link, and to uncover a genuine Roman fake - that doesn't go down too well with the curator of the Dunhambury Museum or Old Wilkie.
- According to Jennings 1954. A space-age craze hits Linbury Court leading to an unfortunate incident with a glass dome, an even more unfortunate incident with General Sir Melville Merridew, and a memorable visit to Dunhambury Cricket Ground. Rumours that Old Wilkie is leaving lead to the ringing out of a wild bell.
- Our Friend Jennings 1955. Jennings and Darbishire go for a cross country run on a bus and spend an afternoon trying the patience of the patrons of the local cinema. Attempts to stage their masterpiece The Miser's Secret (starring Venables as Mr 'Hem Hem' Brown) are doomed to failure, but instead they perform part of Henry V with an unexpected guest.
- Thanks to Jennings 1957. Darbishire patents his method of removing heads from park railings with the aid of Jack Carr's car jack. Jennings finds and loses FJ Saunders, his guinea pig; uncovers a case of suspected furtive feasting amongst the masters; and saves the day when a Ministry of Schools inspector visits Old Wilkie's history class.
- Take Jennings, for Instance 1958. Aunt Angela gives Jennings a bicycle, which leads to a chain of events involving a runaway boat, PC Honeyball, and the Spanish Armada. The Form 3 Natural History Club (Jennings, JCT, Chief Spotter, Frog and Tadpole Dept) threatens to disrupt the smooth running of Linbury Court but its activities are saved by the intervention of a scientific frogman on prizegiving day.
- Jennings, as Usual 1959. In the Christmas term, Jennings has a short-lived and disastrous promotion to dorm monitor, sets his rubber alight in the classroom, risks Old Wilkie's wrath by drawing an unflattering caricature of him, and improves his piano playing with the aid of a gramophone record, before exchanging gifts and the comps of the season with Old Wilkie at the end-of-term party.
- The Trouble With Jennings 1960. Jennings's resolution to be decent to old people like the masters goes awry when he floods the bathroom with a syphon, impersonates Lady Macbeth sleepwalking, and inadvertently causes a fire drill after lights out. But all is resolved at a triumphant Old Peoples At Home (RIP) in the tuck box room, with some help from Mr Carter and Old Wilkie.
- Just Like Jennings 1961. Jennings finds a suspected spy in Miller's Wood and an abominable snowcat on the slopes of Mount Everest. Aunt Angela's cake-baking prowess comes in handy when Jennings breaks a vase belonging to Old Wilkie.
- Leave it to Jennings 1963. Madame Olivera from the Inscrutable East (AKA Miss Tubbs of the Linbury Post Office bacon counter) tells Jennings's fortune and predicts a journey over land and sea, an unexpected legacy and that he will succeed in an ambition close to his heart. But no one foresees the chaos during the term as the three predictions come true.
- Jennings, Of Course! 1964. Jennings proves more of a hindrance than a help to Old Wilkie's campaign to empty the lost property cupboard but all is forgiven when it leads to the appointment of a new cook. And Old Wilkie saves the day when Jennings conjures up a potential disaster at the end of term concert.
- Especially Jennings! 1965. The Jennings Membership Club is launched with mysterious objectives. Jennings gets mistaken for a burglar (again), accidentally gets Old Wilkie accused of stealing his own car, and goes to great efforts to win la plume de sa tante before Mr Carter suggests a worthy cause for the JMC's outstanding funds.
- A Bookful of Jennings 1966 (also titled The Best of Jennings). A reprint (compilation) of Books 1-4.
- Jennings Abounding 1967 (also titled 'Jennings Unlimited'). Not a novel: a comedy with music; lyrics by Anthony Buckeridge, music by Hector Cortes and William Gomez.
- Jennings in Particular 1968. A daring rescue mission is needed when Jennings and Darbishire get trapped in the attic whilst fielding at the first ever inter-planetary cricket match, and it becomes clear that even the best regulated of boarding schools cannot cope when a certain member of Form 3 accidentally wins a pig. Later, the pig is exchanged for a jar of bath salts, which Jennings gives to Matron - only to discover, to his horror, that the jar may also contain a drawing pin. Meanwhile, Darbishire discovers a link between Pythagoras and travelling arrangements for fat and thin Red Indian women - much to Old Wilkie's despair!
- Trust Jennings! 1969. At Linbury Court, it's certainly a case of remember, remember the fifth of November when Jennings copyrights his famous plan for members of Form 3 to act as Public Relations Officer to G Fawkes Esq (deceased) to raise funds for Famine Relief, undergoing an emergency haircut, an accidental mis-use of Old Wilkie's sports coat, and a day out in Dunhambury with a honky tonk piano in tow.
- The Jennings Report 1970. Jennings plans to report on a mathematical comparison of TV aerials in rural (Linbury) and urban (Dunhambury) locations - but gets distracted with the care of Old Sleepy, the top secret hedgehog.
- Typically Jennings! 1971. Two broken tennis rackets lead to Jennings becoming a potholer and Darbishire a prehistoric cave painter, not to mention an explosive attempt to make a cup of tea for Old Wilkie on the school picnic. Meanwhile, Jennings' plan to listen to the test match in class lead to trouble for Bromwich, who resorts to giving an Old Master to a not quite so old master to get his portable transistor back.
- Speaking of Jennings! 1973.
- Jennings at Large 1977. The only story set in the school holidays, in which Jennings, Darbishire and their friends go on a camping trip with Mr Carter and Mr Wilkins - needless to say that chaos soon ensues! Jennings then goes to stay with his Aunt Angela in her London flat, where he befriends Emma, a girl who lives in the same block - cue yet more chaos, especially for Aunt Angela and the block's caretaker, Herbert Fagg! This book makes clearest Buckeridge's personal politics, which (as turned out to be the case with J.K. Rowling) were different from those widely assumed of him beforehand.
- Jennings Again! 1991. Under the patronage of Miss Thorpe, Linbury is going green - collecting of rubbish, recycling, distribution of leaflets to raise awareness. The pupils at Linbury Court are desperate to help. But, as always with Jennings and Darbishire, good will is not synonymous with effectiveness and precious tropical fish are soon put in danger. Excerpts have been recorded by Stephen Fry for BBC7 as five 15-minute readings.
- That's Jennings 1994.
"Jennings Goes to School" and "Jennings Again!" were adapted for radio by Anthony Buckeridge, and read by Stephen Fry. The adaptions were released on audio cassette in 1991,. "Jennings' Little Hut" was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2010, narrated by Mark Williams.
In 2011, Post Hypnotic Press released six of the Jennings books in audio book form. The titles recorded are "Jennings Diary," "According to Jennings," "Jennings, as Usual," "The Jennings Report," "Jennings at Large" and "Jennings Again!" All six audio books were narrated by Simon Vance.
There have been two BBC TV series based on the books, Jennings at School, which ran for ten thirty-minute episodes between 6 September and 8 November 1958, and Jennings, which ran for six episodes between 5 September and 10 October 1966. Jennings was played by John Mitchell in the first series, and by David Schulten in the second. No episodes of either series are known to have survived in the BBC archives or elsewhere.
The Novels proved popular in other countries - in Germany Jennings is Fredy, in France he became Bennett. Jennings was especially popular in Norway where the main character became Stompa and the novels were re-written with Norwegian locations, there were also a series film adaptations directed by Nils Reinhardt Christensen.
- ANTHONY BUCKERIDGE and Jennings
- Author/Publisher, Jennings enthusiast
- Article discussing the appeal of Jennings stories
- Diarmaid Jennings - Daily Telegraph obituary