Paul Jennings (British author)

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Paul Jennings
Born(1918-06-20)20 June 1918
Died26 December 1989(1989-12-26) (aged 71)
SpouseCelia Jennings

Paul Francis Jennings (20 June 1918 – 26 December 1989) was an English humourist and author. After his Catholic education, Jennings served in World War II. For many years he wrote a column, Oddly Enough, in British newspaper The Observer. Many collections of his work were published, including The Jenguin Pennings (whose title is a spoonerism) by Penguin Books in 1963. He also wrote popular children's books including The Great Jelly of London, The Hopping Basket, and The Train to Yesterday.

Jennings married Celia Blom in 1951. He died in 1989.

Early life and education[edit]

Paul Francis Jennings was born on 20 June 1918 in Leamington Spa.[1] His parents were William Benedict and Gertrude Mary Jennings. He was educated at King Henry VIII school in Coventry and at the Douai Catholic school in Woolhampton, Berkshire.[2]


Jennings served in the Royal Signals during the Second World War.[3] In 1943 his piece "Moses was a Sanitary Officer" was published in Lilliput magazine.[4] Freelance work for Punch and The Spectator soon followed. Leaving the army with the rank of Lieutenant, he briefly worked as a scriptwriter for the Central Office of Information and then spent two years as an advertising copywriter; throughout this period his freelance work continued to be published.

In 1949 he joined The Observer, contributing a fortnightly column entitled "Oddly Enough" until 1966, when he was succeeded by Michael Frayn,[5] who was an admirer of his work.[6] After leaving The Observer, he continued to write until his death, mainly seeing print in Punch, The Times and the Telegraph magazine.


His columns constitute several hundred 700-word essays.[7] In general his pieces take the form of whimsical ponderings; some are based in real-life incidents, often involving his friend Harblow.

The obvious meaning of this was that the Against-man must naturally again after that treat, this Stone how possibly in the own House of the Player to shut in.

— Paul Jennings, 'How to Spiel Halma'

For instance, one of his pieces, "How to Spiel Halma", concerns their attempts to establish the rules of halma from the instructions in a German set using their extremely limited knowledge of the language.[8]

His pieces are sometimes poems,[citation needed] and sometimes written in novel forms of language, such as the Romance-eschewing Anglish,[9] or that of a toy 19-letter pipewipen (typewriter).[10] Other articles were extended flights of fancy, such as "The Unthinkable Carrier"[11] based on the idea of cutting Britain free of the Earth's crust so that it could float around the oceans and guarantee world peace, with the Isle of Wight kept in place by a tow chain. In a late 1950s piece, "Sleep for Sale", he prefigured the concept of the capsule hotel ("Over to you, capitalists. But remember, I thought of it first.").[12] Several of his pieces touched on the invented philosophical movement of Resistentialism,[13] a concept that probably owes some of its force to the contempt that Jennings—a devout Catholic—felt for the intellectual fashion he was parodying.[citation needed]

Jennings was an admirer of James Thurber,[14] who attended a dinner party at Jennings' house and subsequently wrote of the conversation in a 1955 New Yorker piece.[n 1]


Oddly Enough collections[edit]

  • Oddly Enough (Reinhardt and Evans, 1950)
  • Even Oddlier (Reinhardt, 1952)
  • Oddly Bodlikins (Reinhardt, 1953)
  • Next to Oddliness (Reinhardt, 1955)
  • Model Oddlies (Reinhardt, 1956)
  • Gladly Oddly (Reinhardt, 1958)
  • Idly Oddly (Reinhardt, 1959)
  • I said Oddly, Diddle I? (Reinhardt, 1961)
  • Oodles of Oddlies (Reinhardt, 1963)
  • Oddly Ad Lib (Reinhardt, 1965)
  • I Was Joking, Of Course (Reinhardt, 1968)
  • It's an Odd Thing, But... ( Reinhardt, 1971)

General collections[edit]

  • The Jenguin Pennings (Penguin, 1963)
  • A Precsription for Foreing Travel (sic) (Guinness, 1966)[n 2]
  • I Must Have Imagined It (M Joseph, 1977)
  • Pun Fun (Hamlyn, 1980)
  • Golden Oddlies (Methuen, 1983)
  • The Paul Jennings Reader (Bloomsbury, 1990) (posthumous)

Books on British life[edit]

  • The Living Village (Hodder and Stoughton, 1968)
  • Just a Few Lines: Guinness Trains of Thought (London: Guinness Superlatives, 1969; ISBN 0900424508). About the Colne Valley, Scarborough–Whitby, Oxford–Fairford, and Neath–Brecon rail lines. With photographs by Graham Finlayson.
  • Britain as she is Visit (M. Joseph, 1976)
  • Companion to Britain (Cassell, 1981)
  • East Anglia (Gordon Fraser, 1986)

Children's books[edit]

  • The Hopping Basket (MacDonald & Co, 1965)
  • The Great Jelly of London (Faber and Faber, 1967)
  • The Train to Yesterday (Chambers, 1974)


  • Dunlopera: The Works and Workings of the Dunlop Rubber Company. Dunlop Rubber Co, 1961. About Dunlop; illustrated by Edward Bawden; not commercially issued. OCLC 59014464.
  • And Now for Something Exactly the Same (Gollancz, 1977). A novel.

As editor[edit]

  • The English Difference (Aurelia Enterprises, 1974) (co-edited with John Gorham)
  • The Book of Nonsense (Macdonald, 1977)
  • A Feast of Days (Macdonald, 1982)
  • My Favourite Railway Stories (Lutterworth Press, 1982)

Personal life[edit]

Jennings married Celia Blom, daughter of music critic and lexicographer Eric Blom, in 1951.[2] She provided illustrations for some of his books. The couple lived in East Bergholt, Suffolk, England, and had six children.[15] A keen chorister, Jennings sang with the Oriana Madrigal Society and the London Philharmonia Chorus.[16][17] In later years he was an active member of the church choir at St Thomas of Canterbury church in Woodbridge. Jennings died on 26 December 1989.[4]


  1. ^ Jennings states that Thurber subsequently put incidents from the dinner into a New Yorker piece, including a discussion about writers' ages and a remark about people who might find it relaxing "to wash a Venetian blind". These can be found in: James Thurber, The moribundant life, or, grow old along with whom?, The New Yorker, 23 September 1955. Collected in: Alarms and Diversions, Penguin, 1957. Thurber mentions London but no names. The 1957 collection adds "two years ago" to the mention of the party.
  2. ^ The 12-page booklet is a verse parody of European brochure-speak, produced as an advertisement for Guinness. On the back is printed 'Designed for Guinness by S.H.Benson Ltd. Written by Paul Jennings. Illustrated by John Astrop. Printed in Great Britain by W.S.Cowell Ltd. 587/66' It was the last of a series of advertising booklets, with different authors and illustrators each year, sent by Guinness to doctors each Christmas from 1933 to 1939 and 1950 to 1966.


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (see index website)
  2. ^ a b "Paul Jennings: obituary". The Times. 29 December 1989.
  3. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  4. ^ a b The Paul Jennings Reader, Bloomsbury, 1990
  5. ^ David Astor by Jeremy Lewis (see Google Books)
  6. ^ Michael Frayn, The Guardian, 4 December 2016
  7. ^ Fred Inglis, Speaking Volumes, The Times Higher Educational Supplement, 9 June 1995
  8. ^ Paul Jennings, How To Spiel Halma, The Observer, June 1949. Collected in Oddly Enough, Reinhardt and Evans, 1950.
  9. ^ '1066 and All Saxon' in three parts; published 15 June 1966 (No. 6562), 22 June 1966 (No. 6563), and 29 June 1966 (No. 6554). Punch Vol. 250 – Pt. 2, 1966. Library of Congress: AP 101 P8
  10. ^ Paul Jennings, "Invenkion; buk Necessiki?", Times Literary Supplement, August 1982, reprinted in The Paul Jennings Reader, Bloomsbury, 1990
  11. ^ Paul Jennings, "The Unthinkable Carrier", The Observer, November 1960.
  12. ^ Paul Jennings, "Sleep for Sale", in Idly Oddly, Reinhardt, 1959.
  13. ^ Paul Jennings, "Report on Resistentialism", The Spectator, 23 April 1948, reprinted as Thingness of Things, The New York Times, 13 June 1948
  14. ^ Paul Jennings, Thurber, Punch, March 1965. In: The Paul Jennings Reader, Bloomsbury, 1990
  15. ^ Reynolds, Stanley (1 January 1990). "Humour without bile: obituary of Paul Jennings". The Guardian.
  16. ^ Igoe, W J (29 December 1989). "Obituary: Paul Jennings". The Independent.
  17. ^ "BBC Two England - 26 April 1964 [Broadcast schedule]". BBC. Retrieved 17 December 2017.