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Comedy
THE MOLESWORTH REPORT - HOW TO BE TOPP
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Thursday 13 May 2004 11.30-12.00noon
School sports


Nigel Molesworth, the blackly comic anti-hero who influenced a generation with his anarchic take on life, featuring contributions from some of his fondest fans. “I couldn’t live with someone who didn’t enjoy the Molesworth books,” says poet Wendy Cope, whose strong loyalty is shared by fans such as John Walsh, Sir Tim Rice and Russell Davies. “Molesworth had a fantastic influence on me,” says Walsh. “He’s more than a comic character, he’s a classic post-war meritocrat and a wonderful role model.”

The world first met the surly, ink-splattered schoolboy – created by writer Geoffrey Willans and illustrator Ronald Searle – 50 years ago. Down With Skool, published in 1953, is a wonderful parody of the ghastliness of public school life.The following year, How To Be Topp continued Nigel Molesworth’s fantastically misspelled and world-weary account of life at St Custard’s. His mangling of the English and Latin languages, and his detestation of swots and those who are good at games, gave the world a cache of unforgettable images and catchphrases.

But there’s more to Molesworth than brilliant comic observation; his jaded view, argues Sir Tim Rice, also offer valuable lessons for life as well as laughter. As the St Custard’s soccer team lose game after game to Porridge Court, Molesworth offers these pearls of wisdom: “It is a funy thing tho, your side always gets beaten whichever skool you are at. That is like life i suppose.”

There are also insights into the black humour of the books from Searle’s biographer Russell Davies, and tantalising glimpses into Willans’s early life. Listeners also learn that Searle created his grim scenes of school life less than 10 years after returning from a period of slave labour as a Japanese prisoner of war on the Burma-Siam railway, while Willans survived war service on the Atlantic convoys, only to die young before the last of the Molesworth books hit the presses.

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