The Condor Crags Adventure by Elinor M Brent-Dyer


  For someone associated with Girls’ Own school stories, Elinor M Brent-Dyer wrote Boys’ Own adventure stories remarkably well.  This is very much of its time (1954), or indeed earlier – a well-to-do Englishman, Sir Godfrey Chudleigh, is kidnapped by a Bolivian tribe demanding the return of some jewels given by one of their ancestors to one of Godfrey’s ancestors.  Godfrey’s brother, two chums and a Brazilian associate (who happens to be an expert on planes) set off to rescue him.

Fortunately, Godfrey is not being kept locked up, but is free to wander around; and is kept supplied with food and ginger beer by a badly-treated mestizo man with whom he becomes friends.  I’m not sure why ginger beer seems to be so readily available in the Bolivian Andes, but never mind.

Some of the language in relation to disability and ethnicity doesn’t really work today, but the book’s nearly 70 years old, and none of the terms used would have been considered offensive in the 1950s.  And the dialogue is all very Boys’ Own slangy, with the young men addressing each other as “old cock”!  The Chudleighs are all very brave and manly, what-ho, and they aren’t going to be done down by the Andean kidnappers, even though they’ve threatened to chop Godfrey up piece by piece.

That’s the blokes, natch.  There’s no question of the girls having any involvement … which is a bit annoying, when you think that Bessie Marchant, Dorothea L Moore and to some extent Enid Blyton were quite happy to let girls be involved in derring-do, and indeed so was Elinor herself in some of the Chalet School books.  However, a woman doses two men, which would never happen in Chalet School land.  You go, girl!!

One of the Chudleigh sisters, Arminel, is Gillian Culver from the Chalet School books, and I’ve never been quite clear as to why the same character has two different names and two different personalities!  But she barely features in this.

Our Brazilian friend, who for some reason speaks Spanish rather than Portuguese, fortunately guesses exactly where Godfrey is, and the rescuers fly a plane overhead and signal to him that he will soon be free.  Hurrah!  Meanwhile, Godfrey finds some gold and shoots some pumas.

He and Gonzalo, the mestizo man, then escape through some caves, in the middle of volcanic eruptions, storms, earthquakes and avalanches.  None of which bother our hero one whit.   And the rescuers, flying overhead, spot them.  Yay!!   They are duly rescued.

It’s not exactly realistic, but books in this genre rarely are, and it’s really rather good as Boys’ Own adventure books go.  I am off to try to find copies of the three books in this series which I’ve yet to read!



Jennings Goes To School by Anthony Buckeridge


   This is the first Jennings book and my first Jennings book, read for a Facebook group challenge.  I enjoyed it, but not so much so that I’ll be rushing to buy all the others.  The book sees Jennings and his friend Darbishire starting at prep school and having to get used to the written rules, the unwritten rules and the slang.  In sitcom style, Jennings takes everything very literally, there are a lot of mistakes with words, and various misunderstandings result.

It was genuinely funny and I enjoyed reading it.  And I loved our boy saying that he wanted to play for United.  But, as I said, I don’t particularly feel the need to read the rest in the series – although I can see why people do.  Genuinely funny.

Top Secret by Elinor M Brent-Dyer


This is the last of the five “Chudleigh Hold” books and, unusually for Elinor M Brent-Dyer (EBD) is an adventure book written about a young man, presumably with a target audience of boys.  Nobody is described as being “dainty” or “delicate”, and the only major female character is a wonderful, feisty elderly lady who runs her own business and has never married because she was too busy doing other things.   I didn’t have very high hopes for this book when I started reading it, because I couldn’t imagine a Boys’ Own book written by EBD, but it was actually very, very good!

Hawk Chudleigh, the brother of the Chalet School’s Gillian Culver (I’m hoping at some point to acquire copies of the other Chudleigh Hold books, but I gather that even they don’t explain why the Culver/Chudleigh family haven’t got the same surname as they have in the Chalet School books) has been dispatched to Australia, to work as an engineer but also to carry “Top Secret” papers detailing how future wars can be prevented using some mysterious thing which won’t hurt anyone.  If only such a thing existed.  Dorita Fairlie Bruce’s Toby at Tibbs Cross contained a similar idea about a mysterious way of preventing wars: I don’t know whether or not EBD had read that.

Of course, some baddies are on to Hawk.  But, before they can do anything to him, the ship he’s on explodes, apparently due to a Japanese landmine remaining from the war years.  (The book’s set in the 1950s.). But he and another lad are sleeping in a lifeboat as their cabins were too hot (as you do), and the lifeboat’s set adrift, and eventually came to an island on which was a well-to-do family’s holiday home, easy to break into and well-stocked with food.   OK, nobody said that adventure books had to be realistic!   It’s written so well that the story genuinely doesn’t seem silly, even to an adult reader, though.

The island was off the coast of New Zealand, and how they got there when they’d been sailing SW from Tasmania is, er, anyone’s guess, but never mind!  The family then arrive; and are totally cool with the two lads having broken into their home.  Everyone’s getting along jolly well when, whaddaya know, there’s a hurricane.  Then, during the clean-up operation, a group of armed baddies arrive.  They’re led by an old university pal of Hawk’s, turned traitor.  This is Cold War stuff:  the group are working for the Soviets.

The baddies then torture our boys and their friends (the houseowners).  It’s quite nasty, worse than is usually found in a children’s book.  But, hurrah, the secret papers have already been sent away, concealed inside a gardening catalogue, and one of the family escapes to fetch help, from a ship conveniently positioned nearby.  The baddies are, needless to say, overpowered.

And then it turns out that Hawk’s friend from the ship that blew up is the great-nephew of the houseowning family’s amnesiac adopted son.  Of course he is.  EBD did love a long-lost relative story!

It sounds a bit bonkers, but children’s adventure books always are.  I could imagine G A Henty writing something like this, if he’d been around in the 1950s.  I wasn’t expecting much, but I should know better than to underestimate EBD.  I loved this, and am on a quest to find affordable copies of the other Chudleigh Hold books ASAP.



The Fifth Form at St Dominic’s by Talbot Baines Reed (Facebook group reading challenge)


I thoroughly enjoyed this, and I hadn’t particularly expected to.  I thought that, being a Victorian (it was published in 1881) boys’ school story, it’d be full of preaching and violent bullying, but there was no preaching, and the bullying was no worse than it is in most later school stories.  It was really good fun!

There are three main characters, and three main storylines.  Oliver Greenfield, a Fifth Former, is wrongly accused of cheating in a scholarship exam, but the other boys eventually realise that they’ve got it wrong and that Oliver is actually a jolly good fellow.  Stephen Greenfield, Oliver’s little brother, is a new boy finding his way in one of the junior forms.  I love the relationship between the two brothers.  The masters barely get involved at all, even when there’s obviously something serious going on, but Oliver steps in when he sees Stephen being attacked by bullies, and Stephen rallies his crowd of juniors in Oliver’s defence when the rest of the school unjustly sends him to Coventry.  Then there’s Edward Loman, a Sixth Former, the real cheat, who lets Oliver take the blame, falls into drinking and gambling, gets into debt with a local publican, and – the end’s a bit tropey! – runs away, gets caught in a storm, and is rescued by, of course, Oliver … but sees the error of his ways, as bad boys/girls in school stories always do!

The idea of the challenge was to read a book about a pupil writing a book/play/newspaper/magazine, and, although it’s a minor storyline, one of the other Fifth Formers in this produces a newspaper called “The Dominican” – which sounds more like Punch than the usual type of school magazine, being full of sarcastic articles about other forms and other pupils!  Only one copy, so it goes in a wooden frame, and somehow survives without being torn or otherwise damaged.

Getting back to the more general storyline, there’s very little preaching.  The only time religion really comes up is in a letter from the Greenfield boys’ mother.  The morality’s all about the schoolboy code of behaviour, and school traditions are also a very big thing.  The boys in Oliver’s form all belong to one of two fraternities, the Guinea-Pigs and the Tadpoles, and the big feast they have after a cricket match is an annual tradition, not a spontaneously-planned jolly jape of the sort found in Enid Blyton books.

Sport features a lot, as you would expect.  Annoyingly, “football” is used to mean rugby (I was going to say “rugby union”, but this was pre-split!).  Proper football, which public schoolboys would call “soccer”, isn’t mentioned!  Cricket is also mentioned.  Unusually for a school story, we don’t get one of the heroes scoring the winning try or run – the big rugby match against a county side is lost, and the big cricket match is drawn.  There’s also plenty of fighting, but most of it’s more “boys will be boys” fisticuffs than actual nastiness, apart from one unpleasant incident in which Loman beats up Stephen Greenfield – who is then hailed as a hero by his classmates.

And, of course, there’s the fagging system.  As well as being asked to make tea, polish boots and the usual stuff, the younger boys are sent out on errands into the nearby town.  It’s very different to the mid-20th century girls’ boarding school stories in which no-one’s supposed to leave the premises without permission from a teacher.  The boys even go down the pub … although that’s how Loman gets into bother.  The town’s called Maltby, but I think it’s meant to be a fictional town rather than Maltby near Rotherham.

The masters are just barely involved at all.  One of them steps in when Stephen’s obviously struggling with his work in the early days, but that’s about it.  The headmaster, seeing Stephen’s bruised and battered face after Loman’s beaten him up, realises than an older boy’s attacked a younger one, but does nothing about it.  Even when the boys all show the school up in front of a load of visitors, by hissing when Oliver gets his scholarship prize at Speech Day, nothing’s done.  Nor do the captain and the monitors intervene very much in what’s going on.  It’s not the sort of public school that’s seeking to train boys to run the Empire and sees older boys bossing younger ones about as training for that.  Loman does go to Australia for a while, but it’s as a farmer rather than as an administrator.  Oliver Greenfield becomes a barrister rather than a soldier or a bigwig in the Indian Civil Service, and his best friend Wraysford becomes a Cambridge don.

And they do actually work quite hard!   Getting good marks in exams is not seen as being uncool, and boys who do well are seen as bringing credit to their forms, rather than being sneered at for being swots or geeks.  Where it goes wrong in when part of a scholarship exam paper goes missing, and Oliver, who was seen near the headmaster’s study at the time and later wins the scholarship, is wrongly suspected of taking it.  Everyone turns on Oliver, apart from Stephen and the rest of the Guinea-Pigs, which is really horrible.  OK, it’s not physical violence, but being shunned by everyone else, and accused of something you haven’t done, is probably worse than a smack in the mouth.

Oliver, a bit like Katy Carr, doesn’t seek to prove his innocence, but just lives it down – the difference being that Katy was accused by a teacher and the other girls didn’t believe any of it, whereas poor Oliver is ostracised by his classmates and by most of the other boys as well.  His behaviour’s very noble, and that and his success in another exam persuade the others that they’ve been wrong about him, but I’m not sure how realistic it is.  Even more bizarrely, when the missing paper is later found inside one of Loman’s books, by the headmaster, in front of the entire Sixth Form, nearly everyone accepts Loman’s claims that he didn’t take it and had no idea how it got there!

Loman eventually runs away, because of the financial trouble he’s got into, gets caught in a storm, is rescued by Oliver – with a bit of help from Stephen – and becomes seriously ill.  That’s all a bit tropey, as I said, but we do later learn that he’s made a full recovery and is now leading a decent life.  Oliver has become a successful barrister, and Stephen is now the school captain.  Hurrah!

Just a couple of other things.  The forms are very confusing!  Twelve-year-old Stephen is in the Fourth Junior, i.e. the Lower Fourth, which makes sense, but there only seems to be one Fifth Form and one Sixth Form, so the 12-year-olds are only two forms below the 16-year-olds.  On a totally different note, I was quite chuffed to learn that Talbot Baines Read was a cousin of Edward Baines, of History of the Cotton Manufacture fame.  And also that there was a TV adaptation of The Fifth Form at St Dominic’s in the 1960s, with the bloke who played Tom Howard in Howards’ Way playing the headmaster.

All in all, I really enjoyed this!   And it’s available either for 99p on Kindle or free on Project Gutenberg.