Molesworth: The Young Elizabethan Years
by Robert Kirkpatrick
His first piece, illustrated by Searle, appeared the January 1955 issue, headed "Introducing ... MOLESWORTH (Elizabethan)", and was a comic look at the “old” Elizabethans:
Drake, you kno Drake who singed the king of spane’s beard, he was the
kind we ought to model ourselves on these days. With him he had a gay
band of cut-throats who would make molesworth 2, peason grabber
gillibrand etc. look like the weeds and wets they are. These cut-throats
were very fond of Drake and when he was dead they kept calling to him.
CUTTHROATS: Captin art thou sleeping there below.
DRAKE: How can i when you are making such an infernal din?
CUTTHROATS: Drake is in his hammoack –
DRAKE: I am not in my hamock curse you. All there is down
here is sea-weed and shells it is worse than a bed in the
This was followed, in the next month’s issue, by "Guide to Gurls", which imagines what life would be like at St. Custard’s if the pupils behaved themselves like they did in girls’ school stories (“Rats, you crumpet,” sa gillibrand, the mad cap of 3B. “It’s jolly rot to sa that molesworth cribbed in the botany exam”). Further Molesworth features appeared throughout the rest of 1955, all of which were subsequently reprinted, with occasional small textual changes, cuts and additions, in the book Whizz for Atomms, published by Max Parrish in 1956. (“Conoisuers of prose and luvers of literature hem-hem may recall that some of this hav apeared in that super smashing mag Young Elizabethan”).
Two further pieces, "Atomms v Culture" and "Goodby to Skool (for a bit)" which appeared in Whizz for Atomms weren’t published in the magazine until February and March 1956.
By the spring of 1958 the success of the Molesworth books, plus his other work, had encouraged Geoffrey Willans to leave the BBC to become a full-time freelance writer. But, wholly unexpectedly, he died of a heart attack on 6 August. Further Molesworth pieces appeared in the September and October issues of Young Elizabethan, followed by a gap in November, with his last piece appearing in the December issue, immediately after a brief announcement of his death in the editorial.
In the meantime, Back in the Jug Agane was published in late 1958 (the first edition is dated 1959), at the same time as the omnibus volume of all four books, The Compleet Molesworth.
Molesworth has since become one of literature’s most famous schoolboy anti-heroes. Perhaps taking a cue from Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky (1899), Molesworth had a jaundiced, cynical and at times ambivalent approach to life, both at school and at home.
“Armand is coming to sta with us in the hols,” she sa.
“Who, pray, is armand,” i repli, dealing a mitey blow to my hard-boiled egg. “As far as i kno he is the weedy wet in the fr. book who sa the elephants are pigs.
“He is a fr. boy who is coming to us to learn eng.,” sa mater with a swete patient smile. “And you are to be v. nice to him as the pore boy will be far from home ect.”
Well, you can immagine wot any noble british boy would sa to that i.e. o no mater, must we, gosh, wot a chiz ect. but it is no use. It is not any good pointing out that “chez molesworth” he may learn a lot of things but one of them won’t be eng. We kno when are licked.
“Wot is yore opinion of colin wilson, the new philosopher?” sa fotherington-tomas, hanging by his weedy heels from the crossbar.There has never been anything quite like Molesworth, and the icing on the cake was the brilliance of Ronald Searle, and the perfect match between the text and the illustrations. Hoora for Willans, Searle, Molesworth, and all boys everywere.
“Advanced, forthright, signifficant,” i repli, kicking off the mud from my footer boots.
“He takes, i think, the place of t.s. eliot in speaking for the younger generation. Have you any idea of the score?”
“Not a clue.”
“Those rufians hav interrupted us six times. So one must assume half a dozen goles. If only our defence was more lively, quicker on the tackle! Now as i was saing about colin wilson.....”
This is a complete list of all the Molesworth pieces in Young Elizabethan.
January 1955 Introducing ... MOLESWORTH (Elizabethan)
February 1955 Guide to Gurls
March 1955 Tee Hee for Tee Vee
April 1955 BOO to tinies
May 1955 WHO will be WOT?
June 1955 Six-gun Molesworth
July 1955 Oeufs are Oafs…
August 1955 Ho for the Hols!
September 1955 A Grim Subjekt
October 1955 Produktivity in Skool
November 1955 More about Masters
December 1955 A Few Tips from the Coarse
January 1956 A Teacher’s World
February 1956 Attoms v Culture
March 1956 Goodby to Skool (for a bit)
May 1956 Learning About Life
June 1956 Taking Wings!
July 1956 The Flying Molesman
September 1956 here we go agane!
October 1956 So far so good!
December 1956 I luv Gurls
February 1957 the karackter kup
March 1957 the grate master trap
May 1957 molesworth cleens up dodge city
June 1957 kno yore enemy!
October 1957 back in the jug agane, (hem hem)
December 1957 a few rools for xmas
January 1958 a brite future
February 1958 dansey dansey
March 1958 “shoot fule!”
April 1958 musick the food of luv ect.
May 1958 headmaster probes secrets
June 1958 ko-eddukation at st. custard’s
July 1958 fr. and English
August 1958 tenis anebody?
September 1958 MIND MY BIKE!
October 1958 thro’ horridges with gran in ’58
December 1958 hurrah for examms
A further piece by Geoffrey Willans, "Molesworth – The Inside Story", appeared in April 1957.