Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Professor Branestawm Books by Norman Hunter

We don't want things to get too serious here at Vintage Novels, and so I thought now might be a good time to review a completely silly collection of books that my siblings and I all loved and read about a thousand times as children. In fact, it's probably best that we read them as children; come to them any later than about the age of ten, and they'll probably just give you a headache.

The first book is The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm, and there are many others, but the three we owned as children were Professor Branestawm's Treasure Hunt, Professor Branestawm Up the Pole, and of course The Peculiar Triumph of Professor Branestawm. The Professor himself is, of course, one of the foremost citizens of a small and stereotypical English town, Pagwell (with outlying regions including Lower Pagwell, Pagwell Parva and Pagwell-on-Pag). Professor Branestawm wears five pairs of spectacles, has a long-suffering housekeeper with the absolutely smashing name of Mrs Flittersnoop, a long-suffering best friend Colonel Dedshott (of the Catapult Cavaliers), and spends all his time inventing crazy contraptions...the pancake-making machine, the weather-making machine, the spring-cleaning machine, and the machine for straightening out bananas...

All of which work just a little too well for the liking of the people of Great Pagwell.

I think the most appealing thing about these books was always the daffy sense of humour, which has great fun with English stereotypes, and is pretty full of satire on life in a small English town. Red tape and bureaucracy is always getting skewered in these books: it was Norman Hunter who taught me to regard "municipal" as an inherently funny word.
The Mayor of Pagwell was reclining municipally in his sitting-room listening to a brass band concert, when suddenly the music stopped and, instead, out of his radio came instructions on how to make a suet pudding.
But we also loved the zany inventiveness of the Professor's machines. I don't know how none of us ended up as inventors, but somehow we managed it, despite such fun as the Professor's weather machine:
"This is what comes of usurping the authority of the BBC," complained a weather forecasting man.
Pink and green hail. Rain came down boiling hot and people made cocoa with it but had to wear asbestos overcoats so as not to get scalded. Exploding hailstones went ping or pong according to whether they were right or left-handed hailstones. There were thunderstorms with knotted lightning and swing beat thunder.
Most of all, even these days, I could read the books for the fun with English stereotypes.
"And the natives were charging down on us from one direction, by Jove," went on the Colonel. "A herd of wild elephants were charging up from the other direction. A tiger was crouched on a branch over our heads and three snakes were coiled at our feet ready to strike. We had run out of ammunition. What did I do, sir? My word, yes, what did I do?"
"I just took my mashie and put the ball right on the green in less than fifteen strokes," said the Mayor, who had begun his golf story in case the Colonel soon came to the end of his adventure stories.
Perhaps there's not much of substance in the Professor Branestawm stories--just a good deal of good-tempered silliness--but I have to point out that the silliness is more or less entirely right-minded.
"Er--ah--hum," said Professor Branestawm, looking at the pictures through various spectacles.
One picture was called "Loneliness" and consisted of hundreds of coloured dots of different shapes. Another was "Trees by a river" and showed to very upstanding lettuces and a cup of tea. There was one very narrow picture, five feet long and three inches high, painted purple all over with a black squiggle in one corner, and that was called "Evening."
"Er--ah--most interesting, but most puzzling and exceedingly not understandable," murmured the Professor, looking rather nervously at a big picture of ferocious eyes clustered round a frying pan.
"Well, I never did, sir," said Mrs Flittersnoop, caught between a picture of two bent lamp-posts in a bath and one of rows of empty bottles, all the wrong shape. "They're not very good, are they? Indeed, I'm sure, sir, my little nephew could do better."
I find that most children read everything in sight and then sit up and beg for more. With many worse options out there, I recommend the Professor Branestawm books for a bit of zany fun.

Find Professor Branestawm books on Amazon or The Book Depository.

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