Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist Bernard Trafford

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist Bernard Trafford

Article excerpt

WHEN I was a boy, I used to enjoy reading Billy Bunter stories.

The so-called Fat Owl of the Remove (how politically incorrect that is now, making fun of a fat boy!) was a schoolboy character created by Frank Richards (real name Charles Hamilton), who holds the record as the most prolific writer ever.

Between 1910 and the Second World War, he knocked out some 50,000 words a week for The Magnet and The Gem, comics my parents' generation grew up with. I pick them up whenever I come across a reproduction or even an original on a bookstall, and still laugh out loud. Let me offer some reassurance: no school I've worked in or run bears any resemblance to Greyfriars.

And even the scariest teacher I've known was but a pale imitation of Greyfriars' fearsome Mr Quelch in his gown and mortarboard, cane constantly twitching in his hand.

"In matters of food," Richards would write, "Billy Bunter was a Bolshevik." Hopelessly addicted to sweet things, he grabbed and wolfed down everything he could. Questioned under Quelch's "gimlet eye", he was a hopeless liar. He'd protest: "I didn't take the cake, sir! Besides, I wasn't even there when I ate it!" It always ended the same way, Quelch's cane imprinting itself on Bunter's over-filled trouser bottom.

You'll have guessed where I'm going with this: I'm talking about 32-second apologies. Kathryn Hudson, Parliamentary commissioner for standards, recommended that Culture Secretary Maria Miller should repay around PS44,000 in money she had overclaimed for the mortgage on her second home, which allowed her (but apparently also her parents) to live in London as well as in her constituency.

However, Hudson was not backed by the Commons Standards Committee, which comprises 10 MPs and three non-voting (!) lay members. It ignored her recommendation, and instead instructed Miller to repay just PS5,800 and apologise to the Commons.

Miller's apology was at best perfunctory. Public opinion was outraged. Yesterday Miller bowed to the pressure and resigned. She'd have gained more credit it if she'd gone sooner.

But that isn't the end of the fallout. …

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