The Man and the Writer by Eileen Buckeridge
Eileen began her account with a reference to a recent Observer article on the vain, self-dramatising nature of many writers and the intolerable burdens they placed on their long-suffering families. Anthony was not of that ilk. He of course required space but it was Eileen's contention that creativity brings fulfilment when the creator is not frustrated in the attempt to secure that space.
Eileen maintained that good fortune had accompanied his ability. This had not secured him the millions earned by certain well-known children's writers but she very much doubted that they would have been comfortable with the excesses of modern marketing.
As a writer, Anthony was essentially a wordsmith who paid meticulous attention to using the right word, phrase, clause and sentence. Each page was painstakingly completed before the next was commenced and yet the characters and lively dialogue jump off the page with an immediacy that belies the thorough graft.
Style is all-important but content must be based on the subjective interpretation of experience. As Eileen pointed out, we all have experience of school and will all be acutely sensitive to the sound of a false note. Astute observation ensures that the characteristics and antics of the staff and boys at Linbury Court ring true. Here, she drew a parallel with a passage from "His Dark Materials" by Philip Pullman where Pullman's own schoolmastering experience is evident. Minor characters in the Jennings books owe their authenticity to various other interludes in Anthony's life. The unfortunate Leading Fireman Cuppling in the Fire Drill episode in "Jennings Goes to School", for example, can be traced back to Anthony's spell in the Auxiliary Fire Service.
The Jennings books are, of course, noted for their humour but this, Eileen felt, has perhaps obscured the quality of the writing. Recent focus on the books, however, indicates a wider awareness of Anthony's style and the literary merit of his work. The award of the OBE; representation in the exhibition of seminal children's writers in the National Portrait Gallery; various mentions in the National newspapers, notably Simon Hoggart in the Guardian in March and the fourth leader in the Telegraph in April, are all evidence of his place in the English heritage of literature.
Anthony continues to receive many interesting letters, further evidence of the continuing popularity of his books. He is unable to reply personally but Eileen responds promptly to all letters of appreciation (even to the briefest such as that from my son, Theo). With republication of more Jennings titles under wraps for the time being, awareness of Anthony's work will continue to be transmitted to a younger readership by enthusiastic parents and teachers. With a sell-out after the reading at the Edinburgh Festival in 2001, it seems that the popularity of Jennings is set to continue. My 11-year-old son's bookshelves are certainly testimony to that.
Caroline Bateman, May 2004