And Then I Read: DOWN WITH SKOOL! by Willans and Searle


© Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle.

A few months ago someone known only as “The Magic Robot” linked to my site in an article on this humorous British schoolboy book from the 1950s. I’d never seen it, but thought it looked like a fun read, and he sent me his paperback copy, cover above. It is a fun read.

The British school story is a popular genre in England, and has been for some time, with the first one probably being “Tom Brown’s School Days” by Thomas Hughes, published in 1857. One only has to look at the Harry Potter books, which combine the school story with fantasy, to see the genre is alive and well. We don’t get many of them here in the US, though. Our school system is so different, I don’t think American kids would relate to them much. Plus they’re usually full of  somewhat opaque British slang that makes for hard going at times.

“Down With Skool!” is the first of five books featuring Molesworth by the writer/artist team of Willans and Searle, and it’s quite funny, despite being hard to read. On top of the British slang, the text is full of intentionally poor spelling and grammar, as written by poor student Molesworth. Once you get acclimated, though, he’s very entertaining, explaining everything about British school life, from the Masters (teachers), sports, lessons, punishments (and occasional rewards), and how to get the most (or least) out of them.


The sadistic streak that seems to run through British schools, on both the adult and child levels, is often a target, as in the drawing above. One has to wonder how that all became so entrenched, and whether it still is. Molesworth puts a funny spin on it, at least. And Searle’s drawings are a hoot, too.

Don’t know how much this might appeal to Americans, but I enjoyed it, and would read more if I came across them. Note that illustrator Ronald Searle was also the co-creator of the “St. Trinians” girl’s school stories, made into a series of films, at least one of which I’ve seen and enjoyed.

Recommended, if you can find it.

Down with Skool by Geoffrey Willans

4 thoughts on “And Then I Read: DOWN WITH SKOOL! by Willans and Searle

  1. Chris Bissette

    Solely to put people’s minds at ease, the nastiness famously exhibited by teachers in books like this no longer happens in our schools. It’s gone the other way, unfortunately, where teachers are unable to touch children at all – even a hug for a young student who is upset – and it’s had the result that children appear to be running wild (assuming you believe everything the press says, anyway).

  2. Michael

    there are only 4 Molesworth books, the fifth ‘The Compleet Molesworth’ is the other four books in a single volume, the same as the Penguin Modern Classics edition (although i think the latter also includes the inside cover drawings from the original hardback books)

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