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March 2019



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Harry Potter books

Bunkle and other children’s series fiction books

Thanks to the Fidra Books reprint, I’ve just read Bunkle Scents a Clue by M Pardoe. This is the eleventh and penultimate title in a series which began in 1939 and ended in 1961. I have the first eight books in hardback but the later ones are hard to find and very expensive, so I’m pleased to be able to buy the new paperback editions. It means I can complete the series without feeling I’m wasting my money, because I don’t enjoy the later books as much as the earlier stories.

Billy de Salis, known as Bunkle, has an enquiring mind, a kindly nature and a determination to be rich some day; a highly fanciable combination. I was grown up before I read any of the books so perhaps Bunkle’s father, Colonel de Salis, would be a more suitable object of devotion for me. My favourite book in the series is Bunkle Butts In (1943) in which the family moves into Marsh House and starts wartime housekeeping with a little spy catching on the side; just the sort of book I enjoy.

My heart sank when I began Bunkle Scents a Clue. The book seemed to be all about Sally, a tiresomely pony-mad girl. Don’t get me wrong; I like pony books well enough when they are out-and-out pony books like Jill’s Gymkhana or my all-time favourite, The Ten Pound Pony by Veronica Westlake. What I don’t like is for the author of a long-established series to be told by the publishers, ‘more ponies, please.’ In my opinion this spoiled M E Atkinson’s series of books about the Lockett family, which I love. The last Lockett title, Steeple Folly (1950) has too much about ponies and gymkhanas to please me and the character of the earlier books is lost. After that, Atkinson moved on to Fricka and ponies and I lose interest. Also, by 1950 Atkinson’s books were beginning to look old fashioned and I’m afraid the same is true of Margot Pardoe. A new generation of writers was coming up; in particular, Monica Edwards.

Look at the opening scenes of Bunkle Scents a Clue. Sally is a vicar’s daughter √ who wears her hair in plaits √. She has a much younger brother √. She is mad on ponies √. Her mother wears her plaits in a crown around her head √. Sally knows the local countryside like the back of her hand √ and is respected by the local characters √. The ticks represent exact comparisons with Monica Edwards’ heroine Tamzin, who first appeared in Wish for a Pony in 1947. Yet Tamzin seems a much more modern girl and certainly doesn’t spout whole stilted paragraphs about what ‘one’ does. Apart from the occasional ‘Miss Tam’, there is also far less deference in Monica Edwards’ books. In the later Atkinson and Pardoe books the ‘Miss-ing’ and ‘Master-ing’, the effortless superiority of Colonel de Salis swanning around the countryside in his Vanguard while complaining about trippers and charabancs start to look very dated.

Things improve as soon as Bunkle arrives on the scene, although he seems a very young seventeen, classical scholar or no. The family are back in Somerset, scene of their wartime adventures in Bunkle Began It. This time they are staying with an elderly retired admiral (what else?) and have two Scottish cousins in tow. Another character from an earlier book, Major Benson, appears; he is now a policeman married to a horsey lady (cue connection with Sally). There’s a mysterious professor who doesn’t like visitors, a mysterious smell in a long abandoned garden and mysterious goings about by a foreigner in a Jag. This is very promising and the Somerset countryside is well described. It’s all rather educational, though. We have a topographical tour taking in local beauty spots (including Cleeve Abbey, Oxenham fans), Somerset flora, fauna, legends, climate and weather conditions. All rather hard work but I still enjoyed the book.

I did a brief check on just a few of the other series books published in the same year, 1953.
Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Five Go Down to the Sea.
Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine, The Neglected Mountain.
Monica Edwards’ Punchbowl, The Wanderer.
Grace James: no John & Mary book that year but the last Blakes & Blacketts book, Nibs and the New World.
I find that some authors hit their stride and write the best books first (Malcolm Saville’s The Gay Dolphin Adventure, second in the LP series); others have a middle period prime (Monica Edwards, for me); others are pretty uniform (Enid Blyton and Grace James). Sadly, it is often the case, as with M E Atkinson and M Pardoe, that later books in a series are not as good as the first.


I do like that Fidra use the orginal covers - I think the Bunkle ones are lovely. I haven't read later Bunkle, but do mean to do some catching up. Sadly I don't have any of the originals, they fell into the black hole that is my aunt's book collection (she was like an acquisitive big sister).
Yes, I like the way the Fidra books have the original cover designs within a house style.

That's very bad luck on the old Bunkle books. The Julie Neild illustrations add to the charm of the earlier editions but Routledge had the sense not to modernise the covers when they used different artists.
I have just been writing a review of BBSAC for Folly; I left out the fact that I am convinced Bill and Mrs Bill are heading for a divorce (I do not think she is The Marrying Kind, as my grandmother would have put it.) I have come late to Bunkle but feel he is a kind of juvenile Dornford Yates hero.

Bunkle Butts In sounds very me, though. Perhaps they could do that one next.
Look forward to your review!

Mrs Bill: hee, know what you mean but what about her saying rather sadly that they don't have a family? Perhaps the problem lies with Mr Bill.

I think Bunkle will be like his father, goody. He's too Christian to be a clubland hero, though. Could be the Mark Darcy type of lawyer, maybe, working for MI5 on the side. Damn, now I love him more than ever.
I've realised of late that the children's books that really "do it" for me are the ones I read and loved as a child. I think it's the nostalgia factor, and those I didn't read mostly leave me cold. There are exceptions, such as Antonia Forest, whose books are fantastic, and I've now got them all. And I enjoyed the war years in the Chalet School series (Gay, Lavender, Highland Twins), which I never read as a child. But, while I have great affection for the Tyrol books and the handful of Swiss books I read as a child, I've found I haven't been able to get past the first chapter of most of the Swiss ones I've bought recently, and even though I only have a couple to go to complete the collection, have decided not to bother. It's a waste of shelf space as well as money! Same with Trebizon and one or two other series. I've realised I'm not a completist, and would actually have been just as happy with just my old favourites as I am with these perfect-condition reprints that I can't bring myself to read.
I certainly have a special love for books I had as a child but I've discovered some new favourites as an adult. M Pardoe, Elinor Lyon, Gwendoline Courtney and Virginia Pye are just a few examples.

Bunkle and M Pardoe

So pleased to find that, at last, I can obtain 'Bunkle scents a clue' - the one Bunkle book which has eluded me. I obtained the rest in the 1970's(sadly without the celebrated dust jackets).
I recall being thoroughly taken by the stories in the 1950's when I first read them - indeed I remember that 'Bunkle went for six' was a serial on BBC radio's 'Children's Hour'.
I agree that the earliest were the best. The war background gave so many opportunities for
spies, creeping around in the blackout and the like.
The young people are pleasant - not as awkward as Arthur Ransome's and Aubrey de Selicourt's lot...though I read them avidly too and have them still in my bookcase.
But thanks indeed to Fidra for a great contribution.

Re: Bunkle and M Pardoe

Yes, hurrah for Fidra! Lucky you to have all the other books. Only one of my hardbacks has a dustwrapper :-(. A full set is serious money.


Re: Bunkle and M Pardoe

Just realised that I don't have the very last book. Still Fidra may come up with the goods. Strange how '...scents a clue' was so difficult to find. Frequently tried but with no success.

Re: Bunkle and M Pardoe

I think Fidra plan to publish the whole series, in time.


Bunkle Butts In

I read this book when I was a small child and have been looking for it for years. Very expensive. It was on of my favorite books as a child. I didn't know if was part of a series. I grew up in the US and found it in my school or town library.

Re: Bunkle Butts In

The Fidra reprints are not expensive, compared with buying an original hardback.
I think it's common to come across a book as a child without realising that it's part of a series. Rather a shock if you find there are fifty seven more to read!
I'm interested that there would be a copy of this in a US library. I wonder if there was more interchange in those days? I read Elizabeth Enright's books from my local library, for example.



I am looking for one of the Bunkle books in which his older brother and sister (or their friends - it seems to stand outside the usual framework) build a wartime gas balloon to power their car and head north to uncover some plot to do with guano on a Scots island. Does this sound familiar, and if so what was the title ?

Re: Guano

I think this is two different books. The guano plot: Bunkle Baffles Them. Driving a car in wartime with a strange invention: Bunkle Bought It. The balloon has me completely foxed!


Re: Guano

Quite right about the two books. I think the balloon must relate to the charcoal fired gas producer. Gas driven cars of those days did have a balloon like reservoir carried on the roofto contain that gas that is fed into the engine. However the book doesn't go into sufficient technical detail of how the gas was stored.

Re: Guano


Amazed to find a comment on such an old post :-)