The Magnet was a weekly boy's paper, first published on Saturday 15 February 1908. It was the brainchild of Percy Griffiths, an Amalgamated Press editor; following on from the success of the Gem, launched nearly a year earlier. The Gem had started as a mixture of a school story and adventure paper; stories of Tom Merry of Clavering alternating with stories of cowboys, pirates, etc.
Within a few months the Gem was devoted solely to Tom Merry, now based at St. Jim's public school, written by Martin Clifford, aka Charles Hamilton. Its success seemed assured, and Griffiths suggested that Hamilton should write stories of another school for a new story paper. The result was the Magnet, featuring Harry Wharton and Co, and the ubiquitous Billy Bunter, in a sequence of stories written by Frank Richards [aka Charles Hamilton] set in and around Greyfriars School for the next 32 years.
“Send Master Harry to me !”
The first story opened at Wharton Lodge, home of Colonel Wharton and his ward Harry Wharton. Harry is headstrong and unwilling to go to school, having given a tutor the run around whilst his uncle has been in India. Sent to Greyfriars School by the Colonel, he puts everyone's back up; so even his study mate Frank Nugent is unwilling to help. Eventually he determines to run away, but Nugent follows to try and persuade him to return.
After the ensuing fight, Nugent falls into the River Sark, and Wharton rescues him from drowning. A friendship is forged that would last the next 50 odd years, and Wharton returns to Greyfriars to try and make a better start to his academic career. Whether he succeeds or not is another story.
Of course, if all there was to Greyfriars was a stock Victorian melodramatic conversion [Saved ! and never called me mother !], it would not have lasted. Whilst Wharton and Nugent's characters' develop, and their friendship deepens; so some counterpoint is required to throw the whole thing into relief. Bob Cherry arrived in Magnet number 2, Hurree Singh in number 6, and Marjorie Hazeldene first appeared in number 5
Bob Cherry had an outgoing, cheery nature, struggling in class but finding his forte on the games field. He was the perfect counterfoil to Wharton's more serious and reserved nature. Hurree Singh was probably the most patient junior in the school, as well as being possessed of an analytical mind, accustomed to seeing under the surface. Marjorie was also patient, but tenacious and loyal, constantly supporting her weak and wayward brother Peter [aka Vaseline in the early stories]. As the Magnet progressed, so new characters appeared; some to stay permanently, and some to provide a plot before returning to limbo.
From Red to Blue
When the Magnet was first published in 1908, it had a distinctive red cover. The First World War interrupted the supplies of the particular dye used for the cover, and so from issue 397 of 1915, the Magnet used blue ink on a white background. It also instituted some other radical changes.
It gradually shrinking from 36 pages down to 16 pages; and changing from 2 columns per page, to 3 columns of type. Once trade supplies resumed after the war, the Magnet regained some of its former glory, expanding to 28 pages; and with issue 770 of 1922 resuming a coloured cover. This time, orange and blue were used much more effectively than either the original red or the war time blue. Finally, perhaps as an echo of its early days, although few readers would have remembered, from issue 1553 of 1937, the Magnet's cover changed for the final time, with a pale red or salmon coloured cover it kept until its demise in 1940.
The Development of the Serial Story
Most early Magnets, as with other children's papers of the time, published single episode, self-contained stories. A knowledge of the background, supporting characters and general ambience of the settings was useful but not essential. The serial story as it existed in children's papers, usually consisted of one or two pages of incident, spread over 20 or 30 weeks' issues.
This is of course distinct from the Victorian serial story, published in monthly middle class magazines [such as the Boys Own Paper] which serialised authors such as Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stephenson. Gradually the Magnet, and its companion paper the Gem, began to evolve a complex, rather formal story structure; spreading a plot line over 8 or more consecutive weeks, usually tied in to a school term or a holiday period. Occasionally the story was extended [up to 16 weeks in some exceptional cases], and more rarely a plot line would cross from the Magnet to the Gem and back , the such as Billy Bunter at St. Jim's [see for instance Magnets 568 to 585 and Gems 571 to 585 of 1919].
Usually the basic premise, such as a mystery new boy or crooked master, was quickly established; and individual episodes would then focus on particular characters' foibles, or descriptions of schoolboys abroad; following a circular route to the eventual denouement. A case in point is the Secret Seven series in Magnets 1390 to 1400 of 1934]; where Mr Prout temporarily assumes the Headship, and the junior boys form a secret society to counteract his tyranny.
The links on the left will take you to complete listings for the Magnet stories on a year by year basis. Where possible, I have added thumbnails of the covers for the period.
You can also download the complete Magnet listings in Adobe Acrobat format. Right click here and choose "save target as" to download the Acrobat file.