Herbert Geoffrey Willans, RNVR, (4 February 1911 – 6 August 1958), an English author and journalist, is best known as the co-creator, with the illustrator Ronald Searle, of Nigel Molesworth, the "goriller of 3b and curse of St. Custard's".
He was educated at Blundells School in Tiverton, and became a schoolmaster there. He enjoyed sailing in small boats and during the war took part in the Greek Campaign and the Battle of Crete in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea serving on the corvette HMS Peony. He later joined the carrier HMS Formidable.
Molesworth first appeared in Punch in the 1940s and was the protagonist and narrator of five books, beginning with 1953's Down with Skool!, and followed by How to be Topp, Wizz for Atomms and, posthumously, Back in the Jug Agane and the anthology, The Compleet Molesworth. Comic misspellings, erratic capitalisation and 1950s public schoolboy slang are threads running through all the books.
According to Ronald Searle in his obituary:
- "His cunning was more refined than Bunter...Willans was delighted that schoolmasters, far from feeling publicly disrobed, were in fact giving away his books as end of school prizes."
Willans co-wrote the screenplay for the 1959 film The Bridal Path, which starred George Cole, but died at the age of 47 before the film was released. He also wrote a number of other, mostly humorous, books, including The Dog's Ear Book (also with Searle), My Uncle Harry (an exploration of the British gentlemen's club), Fasten Your Lapstraps! (an account of the early days of intercontinental flight), and Admiral on Horseback (a rather serious one about the navy). He was a keen amateur botanist, and spent so long in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew that the staff gave him a key.
A review in The Times newspaper describes The Whistling Arrow as having a futuristic aeroplane as the 'heroine'; "It is his apparent strength in writing about planes and the people that flew them." The reviewer compares it with one of Evelyn Waugh's earlier novels.