Not even the joke of the week--just a flat, wheezy gag about a character from British schoolboy fiction who purportedly changes the course of English history. Richard Weymouth is a middle-aged London bureaucrat who gets passionate about very few things--his beautiful secretary, Joanna, his nasty ex-wife Lesley, and Billy Bunter. Bunter was a character created by writer Frank Richards for a long-running, episodic series on public-school life that appeared in the now-defunct British schoolboy magazine, The Magnet--a fat, mischievous Katzenjammer Kid always getting into trouble and being caned by sadistic schoolmasters. Even 40 years after The Magnet folded, Weymouth recalls Billy's shenanigans fondly, so imagine his delight when ex-wife Lesley tells him that the prototype for Bunter, 89-year-old Archibald Aitken, is not only alive but wants to meet him. Weymouth wastes no time, and soon the corpulent, rascally Aitken is telling him of his journeys through English history, real-life adventures that would put the fictional Bunter to shame--how Aitken helped finger the murderous dentist, Dr. Crippen, inadvertently sent the Titanic to the bottom, delayed the Battle of the Somme, and even introduced Wallis Simpson to the Duke of Wales (after first saving her from a madly libidinous D.H. Lawrence, who then went home and wrote Lady Chatterly's Lover). Unfortunately, these escapades appear as mere anecdotes in Hughes' sluggish plot (Aitken evades an evil confederate's blackmail scheme and marries Lesley) that wraps itself like a python around this frail idea of a novel and squeezes the life from it. A failed in-joke that never grows beyond its pancake-thin central metaphor.