Wednesday 7 September 2011

Still - William

Everytime I revisit Richmal Crompton's William series, I have a nudging fear that they won't be as good as I remembered, that what seemed screamingly funny to me when I was eight will have palled...

...and everytime I realise I needn't have worried. (Photo credit, btw.) If you've never read one of the books, you're in for a treat. Think how PG Wodehouse might have written about an eleven year old boy, if PGW tempered his exaggeration a little and developed an intimate knowledge with the minutiae of village life. Here's one of the passing characters, for instance: 'He was extraordinarily conceited and not overburdened by any superfluity of intellect.'

This isn't a fully-fledged review or anything, it's just a little overflow of joyfulness at revisiting William - in this case, Still William. Richmal Crompton wrote over thirty William books between 1922 and 1970, this being the fifth - each is a collection of stories about the well-intentioned mishaps of William Brown, who is eternally eleven. They're hilarious, and warming. Although everything almost always goes lamentably wrong, and William ends up being hounded by his relatives and neighborus, there isn't a malicious bone in his body. If anything, most of his misfortune comes from an irrepressible desire to help. In Still William he proposes on behalf of his brother, and later on behalf of his sister. He determines to be truthful on Christmas Day, with disastrous results. He determines to live a life of 'self-denial and service' with (you guessed it) disastrous results. He has only marginally more success when attempting to put on a show of 'natives', or teaching a visiting French boy idiomatic English.

I suspect most of us have read some William books at some point - but perhaps you've neglected them for a while, or somehow have never read one. Get one now. And get one with Thomas Henry's excellent illustrations, not the more modern, awful ones. Richmal Crompton also wrote lots of wonderful novels (and some less wonderful ones) but, although she deserves wider fame for those, equally she deserves the immortality she has secured through William Brown.

In case you're still not convinced, here is an excerpt between William and his uncaring older sister:
William's mother was out to lunch and Ethel was her most objectionable and objecting. She objected to William's hair and to William's hands and to William's face.

"Well, I've washed 'em and I've brushed it," said William firmly. "I don' see what you can do more with faces an' hair than wash 'em an' brush it. 'F you don' like the colour they wash an' brush to I can't help that. It's the colour they was born with. It's their nat'ral colour. I can't do more than wash 'em an' brush it."

"Yes, you can," said Ethel unfeelingly. "You can go and wash them and brush it again."

Under the stern eye of his father who had lowered his paper for the express purpose of displaying his stern eye William had no alternative but to obey.

"Some people," he remarked bitterly to the stair carpet as he went upstairs, "don' care how often they make other people go up an' downstairs, tirin' themselves out. I shun't be suprised 'f I die a good lot sooner than I would have done with all this walkin' up an' downstairs tirin' myself out - an' all because my face an' hands an' hair's nat'rally a colour she doesn't like!"

Ethel was one of William's permanent grievances against Life.


  1. I'm always looking for good ideas for books to read to my almost 8 year old son at bedtime. I hadn't thought of Just William, probably because I didn't read them myself as a child. I'll search them out at the library. Does it matter what order you read them in?

  2. Joanne - great! No, doesn't matter at all what order you read them. They are supposed to be vaguely chronological, but nothing ever changes, really. In fact, they weren't even published in the right order (many were in magazines first) - Jumble the dog appears in the first story in the first book, and a later story is all about William acquiring him!

  3. I found a lovely hardback copy published in the 30s for my nephew, so I hope he'll read it in the next few years. I saw the tv adaptation which was very funny.

  4. The Just William books seem to have an appeal to every new generation. My parents enjoyed them, I loved them, as did our children, and now a new generation. Great fun.

  5. My father was very fond of William and I think I enjoyed reading them about the age of 8,9,10 too. I haven't tried for the last 40 years though.

  6. I loved these books as a child but I've not read them since then. Your review has made me want to revisit them, thanks.

  7. I started reading 'William' when I was 12 years old,now I am 50 and realize that they are not only for children-the satire, humor and playing with words are ageless,the many small characters with unique eccentricities are original, even now. Our children deserves "William", so do their parents.


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