William and Air Raid Precautions

The facts

“Are you sure there wasn’t a letter for me?” William asked his mother despondently.
“Of course there wasn’t, dear,” said his mother patiently. “I keep telling you there wasn’t. Whoever do you expect to write to you? It isn’t your birthday or anything.”
“You wouldn’t think anyone’d be too mean to give a bit of money to a pore ole man with no legs an’ nothin’ to eat, would you?” he went on bitterly.
“No, dear,” said Mrs. Brown,”but what’s that got to do with you?”
“Nothin’,” said William hastily.

  • Number: 21.8
  • Published: 1939 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William the Beggar
  • Book: William and Air Raid Precautions
  • Synopsis: William needs some funds, and realies that illness can be lucrative.


It’s comforting to know that spam emails of the “I’m a poor person in Nigeria” variety are not entirely a new phenomenon.

William’s attempt at a begging letter is true genius, and it is only the misfortune that he sent it to Lieutenant-Colonel C H Pomeroy – father of Robert’s latest girlfreind – that led his money-making plan to unravel.

Dear sir,
I am a pore man out of work with eighteen children who are all very ill. My wife is very ill. I am very ill. My mother and father are very ill. If you do not send some money we shall all dye. Besides being out of work and very ill I am def and dum. All my children are def and dum. My wife is def and dum. My mother and father are def and dum. Please send a lot of money to get us all cured. It is very expensive getting cured of being def and dum.
Yours cinserely,
William Brown

Things go really wrong, though, when Pomeroy’s daughter supposes Robert to be the culprit and, affectionately determined to scare him out of a life of crime, sends a begging letter of her own…

(I’m particularly fond of Douglas’s astonishment in this line: “Grown-ups never want to do anythin’ int’restin’ with their money. Why, I knew a grown-up once what paid to learn French. Paid to learn French! Gosh!”)

The facts

Instead of the placid, easy-going gentleman who generally taught William French and didn’t much care whether he learnt any or not, there appeared a fierce young man with a belligerent moustache, a ferocious scowl and an awe-compelling eye.
“Seems to think”, said William bitterly, “I’ve got nothin’ better to do with my time than his beastly ole exercises.”

  • Number: 21.8
  • Published: 1939 (1938 in magazine form) – originally titled William’s Day Off, not to be confused with William’s Day Off, 21.3
  • Book: William and Air Raid Precautions
  • Synopsis: William decides he fancies a day off school.


Ethel is dating a pompous local medical student, and swept up in the craze for badminton which has overtaken the village. William too is keen to play badminton, but nobody will let him use their racket.

But a greater crisis is on the horizon: William has failed to do his French homework, and a painful consequence will await him at school. “His mind leapt nimbly to the only possible solution of the problem. He must be ill.”

His mind went quickly over the possible illnesses. Headaches were no good. He’d tried them often. Rheumatism was worse. He was simply laughed at when he tried rheumatism.

He decides to have “liver trouble”, and Ethel’s Dr Ashtead promptly arrives on the scene. More out of a desire to show off to Ethel, than as a consequence of medical necessity, he announces that William has appendicitis and will need to be operated upon at once.

William, who hadn’t really expected his malingering to succeed, was, therefore, quite surprised to find himself in an ambulance on his way to his old foe Dr Bell. Fortunately for his innocent appendix, Dr Bell sees through the deception straight away.

And then so does Ethel…

The facts

“I’m sick of this New Year business,” said William gloomily. “I don’t get anything out of it. Jus’ rotten ole good res’lutions an’ everyone goin’ on at you worse than what they did before.”
“I know,” said Ginger, “an’ they won’t even let you have anythin’ int’restin’ for a good res’lution. Jus’ dull things like bein’ obedient an’ quiet an’ clean an’ suchlike. Once I tried havin’ one to be an adventurer same as you read about in books, but they made such an awful fuss I had to stop.”


Fed up with the sanctimony of the new year, William announces: “I’ve had a jolly good idea. I’ll have a bad res’lution. It couldn’t come off worse than some of my good ones have, anyway. I’ll be reely bad. Same as people in the newspapers.”

And while he doesn’t go with Ginger’s suggestion of murder, the bad deed he chooses is pretty dire: stealing the Whistler painting which has just arrived in the Lanes’ house (although to be fair, the Outlaws suppose a Whistler to be some sort of whistle: “An anshunt Roman whistle,” suggests Henry, “You know, ‘whistla’, like ‘mensa’”).

William walked cautiously up to the Lanes’ front door. He rehearsed suitable excuses should Mrs Lane suddenly appear and demand an explanation
of his visit. “Please, Mother says can you come to tea next Wednesday?” (an awkward situation might arise next Wednesday, of course, but that was far enough off).

So, with much derringdo, he creeps into the Lanes’ house and takes away an ear trumpet with him.

When its owner – Hubert’s Great Aunt Sarah – blames Hubert for its disappearance, fate seems to turn in the Outlaws’ favour…