William the Showman

 The facts

William’s attitude was strictly impartial. Each of the suitors had slipped a half-crown into his hand, murmuring as he did so a hope Ethel would go to the dance with him. Even to William their faith in his influence over Ethel was a little pathetic. Still, though not able exactly to influence Ethel, he often could and did influence a situation, and he was watching this one carefully.

  • Number: 19.10
  • Published: 1937 (1933 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Showman
  • Synopsis: William helps his sister decide who to go out with.


With Richard and Charles competing for Ethel’s affections (both displacing her usual standby, Jimmy), something must be done to resolve the tension.

William’s proposal is simple: “Have a test between them.” And, rather to her regret, Ethel likes the idea. She comes up with the following test: feign a headache during the afternoon of the tennis tournament in which Richard and Charles are both keen competitors; invite them both to sit out with her; and see who is willing to sacrifice their sporting glories for her benefit.

They both are.

As one man, Richard and Charles flung off their coats and dived into the lake from the parapet of the bridge.
Ethel and Jimmie were approaching, and found William leaning over the parapet staring fixedly at the water.
“What are you looking at?” said Jimmie.
“I thought I saw a trout,” said William.

William, ever helpful, comes up with a test as well. His is rather less subtle. He tells them both that Ethel is drowning in the village lake, and waits to see which of them will dive in to save her.

They both do.

 The facts

The Outlaws had all entered fully into the spirit of the coronation. Ginger had brought a wooden cart for the coronation coach, Douglas had brought a poker and football for sceptre and orb, and Henry – ever well informed – had brought some motor oil in a small tin that he had taken from the garage. “You’ve gotter have it poured over you,” he explained to William. “They always do.”

  • Number: 19.9
  • Published: 1937 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William Plays the King
  • Book: William the Showman
  • Synopsis: William appoints himself king and begins quelling rebellions.


The 1937 coronation is a big event in William’s village. A whole day of festivities is planned, and William – perhaps not realising that it is George VI’s coronation and not his own – is determined to turn up in costume as a king.

He has vague plans to ‘borrow’ a king costume of Robert’s, while Robert is preoccupied with his relationship with Dahlia Macnamara (William and the Wonderful Present, 18.1) – who is now toying with the affections of Jameson Jameson (cf A Little Affair of Rivalry, 14.10)

“What do they do
nowadays –kings, I mean?”
“Oh, they jus’ go about visitin’ an’ openin’ things.”
“Well, I’m not goin’ to be one of those,” said William firmly. “I’m goin’ to be the sort they had in hist’ry what put down rebels an’ suchlike.”
“There aren’t any rebels, nowadays,” said Henry.
“I bet there are. Nat’rally they don’t go about sayin’ they’re rebels.”

Unfortunately Dahlia has requested that Robert accompany her to the fête in exactly the costume that William has just abstracted. Running out of time, Robert is forced to turn up wearing William’s early home-made attempt at royalwear (a red tablecloth with a hole cut in it).

But William is much too busy to worry about any of that, because he sees a “rebel” butcher tearing up a sheet of paper – obviously a secret map – and gives chase…

These two strands of the story converge, rather oddly, with Robert managing to get off with the local MP’s daughter, so all is well.

 The facts

In the neighbourhood of William’s home there were several mansions – chiefly Elizabethan – that were open to the public on certain days of the week.
William did not see why this system should be confined to the stately homes of England. His own home contained some undeniable points of interest. There was the hole that Jumble had made in the hall carpet, the damp patch in the bathroom wall where a pipe had burst…
He thought that a steady flow of visitors at a penny each, one or two afternoons a week, would prove a pleasant and easy source of income.

  • Number: 19.8
  • Published: 1937 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Showman
  • Synopsis: William sets off on a record-breaking adventure.


When William is in his parents’ bad books for opening (of his own initiative) the family home to public visitors, one of whom had helped themselves to some valuable antiques in the process, he is impelled to participate in Miss Milton’s latest hare-brained scheme, the Educational Play Guild for Children. (‘Play’ in the sense of ‘playing’, not drama.)

Having ruined her charming educational games about Flowers and Birds – he insisted on being a vulture – and Famous Men – he wanted to be Guy Fawkes – a rather desperate Miss Milton resorts to the topic of Great Adventurers.

And this energises William, especially when he reads, in one of Robert’s library books, about an adventurer who had travelled across continents with only two ponies’-worth of provisions.

“Mother,” he said suddenly, “what d’you think’s the greatest adventure that’s ever been done?”
“What about the discovery of the North Pole?”
“No, I don’t think much of that. They jus’ went to a place that was there all the time. Anyone could do that.”

William decides to emulate this, by leaving home, walking in a straight line, and continuing until he has circumnavigated the entire globe.

Ignoring gates and fences, he enrages Farmer Jenks and shatters the peace and quiet of a bird sanctuary, but this gives him an even better idea: a boy sanctuary.

A wood entirely devoted to boys: grown-ups not allowed to enter. Tables of chocolate cream and humbugs and lollypops at intervals. Boy-baths of lemonade and orange squash. Cream buns hanging from trees. Instead of nesting-boxes, toys placed against all the trees-motor boats, bows and arrows, electric trains, cricket sets, footballs.