acting out fiction

The facts

To a casual observer William looked only a small boy walking slowly down a road, frowning, with his hands in his pockets. He was really an intrepid mariner sailing across an uncharted sea.

  • Number: 3.14
  • Published: 1923 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William Again
  • Synopsis: William, playing at Robinson Crusoe, manages to lose his clothes.


A tramp, who William persuades to act as Man Friday for the purposes of his shipwreck game, in turn persuades William to swap his clothes for a tablecloth (‘sail’) all the better to impersonate a deserted sailor.

William laid aside ‘Robinson Crusoe’ with a sigh. His dreams of pirate-king and robber-chief vanished. The desire of his heart now was to be shipwrecked on a desert island.

Joan, the mate upon William’s doomed ship, purloins him another suit of clothes but her father demands them back.

So William ends up looking “ridic’l’us” by walking home in his tablecloth.

Seems overbrief as a story but a fairly entertaining scenario nonetheless.

The facts

William’s bugle had just returned to public life after one of its periodic terms of retirement into his father’s keeping.

  • Number: 2.4
  • Published: 1922 (1921 in magazine form)
  • Book: More William
  • Synopsis: William appoints himself Knight and Ginger his Squire, and searches for a damsel in distress.


One of the shortest William stories, at just over 2,000 words, but following the classic and well-worn formula of William’s attempted good deed.

This time, his teacher reveals to him the concept of the Knight and the Squire roaming round the countryside doing good deeds, and the boys naturally decide to revive the tradition.

“You ought to have brought sumthin’,” said William severely. “You’re the squire. You’re not much of a squire not to have brought sumthin’ for me to eat.”
“An’ me,” put in Ginger. “If I’d brought any I’d have brought it for me more’n for you.”

They pass an open window and hear, emanating from within, the threatening words: “And how long will you keep me in this vile prison? Base wretch that you are!”

The fact that people don’t talk like this, even in fictionalised 1920s villages, didn’t occur to them, so William takes the first opportunity to lock the ‘base wretch’ into a coal-cellar.

It really messes up the play rehearsal.

I’m beginning to notice something of a William version of The Seven Basic Plots emerging, something I might try to classify at some point – but somehow the predictability of the principles of many of Richmal Cromopton’s endings (‘Obviously they’re doing amateur dramatics’) somehow doesn’t impair (i) the suspense of finding out the exact details of William’s inevitable cock-up, and (ii) how enjoyable the stories still are.

The facts

“You young ruffian,” Mr Brown roared, “what do you mean by charging into me like that?”
“I wasn’t chargin’, Father,” William said, meekly. “I was only jus’ comin’ in at the gate, same as other folks. I jus’ wasn’t looking jus’ the way you were coming, but I can’t look all ways at once cause—”
“Be quiet!” roared William’s father. Like the rest of the family, he dreaded William’s eloquence.

  • Number: 1.1
  • Published: 1922 (1919 in magazine form)
  • Book: Just William
  • Synopsis: William’s aunt gives him a shilling, which he spends on a visit to the cinema. The films he sees give him many ideas…


The first William story in the entire series of 38 books* combines many elements that recur throughout his reign of terror.

The being-carried-away-by-a-film theme. The trying-to-help-around-the-house theme. The pretending-to-be-ill-to-get-sympathy theme. The attempting-to-repair-sister’s-love-life theme. The relentless-pursuit-of-sweets theme. The zeal-to-reform-others theme. Even the affectedly-manly-flirting-with-the-girl-next-door theme.

William glanced cautiously around and slunk down the road. Then he doubled suddenly and ran down a back street to put his imaginary pursuers off his track. He took a pencil from his pocket and, levelling it at the empty air, fired twice. Two of his pursuers fell dead, the rest came on with redoubled vigour.

The story itself, indeed, mirrors the structure of William’s experience at ‘the pictures’. It is a series of short episodes which take place one after another with relatively little connection.

William’s cinema showed, as was then traditional, a number of short films including comedy, romance, tragedy etc., and his activities for the rest of the story follow that structure as he attempts to re-enact each piece of movie magic.

It’s a very silly tale, and probably too crammed to be considered one of the best in the series, but as the opening shot for the next five decades of William books, it did its job.

*although not the first to be published: you’ll have to wait until Day 14 for that one!