arabella simpkin

The facts

William gave a daredevil laugh. “Huh!” he exclaimed. “I’m not scared of danger. I’ve had my life hangin’ by threads before now. I’m not scared of danger. Huh! Come on, Ginger.”
“But be careful, dear,” urged Miss Thompson. “The law is ruthless once it gets its grip on you.

  • Number: 38.4
  • Published: 1970
  • Book: William the Lawless
  • Synopsis: William tries to save a friend from prosecution for theft.

Verdict

Miss Thompson accidentally ‘lifted’ a red-and-blue knitted cap from a shop, and believes that the manager – who lives opposite her – is ‘on her case’. She would dearly like to return the contraband but has accidentally donated it to Mrs Monks’s latest sale-of-work.

“Did you see Arabella’s mother’s face?” exclaimed Ginger. “She looked mad.”
“She’s out for our blood,” said William.
“Yes,” said Ginger. “Things look pretty black for us.”
William gave his throaty chuckle. “But they aren’t dull any more,” he said.

The Outlaws set out to recover it, and from then on events follow a similar track to William and the White Elephants, 7.5 – though at least Miss Thompson seems to find happiness by the end.

The facts

“Prehistoric people lived on wild animals,” said William, “an’ we’re goin’ ‘back to bein’ prehistoric… We’ll need wild animals’ skins to dress in, too.”
“There won’t be any wild animals,” said Ginger. “They’ll all have got wiped out by this atom bomb.”
“There might be a few left in the Zoo or somewhere,” said William. “Stands to reason. If a few yumans get left a few animals might, too.”
“They’d be tame ones if they came out of the Zoo,” said Henry.
“Well, we could start with ’em tame an’ train ’em up to be wild,” said William.

Verdict

Henry has read a book about a small group of atom-bomb survivors who are forced to found a new civilisation. “Gosh! I’d like to do that,” says William. “I could make a jolly sight better one than the one we’ve got now. I’ve seen pictures of prehistoric times an’ they look smashin’.”

“So it’s a Play Centre and you’re the organiser?”
“Yes,” said William. “It’s a Play Centre an’ I’m the organiser.”
His voice was deeply magisterial, his expression earnest and authoritative. He was no longer a survivor of an atomic war. He was an organiser of a Children’s Holiday Play Centre.
The man’s eyes roved over the crowd of screaming scuffling children.
“They all seem to be doing different things,” he said.
“Yes, I’ve set ’em on doin’ diff’rent things,” said William.
“Two of them seem to be having a wrestling match.”
“Yes, I’ve set ’em on havin’ a wrestling match,” said William.
“Rather noisy, aren’t they?”
“Yes, I’ve set ’em on bein’ noisy,” said William. “It’s good for ’em.”
“Free expression, I suppose!” said the man.
“Oh yes, it’s all free,” said William.

Henry’s rather touching contribution is to bring a telephone directory (“I thought we ought to have a bit of education”) and a painting of William Gladstone (“It’s art”).

The problem comes when all the children of the village hear of the impending disaster and implicitly believe in it – some expecting an atom bomb, some a flood – and so converge on the Outlaws looking for salvation.

But just then a TV crew arrive looking for a children’s holiday play centre to film for a documentary… along with all the local parents, who are determined to track down the Pied Piper who has stolen away their offspring…

 The facts

“It’s a jolly good play,” said William, “We’ll act it.”
“When?” said Henry.
“Where?” said Ginger.
“Why?” said Douglas.
“Tomorrow in the old barn,” said William, ignoring Douglas’s question. “Everyone’ll come to watch it.”
“I bet they won’t,” said Douglas gloomily. “Not with television. They all watch television plays now.”
A light broke out over William’s countenance. “Tell you what!” he said. ‘I’ve got an idea. We’ll make it a television play. Gosh! It’ll be better than any ordin’ry television play.”
“How?”
“Well, in television plays you only see the pictures of the people an’ in this one you’ll see the real people.”
He took a crumpled piece of paper from the floor, wrinkled his brows again ferociously for a few moments, then sent his stubby pencil scoring across it in a sudden access of inspiration:
“There will be a reel live tellyvishun sho not just pitchers here tomorro aftemune at three oklock diffrent from ordinry tellyvishun a knew invention of William Browns the first time evver seen by ennybody in the hole world fre to all.
cined William Brown.”

Verdict

It’s slightly unclear what distinguishes William’s “live television play where you can see the real people not just picutres of them” from, er, a play, but nevertheless the Outlaws throw themselves into it with enthusiasm.

As the audience reports to the Old Barn, the director announces: “It’s called The Kidnapper’s Downfall or The Bloody Steps or The Octopus’s Revenge by William Brown. It’s got a lot of names ’cause a lot of things happen in it.”

Then – showing rather more creative spirit – they decide to re-enact some other shows from TV, including Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? (with an element of physical combat added in for effect).

Things only really start to go wrong when one of the spectators asks for a re-enactment of a programme about house demolition.

Ethel, meanwhile, is mercilessly playing Archie Mannister and Oswald Franks (her two current admirers) off against each other, by the slightly random technique of pretending she would swoon into the arms of whichever of them successfully builds a hen-house.

William mounted the precarious packing-case that served as his platform. “Now listen, everyone,” he said. “Shut up an’ listen. I’m goin’ to make a speech, so shut up.” The tumult partially subsided. “We’re goin’ to give you a new sort of television show an’ you’ve not got to pay anythin’. It’s goin’ to be free.”
“And dear at that, I shouldn’t wonder,” put in a shrill voice.
“Shut up, Arabella Simpkin,” said William.

Then the house-demolishers approach…