arabella simpkin

 The facts

“Well, I don’ see why we shun’t have one, too,” said William morosely. “Grown-ups get all the fun.”
“They say it’s not fun,” said Ginger.
“Yes, they say that jus’ to put us off,” said William. “I bet it is fun all right. I bet it’d be fun if we had one, anyway. They have a jolly good time, smellin’ gases an’ bandagin’ each other an’ tryin’ on their gas masks. I bet they bounce out at each other in their gas masks, givin’ each other frights. I’ve thought of lots of games you could play with gas masks.”

Verdict

So far we’ve had stories in which William prepares for war, anticipates war, longs for war; but now there actually is a war, and William is having the time of his life. This is the first in a lengthy run of ‘William at War’ stories that give William an opportunity to imprint his personality on the home front.

In this story, the Outlaws are embittered that their youth excludes them from joining the Air Raid Precautions organisation. So Ginger makes a sign reading “AIR RADE PRECORSHUN. JUNIER BRANCH. ENTRUNCE FRE”, and they set to work.

“Ladies an’ gentl’men,” William shouted above the uproar, “will you kindly shut up an’ listen to me? I’m goin’ to tell you how to win the war.”

Some of his audience are purely there to make trouble (Arabella Simpkin), some are there in vain hope of a freebie (“A gas attack smells like pear drops… No, I’ve not got any pear drops. I never said I’d got any pear drops… I never said a bomb was made of pear drops”) but some are genuinely interested – especially in the opportunity to ‘bandage each other up’ with equipment stolen from Mrs Brown’s medicine cabinet.

This eventually breaks down in disorder, but, in a wartime re-enactment of William Clears the Slums, 16.8, William then discovers about Evacuation, and promptly evacuates two young boys into his own house, where their voices from a supposedly empty room lead Miss Milton to believe that she has become a clairvoyant.

 The facts

“We’ve had every possible sort of show there is,” said Ginger. “We’ve had a seaside show an’ an animal show, an’ a night club an’… an’ every poss’ble other sort of show.”
“We’ve not had television,” said William triumphantly.
“Well, we couldn’t have that.”
“I bet we could,” persisted William. “I’ve seen it an’ it’s only people’s heads carryin’ on – actin’ an’ suchlike – in a little hole. I bet we could easy make a little bole an’ have our heads in it, actin’.”

  • Number: 20.4
  • Published: 1938 (1937 in magazine form) – originally titled Unfair Exchange
  • Book: William the Dictator
  • Synopsis: Violet Elizabeth causes chaos by making a swap involving her aunt’s scarf.

Verdict

Arabella Simpkin has always struck me as quite a two-dimensional character, all the more so for how clear are Richmal Crompton’s attempts to make her three-dimensional.

She appears in this story in the audience of the Outlaws’ latest scheme: a television production. This scheme is as disastrous as all their previous schemes, though I do like William’s interpretation of TV as “heads actin’ in a sort of hole” (eat your heart out, Lord Reith).

“We’ve gotter have a bad man an’ a good man. You’ve always gotterhave those two in a play.”
“An’ a girl,” said Ginger.
“We’re not havin’ a real girl in it,” said William firmly. “They mess everythin’ up. One of us’ll be the girl. All you’ve gotter do to be a girl is to put on a sort of silly look an’ one of Ethel’s hats. I’ll be the good man.”
“I’ll be the bad one, then,” claimed Ginger hastily.
“Who’ll I be?” said Douglas.
“You can be the good man’s ole father,” said William. “He thinks his son’s been killed by the bad man an’ he turns out alive, after all. He’d only been
stunned.”

William’s interpretation of TV is, in fact, almost as mistaken as William’s faith in his own abilities as a writer-director:

Therefore, the television show is unsuccessful, not least because Violet Elizabeth – the female member of the cast – is consumed with envy at the cheap fur scarf Arabella is wearing, having ‘borrowed’ from her mother. Arabella, meanwhile, is secretly jealous of the enormously expensive fur scarf Violet Elizabeth has ‘borrowed’ from her visiting aunt. They agree to swap.

 The facts

“Seems silly to me,” said William, “that the sea-side should only be at the sea. Seems to me that if only people’d take a bit of trouble they could have it anywhere.”
“But.there’s got to be sea at the sea-side,” said Douglas. “You can’t have sea-side anywhere but at the sea.”
“Well, what’s the sea but water?” replied William.
“There’s salt in the sea,” said Henry triumphantly.
“Well, you can put salt in a pond, can’t you?” snapped William.
“There’s sand at the sea-side,” said Ginger.
“Well, what’s sand but yellow earth?” said William. “I bet it’s easy enough to turn earth yellow. All you want to make a sea-side is a bit of water an’ a bit of salt an’ a bit of wood an’ a bit of ground an’ some blacking for the pierrots.”

  • Number: 19.1
  • Published: 1937 (1936 in magazine form, originally eponymously titled William the Showman, but then that would have clashed with 4.10 and 10.5)
  • Book: William the Showman
  • Synopsis: If the Outlaws can’t go to the beach, the beach will just have to come to the Outlaws.

Verdict

William is way ahead of the Southbank Centre as he comes up with the idea of creating an artificial beach in the village, for the benefit of the village’s boys (and, more specifically, for the financial benefit of the Outlaws).

To be fair, they do manage to put on a pretty good show, and are let down mainly by their policy of charging not only a penny for entry but also a penny for every individual component and attraction; as Arabella Simpkin disdainfully points out, “I can jolly well walk on an ole plank anywhere for nothin’ an’ I’m goin’ to here, too.”

“Who’ll give the donkey rides?” said Douglas.
“You,” said William promptly.
“All right,” said Douglas after a moment’s silence in which he wondered whether to consider this an insult or an honour and decided, finally that it would be less trouble to consider it an honour.

But then William happens to come across a man on the road who has lost his performing monkey, and who puts his barrel organ down while he searches for it.

William naturally ‘borrows’ the barrel organ, finds the monkey, and turns his event into a massive success.

Then the real owner of the organ and monkey comes along, with a policeman. And the dance continues!