blacking up

 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.


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!

 The facts

William had had started a Punishment Insurance Society at school. The members were to pay him a penny a week and to receive twopence for a detention and threepence for a caning. He had thought it all out, and it had seemed an excellent scheme, but it had been unfortunately discovered by Authority, and all its members punished, so that it was now bankrupt and discredited.

  • Number: 18.8
  • Published: 1936 (same year in magazine form, originally titled William and the Good Uncle)
  • Book: Sweet William
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws are determined to humiliate Hubert Lane’s odious Uncle Charlie.


Hubert Lane’s Uncle Charlie provides a clear and frightening illustration of what Hubert himself will, plainly, grow up to be like. Plump, smug, convinced of his own superiority and consumed by a worryingly juvenile desire to play pranks on William, Uncle Charlie makes his presence very much felt during his stay in the village.

“Now I’ll show you a native of Lapland dressed exactly like the people I myself saw there.” Uncle Charlie rang his little bell. He couldn’t know, of course, that Ginger had appeared in the aperture dressed in Ethel’s bathing dress, his nose reddened, a wicker plant-pot on his head.

Mrs Lane is wont to excuse her brother’s childishness by remarking gaily that he has “the heart of a boy”, but can that really explain the spectacle of a grown man hiding in a tree so as to drop fireworks on boys with whom he has no real connection? Or posting a box of chocolates to William, having first filled every one with chilli powder? Mrs Lane is quick enough to condemn William’s pranks against her Hubert, but no doubt this is very different.

But then comes the day of Uncle Charlie’s smug lecture to William’s school about his (in fact, entirely fictional) travels. The Outlaws make some small adjustments to his props.

The facts

Aunt Jane raised her hand to her head with the expression of one who suffers acute mental anguish.
“But I said keep to the road, William,” she said. “Yes,” said William unabashed, “I remember now that you said that. But I forgot it this morning. I’ve got a very poor memory.”.

  • Number: 14.4
  • Published: 1932 (1931 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Pirate
  • Synopsis: William helps a friend choose between two suitors.


At the end of The Outlaws and the Triplets, 14.3, William fled the village to stay with Aunt Jane. This is the story of what happened to him there.

Aunt Jane found a friend for him, a nice quiet boy whose interests centred entirely in the study of geography and the making of maps. After one meeting William announced to his aunt that he would not go out with that boy again, not if he was to be put to death by torture for it.

Aunt Jane’s servant Molly is being wooed by two men, James the chauffeur and George the baker. William supports George (because he can yodel and blow smoke-rings) and opposes James (because he intentionally splashes William whenever he drives past him).

Being almost as childish as William himself, Molly decides to organise a test “same as people do in books” to help her make up her mind. Although William promises not to tell either James or George that the test is coming up, he doesn’t promise not to interfere.

When James – a deeply superstitious, and somewhat racist, character – splashes a black-faced man, he naturally assumes that the man is “an Eastern” and has put a curse on him. (It so happens he is a black-face minstrel but James doesn’t know this.)

William then makes clever use of Jumble to bring the ‘curse’ to life and so terrify James that he fails the test.