mistaking fiction for real life

 The facts

William entered, panting and breathless, a loaf under his arm.
“Sorry, if I’ve been a long time,” he said. “I met Ginger.”
“Didn’t they give you a bag or paper for the loaf, William?” said Mrs Brown.
“Yes, but it sort of came off.”
“It’s filthy!” said Ethel as she took the loaf from him. “You might have been playing football with it.”
William tried to look as if he had not been playing football with it.

  • Number: 29.4
  • Published: 1954 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William in Charge
  • Book: William and the Moon Rocket
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws help Archie to escape from an indifferent Justice.


Ethel is hosting a party-and-drama evening (the play having been written by Robert’s friend Oswald Franks, who rather optimistically “hopes that it will go to the West End” after its debut at the Browns’). Her latest admirer, Lionel, is to take the starring role – though rather unusually, Mrs Brown has strong views that he is unsuitable.

Archie is bitterly disappointed not to have been cast, and goes on hopefully practising the starring role’s most momentous speech: “I am a criminal, a common criminal, and the net is closing round me. Unless I can flee the country before tonight, I am doomed!”

“What are those?” said William, turning his frowning gaze on to the pastry cases.
“Pastry cases, dear. They’re going to be filled with mushroom and white sauce mixture and things like that.”
“If I eat this one it’ll save you the trouble of fillin’ it, won’t it?” said William virtuously.

The Outlaws hear this. And, as in William and the Returned Traveller, 28.4, they make it their duty to rescue Archie from the clutches of the police.

Fortunately, their bizarre attempt to smuggle him into a van to Portsmouth backfires to the advantage of everyone concerned (except Lionel).

The facts

“Our cook’s cousin’s a ’contamination man. He wears things jus’ like a diver.”
“I’d sooner be a Home Guard man. I’d like to shoot through the little holes.”
“Our gardener knows a man what’s got a friend what knows someone what caught a·parachutist dressed up as a woman.”
“They do that, you know. They dress up as women.”
“Yes, if ever you see a woman what looks like a man you c’n be jolly sure it’s a parachutist.”

  • Number: 23.6
  • Published: 1941 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William Does His Bit
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws believe they’ve caught a parachutist.


Enthused by yet another idea to help the war effort, the Outlaws block a road and wait for a German parachutist to arrive.

Because they know that German parachutists sometimes disguise themselves as women, when they see a man in obvious drag walking towards them, they are sure that their time has come. When they knock their suspect out and find that he is carrying an admission pass to Marleigh Aerodrome, this only adds to their suspicions.

The facts

William had offered himself at a recruiting office in Hadley. “Can I be a drummer boy?” he said. “I can make a jolly fine noise on a drum. An aunt of mine said it made her head ache for weeks. I bet it’d scare ole Hitler off all right.”
“No vacancies for drummer boys at present,” said the sergeant.
“Well, will you let me know when there are?” said William.

  • Number: 23.1
  • Published: 1941 (1940 in magazine form)
  • Book: William Does His Bit
  • Synopsis: William thinks he’s found a double agent.


When William hears about “Grisling” (or, to be more precise, Quisling) he is determined to help the war effort.

By pure luck he immediately comes across two people who, he feels sure, are ‘Grissels’. Following them, he finds what is – to be fair – a genuinely suspicious scene: a huge group of uniforms huddled over a large table map, muttering demoralising untruths such as, “Fire raging in Pithurst Lane… Houses in Hill Road collapsed… Marleigh police station blown up…”

William thought they must be talking in code. Perhaps “Aren’t greens a price?” meant “Let’s kill Churchill”, and “There don’t seem to be so many lettuces about this year” meant “Heil Hitler” – or something like that.

Of course, it was obviously a military exercise, but William wasn’t to know that…