plays

The facts

“What’s that thing he said we hadn’t got any of?” said William.
“Initiative,” said Henry.
“Oh…” said William. “What is it?”
“Doin’ things without bein’ told to,” said Henry.
“Gosh!” said William in surprise. “Seems to me we’re always doin’ that.

  • Number: 37.5
  • Published: 1968
  • Book: William the Superman
  • Synopsis: William founds a new society bent on finding adventure.

Verdict

The headmaster has given the entire school a motivational talk, and, although William rather missed its point (“I thought he was talkin’ about takin’ an interest in world affairs an’ not jumpin’ over his tulip bed”), Henry was paying close attention. He heard the suggestion that the boys get together and create some extra-curricular societies to promote responsibility, industry and other desirable qualities.

William is well up for this.

“We’ll have an Adventure Society,” he said.
“What’ll we do in it?” said Douglas.
“Adventures,” said William simply.

“Now we’ve got to take an oath,” said William. “They always take oaths in secret societies. You can make up the oath, Henry. You’re better at long words than us.”
“All right,” said Henry. He cleared his throat impressively then raised his right hand. “I swear never to betray the secrets of the Adventure Society an’… an’ to carry out all its adventures” – he paused, at a loss momentarily for words, then remembered the heading on one of his mother’s tradesmen’s bills – and ended, “promptly and efficiently.”

There is some concern that Mr French, the form-master, may not be a fan of this plan, but William isn’t worried. “Ole Frenchie can’t stop us if the headmaster says we ought to. It would be mutiny.”

After agreeing a constitution for the Society (“Deadly weapons may be used but axshul murder not allowed”) they proceed to appoint Officers:

“We ought to elect a President, an’ Secretary an’ Treasurer,” said Henry.
“Well, there’s no time for that,” said William, “so I’ll be all of ’em.”

And the Adventure Society is open for business, with its first mission being the slightly vague one of fighting crime. Naturally, the person who falls most under their suspicion, after his cruel refusal to permit the Society to exist at all, is Mr French.

They cause a fair bit of chaos, but Mr French – and his new fiancée – isn’t too peeved.

The facts

“Children that get neglected by their parents goin’out to lead lives of lux’ry an’ pleasure turn into crim’nals when they grow up,” said William. “I’ve read about it in newspapers – so you can’t blame me if I turn into one after this. It’ll be your fault if I start doin’ smash an’ grab raids an’ stealin’ money out of gas meters an’ forgin’ bank notes when I grow up. It’ll be all your fault for neglectin’ me an’ leavin’ me at home while you all go out enjoyin’ yourselves.”

Verdict

The Outlaws’ parents are all going on a joint trip to the theatre. Ordinarily this wouldn’t interest William – indeed, the thought of a largely unsupervised evening with his friends would be most enticing.

But Hubert Lane’s parents are also going to the play, and they are taking Hubert. So William’s dream is cast.

“It didn’t sound a suitable play for children,” said Mrs Brown.
“Children!” put in William with a bitter laugh. “I’m eleven, aren’t I? Well, it’s news to me that a person of eleven’s a child.”
“William, do stop using that idiotic expression,” said Mrs Brown wearily. “Will you please go out and play with someone. I’m tired of the sound of your voice.”
William looked at her; amazed and aggrieved.
“Me?” he said. “I’ve hardly spoke.”

“An’ it’s a play about a murder an’ who did it, isn’t it? Well, if anyone ought to see that play, it’s me. I’ve written plays about murders an’ who did ’em. ‘The Bloody Hand’ was about a murder an’ who did it an’ it was a jolly good play. Ginger said it was the best play he’d ever seen in his life an’ he ought to know. He once learnt a whole speech out of Shakespeare to get two an’ six out of his aunt, so he ought to know about plays.”

The unexpected absence of Aunt Hester, the Outlaws’ babysitter for the evening, is a heaven-sent opportunity for the boys to go roving round the countryside, in an attempt to disrupt the journey of the play’s lead actor (a famous West End gentleman) to the Lanes’ house (where he was to dine).

They don’t manage to do that. But they do manage to meet the author of the book on which the play is based…

The facts

“I broke my brother’s electric razor!” said Douglas.
“Gosh, you don’t need to use it yet!” said William. “If you thought you were gettin’ a moustache it mus’ have been choc’late. Choc’late can look jus’ like a moustache.”
“’Course I didn’t think I was gettin’ a moustache,” said Douglas. “I used it for a plane.”
“What d’you mean, a plane?” said William.
“Well, I was makin’ a little boat. Jus’ a little one an’ I wanted a little plane to plane the sides to make ’em nice an’ smooth an’ I thought an electric razor would be jus’ the thing for it.”

Verdict

This story is possibly a step too far into the modern world. Although the allure of a William who remains 11 years old throughout the 1920s (when he was interested in dressing up as a lion to scare people: William Spoils the Party, 5.11) and 1940s (when he is determined not to “waste an air raid sleepin’ in it”: William the Salvage Collector, 23.7) all the way through to the 1960s is undoubted, I just can’t quite see William – unaesthetic, uncultured, boyish William – as the sort of child who would fall under the spell of a boy band.

But apparently he has.

The main theme of the story is the Outlaws’ need to raise two pounds to replace Hector’s electric razor, destroyed by Douglas in a boat-making accident.

“Let’s think over all the people we know that have got money an’ see how they got it.”
“There’s the Botts,” suggested Ginger.
“He makes sauce,” said Henry.
“We could make sauce all right,” said William.
“You can make money on horses,” said Henry, “but I’m not sure how you do it.”
“There’s doctors an’ lawyers,” said William, “but you’ve got to pass exams before you can start bein’ one of them an’ it’d take too long.”

A car had drawn up at the side of the green and three young men were getting out of it. They wore tight black trousers, black jackets and white shirts. Their black hair was sleeked away from their foreheads. They approached the Outlaws.
“Have you seen a young man anywhere about here?” said the tallest. “A young man who looks…”
“Like us,” said one of the others.
The Outlaws were gazing at them open-mouthed.
“Gosh!” said William. “You’re the…”
“Argonauts!” said Henry.

Eventually they settle on becoming strolling players, and assemble what costumes they can so as to decide which play to perform (I’m sure that’s exactly how the Royal Shakespeare Company does it too).

While they’re performing to an empty village green, they come across a depressed pop singer being pursued by the other members of his group.

And by a complete and particularly ridiculous coincidence, the pop singers just happen to have a spare electric razor.