running away

 The facts

“Gosh! didn’t he carry on!” said William, “Sayin’ I wasn’t fit to be a member of a civ’lised community! Well, I jolly well don’t want to be a member of one. I’m jolly well sick of civ’lised communities. I’m jolly well sick of tryin’ to help civ’lisation an’ the yuman race. All I get for it is my bow an’ arrow took off me an’ no fireworks. That shows civ’lisation’s all wrong an’ l’m jus’ about fed up with it. I’m jolly well goin’ back to the days before there was any civ’lisation. I bet we’d all be a jolly sight better off if we all went back to bein’ savages same as those ole Markie was tellin’ us about that lived in trees.’
“Tree-dwellers,” said Ginger.
“Yes, them… Well, I’m jolly well goin’ back to bein’ one. I’d sooner live in a tree than a house any day.”


A new neighbour, Mr Redditch, is making Mr Brown’s life hell both at home and away from it (he is a fellow member of the local golf club and a fellow commuter to London). This makes Mr Brown extremely irritable, and in a particularly sore moment he bans William from marking Bonfire Night.

“You see,” the man from the Insurance Company explained to William, “this chap staged a burglary because he wanted to get the insurance money. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” said William, adding zestfully – for William liked his drama laid on thick – “He’s prob’ly the head of a gang of international crim’nals. Prob’ly Scotland Yard have been huntin’ for him for years. He’s prob’ly a smuggler as well. An’ a spy. He’s prob’ly foiled the best brains in the Secret Service.”

It’s while he and Ginger are occupying a tree in Mr Redditch’s garden while he’s (supposedly) away on holiday that they witness Mr Redditch sneaking around and behaving rather oddly.

They don’t immediately twig [yes I did have to make that pun] how odd it is, but in their entirely altruistic attempt to help him, they do manage to let his insurance company know; and his insurance company is very grateful.

The facts

“Bet you anythin’ you like you couldn’t make him a sheep-dog,” said Ginger.
“All right ,” said William, his vague speculations now hardened into iron purpose. “You wait and see. You jolly well wait till I’ve got him trained , an’ winnin’ prizes all over the place, an’ being hired out by farmers an’ suchlike. You jolly well wait…”


This is a genuinely heart-rending story and quite upsetting to read.

William decides to train Jumble up as a sheep-dog. The chaos that ensues is predictable, but less predictable is that the chaos brings consequences. Farmer Jenks is so enraged that he tells the Browns that they will have to pay £5 of damages and (horror of horrors) have Jumble put down. Mr Brown’s solicitor advises that they co-operate, so Jumble’s death sentence is confirmed.

William “had looked on Farmer Jenks’s threat as belonging to the ‘I’ll break every bone in your body’ class: not as one that would actually, and in cold blood, be fulfilled”. And he pleaded with his parents, “almost in tears”, for mercy.

“He only did what he was told. He was only obedient same as you’re always wantin’ me to be. It would be a jolly sight fairer to have me destroyed. Why don’t you have me destroyed?”

William was surprised to see a vague-looking elderly lady coming out of the garden gate opposite, and making her way to him across the road. He assumed his most aggressive expression. What was she goin’ to make a fuss about? Couldn’t be doin’ her any harm jus’ standin’ in the road by her house. The whole world didn’t belong to her, did it? But he saw, to his surprise, that she was smiling quite pleasantly.
“Er – do you like dogs, boy?” she began.
He glanced at her, puzzled and still on the defensive. “’Course I do,” he muttered  ungraciously.

(I’m almost in tears too by this point – as, to be fair, were most members of the Brown household.)

So William decides to hide Jumble, Ann Frank-style. But when he hears his father putting together a search party (“Go up to that old barn where he plays, and see if it’s there. And ring up Ginger’s people, and the others, and tell them to keep a look out?”) he makes an astonishing, for him, realisation:

“The grown-up world was too strong for him. He had no chance against it. His optimism at long last failed him. There was only one thing to be done, and it must be done without delay. He and Jumble must leave this cruel place for ever. The world was wide. They must run away and find, if possible, some place where people were less hard-hearted.”

Fortunately, another dog – and Farmer Jenks’s old rival, Farmer Smith – save the day. But it was a close thing.

 The facts

In the neighbourhood of William’s home there were several mansions – chiefly Elizabethan – that were open to the public on certain days of the week.
William did not see why this system should be confined to the stately homes of England. His own home contained some undeniable points of interest. There was the hole that Jumble had made in the hall carpet, the damp patch in the bathroom wall where a pipe had burst…
He thought that a steady flow of visitors at a penny each, one or two afternoons a week, would prove a pleasant and easy source of income.

  • Number: 19.8
  • Published: 1937 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Showman
  • Synopsis: William sets off on a record-breaking adventure.


When William is in his parents’ bad books for opening (of his own initiative) the family home to public visitors, one of whom had helped themselves to some valuable antiques in the process, he is impelled to participate in Miss Milton’s latest hare-brained scheme, the Educational Play Guild for Children. (‘Play’ in the sense of ‘playing’, not drama.)

Having ruined her charming educational games about Flowers and Birds – he insisted on being a vulture – and Famous Men – he wanted to be Guy Fawkes – a rather desperate Miss Milton resorts to the topic of Great Adventurers.

And this energises William, especially when he reads, in one of Robert’s library books, about an adventurer who had travelled across continents with only two ponies’-worth of provisions.

“Mother,” he said suddenly, “what d’you think’s the greatest adventure that’s ever been done?”
“What about the discovery of the North Pole?”
“No, I don’t think much of that. They jus’ went to a place that was there all the time. Anyone could do that.”

William decides to emulate this, by leaving home, walking in a straight line, and continuing until he has circumnavigated the entire globe.

Ignoring gates and fences, he enrages Farmer Jenks and shatters the peace and quiet of a bird sanctuary, but this gives him an even better idea: a boy sanctuary.

A wood entirely devoted to boys: grown-ups not allowed to enter. Tables of chocolate cream and humbugs and lollypops at intervals. Boy-baths of lemonade and orange squash. Cream buns hanging from trees. Instead of nesting-boxes, toys placed against all the trees-motor boats, bows and arrows, electric trains, cricket sets, footballs.