servants

 The facts

“Do stop messing about with your food, William,” said Mrs Brown.
“I’m not messin’,” said William. “This spoon’s a jet bomber swoopin’ down on the fortress.” He emitted a nerve-shattering sound, then looked earnestly at his mother. “Did that sound like a jet-bomber?”
“I don’t know,” said Mrs Brown faintly, “but don’t do it again.”

  • Number: 29.7
  • Published: 1954 (1953 in magazine form)
  • Book: William and the Moon Rocket
  • Synopsis: William is outraged at discrimination in favour of the over-60s.

Verdict

Somewhat of a reprise of Pensions for Boys, 18.9, William is irked by all the preferential treatment that over-60s receive: trips, lunches and more:

“People naturally want to do all they can to cheer up the old.”
“Well, why don’t they want to do all they can to cheer up the young?’

“If everyone was like you,” said William severely, “no-one’d ever have discovered anythin’ – not America nor… nor fountain pens nor anythin’.”

And so the village’s Over-Ten club is born, as a counterpart to the Over-Sixties club:

Nottis Ergunt
overtenn klub
Their will, be a meating tomorrough aftemun of peeple over, tenn to gett up an overtenn, klub ennyone, overtenn kan kum not, annimuls William Brown prezidant will maik a speach peeple, that interrupp him will, be chuckd out
cined William Brown

The children of the locale are not entirely united in support:

“Why not wait till we get to be over sixty?” suggested a placid-looking child who was licking a toffee apple. “Everyone gets to be over sixty if they wait long enough. It only wants a bit of patience.”
“I’d like to see William Brown sixty,” jeered Arabella. “Gosh! He’ll be worth lookin’ at. He’s a sight to start with.”

William has some difficulty persuading the adults as well; in particular, the commissaire at the cinema refuses to let them in for free. They do discover a banquet which is available for them to eat (not entirely legitimately), but inevitably:

Overtenn klub
The overtenn klub will be klozed til furthur nottis.
cined William Brown.

 The facts

As William approached Ginger’s house, he gave the ear-splitting ‘yodel’ that was the secret signal between them – a signal calculated to attract the attention and shatter the nerves of everyone within a radius of two miles.
“Hello,” said Ginger, coming down to the gate. “That was a jolly good one.”
“My yodel?” said William complacently. “Yes, I thought it was, too. I’ve been practisin’ it all this week. ’Least, I did till my family stopped me.”

  • Number: 28.5
  • Published: 1952 (1951 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Tramp
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws determine to un-haunt a cottage

Verdict

The Browns’ housekeeper, Mrs Peters, has handed in her notice because her route to work takes her past a cottage she believes to be haunted. And this gives Dolores, Robert’s latest, an idea of the perfect stage for her new one-act play…

This probably wouldn’t cause too much trouble except for William’s resolve to “unhaunt” the cottage in question, and Violet Elizabeth’s resolve to join in the enterprise (“Oh, pleathe, William,” she said earnestly, “if ith a teeny weeny little ghotht, may I have it for my dollth houthe?”).

“I’ve got a jolly sight more money than you think I’ve got. I’ve got some in the post office that an aunt put in for me when I was born.” There was in William’s voice the bitterness that always invaded his spirit when he thought of the fortune standing to his name in the records of the government. “It’s five pounds an’ I’m goin’ to buy an aeroplane with it when I get it, if I ever do get it” – his bitterness increased – “if the post office hasn’t spent it all by then. I bet it has. Always havin’ cups of tea an’ biscuits. Jolly nice for me goin’ in to buy stamps an’ things an’ seein’ ’em all havin’ cups of tea an’ biscuits out of my five pounds. They mus’ have used about half of it by now…”

His plan is lifted from a play what he once saw: “It was about a man with a name like Dr Foster what sold his soul to a ghost with a name like Methylated.” Because Dr Foster (Faustus) successfully caught a ghost by drawing a circle around it, so too will William. For added certainty, Ginger is going to use the Chinese technique of “using bangs” (Violet Elizabeth plans to “give it a thauther of milk”).

 The facts

“I shall deduct a penny from your pocket-money,” said Mr Brown.
“Gosh!” said William with well-simulated horror. Actually he’d expected twopence and was rather relieved.

  • Number: 26
  • Published: 1948 – not to be confused with the 1923 story, 3.9, of the same name
  • Book: (a stand-alone novel)
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws try to get their older brothers married off – and, in William’s case, to secure them a house

Verdict

The only William novel, Just William’s Luck was a book of the film of the 1947 William screenplay of the same name – the film had its screenplay written by Val Guest but borrowed its plot from a mish-mash of stories including The Knights of the Square Table, 11.1, William Gets His Own Back, 11.4 and The Outlaws and the Tramp, 13.8.

“Well, you oughter right other people’s wrongs, not your own,” said Ginger virtuously.
“S’all very well for you,” said William. “You’ve got a bike.”

Then Richmal Crompton, enamoured of the film, decided to write it up into a book, and it has a tone very markedly different from the ‘real’ stories. It has a cinematic feel to it; one can sense that there would be visual gags alongside its pacy dialogue – and, probably, no shortage of Gilligan cuts. (I’ve not seen the film so can’t comment on how accurate this impression is!) This isn’t to say that the novel’s style is either good or bad, but it’s very noticeable.

There are a couple of fresh(-ish) twists as well: Violet Elizabeth’s kindly attempt to house a homeless tramp in The Hall; William’s decision not only to get Robert engaged to a visiting film star but to secure them a house by “haunting” a neighbour out of theirs; and the mysterious criminal enterprise into which the Outlaws fall (though this time, while their crossing of paths with the fur thieves is serendipitous, their foiling of the plot is genuinely brave and in no need of William’s usual post hoc embellishment).

“William!” said Mr Brown.
William emitted an unconvincing snore.
William!” bellowed Mr Brown.
Not even William could pretend to sleep through that. He opened his eyes and looked around with over-acted bewilderment. “Where am I?” he said, playing for time.

My absolute favourite parts of the novel, though, are the very start and the very finish: in true cinematic style, we are introduced to an important character who has been surprisingly absent from the other stories – Mr Heppleback the glazier. He seems to derive most of his business from the aftermath of William’s antics, and while this is of course pleasing to him, one gets the feeling that he has a genuine affection for young Master Brown… as, of course, do I:

“Not a bad bit o’ garden this, you know,” Mr Heppleback said. “Pity they don’t keep it tidier.”
“How d’you mean, ‘tidier’?” said Emily.
“Well… look at that flower-bed.”
“Oh – that!” said Emily. “Rudolph the smuggler ’ad a bit of a set-to with excisemen over that on Thursday.”
“Well, the other one’s not much better.”
“That was the ‘eadquarters of the underground resistance movement in France for over a week. ’E’d been to one of these ’ere films. ’E was gold-diggin’ in South Africa there yesterday, too.”
“’E gets about, doesn’t ’e?” said Mr. Heppleback admiringly.

Because of the book’s length it deserves to have a few more more quotes shared as well:

“Emily,” said Mrs Brown, “you’ve forgotten the bread-knife.”
“No, I haven’t,” said Emily, “I’ve not forgot nothing. It’s disappeared.”
“It must be William,” put in Ethel.
“I think that’s very unfair, dear,” said Mrs Brown. “William isn’t responsible for everything that goes wrong in this house.”
“Well, if he isn’t, it’s not for want of trying,” said Mr Brown bitterly.
“Now, John dear, do be sensible. What on earth could William want with a bread-knife?”
William, the cause of most of the troubles in the Brown household, stood in the old barn, brandishing a bread-knife.

~~~

“Well, about this Arthur man,” said William (for the trouble with William was that, having once started a subject, he never knew when to stop). “They made
him King and he started knights.”
“What d’you mean, started nights?” said Douglas. “There’ve been nights an’ days ever since the world began.”
“Don’t be a chump,” said William. “I mean spelt with a g, same as gnat and gnaw.”

~~~

“I must ask you if you know anything about the disappearance of the bread-knife,” said Mr Brown.
William looked up, and a blank look came over his face. “The bread-knife?” he said in the wondering tone of one who has never heard of the implement before.
“Yes, the bread-knife,” said Mr Brown. “You know what a bread-knife is, don’t you?”
“Oh, that!” said William, playing for time again. “A bread-knife. Yes. I see what you mean now.”

~~~

“She doesn’t like vi’lence,” said Ginger.
“Who doesn’t?” asked William.
“The girl he’s marryin’. She says boxing’s barb’rous.”
“What’s that?”
“It’s same as bein’ a savage. He’s got to give up rugger, too, ’cause she says that’s barb’rous, too.”
“She can’t know much about savages if she thinks they box an’ play rugger. She mus’ be a jolly ign’rant girl.”
“When’s he goin’ to get married?” said Henry.
“When they can find a house,” said Ginger. “There aren’t enough houses yet.”
“There’s houses all over the place,” said Douglas.
“Yes, but people are livin’ in ’em.”

~~~

Ginger had left his bicycle at William’s house, using various complicated devices for its safety. Not only had he locked the padlock that Hector had given
him with the bicycle, but he had also tied it to the garage door with Mrs Brown’s clothes-line and rigged up an elaborate “burglar” trap that involved the use of the alarm clock from Robert’s bedroom and the “lead” of Mrs Brown’s electric iron. Test of this invention had given negative results, but Ginger had not lost faith in it. Not content with this, they had left Jumble on guard, wearing his misleading notice, “Danger. He Bights.”
Even so, Ginger’s mind was not wholly at ease. “If anyone takes it,” he said, “l’m goin’ to write to Scotland Yard.”

~~~

“William!” called Violet Elizabeth.
They ignored her.
“William, I’ve got thome thweeth.”
“I’m not int’rested in your rotten ole sweets,” said William. He paused for a moment and added, “What sort are they?”
“Mint, William.”
“Well, I don’t care whether they’re mint or not,” said William crushingly. Again he paused. “What sort of mint?”
“Bulth-eyeth.”
“Oh,” said William.

~~~

The unwanted presence of Violet Elizabeth was such a normal part of William’s life’s background that he would have had a vague sense of something missing had it not been there.

~~~

“Miss Gaye’s a very busy person, you know,” said Miss Petworth.
“I’m busy, too,” said William.
“And she’s come here because she wants to rest,” said Miss Petworth.
William considered this. “Well, she can rest,” he said. “She can go on restin’ while I’m talking to her.”

~~~

“And what’s this Hobbins tells me, about your wanting to take flowers to a friend who’s got leprosy?” asked Mrs Brown.
“Oh that!” said William evasively. “P’raps I did sort of say it. I didn’t mean it. I jus’ sort of said it absent-mindedly. Have you seen Henry or Douglas?”
“No…”
“Well, I’d better go’n’ see what’s happened to ’em. G’d-bye.”
He proceeded on his way, leaving his mother gazing after him helplessly.

~~~

”But it muth be thad not having a home, William,” said Violet Elizabeth.
“Might be fun,” said Ginger. “They couldn’t make you wash your hands, ’cause there wouldn’t be a bathroom to wash them in.”
“An’ all your meals would have to be picnics,” said Henry.
“An’ they couldn’t make you go to bed, ’cause there wouldn’t be a bed to go to,” said Douglas.

~~~

“I once read a book at school,” said Ginger, “about two men that were fo love with the same girl. A man called Shakespeare made it up.”
“Let’s write to him and ask him what to do,” suggested William.
“We can’t,” said Ginger. “He’s dead. Fancy not knowin’ that Shakespeare’s dead!”
“Well, how was I to know?” demanded William. “I can’t know everyone’s name that’s dead, can I? I bet there’s a lot of dead people’s names you don’t know.”

~~~

“Can I be a tramp, too, William?” said Violet Elizabeth.
“No. Tramps are men.”
“I could be a lady tramp. There are lady trampth, William. I’ve theen one. Thee looked juth like that one there, but thee wath a lady.”

~~~

“I bet your mother wouldn’t let the tramp stay with you,” said Douglas.
“Thee needn’t know,” said Violet Elizabeth. “There’th loth of thpare bedroomth, an’ no one utheth them. Thee needn’t know anything about it. We’d thow him the way to it, an’ take him in hith mealth, an’ then he could juth go away when he wanted to be a tramp again.”
“Yes, an’ once you’ve got someone into your house,” said Ginger, “you can’t turn ’em out. An aunt of mine once got someone into her house, an’ she couldn’t get them out. It’s the lor.”
“It’s somethin’ to do with the Magna Charta,” said Douglas, adding hastily, as he saw Henry opening his mouth to challenge the statement, “but p’raps not
much.”

~~~

“I don’t think I partic’ly want to meet your ma, some’ow,” said the tramp slowly. “No offence meant – an’ none taken, I ’opes?”
“Are you thy?” said Violet Elizabeth.
“That’s right,” said Mr Rose. “I’m shy.”
“Have a rest on the bed,” said William solicitously. “Film stars rest, too. Grown-ups get sort of tired jus’ with bein’ grown-up. I’ve often noticed it.”

~~~

“Is that red paint on your face?” asked Mrs Brown.
William threw his mind back over the events of the day, frowning thoughtfully. “It might be,” he admitted, ”but I don’t see how it could be. l did use red paint once, but it was a long time ago. I should have thought it’d’ve worn off by now. Anyway, I don’t see how I got it on my face. I only wrote with it.”

~~~

“‘S’pose he doesn’t go?” said Henry.
“We’ll make him go,” said William. “We’ll haunt him.”
“How?”
“Oh, just haunt him,” said. William carelessly. “Moanin’ and groanin’ and movin’ things about.”
“In all the pictures of ghosts I’ve seen,” said Henry, “they carried their beads under their arms.”
“Don’t be silly,” said William. “We couldn’t poss’bly do that. There’s no sense in it either. Gosh! lt’d be fun to be a real ghost, goin’ about scarin’ people every night.”
“I bet it wouldn’t be much fun,” said Henry. “You couldn’t eat ice-cream or sweets or choc’late biscuits or anythin’. They’d drop straight through you on to
the ground.”
“You could pick ’em up.”
“You couldn’t. Your fingers go through them.”
“Then how could you put ’em in your mouth to start with for them to drop through?”
“Oh, shut up,” said William.

~~~

“They’re fur thieves,” whispered William. “That’s what they are.”
“What can we do?” said Henry.
“We’ve gotter let the police know, somehow,” said William. “We’ve gotter stop them takin’ those furs to Belgium.”
“Where’s Belgium?” said Ginger.
“How should I know?” said. William. “I’m not a fur thief.”

~~~

“You don’t know my father,” said William earnestly. “He was mad with me jus’ before I came out, ’cause of a ladder that fell down by itself jus’ when I happened to be walkin’ along a passage. He’s a very unreas’nable man.”
“Very well,” said the policeman, trying to hide his amusement.

~~~

“I could swear I saw him shinning up that tree,” said Robert. “I bet you anything he’s trying to get back into his bedroom that way.” The crash of breaking glass confirmed his words, as William, unaware that his mother had closed the window, tried to swing himself through it from the nearest branch.