visiting lecturers

The facts

William, Ginger and Henry had not intended to join the meeting. They had come to the house in order to call for Douglas. But Douglas, it turned out, had not yet returned from an appointment with the dentist, so they decided to wait for him. Ginger and Henry would have loitered fidgeting in the doorway, but William, who liked to be in anything that was going on, had made his way at once to the front row.

  • Number: 38.2
  • Published: 1970
  • Book: William the Lawless
  • Synopsis: William tries to give a retired army officer a taste of how life used to be.


The Outlaws are compiling a Railway Museum. What they really want for this Railway Museum is a guard’s lamp. And Major Reading, a retired military gentleman, has one. They can’t afford to offer him any money for it, but they try to give him an experience that he’d like.

“Well, I got the trivial thoughts out of my mind all right,” said Douglas. “Then I started thinkin’ how I’d like to have the dentist in the chair an’ me have a go at him with that drill thing.”
“That’s not very upliftin’,” said William. “What did you think, Ginger?”
“Well, I got the trivial thoughts out of my mind, too,” said Ginger. “Then… well, I started thinkin’ about those two trees by the road an’ I thought if I climbed up one of them I could sort of swing myself from the middle branch of that one on to the middle branch of the other an’ climb down its trunk.”

So when they overhear him saying to someone in conversation, “I’d give almost anything to have an hour or two of the old days back,” they know their task.

“What’ll we do, then?” asked Ginger.
“Give him an hour of danger, discomfort, an’ challenge,” said William simply, “an’ he’ll get so ’zilarated with zest that he’ll give us the guard’s lantern.”
“He mightn’t, you know,” said Henry.
“It’s goin’ to be one of the biggest muddles we’ve ever got into in all our lives,” said Douglas.

It doesn’t entirely go to plan, but remarkably (and slightly implausibly) they do get their hands on a guard’s lamp!

 The facts

“You see, dear,” Mrs Brown said, “you and your friends can form a sort of Houses of Parliament and… well,” vaguely, “pretend to be Ministers of the Crown and that sort of thing and… and discuss politics.”
“Yes,” said William and added with rising interest, “yes, it’s a jolly good idea.”
Mrs Brown stifled a slight feeling of misgiving.

  • Number: 29.2
  • Published: 1954 (1953 in magazine form)
  • Book: William and the Moon Rocket
  • Synopsis: Mrs Brown suggests that William might like to play a game called ‘House of Commons’.


Inevitably William is going to turn Mrs Brown’s suggestion of a nice, quiet game – House of Commons – into a disaster. Partly because he believes that Black Rod is “the chucker-out”, partly because he takes the view that “it’s educational so that makes it all right, whatever happens”, and partly just because he’s William.

Their first task is to secure accommodation for their game:

“We’ll have to find a house. We ought to have more than one to call it the Houses of Parliament, but we’ll manage with one.”
“Yes, an’ how’ll we find one?” said Henry. “It isn’t so easy, findin’ houses.”
William glanced at the houses that bordered the road along which they were walking.
“There’s lots about,” he said carelessly.
“Yes, but there’s people livin’ in them,” Ginger pointed out.
“There’s lors about houses,” said Henry darkly. “Some people can’t get in ’em an’ some people can’t be got out of ’em. It’s not so easy.”
But William’s optimism was not to be dispelled. “I bet I get one,” he said, licking the last vestiges of lollipop from a stick before he threw it away. “I bet I get one all right.”
“I bet you don’t,” said Douglas, “an’ I bet even if you do it’ll get us in a muddle.”

“I’ll be the Foreign Secret’ry,” said Douglas. “I’m jolly good at bein’ foreign.” He extended his mouth in an imbecile grin, gesticulated wildly and said in a high-pitched squeaky voice, “Je suis, tu es, il est… hic, haec, hoc… bonus, bona, bonum… la plume, la porte, la fiddlededee, la thingamagig.”
William and Ginger laughed hilariously, but Henry looked doubtful.
“I don’t think the Foreign Secret’ry axshully is foreign,” he said.
“’Course he is,” said Douglas, elated by his success. “If he’s called a foreign secret’ry he mus’ be foreign.”
“’Course he mus’,” said William. “Stands to reason he mus’. Well, it’s news to me if a foreign secret’ry isn’t foreign.”

After ‘buying’ a house from a little girl for five shillings, and proceeding to eat its entire contents, they allocate roles (“Well, come on, let’s look for a whip”) and get down to business.

“That was a jolly good fight,” said William as he picked himself up.
“They call it a debate,” said Henry.
“Well, it was a jolly good debate, then,” said William. “Let’s have another.”

Fortunately, their occupation/ destruction of the house they are using turns out not to be as disastrous as could be…

 The facts

William decided to practise his tight-rope act. He had never actually practised it yet. He had merely enjoyed glorious mental visions of himself walking with airy nonchalance at a dizzy height with crowds of cheering spectators far below. The only practical step he had taken towards the materialisation of this vision was the appropriation of a length of clothes line from his mother’s washing basket.
The resultant crash brought the entire household out into the hall.
“What on earth are you up to now, William?” said Mr Brown, in a voice that held concern but little tenderness. “Come down here at once.”
“I’ve not hurt myself an’ I’ve not done any harm,” William said, forestalling the inevitable queries and accusations. “Not any real harm, I mean. The handle came off the chest of drawers, but I bet it must’ve been loose to start with. Well, I bet real tight-rope walkers have somethin’ on their feet to make ’em stick. They must have. Glue or somethin’. Well, I’m jolly good at balancin’, but I went right over at once, so…”
“Be quiet, William,” said Mr Brown, who knew that William’s eloquence, if not checked at its source, could grow to an overwhelming torrent.

  • Number: 28.1
  • Published: 1952 (1947 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Tramp
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws try to juggle a tramp and a visiting lecturer.


Yet again the Outlaws and Violet Elizabeth are trying to come up with a way to smuggle the poor into The Hall as a form of social justice. The fact that every previous attempt at this scheme – most notably Just William’s Luck, 26 – has resulted in total disaster and financial ruin, does not dampen their enthusiasm at all.

The tramp they select is, like most of the other tramps the boys encounter, a talkative and ingenious one who introduces himself as Marmaduke Mehitavel (and Archibald Mortimer, and Horatio Grimble).

The room they select is one which Mrs Bott has destined for a visiting Literary Society lecturer, the celebrated scholar Mr Bumbleby.

Their truly inspired plan to prevent the seemingly inevitable clash is that the tramp should wear a suit of Mr Bott’s and impersonate Mr Bumbleby.

The real Mr Bumbleby’s role in this plan is the glamorous one of being locked in the coal shed…