visiting lecturers

The facts

Professor Knowle descended from the train at the little wayside station. After a short distance he came upon a boy sitting on a gate, sharpening a stick with a pen-knife. “Am I on the right road to Marleigh, my boy?” he asked.
“What part do you want to go to?” said the boy.
“The Church Room,” said Professor Knowle.
”I’ll take you a shqrt cut over the fields, if you like,” said the boy.
That, thought the Professor, would be very nice. Together they set off across the fields. The boy, the Professor decided, was not very intelligent. Certainly this country child did not seem mentally alert. His face wore a wooden, almost a blank, expression.


The BBC’s popular wartime radio programme The Brains Trust stars a popular academic, Professor Knowle. He has spawned a parody music-hall act, Professor Know-all.

Professor Knowle has been booked to give a lecture to a high-brow gathering in the village on the very same night that Professor Know-all has been booked to perform at a low-brown concert party given by local RAF airmen.

“It was the boy’s mistake, of course,” said the Professor, “and quite an understandable one.”
“Did he say what his name was?” said Mr Markson.
“He said it was William Brown. He’s not to be blamed, of course. He couldn’t know what complications would ensue…”
“I wonder…” said the head master thoughtfully. But it was no use wondering. He could imagine the wooden blankness of William’s expression as he persisted that he had misunderstood the Professor and thought that he meant the Village Hall. Better leave the matter as it was.

Despite it being abundantly obvious what is going to happen once William gets involved in the story, and despite an unusual lack of involvement of or reference to William, it’s still a fun ride with a happy ending.

The facts

“I say,” said William, “why shu’nt we start makin’ sweets an’ sell ’em to the sweetshops?”
The prospect was a roseate one. Too roseate, they felt, for reality. Henry voiced the obvious objection. “You’ve gotter have special machinery for makin’ sweets. They make ’em in factories.”
“You can make ’em at home all right,” said William.
“How d’you make ’em?” said Ginger.
“Oh, you jus’… sort of mix things up together,” said William vaguely.

  • Number: 23.10
  • Published: 1941 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William Does His Bit
  • Synopsis: William encounters a bully.


The words “Look here,” said William, “let’s put the sardines in an’ call the whole thing Sardine Toffee. The sardines’ll give it a more def’nite taste than it’s got now” at the start of this story almost put me off from reading on, but I pulled myself together and continued…

A visiting lecturer in Child Psychology is anxious to find a nice gentle companion to introduce to her son Claude. She fondly imagines Claude to be a paragon of manliness and a good, toughening influence on every other child with whom he happens to come into contact.

Due to a misunderstanding of alarming magnitude, she gets the impression that William is a nice gentle boy, and so arranges with Mrs Brown for him and Claude to spend some time together at her home.

“William’s so much quieter and gentler than Claude,” Mrs Dayford said.
Mrs Brown tried to imagine Claude, and her imagination boggled at the task.

As it turns out, William does make an impact on the horrible bully that is Claude… and probably a positive one at that.

The facts

“Why, I bet cyclin’ over that ground did it good , same as ploughin’ or somethin’. Bet I saved ’em trouble, cyclin’ over that ground. An’ I bet everyone was sick to death see in’ those ole plants day after day. They oughter be jolly grateful to me for knockin’ ’em down so’s they could put in a few new ones.” He sighed deeply. “All grown-ups are mean, but I bet my fam’ly’s about the meanest of the lot.”

  • Number: 23.2
  • Published: 1941 (1939 in magazine form)
  • Book: William Does His Bit
  • Synopsis: William and Ginger take control of some valuable geological specimins.


William and Ginger are both aggrieved: William has had his bicycle confiscated after using it to destroy some plants, and Ginger dropped a half-crown out the window of a train, and was then further penalised when he pulled the emergency brake in a bid to recover it (“A man came round to see my father about it las’ night an’ said they’d overlook it this time. Said they’d overlook it. I like that! It oughter be me overlookin’ it. I bet I could’ve found that half-crown in two minutes if they’d let me look for it”).

So embittered are they that they resolve to become highwaymen to wreak revenge on society.

“You’ve gotter have a black horse to be a highwayman,” objected Ginger.
“You needn’t,” said William. “A bicycle’d do.”
Ginger considered the question again in silence. “They’ve gotter have masks,” he said at last.
“They needn’t,” said William, to whom the career of highwayman was beginning to seem not only attractive, but the obvious solution of all his problems. “I’ve seen pictures with crim’nals in, an’ they jus’ wear handkerchiefs over their noses. It’s better than masks. It’s not so old-fashioned.”

The first person they hold up is General Moult, who is too deaf to comply with their demands. The second and third ignore them. The fourth is a little girl who very sweetly offers William the threepence she is grasping – but “William’s scheme had somehow not included the taking of pocket money from little girls. He waved it aside.” But he is prepared to accept from the little girl her uncle’s briefcase of valuable geological samples.

He promptly sells them on to Ethel for her rock garden, just before the Browns welcome a guest for lunch. The guest is an eminent professor of geology…