william comes out on the bottom

The facts

“So what’s your story about?” asked Ginger.
“Well, it’s jolly excitin’,” said William. “It’s about a gang of international diamond smugglers an’ they all pretend to be members of a golf club, but really this golf club’s a sort of blind. It’s the headquarters of this smugglin’ gang. They only pretend to play golf. Really they’re smugglin’ diamonds all the time.”
Ginger considered this in comparative silence. “Sounds like all your other stories to me,” he said at last.
“Well, it isn’t,” said William indignantly. “It’s abs’lutely diff’rent. It’s diff’rent from every other story I’ve ever written in all my life.”

  • Number: 35.2
  • Published: 1965
  • Book: William and the Pop Singers
  • Synopsis: William and Ginger try to save a visiting golfer from an evil gang of smugglers.

Verdict

Somewhat overawed by a visiting and erudite friend of Robert’s, William is converted to the ‘school of nature’ in which the most important characteristic of fiction is that its characters appear genuine and natural.

So, in his latest story about smugglers, William names the characters after residents of the village, and invents a detective, Meredith (“red hair an’ a bit of a limp”), to pursue them.

The doors burst open.
William charged through one, brandishing his fire extinguisher, and Ginger charged through the other, hurtling his trolley before him. But, unfortunately, no rehearsal had been possible and their sense of direction misfired. They charged across the room full tilt into each other. William directed his fire extinguisher into Ginger’s face and Ginger drove his trolley with all his might against William’s solid form. The two struggled on the floor amid the wreckage of the trolley.
“Fire!” shouted William.
“Murder!” shouted Ginger.

So, of course, when a young man with red hair an’ a bit of a limp arrives in the village, William naturally assumes that his work of fiction has, remarkably, turned out to be fact.

They do what they can to save poor Meredith from the evil clutches of Miss Golightly (headmistress of the girls’ school and archvillain of William’s story), but it turns out that the two of them are actually quite happy to meet…

The facts

“A new girl’s only got to come to this place,” said William, “an’ Robert starts bein’ keen on her. He was nuts on Biddy Needham till they went on this caravan holiday, then they sort of got fed up with each other and he started on this new one. He might be someone on the films, the way he carries on. Bluebeard or Henry the Eighth or someone.”

Verdict

This is a seriously weird story.

Robert is enamoured by Celia Green, a newcomer to the village. And, unusually, William is a little enamoured by her younger sister Anthea.

Anthea, Celia, Robert and, as it happens, Henry have all been at a meeting of the Literary Society where they heard from a ‘detective journalist’ about here work:

“She pretended to be somebody she wasn’t jus’ to see how other people sort of acted an’ then she wrote an article about it an’ got money. Once she went out as a charwoman, jus’ one day each to diff’rent people an’ she told them all the same yams about her husband knockin’ her about (she hasn’t got a husband really an’ I bet he’d make off pretty quick if she had) an’ her little girl havin’ some terrible disease an’ her son stealin’ valu’bles an’ havin’ the p’lice after him.”
“She was tellin’ lies,” said Douglas sternly.
“No, it’s not lies if it’s detective joum ‘lism,” said Henry. “If it’s detective joum’lism, it’s… well, it’s jus’ detective journ’lism.”

Robert had noticed something cold and distant in Celia’s manner. “I haven’t done anything to offend you, have I, Celia?” he said humbly at last.
“You never do anything at all,” said Celia. ”That’s the trouble. You’re so hopelessly ineffectual.”
Robert thought of his triumphs on the tennis courts and rugger field but wisely forebore to mention them.

Celia and Anthea are both enthusiastic about the whole idea – not enthusiastic to follow it themselves, but they happily shanghai their men into having a go.

William had performed upon the back door of The Briars the loud and lengthy tattoo with which he was wont to announce his presence.
Miss Devon opened the door. William fixed his most ferocious scowl on her.
“I’m lost,” he said.
“Oh dear! Poor little boy!” said Miss Devon. Her face beamed with compassionate kindness.
“Lost out of a car,” said William.
“Oh dear!” said Miss Devon again. “I suppose your parents stopped for a little halt and you wandered off.”
“Yes,” said William, regretfully abandoning kidnappers and deciding to follow whatever lead she gave him. He’d probably be able to make something of it.
“Where were they going, dear?”
“I forget,” said William.
“Where is your home?”
“Outer Hebrides,” said William.

Although Robert also decides to play this rather aimless prank on Miss Devon, the story as a whole doesn’t really go anywhere. Which is a shame, because it’s bookended by a rather fun sub-plot about William turning his house’s water tank into an aquarium.

The facts

“It’s a smashing idea, this health service, and I don’t see why animals shouldn’t have it, same as yumans!”

  • Number: 31.8
  • Published: 1958
  • Book: William’s Television Show
  • Synopsis: Fleeing from an enraged neighbour, William takes refuge in the local hospital (to the dismay of said hospital). He is inspired to establish a National Health Service for animals.

Verdict

The NHS was 15 years old by the time this story was written, and the presence in the hospital waiting-room of a hypochondriac old lady determined to ‘get her money’s worth’ out of national insurance could just as easily happen today.

“There’s vets already,” said Ginger.
“Yes, but you have to pay vets. This other thing’s free!”
“No, it’s not. You pay a bit each week.”
“Well, animals could pay a bit each week.”

The scene in which William is forced by circumstance into faking a broken arm (albeit one which has miraculously recovered) shows how ready he was to take a leaf out of her book.

What could less easily happen today, or any day, though, is the way that William’s entirely well-meaning antics manage to enrage three entirely separate men who ultimately, and largely coincidentally, come together seeking to exert vengeance.

A fun story of the ‘William attempts to do social good’ variety.