william wins a competition

 The facts

“Mr French’ll prob’ly give us an awful report. He always does.”
“I know,” said William. “I think it’s ’cause he can’t spell words like ‘excellent’ an’ ‘satisfactory’. He puts ‘poor’ to everything jus’ ’cause it’s an easy word to spell.”

  • Number: 28.3
  • Published: 1952 (1950 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Tramp
  • Synopsis: William and Ginger obtain some seed capital.


William’s form master, Mr French, institutes an Apprentice-style competition to promote fundraising for the school’s new gymnasium: the boys should start with a little money, and with it try to raise as much as they can within the week.

William enters less out of a desire to improve his school or impress his teacher, and more out of natural competitiveness and bloody-mindedness. In fact, he is positively teeming with business plans:

“Listen,” he said. “I’ve got another idea.”
“Gosh!” said Ginger. “Not another!”

“Please, sir, Ginger an’ me got this given us for stackin’ logs for Miss Thompson,” William said hoarsely.
“Ginger and I,” said Mr French.
William stared at him in indignant surprise. “You weren’t even there,” he said.

His favoured plan (which is not actually a dreadful one) is to wait near Farmer Jenks’s pond, and at an opportune moment fish out of it a brooch and a cigarette case. He is confident that it will, shortly, contain these two items, because Robert has had a bad break-up with Dahlia Macnamara and both vowed to throw each other’s gifts “into the nearest pond”.

“She might not throw it into the pond till tonight,” said Ginger gloomily. “It’s gain’ to be a rotten waste of time hangin’ round all day an’ night…”
“That’s right,” said William bitterly. “Start makin’ objections. Whenever I get a really good plan you always start makin’ objections. Think of that man Bruce that made spiders’ webs an’ all the weeks an’ weeks an’ weeks he mus’ have took doin’ it, an’ you start makin’ a fuss jus’ ’cause you’ve got to wait a few minutes to see a girl throw a brooch into a pond.”
“What did he make spiders’ webs for?” said Ginger, interested despite himself.
“I’ve forgot jus’ for the moment,” said William vaguely, “but it’s in hist’ry, so it mus’ be true…”

The boys eventually get their hands on the desired items, sell them for three shillings and re-invest the three shillings in an accordion, which is promptly confiscated by Miss Milton for disrupting her afternoon’s rest (“It’s like one of those daylight smash an’ grab raids you read about in the newspapers”).

Various other complications occur, including Jumble eating their money, but eventually they strike gold dust.

The facts

Sunday was the day of the mock invasion. Members of the Home Guard manned machine-guns in the ditches, and soldiers crept behind
hedges with rifles in their hands…
William, filled with enthusiasm, tried to trip up a soldier and was soundly cuffed for his pains.
The day wore on and William became more and more depressed. No one seemed to want his help. He even tried to “immobilise” a soldier’s bicycle by means of a pin but was caught, pin in hand, by the owner, from whose vengeance he narrowly escaped, as it seemed to him, with his life.


General Moult has recruited the boys of the village to act as messengers during his spectacularly elaborate ‘invasion drill’ for local Home Guard units (the Nazis being played by real British soldiers). He is offering a magnificent ostrich egg as a prize to whichever boy is most helpful, so naturally William and Hubert vye to be most helpful, less out of concern for national security, less too out of a real desire to own an ostrich egg, and more out of a determination to spite the other.

Then – quite suddenly – the idea came to him. Commandos. Why shouldn’t there be Commandos in the invasion? Probably just because no one had thought of it. The Home Guard surely ought to have a few Commandos to help it. He’d be a Commando… It only needed a tin of blacking and a pair of bedroom slippers.

William’s spirits fall when a volunteer urgently requests maps of the area and he has none to give, as against Hubert’s ten.

But when it turns out a fifth columnist is on the loose, William receives (undue) credit for his quick-thinking and initiative… and an ostrich egg.

 The facts

“Get the money now, dear,” said Mrs Brown, “and go as quietly as you can.”
William tiptoed across to the dressing-table, but his tiptoeing was always of a somewhat elephantine nature. He banged into a chair, and knocked over a bottle of hair lotion on the dressing-table, before he finally found the purse. He took a ten-shilling note and a sixpence, put them carefully into his pocket, and made his way, still tiptoeing, to the door.
“Don’t bang it, dear,” pleaded Mrs. Brown faintly.
William gave his whole attention to not banging the door. He closed it by infinitesimal inches, and took so long that his mother’s nerves were strained to breaking-point before it finally reached its objective. The effect was somewhat marred by his immediately slipping on the top step and falling all the way downstairs.

  • Number: 20.7
  • Published: 1938 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William’s Christmas Shopping
  • Book: William the Dictator
  • Synopsis: William thinks Aunt Louie deserves a better present than Mrs Brown does.


Louie is a friend of Mrs Brown who lives in South Africa. She is also a friend of William’s, so he graces her with the title ‘Aunt’. And it is her birthday, so Mrs Brown sends William into town to collect a present for her – a tea-towel – so it can be posted to the south.

The Outlaws collectively decide, though, that Aunt Louie is so nice that she deserves something better than a tea-towel.

“Pity not to send her somethin’ reely useful…”
murmured Ginger.
They had reached Hadley now, and stood looking into the window of a toy-shop that always attracted them.
“Now, that pistol’d be jolly useful to her,” said
Douglas. “I bet you want no end of pistols in a country like South Africa, with all those lions an’ savidges.”
“It’s not a real one,” Henry reminded him.
“I know, but it’d sort of give ’em a scare.”

They spend all of the money earmarked by Mrs Brown on various items which they consider would be of service to Aunt Louie in her foreign home: a pistol with which to pretend to shoot lions; a compass for finding her way through the veldt; a drum “to call people to help when the savidges are attacking”. And a tortoise.

A quite ridiculous twist of fate saves William’s neck. And he is left, at the end, with a tortoise.