Day 196: William on the Trail

The facts

There was an automatic lift; William liked automatic lifts. He got in, pressed the basement button, pressed the emergency stop button before the lift was halfway down, shot up to the third floor, down to the ground floor, up to the second floor, down to the basement and up to the
third floor, pressing the emergency stop button at frequent intervals, and deciding to become a lift-man as soon as he left school.
After about ten minutes his glorious career was checked by an irate old gentleman whose bedroom was next to the lift and who had been roused from his slumbers by this protracted non-stop performance of William’s. He growled at William so savagely that William decided to postpone further practising for the present.
Feeling somewhat unpopular, William fetched his bucket and went down to the beach.
“They’ll be jolly glad of me when there’s a lift strike,” he muttered to himself.

  • Number: 18.0
  • Published: 1935 in magazine form, not to be confused with the 1958 story, 31.1, of the same name, or A Little Adventure, 9.9, which originally had the same name
  • Book: Un-compendium-ed but available online here
  • Synopsis: William attempts to shadow two spies.


With one exception, every single William story that Richmal Crompton wrote was published in a book. This one is the exception.

On a trip to the seaside, William occupies himself with the hotel lift, with a search for edible seaweed (“some were less nauseous than others”), and keeping crabs in his bedroom.

Then he meets a girl who shares his morbid fascination for violence (“I’ve always wanted to see someone poison themselves”), crime, espionage etc.

“Didn’t I tell you?” said the little girl triumphantly. “They’re spies. I saw him take a photograph one day last week, an’ the very next day I saw her go into a shop an’ buy a brooch. That proves it, doesn’t it? They must have got money for his photograph from a foreign country.”
William felt that there was some flaw in this argument, but so intriguing was the idea that he did not search too carefully for it.

The femme fatale convinces him that another couple holidaying at the same resort are spies. “The man had a long moustache. All spies had long moustaches.”

Unfortunately, in the course of trailing these spies, William gets mistaken for James Brown, 14-year-old champion junior boxer.

As some Williamologists have speculated, perhaps the sickening violence explains why this story was never fully published…