‘I’ll thcream ‘n’ thcream till I’m thick’: Beloved Just William turns 100! | Books | Entertainment

‘I’ll thcream ‘n’ thcream till I’m thick’: Beloved Just William turns 100! | Books | Entertainment

William's escapades began in book form but soon grew into radio shows, television dramas, and films

William’s escapades began in book form but soon grew into radio shows, television dramas, and films (Picture: )

Sleazy, mischievous, and largely inscrutable, at least as far as adults are concerned, William Brown is one of the most well-known and beloved characters in children’s literature. It was created by writer Richmal Crompton and debuted 100 years ago when her first Just William book was published in 1922.

In the following century he remained a perennial favorite, the star of no fewer than 38 books – later translated into dozens of foreign languages ​​- as well as countless films, television series, radio programs and plays.

More than 12 million Just William books have been sold in English alone. But how on earth did this slovenly schoolboy and his loyal group of friends, the Outlaws, and their noisy antics get so popular?

Jane McVeigh, whose recent biography of the author was published to mark the centenary, says, “William is a timeless character. He was described as a kind of everyman. He can speak to all of us because we look at the adult world through his 11 year old eyes and see people for who they really are. I think that really struck a chord with Crompton’s readers.”

One of William’s most important traits was his rebellion. In the stories that Crompton wrote up until her death at the age of 78 in 1969, the schoolboy kept getting all sorts of bruises.

Once he stole his brother’s bike and slid uncontrollably across the family picnic. Or when he decided to lock the family cook in the coal cellar to raid the pantry and invite his friends to a house party. Or the sanctuary he opened to protect rats.

Once he and the outlaws kidnapped a baby and left it for a cow. At another, he broke into a home only to discover another more serious burglar at work. Anything William puts his hand on – often with the best of intentions – inevitably leads to total chaos.

Also, he almost always comes out on top.

William has been a perennial favorite for over a decade

William has been a perennial favorite for over a decade (Image: Getty)

First appearing in the 1920s, he is the original mischievous schoolchild, an inspiration for all sorts of fictional rascals, from Dennis the Menace and Minnie the Minx to Pippi Longstocking, Bart Simpson and Horrid Henry. McVeigh says William’s rebellious behavior is key to his appeal.

“He’s doing things we all wish we could have done but know we wouldn’t have been brave enough to do. And he does it all with a certain innocence and doesn’t always understand the implications of what he’s doing.”

William Brown lives in an unnamed, fictional village in the Home Counties with his ailing parents and older siblings, Ethel and Robert.

When not dressed as a pirate, robber, or lion tamer, he is usually dressed in a disheveled school uniform, scuffed shoes, disheveled hair, and a scruffy face. His speech and writing are riddled with mispronunciations, grammatical errors, poor spelling and omitted consonants.

In one story, William hangs a sign on his snoring aunt Emily’s bed saying she is a “fat wild woman Torkin Natif Langwidge”. In another, he pretends his mother’s fox fur is a “bear shot by outlaws in Rusher.” Eventually, the outlaws decide their needs should be legislated, so they compose their “Magner Carter” with six key demands on the government: 1) As many vacations as semesters; 2) No afternoon school; 3) sixpence a week spending money and not moving out; 4) no Latin no French no arithmetic; 5) As much ice cream and banarnas and cream buns as we want for free; and 6) No penalties and stay up as late as we want.

The nostalgic world of the upper middle class from the interwar period in which William initially lives is characterized by village festivals, servants, amateur plays, dusty school classes, well-stocked candy stores, conker fights and high teas.

Richmal Crompton in 1948

Richmal Crompton’s 38 Just William books are still loved by millions of readers (Image: Getty)

In addition to his fellow outlaws (Ginger, Henry, and Douglas), recurring characters include Joan (whom William has a soft spot for), various strict teachers, doctors, and a procession of elderly aunts and male cousins. The Outlaws face a regular nemesis in a rival gang called the Hubert Laneites, led by the spoiled Hubert Lane (‘Hubey’ for his loving mother). There’s also Williams’ mixed breed dog, Jumble, with “fox terrier ears, retriever nose, collie tail” and “light dachshund body that trembles with joie de vivre.”

Aside from William, perhaps the most memorable character of all is Violet Elizabeth Bott, the lisping, spoiled, six-year-old daughter of the local self-made millionaire who famously warns, “I’ll thcream n’ thcream ’til I make myself fat… and I can.” . Crompton described Violet’s singing as “a scream that would have shamed a factory siren and was guaranteed to send everyone within ten yards into a rather expensive nervous breakdown”. In the 1970s television adaptation, William’s nemesis was famously played by a young Bonnie Langford.

As a result of all the chaos William causes on a regular basis, his father is convinced his youngest offspring is “crazy”; crass, maddeningly insane”. He says to his wife, “You should take him to a doctor and have his brain examined.” His mother is more sympathetic. “Boys are such weird things,” she notes. Meanwhile, William constantly struggles to make sense of the confusing adult world around him, with all its hypocrisy and self-importance.

“In a subtle way, he’s a subversive character who challenges authority,” says McVeigh. “He points out the flaws in adult behavior.” But it’s the comedy in the Just William books that stands out the most.

“There’s a mix of farce and slapstick, but also very subtle social comedy and satire,” McVeigh continues.

“And the way Crompton uses vocabulary… Some fans have said that she can write a one-liner and capture something that’s so true about life and human nature.”

William will forever be 11 years old

William will forever be 11 years old (Picture: )

Richmal Crompton Lamburn, to use her full name, was born in Bury, Lancashire in 1890. After studying at Royal Holloway College in Surrey, she took a position as a Classics teacher at Bromley High School in Kent and lived in the Kent suburbs for the rest of her life.

In 1923, while vacationing in Norfolk, she contracted polio, a disease that nearly killed her. As McVeigh explains in her book Richmal Crompton: A Literary Life, “To the end of her life she could not walk unaided and always needed someone’s arm or cane when she was out.”

From then on, Crompton focused on her writing and produced a vast body of work, including some 50 adult novels in addition to the 38 books of Just William.

Although he celebrates his 100th anniversary this year, William will forever be 11 years old. Even the characters he shares his stories with refuse to age.

But the politics and global events of the 20th century inevitably intervene in this fictional world. There are stories about World War II, the Blitz, the arrival of television and even the “Space Race”. Fashions and slang evolve over time. The 1965 book William and the Pop Singers is a clear reference to the Beatles.

Like much classic fiction, some of Crompton’s stories contradict the modern reader. One entitled William and the Nasties from a 1935 collection was withdrawn from reprints because of anti-Semitic indications.

“Crompton later regretted it,” explains McVeigh.

“But one has to recognize that some of their spellings would no longer be acceptable today.”

Biographer Jane McVeig

Biographer Jane McVeigh (Picture: )

While the books were hugely popular on their own, the adaptation of Just William for radio, television and film helped ensure that this naughty schoolboy will forever be remembered in post-war British culture. By 1946, BBC radio plays – many written by Crompton himself – were enjoying an audience of nine million.

There were several films, the first, Just William, was released in 1940.

But it was the various TV and radio series that kept attracting new generations of fans. The first aired in the 1950s. There were two series in the 1960s, one starring Dennis Waterman who later appeared in The Sweeney and Minder. Other series aired in the 1970s, 1990s and 2010s.

Actor Martin Jarvis recently narrated the stories for BBC Radio 4 – helping introduce them to another generation.

In fact, William Brown became such a successful figure during Crompton’s lifetime that she admitted she was eventually controlled by him.

“He was my puppet. I pulled the strings,” she once wrote. “But gradually the tables turned. I am his puppet. He pulls the strings. Like all characters who have been overly spoiled by their writers, he insists on forging his own path.”

In January 1969, shortly before the publication of her last William book, William the Lawless, Crompton died in a Kent hospital.

But today, a century after it first appeared, her most famous creation is still very much alive. As McVeigh says of William, “His spirit lives on as fans in the UK and abroad read his stories throughout their lives and other readers recognize him as a cultural icon.”

Will children still be reading about William in 100 years?

McVeigh doesn’t think so. “Maybe they’ll read about an amazing boy or girl who lives in space or is a digital avatar. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had very similar characteristics to William’s.”

  • Richmal Crompton: A Literary Life by Jane McVeigh is published by Palgrave Macmillan priced at £17.99

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