Thursday, 9 August 2012

Just William

The road from Matlock to Bakewell in Derbyshire passes a large Victorian pile which was once St. Elphin's boarding school for the daughters of the clergy, but is now a retirement complex.

I must have passed the school many times without ever realizing that Richmal Crompton went there as a pupil and later returned as a classics teacher. She was of course the author of the hugely successful William books, all of which I devoured in my youth.

Quite why I took to them so avidly I’m not sure. The hero of the books was William Brown, a decidedly middle class boy, while I grew up on a council estate. His was a world of domestic servants such as  maids to open the front door and cooks to prepare the family meals. Not my world by any stretch of the imagination.

Maybe that’s it though – the vital ingredient of Crompton’s books. They stirred the imagination – at least they must have stirred mine, because I loved them. Even the pen and ink drawings seemed right somehow.

William in William below stairs

I read one recently – once I'd made this momentous discovery about the connection between Richmal Crompton and St Elphin’s. The books still read well, even now. Clearly written, not condescending and each story has a beginning, middle and end. 

Boyish stories I suppose – in an old-fashioned sense. Camp fires and strange cookery experiments, climbing trees, dirty knees, running wild and mischief.

William had his arch-enemy too - Hubert Lane, leader of the Laneites. If my younger self had a criticism of the William books, it would be the too infrequent appearance of Hubert Lane. I enjoyed William's battles with Hubert. Essentially they were battles of wits where of course William always emerged victorious in one way or another.

And who could ever forget Violet Elizabeth Bott, the lisping daughter of a local nouveau riche millionaire? Who could forget her blood-curdling threat?

I'll thcream and thcream 'till I'm thick.

Do young people still read them? I don't know, because William's world has mostly disappeared now.


Angus Dei said...

Ah, another wonderful memory, i loved the just william books as well, along with Graham's Wind in the willow and of course the comics-beano, dandy and my fave was Dan Dare in the Eagle, I have looked forward to the "Future" ever since... still waiting:)

Do the young of today even know about these classics?

probably not, their parents don't seem to educate their kids with old stuff, it all seems to be witches, warlocks and bollocks nowadays...

Anonymous said...

Terrific books which helped get me hooked on the reading habit.

Sam Vega said...

Yes, I liked them, and like AKH I came from a relatively humble background. I wonder if part of the appeal was the aspiration towards a world of order and comfort? "Swallows and Amazons" has something of a similar appeal. I remember a girl in my class at school having a total obsession, including the encyclopaedic recall, etc. She was really shocked to find out the Crompton was female. I guess there was no way of finding out in those days.

The last time I read them was about 14 years ago to my son, who was about 7 at the time. He loved them, especially the humour.

I will certainly try them again with family no. 2, who are approaching that age...

Demetrius said...

Ah, one of my role models.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Sam Vega beat me to it. I tried re-reading a S&A book recently, it's really hard going, even though I read that book quite happily at age 8 or 9 (I guess I just skipped over the very technical sailing terms). Still glorious books though.

A K Haart said...

Angus - "it all seems to be witches, warlocks and bollocks nowadays."

Yes - that about sums it up!

David - yes they got me hooked on reading. Encouraged me to look for other writers too.

Sam - "She was really shocked to find out the Crompton was female." Oddly enough Crompton was called "Ray" by her friends and family.

Demetrius - ah but who are the others?

Mark - I never read S&A. I may give it a go to see if Grandson would like it in a few years.