The author of the ‘William’ books, Richmal Crompton, was born in Lancashire in 1890. The first story about William Brown appeared in ‘Home’ magazine in 1919, and the first collection of William stories was published in book form three years later. In all, thirty-eight William books were published, the last one in 1970, after Richmal Crompton’s death.
Like everybody else in 2020, I have been subjected to a lockdown due to the Corona virus. During my time at home, I have been revisiting many of my favourite books. One of my perennial fictional heroes has been William Brown, the eleven-year-old scamp who never ages.
As Charlie Higson writes in a forward to ‘William the Conqueror’ William is essence of boy. He has everything a boy could want – a dog, a stick, a penknife, a gang, a den, trees to climb, stones to throw, sweets in his pocket …Today William would probably be put into therapy and made the subject of a TV documentary, except, of course, William always gets away with it. Despite the trail of chaos and anarchy he leaves behind, he always ends up as the only thing that any boy has ever wanted to be. A hero.
It’s hard to imagine how the eleven-year-old William would have coped with today’s lockdown: being kept indoors with his long-suffering family. I am sure he would have tried to invent a Covid cure: perhaps by raiding the cook’s pantry for ingredients, or the gardener’s greenhouse, or his elder sister’s silk stockings to strain off his finished concoction. Then who to try it on? His father or his older brother? Perhaps Jumble, his mongrel dog. Whatever the outcome, I know that author Richmal Crompton would somehow solve the chaos for the Brown family to live on to await the next crisis. Perhaps we all need another Richmal Crompton to come along and sort out this Covid mess.
(Author’s note: I have always had a hankering for William’s Edwardian times. They had an order to their society which is sadly missing in today’s world. I think I would like to have been a gardener then. My wife explodes with laughter when I reveal this, my innermost desire.)