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Literature / Just William

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A long-running series of comic/adventure stories by Richmal Crompton about an 11-year-old English boy named William Brown.

William is a mischievous and adventurous, if mostly well-intentioned, boy, cheerfully indifferent to school and the baffling (to him) rules of adult life. With his best pal Ginger and other friends Douglas and Henry, he forms the Outlaws, whom he leads into all manner of escapades, scrapes and misadventures — sometimes due to his natural rebelliousness, though as often as not while trying to do something actually quite useful. Each volume contains up to a dozen or more short, largely stand-alone stories (bar one full-length novel), rather than being a single narrative.

The series is a strong user of Comic-Book Time; each book is set in the era in which it was written and yet William is 11 throughout — for nearly half the 20th century. The first collection was published in 1921 and the 39th in 1970.


William is unique in schoolboy literature: confident, strong-willed, independent-minded with original world-views, a born leader who is keen to be chief in any undertaking of the Outlaws. He does not care about his clothes or appearance, wears a scowl as his best "company manners" and hates small talk. He loves to play Red Indians and pirates, and readily embarks on any project from catching wartime spies to making a "moon rocket", to editing a "newspaper" or organising a "circus" or "show", often featuring his pet mongrel dog Jumble as reluctant star. He usually has a withering contempt for girls and women (except his mother) but can occasionally be chivalrous and quietly has a soft spot for a young neighbour, Joan, who admires him enormously.

A rebel and die-hard optimist, William often shows a strong sense of responsibility when the situation demands, an unwillingness to back out of challenges and a bulldog-like determination to overcome hurdles. His imagination and love of adventure constantly get him into strange and difficult situations. Peculiar complications often arise when he tries to "help" others, but as fortune favours the brave, William usually wins. His 'motto' is: "Doin' good, rightin' wrongs, spreadin' happiness and walking down the narrow path of virtue."


    Titles in the series 
  • Just William (1921)
  • More William (1922)
  • William Again (1923)
  • William the Fourth (1924)
  • Still William (1925)
  • William the Conqueror (1926)
  • William the Outlaw (1927)
  • William in Trouble (1927)
  • William the Good (1928)
  • William (1929)
  • William the Bad (1930)
  • William's Happy Days (1930)
  • William's Crowded Hours (1931)
  • William the Pirate (1932)
  • William the Rebel (1933)
  • William the Gangster (1934)
  • William the Detective (1935)
  • Sweet William (1936)
  • William the Showman (1937)
  • William the Dictator (1938)
  • William and Air Raid Precautions (1939)
  • William and the Evacuees (1940)
  • William Does His Bit (1941)
  • William Carries On (1942)
  • William and The Brains Trust (1945)
  • Just William's Luck (1948) – the sole novel-length story
  • William The Bold (1950)
  • William and the Tramp (1952)
  • William and the Moon Rocket (1954)
  • William and the Space Animal (1956)
  • William's Television Show (1958)
  • William the Explorer (1960)
  • William's Treasure Trove (1962)
  • William and the Witch (1964)
  • William and the Pop Singers (1965)
  • William the Ancient Briton (1965)
  • William and the Masked Ranger (1966)
  • William the Superman (1968)
  • William the Lawless (1970)

The stories have been adapted numerous times for various media. Three movies (Just William, Just William's Luck and William at the Circus) were produced in The '40s, as was a radio series. Later on, in The '90s, BBC released several Audiobook adaptations of the stores read by Martin Jarvis, which are probably the most well-known adaptations to date.

No less than four TV series have been made based on the characters and stories. The first one, produced for the BBC in 1962-63, was simply called William whereas the three subsequent series (in 1976, 1994 and 2010) used the Just William title, which has gradually come to stand for the series as a whole.

This series provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: William certainly thinks so, and he's even right about a vast number of them.
  • All Dogs Are Purebred: Averted. Lord only knows what mix of breeds Jumble is. All the scruffy ones, presumably.
  • Aloof Big Brother: William's "grown-up brother" Robert.
  • Alpha Bitch: William's "grown-up sister" Ethel seems to have shades of this, being very beautiful and pretty fickle with her suitors. William for one is baffled by what others see in her. She does have her Loveable Alpha Bitch moments though.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: He's the protagonist.
    • The Outlaws see Violet Elizabeth Bott in this way. The trouble is that she, by contrast, sees them, and especially William, as Cool Big Bro figures.
  • Anti-Hero: Type 1
  • Arch-Enemy: Hubert Lane
  • Big Eater: William has an immense appetite, particularly for party food, and will often demolish a meal he's found in his adventures before returning home for tea. Justified by the fact he's as active as his life allows him to be.
  • Book Dumb: William is a terrible student in every academic field, driving both his teachers and parents to distraction. Left to his own devices, he can be quite ingenious.
  • Catchphrase - "Crumbs".
  • Christmas Episode: Plenty of these across all the books. Some are very much centred around Christmas, while others simply take place close to Christmas without really relating to the holiday very much.
  • Day in the Life: Just William's Luck, the only novel in the series (as against collection of unrelated short stories) follows this format, beginning with the Brown family waking up in the morning and ending with them going to bed that night.
  • Deadpan Snarker: William tries to be this, but a lot of his sarcasms fail quite badly. His father is notably better at it.
  • Disguised in Drag: Crops up occasionally but the most notable incidence is probably 'William Makes Things Hum' from William the Rebel. William is forced to borrow clothes from a girl the same age, who dons his clothes. Interestingly while he hates the experience and tries to get his own clothes back as soon as possible, the girl is delighted to be wearing boys' clothes, mentions several times she wishes she was a boy and only very reluctantly swaps back. Crompton probably just meant her to be a Tomboy but to a modern reader she comes across as decidedly transgender.
  • Fat Idiot: Hubert Lane and his chum Bertie Franks (both fall under Fat Bastard too.)
  • Fiery Redhead: Ginger is almost as impulsive and temperamental as William, and as is evident by his nickname he's a redhead.
  • Five-Man Band
  • Forgotten Trope: Several, given the periods the stories were written in. Good examples include an early 1920s version of the Red Scare and various World War II related tropes.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Violet Elizabeth Bott is extremely fond of the Outlaws in general and William in particular. The sentiment is not returned.
  • Friend to All Children: Miss Cannon, a girl Robert is infatuated with in "William the Intruder," who turns up to tea with the Browns half an hour late because she was playing Indians with William in the garden.
  • Generation Xerox: One story focuses on the Outlaws' various schemes to get some fireworks for Bonfire Night. At the end of their story, their fathers, walking home from work, hijack the fireworks and begin reminiscing about their childhood exploits as a gang, which bear a suspicious resemblance to the Outlaws.
  • Gender-Blender Name: An author with the first name of Richmal writing about a boy's adventures is a man, right? Wrong.
  • Gift-Giving Gaffe: One wonders what Aunt Emma was thinking, giving William a geometry set and a book on church history. Had she never met her nephew?
    • William's life is more generally afflicted with these, since his family never give him what he wants, or if they do it winds up confiscated almost immediately.
  • Guile Hero: Many stories have William having to defeat Hubert Lane or an especially obnoxious adult by outwitting them.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: William and Ginger are the closest of friends, and Ginger appears far more often than the other Outlaws.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Meta example: The stories often make fun of child-raising "experts" with no children of their own. The author, Richmal Crompton, was unmarried and childless for her entire life.
  • Innocently Insensitive: William may be a well-intentioned boy, but he often has little grasp of other people's feelings.
  • Kid-anova: Despite claiming to not like girls, William does have a tendency to fall for the pretty ones — or at least the ones who aren't too silly in his opinion. Quite a number of them turn out to like him, too.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Various characters who have no children and are infatuated by the idea of them often get a reality check when they encounter William or his peers.
  • Laser-Guided Karma/Karma Houdini: Both used frequently.
  • The Leader: For all his other faults, William is a natural born leader of men. The Outlaws and more generally other children follow him because he has all the best ideas as to how to have fun, and follows them through with complete determination. This is also why most grown-ups particularly don't like him.
  • Long-Running Book Series
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Happens to several characters, including William on occasion, but Robert is the most prominent and most constant example.
  • Love Martyr: William's mother quietly adores her youngest, and is ready to believe he's become the calm, studious child she wants him to be on the flimsiest of evidence. William manipulates this often.
  • Maiden Aunt: William seems to have an almost limitless supply of these. An example of a Forgotten Trope: this wouldn't have appeared unusual between 1920-1960, since there were a lot of unattached middle-aged women in Britain then for some reason.
  • Misery Builds Character: William's parents are rather big on this. Maybe it was their Victorian childhood? (Even when they lived in The '70s, and thus presumably grew up in The '50s.)
  • Mouthy Kid:
    William’s gift of eloquence was known and feared in his family circle.
  • Naughty Is Good: Of course.
  • New Neighbours as the Plot Demands: Especially in the stories written during the early Twenties before Crompton really solidified her supporting cast outside the Brown family.
  • Noble Demon: William and his friends regularly picture themselves as robbers, pirates, kidnappers and so on and even name themselves 'The Outlaws' but they are almost never actively malicious (at least against the undeserving).
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: William has been eleven since 1920. He will no doubt still be eleven in 2120, and quite right, too.
  • Not So Above It All: William's father is much less bothered by his youngest causing trouble if it gets rid of a person or guest he finds annoying; one example is "William and the Smuggler," where he and William are both equally irritated by Mr. Percival Jones. Another is "William and the White Satin" where the narrator notes him as being rather envious of William and his cousins when they get out of having to attend a wedding by dirtying their white clothes.
  • Nouveau Riche: The Botts, inhabitants of the Manor (it is not clear whether they are owners or tenants). Mr. Bott made his money from "Bott's Digestive Sauce". Mrs. Bott in particular is highly pretentious, and goes to great lengths to hide her upbringing, which doesn't work.
    • It is implied at one point that Violet Elizabeth's lisp is affected and she doesn't actually have a speech impediment.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Ginger, so named for his red hair. We never learn his real first name.
  • Playing Sick: William attempts to get out of Mrs. de Vere Carter's "Band of Hope" in this way. A while later, he tries to feign sickness to get out of being a page at a wedding. Both times it fails.
  • The Psycho Rangers: Hubert Lane has his own four man gang that mirrors William's. They stand no chance against the Outlaws on a level playing field, but fortunately for them Hubert's parents are significantly more liberal with their gifts than William's, and Hubert himself is a gifted schmoozer.
  • The Roaring '20s: The original series setting.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: William, often to humorous effect.
    Mr. Brown's rhetoric had been rather lost on William, because its pearls of sarcasm had been so far above his head.
  • Serial Romeo: William's older brother Robert.
  • Sliding Scale of Beauty: Ethel is a 'world class beauty' with countless young men falling for her "red gold hair" and blue eyes.
  • Standard '50s Father: William's father, although of course he was created in the Twenties.
  • Tagalong Kid: Violet Elizabeth Bott, to the despair of the Outlaws.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: One of William's aunts, who proclaims herself to be in a poor state of health and spends most of her time eating and sleeping. Until William's intervention anyway.
    Aunt Emily had come down a month ago for a week’s visit and had not yet referred to the date of her departure. William’s father was growing anxious.
  • Vague Age: While William is always 11, the ages of his 'grown up' brother and sister Robert and Ethel range from as young as 17 to as old as 22 depending on the story.
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: In one story, Mr Moss puts William in charge of his sweet shop for the morning, which to any eleven-year-old is a dream come true. William helps himself and his friends to all the sweets he wants... and starts to feel sick. By the time Mr Moss returns...
    Reader, if you had been left, at the age of eleven, in sole charge of a sweet shop for a whole morning, would it have been “all right” with you?
  • Zany Scheme


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