It is fifty years since Richmal Crompton died at the age of 78 in 1969. Her original idea was to write stories of children for adults, but they ended up becoming favourites of the children instead, and still are today.
Over 12 million copies of her books were sold in the UK, at the time only the Bible outsold this author. Her books were translated in to 17 languages.
Richmal Crompton wrote 39 ‘William’ books and the final one was published posthumously.
My first ‘William’ book was given to me as a present for Christmas when I was about nine or ten.
Published 1924 – the 4th book in the series
Entertainment for children was not electronic (unless you had an electric train set), because children were expected to read and amuse themselves, unless they could persuade an adult to play snakes and ladders or some other boardgame. At least I managed to learn how to play Cribbage, because it was one of Dad’s favourite card games.
‘William’ our hero, was eleven when I first met him in the pages of William-The Fourth. He never grew a day older during all our time together. Each chapter of the book was a new adventure for William and his friends, known as the ‘Outlaws’.
William and his friends came from affluent families, I suppose one would say ‘upper middle class’, because the house in which he lived was detached, with a large garden and Mr Brown (William’s father) caught the train each day to go to ‘town’ i.e London. Mr Brown must have had a good job because the family employed a cook, a maid and part-time gardener.
His home couldn’t have further from my own home, which was a terraced house, without a bathroom, but with an outside toilet. Yet the idea of living in a home that was William’s, just fired one’s imagination.
The house where I lived when I discovered the William books, was something like the photograph above – the whole neighbourhood was demolished in 1970, and redeveloped.
The cost of a new William book in the mid 1950’s was 7/6d (seven shillings and six pence), so with 6d (six pence) a week pocket money it would take me fifteen weeks to save enough for a new ‘William’ book. In today’s money the equivalent is £7.26 (about £7- 5- 3d in old money or AUD $12.88)
One might ask why I didn’t use a library. The problem with this idea was that the nearest library to where I lived was at least two bus rides away and the cost would have been more than 6d.
I suppose that I could have walked, but the distance would have taken me about an hour and a half each way, and I couldn’t be sure that the William books would not all be out on loan – we didn’t have a phone so that I could check.
Published 1926 – the 6th book in the series
At least my relatives (aunts & uncles) knew what they could buy me, or contribute 2/- towards for a birthday present, which shortened the required number of weeks after Christmas, because my birthday is in April.
Published 1932 – the 14th book in the series
Published in 1933 – the 15th book in the series.
Published in 1931 – the 13th in the series
Every chapter in each book is a standalone story, and all the main characters are the same, so the reader doesn’t have a problem when buying a book that it might be out of sync with the overall image of William.
Several films have been made from the books – the first being in 1940.
The BBC turned the stories in to a radio show in 1946 on the ‘Light’ program, which played weekly for two years.
A stage play of one of the stories was created in 1947 and the play toured the UK.
In the mid 50’s, as TV became popular in the UK, a series of thirteen episodes were broadcast.
In the early 1960’s a new series of William stories were broadcast on TV with Dennis Waterman playing the part of William.
For Dennis Waterman – think ‘Minder’ & ‘New Tricks’.
From the ‘William’ books I moved to Billy Bunter . . .
As much as I enjoyed Billy Bunter it didn’t have the same ‘flair’ as the William books.
Tom Sawyer was in the mold of William.
Gulliver’s Travels – very different.
Without wishing to be judgemental, but I wonder if today’s nine, ten or twelve year old children receive the same pleasure from their Ipad as I did from being transported through books to being a member of William’s gang ‘The Outlaws’, or as a pupil at Greyfriars school with Billy Bunter, perhaps chasing after Becky with Tom Sawyer, and not to mention the ‘little people’ of Lilliput – Gulliver’s Travels was a 1953 Christmas gift from my cousin – I still have the book, but have lost the dust jacket.
Overall meeting William, Billy, Tom and experiencing Gulliver’s experiences in my opinion wins hands down.
When we emigrated in 1980 all my old friends had to come with me . . . . .
At the beginning of this blog I mentioned that this year is the 50th anniversary of Richmal Crompton’s death – it is also the centenary of the first publication about the boy called William.
Richmal Crompton had her first story published, featuring William, which was called “Rice Mould Pudding”, and was published in Home Magazine in 1919. It wasn’t until 1922 that the first book of William stories appeared.
I’ve read comments that J.K Rowland is the Richmel Crompton of today, perhaps they are correct.
The above is the first of the William books to be published in 1922, note the cost, by the 1950’s it was 7/6d. I’ve read this book, but never owned it.