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William Brown the tousled haired ruffian is the star of Richmal Crompton's best selling 'Just William' books. The books were a huge success from the first one published in 1922 to the last in 1970.

William Brown is a scruffy 11-year-old boy who leads a gang of his own called 'The Outlaws'. This gang consists of three rather mangy, but brave and loyal boys called Ginger, Henry and Douglas who all follow William devotedly. The 'Brown' family desperately try to keep William under control with his father being the sterner character and his mother who gave up long ago. His sister, Ethel is always having admirers around the house, much to the disapproval of William and his brother Robert is always looking for 'the perfect lady'. A little 9 year old girl called Violet Elizabeth Bott with an outrageous lisp who's favourite boast is she can 'scream and scream and scream 'till I'm sick, I can you know!' follows William everywhere and whenever William tries to send her away she bursts into floods of tears and threatens too tell her daddy, Mr Bott of Bott Hall and maker of Bott’s Digestive Sauce, the richest man in the neighbourhood that William Brown is tormenting her.

My personal favourite character is Mrs Bott who is described by Crompton as enormously fat and is always getting her 'Hubby' to exercise, while at the same time trying to maintain a high social status around the town.

The 'William' books are all hugely entertaining and the way it is written, seeing through the eyes of William with all his dispassionate views of adulthood is hilarious.

The William Books are simply a tribute to what life is like growing up in a small country town. Every element of the fun of having an entire world to explore is made so vivid in the books it is like re-living that part of your life again, or, if you were unlucky enough to grow up in a city, it develops an idea of what that sort of life was like.

Contrary to popular belief (or at least the belief of those who haven’t read the books), the books are not just about scrumping for apples, they give great insight into the imagination that young adolescents have when they are left to their own devices. They play many games, some make believe, others less so, one example is their production of “The Bloody Hand,” a play written by William, and staged in the old barn for anyone who felt like attending. The fact that the cast would argue in mid performance shows that the play was for their own amusement, no-one else’s, they do not have jobs or responsibility, they are literally carefree.

One interesting aspect of the books is the fact that the early one’s set in the 1920’s give an idea of what children were like then. There is believability in their characters and their antics are not dissimilar to that of children today, thus disprooving the notion that when the older generation were young, they respected their elders. There is gang culture and loyalty to your peers, but it has an innocence which most modern angsty books lack, these are children being children, skipping school to play in the woods, forming a hockey team and pitting themselves against a rival gang, or the simple joy of running through fields fleeing from an angry farmer. (If you’ve never done this, you haven’t lived in the country.)

William heads up a small gang of children who call themselves “The Outlaws,” although the most they could ever be charged for would be causing disorder. Apart from William they are Douglass, Henry and Ginger. They have the usual disagreements any small group has. In fact one of my favourite lines is when they are having an argument and the narrator says “and the disagreement reached it’s logical conclusion. After the fight they…” the children settled everything by play fighting, not in a vengeful hate-fuelled manner, but in a fun-loving, exhilarating manner. It is with this playfulness with which they do everything; they let their imaginations run riot, believing that ordinary members of the public are evil spies, or noble warriors. Their misconceptions of adult behaviour often lead to them getting into trouble, the reluctance of the adult word to explain things to children is particularly highlighted.

The Outlaws are lower middle class, un-couth lovable ruffians, hated by the adult world but loved by the children. They are naturally opposed to the other group, headed by Hubert Lane, and named the Laneites. They are stuck up, overfed, spoiled brats, who adults adore. It is strongly implied that the only reason they have friends is because of their considerable larders and wallets. They are the sort of people who’s battle cry is “I’ll tell my daddy on you,” and so are hated by William and his friends who would never dream of reporting any of their activities to their parents.

William has an older brother named Robert who is intelligent and pompous, he has in the past founded a poetry society and is also generally looking for a woman. William of course sabotages his plans on a regular basis, just as all younger brothers do. William does, however, have a grudging respect for Robert, and, when push comes to shove, he will stick up for him. William also has an older sister datedly named Ethel, she is reportedly very pretty, and like Robert, is constantly searching for a partner. William has slightly less respect for her, but has been known to help her, provided he is well paid.

Although they are written situation comedies, the Just William books are very believable. They give possibly the best literary insight into the life of a child, the innocence of childhood and the misconceptions we are all led to believe. They make the world seem like a marvellous place, which it should be, until society grinds you down.

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