William The Fourth - Richmal Crompton

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William The Fourth - Richmal Crompton

Fiction - Children's - ISBN: 1405054603 - ISBN13: 9781405054607

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Review of "William The Fourth - Richmal Crompton"

published 09/04/2014 | JOHNV
Member since : 13/07/2000
Reviews : 886
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About me :
2000-2015, 886 reviews. Thanks all - it was fun while it lasted, but nothing lasts forever.
Pro Timeless humour for youngsters and the young at heart
Cons Some references will be rather dated for today's children and need explaining
Would you read it again?
How does it compare to similar books?

"Just William goes political"

William and a reluctant cat, from the drawing by Thomas Henry

William and a reluctant cat, from the drawing by Thomas Henry

As one who spends a good deal of time reading fairly serious non-fiction for research purposes as well as book reviewing (often but not always necessarily for ciao), I also spoil myself with what you might call the reading equivalent of a packet of sweets, or a bit of light relief. As my wife will tell you, I have stubbornly refused to remove my much-loved collection of sometimes slightly tatty William books from the shelves in the corner of our bedroom, and I still love dipping into them every now and then for fun.

‘William – the Fourth’, as the title indicates, was the fourth in a very long series, and it was first published in 1924.

First of all, in the style of a veteran member of ciao, here’s a ‘meanwhile…’

A reader presented himself at the enquiries desk in his local library and asked the assistant whether she could find him anything about the Great Reform Act of 1832, or perhaps a biography of whoever was King at the time. She had a look on the catalogue, went hunting in the reserve collection, and returned with a copy of ‘William – the Fourth’, by Richmal Crompton.

But as I was saying…

The book

There are fourteen stories between the covers of this one. In case you are unfamiliar with the main characters, let me introduce you to 11-year-old William Brown, a perfectly normal schoolboy who hates school, loves playing rough games, and when left to his own devices invariably gets himself and his clothes very dirty. He is the self-appointed leader of The Outlaws, his contemporaries Ginger, Henry and Douglas. He also has very well-to-do parents, an elder sister Ethel and an elder brother Robert, who find him an embarrassing nuisance most of the time but just occasionally cannot conceal their admiration for his force of character and sheer guts. He also has a beloved mongrel, Jumble, and sometimes (though not in this book), a sort of stalker, Violet Elizabeth Bott, who will ‘thcream and thcream until the’th thick (an’ she can)’, a deadly enemy, the fat cowardly sneak Hubert Lane, plus an assortment of teachers, vicars and their wives, great-aunts and the like.

It must be said that Crompton often had her finger on the pulse of events, and was not beyond the odd burst of topical satire. Long before George Orwell wrote ‘Animal Farm’, she wrote ‘The weak spot’. In this opening tale, the Outlaws’ elder brothers decide that as human beings they are all equal, they should all have equal rights, and they resolve to form their own Society of Advanced Bolshevists. As he is refused membership, William decides he will form his own, and he and his friends play a crafty trick on their elder siblings who thus realise what a bad idea it was.

It then dawned on me that there was something of a political theme running through more of the stories, and that this was quite appropriate in view of the fact that 1924 was the year of Britain’s first Labour government. Richmal Crompton was presumably following the news closely as she was writing, and finding inspiration therein. Her young hero sometimes loses the good fight. Being no snob, he fights furiously against the social aspirations and climbing of his family who are bedazzled when a family from the aristocracy, the d’Arceys, move nearby, and his parents insist that of course William must attend ‘soppy’ dancing classes with their little daughter. He plays a trick on them when told he is going to a very smart party with lots of smart ‘nice’ boys and girls, and must wear his best clothes, but in a calculated act of fraternisation with what they call ‘nasty common rough people’ ends up serving tea and buns on a roadside stall, admittedly not very well. And he also becomes involved very briefly in a local election between the Lib’rals and the Conservies, whom everyone has dubbed the ‘Rackshunaries’. He doesn’t know what it means, but he thinks it sounds an interesting term of abuse. I’ll own up – not having heard the word ‘reactionary’ let alone understanding it, I didn’t know what it was either when I first read it and I had to find out.

Sometimes William wins. In another story, he befriends a timid, harassed middle-aged to elderly lady who has just moved into the village nearby, and almost by accident he manages to reunite her with her long-lost fiancé. In yet another, he finds the family playing host rather reluctantly to one of Ethel’s admirers (although Ethel has failed to make her parents realise that she can’t stand him), a self-important bachelor who considers himself an expert on the training of children, and after persuading a reluctant yet harassed Ethel to send a little extra pocket money his way, resorts to subterfuge in order to get rid of him.


Are these stories for children, or for grown-ups wanting something really escapist - or both? It’s frequently forgotten that Crompton initially wrote these for adults, until she found that they were going down well with youngsters too and the publishers decided to market them to the latter. Her irony and turn of phrase at times suggest that she still had an adult readership in mind. So does a reference in one story to William stalking majestically across the fields ‘in the attitude of Napoleon on the deck of the ‘Bellerophon’’. I wonder how many youngsters in the 1920s were familiar with Eastlake’s iconic painting of Bonaparte on board his ship, but I suspect probably not many of today’s children would be.

I started reading these in the 1960s and loved them straightaway. Many years ago, they still made me chuckle, sometimes because of the situation, sometimes Crompton’s turn of phrase, sometimes a combination of both. For today’s younger readership I suspect they would be rather dated in places, although I would like to think that for the most part the humour wouldn’t be lost on them. (By the way, the references to William’s knickers here and there mean his shorts – he’s not into cross-dressing). Even given my slight reservations about this and the other early William books being a shade out of time, it still seems mean to give this less than five stars.

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Comments on this review

  • pinky50 published 25/02/2015
    Vh honey x
  • emmad5689 published 21/04/2014
    E x
  • mumsymary published 20/04/2014
    E five star review, knickers indeed
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Product Information : William The Fourth - Richmal Crompton

Manufacturer's product description

Fiction - Children's - ISBN: 1405054603 - ISBN13: 9781405054607

Product Details

EAN: 9781405054607

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Type: Fiction

Genre: Children's

Title: William The Fourth

Author: Richmal Crompton

ISBN: 1405054603


Listed on Ciao since: 19/01/2010