From the ages of about eight to eleven, I was obsessed with Richmal Crompton’s Just William books – and I mean obsessed; I could practically recite them, and every birthday book token was spent in the local bookshop on another William book. In retrospect, this was probably both good and bad. The books are so well-written, and I remember having to look words up in the dictionary, which no doubt helped my vocabulary no end. On the other hand, it did lead me into some emulatory mischief which probably made my parents wonder why they ever taught me to read at all. I was also a member of the Outlaws club (which, as I recall, meant sending off a postal order for 45 pence and getting a badge in return, which I refused to take off).
Consequently, I was really quite excited to hear that the BBC were doing a new televised version, with Daniel Roche from Outnumbered as William Brown, and even more pleased when I read that Roche had read the books and was very pleased to be playing William. But I was also somewhat trepidatious, as we’ve all seen childhood favourites massacred by newer versions. This one, however, didn’t disappoint. The writer Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly) did a good job, as did Roche; the four episodes seemed absolutely faithful to the spirit of the original. I did find it slightly odd that they have been updated to the 1950s, but I suppose the rather grand 1920s house, with staff whom William loved to bait, would have seemed very remote to children now. And the updating was done carefully – Robert, William’s brother, no longer apes Rudolph Valentino, but Marlon Brando; his sister Ethel is glamorous and somewhat less langorous as a Fifties bombshell rather than Clara Bow. Violet Elizabeth Bott is a bit less annoying in the BBC version than in the book, and consequently slightly less funny, but still she does look the part perfectly.
And Daniel Roche as William is a star – he’s got it spot-on. The books talk a lot about the expressiveness of William’s face, and Roche has got that down to a tee. He also has the general crossness and air of indignation with the world which William seems to constantly feel. The well-meaning bad behaviour of William is both hilarious and kind of touching; William lives by his own code of chivalry and fairness, and sees no obstacle as insurmountable. I really hope that these four episodes will have whetted the appetites of a few children – not just boys – to read the books.
Also, I’ve just discovered there is still a Just William Society – see here!
NB Has anyone out there read the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge, or any of BB’s books? – other favourites of mine, which I have recently revisited and still really enjoy!