The original ‘torn child’ turns 100 years old. Still as bright as ever

Before Harry Potter, before the Famous Five, there was a scruffy boy whose wild adventures turned his quiet English village home upside down and enchanted millions of children. This year, Just William turns 100, but he still doesn’t look older than 11.

William Brown is often described as heartbreaking. His frowning face, his ragged hair, and the way he tears up his school uniform make Boris Johnson look impeccably groomed. He has a gang, the Outlaws, and a mischievous dog named Jumble. But he’s not really a bad boy. He has many plans and good intentions, but they always seem to leave a trail of hurt and horrified adults in his wake.

Many people thought that the author of the Just William books, Richmal Crompton, was a man.

Many people thought that the author of the Just William books, Richmal Crompton, was a man.Credit:fake images

When I was very young, I discovered just william at my local library and was instantly hooked because the stories were subversive, formulaic, an underrated attraction to kids, and also a lot of fun. I didn’t read all the books, and that’s not surprising, because there were 38 of them, published between 1922 and 1970. My favorite character was a little girl named Violet Elizabeth Bott, who was not a feminist role model. In fact, she was really awful and William rightly hated her, but she got away with it by threatening to “yell and yell until she gets thick on me.”

I always wrongly assumed that the amazingly prolific author of the just william books, Richmal Crompton, was a man. So did many others, as she was a shy writer who shunned publicity, described William’s books as mere “kettle pots” and thought his 41 books for adults were her real work, though they never achieved the same success.

She was a school teacher when her first just william The story was published in a women’s magazine. A permanent injury from polio forced her to give up teaching, so she became a full-time writer. She never married or had children, so there is much speculation as to who William’s real-life role model might have been: her favorite is probably her nephew Tommy.


the just william The books have sold more than 12 million copies in Britain and have been translated into 17 languages. Crompton was able to live comfortably and buy a house with the proceeds. There were also spin-offs, plays, radio and television series, and a lot of just william merchandise, including puzzles, toys, and stamps. Strangely, the dirty boy was once used to advertise Lifebuoy soap.

William influenced many comedians and children’s writers, including Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. A big Australian fan is Elisabeth Middleton, who first read the books as a child and now has 35 in her collection. She “still wallows” in them every few years.

The books are a satirical version of English village life, exposing hypocrisy and vanity in the adult world, he says. “Her creator of her is the JK Rowling of her time.”

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