Just William's New Year's Day



An eleven-year-old boy called William Brown taught me to read when I was eight and a half. I had tried to learn since I was five years old, but a combination of a terrifying
teacher and a strong dislike of school meant that I never quite learned to make sense of the letters of the alphabet. Then one glorious day I was diagnosed with mumps and told by the doctor that I
must stay at home in quarantine for three whole weeks. Early in the first week of my holiday from school my mother went to a rummage sale and brought back a pile of William books, including
I leafed through this book and came across Thomas Henry’s delightful scratchy pen and ink illustrations. Under each of these funny drawings was a caption written in capital
letters. I asked my mother what these captions said and she read them aloud to me and we both laughed. After she had trawled through all the dozen or so books, found the illustrations and read all
the captions, I wanted more. I wanted to read the stories, so, covered in a blanket on the sofa next to the fire, I started learning to read. With my mother’s help the letters turned into
words, the words into sentences, the sentences into paragraphs. And then one wonderful day I was able to immerse myself in the gloriously funny subversive world of William Brown and that of his
long-suffering parents; his snobbish grown-up siblings, Robert and Ethel; his gang, called collectively The Outlaws (consisting of Henry, Douglas and Ginger, and occasionally Joan, the only girl
that William has a soft spot for); his sworn enemy Hubert Lane and the Laneite gang, and Violet Elizabeth Bott, daughter of the nouveau-riche Botts.

William falls into the path of many authoritarian figures: policeman, clergymen, aunts, shopkeepers, spinsters, gardeners and servants. For this is 1922. But new readers need not fear.
William’s world may not be familiar to them, but William certainly will be. He is that scruffy boy with the screwed-up face and with his own logic, who pedantically questions every rule and
sets out to break most of them. His sins include burglary, kidnapping, arson, theft, stalking, deceit and slovenliness. But most of his intentions are good and he is always kind to white rats,
babies and stray dogs. The situations he gets himself – and The Outlaws – into are funny, but the true genius of his author, Richmal Crompton, is in her richly comic dialogue. In
particular William’s poor diction, grammar and mordant observations, which still make me laugh today.

Richmal Crompton did not write
Just William
for children. She uses a sophisticated vocabulary and has a satirical view of the society in which she and William lived. In 1922 Richmal
Crompton was teaching classics in a girls’ school. Although she was a suffragette who campaigned for women’s right to vote, she must have felt horribly constrained by the limitations
imposed on women in the late-Edwardian period, when she was writing. William Brown is the wild child within her whose free spirit has endured triumphant for ninety years.

Sue Townsend




illiam went whistling down the street, his hands in his pockets. William’s whistle was more penetrating than melodious. Sensitive people
fled shuddering at the sound. The proprietor of the sweet shop, however, was not sensitive. He nodded affably as William passed. William was a regular customer of his – as regular, that is,
as a wholly inadequate allowance would permit. Encouraged, William paused at the doorway and ceased to whistle.

‘’Ullo, Mr Moss!’ he said.

‘’Ullo, William!’ said Mr Moss.

‘Anythin’ cheap today?’ went on William hopefully.

Mr Moss shook his head.

‘Twopence an ounce cheapest,’ he said.

William sighed.

‘That’s awful
,’ he said.

‘What isn’t dear? Tell me that. What isn’t dear?’ said Mr Moss lugubriously.

‘Well, gimme two ounces. I’ll pay you tomorrow,’ said William casually Mr Moss shook his head.

‘Go on!’ said William. ‘I get my money tomorrow. You know I get my money tomorrow.’

‘Cash, young sir,’ said Mr Moss heavily. ‘My terms is cash. ’Owever,’ he relented, ‘I’ll give you a few over when the scales is down tomorrow for a New
Year’s gift.’

‘Honest Injun?’

‘Honest Injun.’

‘Well, gimme them now then,’ said William.

Mr Moss hesitated.

‘They wouldn’t be no New Year’s gift then, would they?’ he said.

William considered.

‘I’ll eat ’em today but I’ll
about ’em tomorrow,’ he promised. ‘That’ll make ’em a New Year’s gift.’

Mr Moss took out a handful of assorted fruit drops and passed them to William. William received them gratefully.

‘An’ what good resolution are you going to take tomorrow?’ went on Mr Moss.

William crunched in silence for a minute, then,

‘Good resolution?’ he questioned. ‘I ain’t got none.’

‘You’ve got to have a good resolution for New Year’s Day’ said Mr Moss firmly.

‘Same as giving up sugar in tea in Lent and wearing blue on Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race Day?’ said William with interest.

‘Yes, same as that. Well, you’ve got to think of some fault you’d like to cure and start tomorrow.’

William pondered.

‘Can’t think of anything,’ he said at last. ‘You think of something for me.’

‘You might take one to do your schoolwork properly,’ he suggested.

William shook his head.

‘No,’ he said, ‘that wun’t be much fun, would it? Crumbs! It

‘Or – to keep your clothes tidy?’ went on his friend.

William shuddered at the thought.

‘Or to – give up shouting and whistling.’

William crammed two more sweets into his mouth and shook his head very firmly.

‘Crumbs, no!’ he ejaculated indistinctly.

‘Or to be perlite.’


‘Yes. “Please” and “thank you”, and “if you don’t mind me sayin’ so”, and “if you excuse me contradictin’ of you”, and
“can I do anything for you?” and such like.’

William was struck with this.

‘Yes, I might be that,’ he said. He straightened his collar and stood up. ‘Yes, I might try bein’ that. How long has it to go on, though?’

‘Not long,’ said Mr Moss. ‘Only the first day gen’rally Folks gen’rally give ’em up after that.’

‘What’s yours?’ said William, putting four sweets into his mouth as he spoke.

Mr Moss looked round his little shop with the air of a conspirator, then leant forward confidentially.

‘I’m goin’ to arsk ’er again,’ he said.

‘Who?’ said William mystified.

‘Someone I’ve arsked reg’lar every New Year’s Day for ten year.’

‘Asked what?’ said William, gazing sadly at his last sweet.

‘Arsked to take me, o’ course,’ said Mr Moss with an air of contempt for William’s want of intelligence.

‘Take you where?’ said William. ‘Where d’you want to go? Why can’t you go yourself?’

me, I means,’ said Mr Moss, blushing slightly as he spoke.

‘Well,’ said William with a judicial air, ‘I wun’t have asked the same one for ten years. I’d have tried someone else. I’d have gone on asking other people,
if I wanted to get married. You’d be sure to find someone that wouldn’t mind you – with a sweet shop, too. She must be a softie. Does she
you’ve got a sweet

Mr Moss merely sighed and popped a bull’s eye into his mouth with an air of abstracted melancholy.

The next morning William leapt out of bed with an expression of stern resolve. ‘I’m goin’ to be p’lite,’ he remarked to his bedroom furniture.
‘I’m goin’ to be p’lite all day.’

He met his father on the stairs as he went down to breakfast.

‘Good mornin’, Father,’ he said, with what he fondly imagined to be a courtly manner. ‘Can I do anything for you today?’

His father looked down at him suspiciously.

‘What do you want now?’ he demanded.

William was hurt.

‘I’m only bein’ p’lite. It’s – you know – one of those things you take on New Year’s Day. Well, I’ve took one to be p’lite.’

His father apologised. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘You see, I’m not used to it. It startled me.’

At breakfast William’s politeness shone forth in all its glory.

‘Can I pass you anything, Robert?’ he said sweetly.

His elder brother coldly ignored him. ‘Going to rain again,’ he said to the world in general.


‘If you’ll ’scuse me contradicting of you Robert,’ said William, ‘I heard the milkman sayin’ it was goin’ to be fine. If you’ll ’scuse me
contradictin’ you.’

‘Look here!’ said Robert angrily. ‘Less of your cheek!’

‘Seems to me no one in this house understands wot bein’ p’lite is,’ said William bitterly. ‘Seems to me one might go on bein’ p’lite in this house for
years an’ no one know wot one was doin’.’

His mother looked at him anxiously.

‘You’re feeling quite well, dear, aren’t you?’ she said. ‘You haven’t got a headache or anything, have you?’

‘No. I’m bein’
,’ he said irritably, then pulled himself up suddenly. ‘I’m quite well, thank you, Mother dear,’ he said in a tone of
cloying sweetness.

‘Does it hurt you much?’ inquired his brother tenderly.

‘No thank you, Robert,’ said William politely.

After breakfast he received his pocket money with courteous gratitude.

‘Thank you very much, Father.’

‘Not at all. Pray don’t mention it, William. It’s quite all right,’ said Mr Brown, not to be outdone. Then, ‘It’s rather trying. How long does it


‘The resolution.’

‘Oh, bein’ p’lite! He said they didn’t often do it after the first day.’

‘He’s quite right, whoever he is,’ said Mr Brown. ‘They don’t.’

‘He’s goin’ to ask her again,’ volunteered William.

‘Who ask who what?’ said Mr Brown, but William had departed. He was already on his way to Mr Moss’s shop.

Mr Moss was at the door, hatted and coated, and gazing anxiously down the street.

‘Goo’ mornin’, Mr Moss,’ said William politely.

Mr Moss took out a large antique watch.

‘He’s late!’ he said. ‘I shall miss the train. Oh, dear! It will be the first New Year’s Day I’ve missed in ten years.’

William was inspecting the sweets with the air of an expert.

‘Them pink ones are new,’ he said at last. ‘How much are they?’

‘Eightpence a quarter. Oh, dear, I shall miss the train.’

‘They’re very small ones,’ said William disparagingly. ‘You’d think they’d be less than that – small ones like that.’

‘Will you – will you do something for me and I’ll
you a quarter of those sweets?’

William gasped. The offer was almost too munificent to be true.

‘I’ll do
for that,’ he said simply.

‘Well, just stay in the shop till my nephew Bill comes. ’E’ll be ’ere in two shakes an’ I’ll miss my train if I don’t go now. ’E’s
goin’ to keep the shop for me till I’m back an’ ’e’ll be ’ere any minute now. Jus’ tell ’im I ’ad to run for to catch my train an’ if
anyone comes into the shop before ’e comes jus’ tell ’em to wait or to come back later. You can weigh yourself a quarter o’ those sweets.’

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