Summers with William Brown

Before the days of summer camps, day centres and video arcades, summer was a time for children to explore. It was a time for adventures but also for reading, which was often a source for discovering new possibilities for adventure.

For decades the very model of the preadolescent adventurer was William Brown, Just William, known in the Spanish translations as Guillermo el Travieso. Author Richmal Crompton, who died in 1969, was a school teacher whose poor health forced her to leave the profession and who from that moment on dedicated himself to writing.

In that England of cottages, tea and marmalade, William and his friends lived in an Eden-like age of innocence that often brought out the hypocrisies of the adult world around them. Imbued with the unwavering convictions of childhood, William and his gang demonstrated a capacity for rebellion that excited an enormous interest among children deprived of such freedom. In fact, Spain under Franco was one of the series’s most successsful markets, eventually publishing 38 volumes. William’s world, however, was as exotic for us that of a child from another planet. He lived in a house with a garden and vine-covered trellis –far cry from the social housing in Spain at that time- eating and drinking such exotic things as meat pies and licorice water, and invariably dressed in the typical costume of an English school boy: short trousers, tie and striped cap (the same combination later made famous by Angus Young of AC/DC). Many of his readers here, however, found it easy to sympathize with the disdain in which he held his older brother and sister and uncomprehending teachers. His yearning to see the world, his elaborate use of irony, capacity for endless argument and his talent for getting into trouble, were also equally admirable.

His misadventures came usually from a desire to explore. He never acted with malice or for personal gain, mistreated animals or resorted to bullying. Many children of the 60s and 70s who avidly followed his adventures would be delighted to see their own children do the same.