Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Richmal Crompton William Rebels with a cause

Short new BBC TV1 series on William, anti hero of Richmal Crompton's many collections of short stories. Crompton channels an eleven-year-old boy but what makes the books so wonderrful is their totally adult pungency and satire. Kids who read William may not get all the words, but they're captured by the sense that an adult is secretly on the side of the rebels.

Richmal Crompton herself grew up in genteel surroundings, seeming to conform. But she became crippled. battled cancer and didn't marry. So William was her rebellion. Much of the savagery of Crompton's wit springs from the spirit of the 1920's when the old Edwardian order was collapsing,. The Browns had a cook and maid and looked down on "new money", the Botts of Botts Hall, saucemakers. Meanwhile tramps roam the countryside, scavenging and doing crime. What Crompton doesn't need to state is that most of these tramps were ex soldiers or the unemployed of the Depression. With whom William, and Crompton, sympathise.

That's why stuffy pedants don't get off well in William books. Pillars of society, Heads of Brains Trusts, Bloomsbury wannabes, pompous officials, all get sent up.  But not the basically decent, even Mr Bott. Later when all society seems to become aspirational, Crompton's mayhem no longer fits.  Just William, William the Fourth, William and the Evacuees etc.flow spontaneously enlived by a sure eye for farce. William and the Pop Star doesn't work because the whole world's become parody. What makes Crompton's William so adventurous is that he has moral bearings, however uncivilised he seems on the surface. Look at the photo of Richmal Crompton - what a clear eyed,  fearless stare. "Don't try bluffing me!"

The difference between Richmal Crompton and Enid Blyton is huge. Blyton fans are defensive because they identify Blyton's pap with idealized childhoods. Crompton fans have fewer illusions. William has that wisdom that comes from being genuinely pure. He doesn't get any older, but his readers learn and grow. And are expected to.  If Richmal Crompton has a soul mate, it's Dr Seuss. Both tell funny stories, but both have sharp intellects and values. "LMF" or "Lack of Moral Fibre" was a common term in the past, but it could not apply to Crompton or Dr Seuss.

Last year a reader told me about the moment he saw through Enid Blyton. "What would Richmal Crompton do?" with the same premise of a plot? So between us we "wrote" a complete new Richmal Crompton story almost as true to the spirit of William as any adaptation. Please read it HERE ("Turkeys for Enid Blyton")

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