Thursday 2 June 2011

Just William, Just One more Time - Emma Barnes

Some books you don't get - however loved and praised they are by everyone else. I have never got along with Just William.

I love the idea of it: the trouble-prone child, the continual scrapes, the childhood anarchy, the poking fun at the grown-ups. It's all the kind of stuff I put into stories myself. And it's not that I have a problem with dated books about English school boys - give me a copy of Jennings and Darbishire by Anthony Buckeridge, and I will laugh so hard I'm falling off the sofa.

But every time I pick up a copy of one of William's adventures, I struggle. Just not for me, I thought. The language seemed convoluted, not witty. William's manner of speech annoyed me. Maybe I didn't read it at the right age. Maybe it's one of those books that adults love for nostalgia, but in actual fact is not that good. Maybe it works for others but it's not my cup of tea. (Not everyone likes the same thing, which is something I always stress talking to children in schools. A book may have prizes, or be your teacher's favourite - but that doesn't mean you have to like it. The important thing is don't give up on books - just go back to the shelf until you find a book you do like.)

It slightly annoyed me that Just William was constantly reissued and Jennings wasn't. It was on the radio too. And lots of children seemed to enjoy it. It was, a friend told me, her kids' favourite. What was wrong with everyone, I wondered?

Then something happened. I happened to watch an episode on the TV. (I didn't even know the BBC had adapted Just William. If I did I would have snorted "typical".) But I happened to watch it and it was ...good. Delightful. Clever. Witty. Best of all, it was extremely FUNNY.

So as soon as I have written this, I will be heading for the book shelf, digging out my neglected copy, ready to give William Brown one more try. Which makes me wonder - which books would you give another chance? Which books did you discover first thanks to TV?


Tatum Flynn said...

I was a huge fan of William when I was a kid, both the books and the old tv series (I haven't seen the latest one). I loved Jennings too, though not as much as WIlliam, and mostly because it was set in a boarding school and I loved reading about them.

I do think Richmal Compton was a really funny writer. Glad you found you liked them after all!

Not a kids' book, but I discovered Tales of the City through the tv series and went on to devour all of the books.

Nicky said...

I liked the books so much I named my son after them (by mistake actually) - they still make me laugh out loud. Quite liked Jennings but it is much gentler and less anarchic.

Cathy Butler said...

I think I read somewhere (and I can well believe it) that Crompton intended William as a book for adults - poking fun at the adult world and using a child's-eye view to do it. Read that way they make much more sense to me, but then my reaction was rather like yours: could take them or leave them when I was a child, but enjoy them now, especially in the Martin Jarvis incarnations.

On the other hand, I never read Jennings or any other school stories much as a child. Too much like my day job!

John Dougherty said...

The William stories began in a magazine aimed at adults; the first collection was intended for the same audience. Apparently it was librarians and booksellers who started placing it on the "children's" shelves.

As I child, I found them... okay. I appreciate them much more now; they're wonderfully well written.

But my children absolutely adore them, and giggle away at William's escapades. I've noticed, though, that we're not always laughing at the same bits!

Jennings, for some reason, never appealed, perhaps because I never came across him till secondary school - and perhaps because in those days, as I recall the covers were illustrated with very clearly posed photographs

Sue Purkiss said...

Like you, I really liked the Jennings books when I was young, and couldn't get on with William. But like Charlie, I came back to then through listening to the Martin Jarvis tapes with my kids, who also enjoyed reading the books. Must have another look... Didn't see the recent series.

Leslie Wilson said...

Me, I'm a total fan, and always have been. When I was a kid I had a nineteen-twenties 'Just - William' with wonderful illustrations, and I have a small collection of vintage ones, love them. I do love Martin Jarvis reading them, and have a couple of unabridged versions, which I adore. Incidentally, I do recommend Martin J reading 'David Copperfield.' He's truly brilliant. My younger daughter also adores William, and I look forward to introducing him to my grandson, who has his William moments - and the twins who are en route, all being well! I did read Jennings, but I've never been a great one for boarding-school stories, maybe that's why I only quite enjoyed those.
Books TV has introduced me to? The Box of Delights.

Leila said...

Bedknobs and Broomsticks, to the extent that I don't even remember if I have read the book, and I don't even really want to. The film was wonderful then, but I don't know if I'd enjoy it as much now.
I think TV and radio are a great way of getting children's classics to a new audience. I heard a fantastic adaptation of The Borrowers on Radio 4 a while ago - it was captivating, and I am sure more contemporary children would have been glued to that than to the books.

Lynne Garner said...

I've never read a Just WIlliam book - just didn't cross my mind. Perhaps I should add to my reading list so I can make up my own mind.

But on the other side of things, if I'd watched the TV adaptions of Terry Pratchett books first I'd never have pikced up one of his books. Thank goodness I discovered the books before they put them onto the TV.

Emma Barnes said...

Thanks, everybody, for their comments. Haven't replied before because I have been on the road - without internet access - during which I listened to Martin Jarvis reading Just William and enjoyed it very much. Even, oddly, one story - Saint William - which I had previously read on the page and not enjoyed.

Jay said...

I've never read them, and am only familiar with them because of Martin Jarvis's readings. My kids have all enjoyed the CDs and I find myself laughing along with them.
I've found quite a few things I liked or loathed as a child I have different feelings about as an adult. Re-reading Great Expectations for the first time since A-Level, I felt like old Dickens had snuck back and re-written it!