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Yes, I know Just William is a book for children. Yet there are times in my life when I want some escapism and re-reading stories that I read as a child is one of the best ways I have found to do this. I wasnt a particular fan of Just William as a child I much preferred stories set in boarding schools but Ive since been making up for lost time. I chose to buy an audio book rather than the book itself because Ive got into the habit of going off to sleep while listening to books on tape.
The audio book is made up of short stories, two to three on each side of the tape. Each follow a similar pattern William is obsessed by what he sees as a wrongdoing and does his best to put it right with the help of the other Outlaws usually in such a way that he gets himself into terrible trouble and is forced to find a quick solution. It should be remembered that the books were written from the 1920s through to the 1960s and as such, many of the stories are quite old-fashioned.
The main characters
For those of you who arent familiar with Just William, the star of the book, William Brown, is a boy of about 11 years old who drives his family and neighbours to distraction with his escapades. He is not all bad, however, because he generally gets into trouble by misguidedly thinking that he is helping, although of course it never turns out that way. He is the leader of a small group of boys, the Outlaws, which consist of William, and his friends, Ginger, Henry and Douglas. I didnt particularly take to William as a child I thought he was too naughty; yet as an adult I can appreciate the authors humour much more.
Violet Elizabeth Bott is a little girl aged about 6 who adores William and wants to be with him at every available opportunity. Although William despises girls, he is forced to put up with Violet Elizabeth because of her ability to cry or scream (Ill scweam and scweam and scweam until Ill sick!) until William gives in to her demands. Again, I hated Violet Elizabeth as a child (do you remember Bonnie Langford playing her in the TV version?), because she was spoiled and far too confident, but as an adult her role, and particularly Williams reaction to it just makes me laugh. She is not involved in every story, but brings welcome humour when she does appear.
Mrs Brown is the mother of three children, of which William is the youngest. Neither of her other children were much trouble when growing up, so having to deal with William and his antics is quite a new thing for her and not something that she relishes. I love her world weary attitude to William and her obvious horror at the trouble her son causes. Mr Brown, on the other hand, knows exactly how to deal with William and will stand for no nonsense. His sarcasm is another highlight of the stories, brilliantly brought out by Martin Jarvis.
The Hubert Laneites are rivals of the Outlaws and take every opportunity to show William and the Outlaws up. They are known to the adults as good boys, because they dress smartly, always look clean and speak politely. However, William and his gang can see straight through them, which lead to many jolly japes, with the Outlaws coming out on top of course.
For me, this is the high point of this audio book. Martin Jarvis is absolutely excellent as a narrator because of his ability to change his voice to suit the different characters. His voice when being William is quite sloppy and off-hand, exactly the way that I can imagine William speaking. Violet Elizabeth Botts voice sounds exactly like a little girls and Mrs Brown sounds like a somewhat weary mother. He brings the book to life in a way that few other narrators can do. I have also heard him read some of the Billy Bunter books, which again he manages to do exactly right. He has the extraordinary skill of being able to switch from one voice to another without a pause.
Martin Jarvis is a very accomplished actor, although he is one of those that I recognise, but couldnt tell you exactly what he has previously been in. Checking on imdb.com, it is not surprising, because he seems to have featured in nearly every drama I can think of, such as Boon, Lovejoy, Inspector Lynley, Doctor Who and Rumpole of the Bailey, although rarely for more than one episode.
Richmal Crompton, a woman, was the author of the Just William books. Born in the late 19th century, she was a schoolmistress. Then she contracted polio and was forced to give up her career and turn to writing full-time. She died in 1969.
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes over 2 tapes. The stories are abridged versions of the original.
I bought the tapes rather than the DVD version, partly because tapes are cheaper, but also because they are easier to stop at a certain point than DVDs are. You can skip the DVD version by three minutes at a time, but this can be annoying if you are trying to quickly find where you had got up to. On the other hand, tapes are fast becoming obsolete, so it probably does make sense to buy the DVDs.
I imagine that Just William will still be popular with children nowadays, although I am not sure how easily available the books are. The stories are old-fashioned, which could need a little explaining at times for example, stories from during wartime involve evacuees and bomb shelters, something children of today will know very little. Like many childrens books, reading them as an adult means that you can appreciate the humour and sarcasm that the author has included. Personally, I love this audio book and have listened to it time after time.
Martin Jarvis brings the stories to life in a way that I have never heard from any other narrator. He really is excellent at changing his voice to suit the different characters and it is well worth listening just for him. He sounds as if he is having great fun while reading; no doubt he is.
I have reviewed the first in the series, based on the Radio 4 show of the same name, although I believe that Martin Jarvis has now narrated 9 tapes in all. However, much of the information contained in this review is also applicable to the others in the series.
I buy most of my audio books from a website called Listen2books, where the prices tend to be considerably cheaper than elsewhere. I paid £9.99 for mine, although there are often special offers on I have seen it for as cheap as £5.99.
The Christmas Truce/Only Just In Time/The Midnight Adventure of Miss Montague/William and the Musician/Williams Leads a Better Life/William and the Twins/Williams Birthday/William and the Little Girl/The Outlaws and Cousin Percy/William and the Princess Goldilocks. Described by the Daily Telegraph as the wizard of the talking book, Martin Jarvis has made the voices of William and his gang of outlaws his own in these marvellous readings. Roar with laughter as the lovable rogue, hampered by the loathsome Violet Elizabeth, wreaks havoc in this ever-popular series of stories.