The J.K. Rowling of her day

I went to a recording of two Just William stories being performed by Martin Jarvis last week. He is quite right, Richmal Crompton was the J.K. Rowling of her day. I plan to write about this over the coming months.

The recording was held in the Orange Tree theatre in Richmond upon Thames. I was struck by how many men were there. I have met several of her male fans recently who still think she was a man. Is the success of Martin Jarvis’s reading just nostalgia for days gone by and their early childhood reading? I don’t think so. William speaks to both boy and man and Martin Jarvis’s performance brings this aspect of her writing to life.

Jarvis gives us a thoughtful, strategic William. I overheard a member of the audience put it perfectly. Richmal Crompton does not talk down to children, he commented, which was why he liked her Just William stories so much as a child. Martin Jarvis captures this quality in Crompton’s writing. He gives us a William who can sound ageless.

At times, William portrays qualities that could be true for both children and adults. In one of the stories Jarvis performed, “William and the Musician”, we are entranced by William’s imagination that creates exciting adventures and takes him off into another world. At the same time, this quality is one that perhaps, like him, we have all learnt to rein in:

“William had learnt that in dealing with ordinary limited human beings one’s imagination should not be given too free a rein. He put the true artistic touch of restraint into his picture.”

The care Martin Jarvis takes with each word and phrase, the detailed attention to the tone of even the snappiest retort, makes me realise how nuanced these stories are. He performs a William who “gave himself up again to gloomy reverie” and is worried that his new found friend will be “ignominiously ejected” from a local event. His attention to Crompton’s language and his precision timing to heighten the comedy are absolutely critical to our enjoyment.

Martin Jarvis’s performance also reminded me that it is often other adult characters in Crompton’s stories who we laugh at, while we laugh with William.

Martin Jarvis’s performance of two stories in Just William Live can be heard on BBC Radio 4 on:

William and the Musician: Wednesday 1st May 2019 11:30AM.
William and the School Report: Wednesday 8th May 2019 11:30AM.

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