Just William is the first book of short stories by Richmal Crompton about an unruly eleven-year-old boy and his gang, called the Outlaws. It was originally published in magazine form in 1922 and was the start of a popular series that has not only produced a crop of William Brown stories in book form but also on television, radio and film. The term Just William is often used to refer to the range as a whole. Even though the stories relate to an earlier period, children in the late 1950s still identified very strongly with the lovable rascal William and his gang.
Listen to Martin Jarvis read an extract from a Just William story.
According to Jennings (published 1954) is one of the books in a series of Jennings novels about a boy and his friend at preparatory school. Author Anthony Buckeridge based the books on his experience of going to boarding school in Sussex from the age of eight and his later work as a tutor in a preparatory school. His model for Jennings was an old schoolfriend Dairmaid Jennings, who was constantly getting into scrapes. The 'Jennings' titles have sold over six million books worldwide.
Follow this link to read extracts from According to Jennings on Google Books.
" One afternoon I've got my head down in The Coral Island "
The Coral Island (1857) is a novel written for young people by the Scottish writer RM Ballantyne. It is set on a desert island where three British boys - Ralph, Jack and Peter - become marooned. Among other adventures they encounter a party of invading Polynesians and a band of pirates. Despite witnessing several atrocities, the boys retain their essential goodness and eventually return home stronger and wiser. Almost a century later (1954) William Golding wrote his first novel Lord of the Flies as a response to The Coral Island. In his book Golding suggests that a party of boys marooned on a desert island would very quickly turn into savages themselves. To make the contrast explicit, Golding gave his leading characters the same name as Ballantyne's.
Click this link to read The Coral Island for free, courtesy of Google Books.
" How the teacher works out his ranking system I'm not sure. "
In the 1950s the pupils sat two by two in rows. The class pictured here is fairly unusual in that it's a mixed class - more commonly, as in We Never Had It So Good the junior schools were single-sex.) Classes were already streamed A, B, C, but even within the class teachers would often seat the pupils according to how they ranked them in ability and behaviour, with the rows representing class 'streams'. Typically too, potential trouble-makers would be seated in easy cuffing distance from the teacher.
" I work close to the paper, wrapping one arm over in a sort of cocoon, with the smell of the varnish part of the dull peace "
The 1950s classroom was a place of tyranny when the teacher was addressing the class, looking for any signs of disobedience, but when the children were working on their own a peace (or at least stillness) and quiet descended upon the class which allowed for a level of concentration that perhaps is not possible in classrooms today.
" You know, I think we've just sat the eleven-plus. "
In the 1950s the eleven-plus examination was taken by all UK state school children in their final year of primary education to determine whether they would be selected for the grammar school or go to the secondary modern or technical school. The system was often criticised for providing only a second-rate option for those who did not pass the exam, and for perpetuating the class system. It was abandoned by many local authorities with the coming of comprehensive schools (1960s and 1970s), though some counties and boroughs still have both the exam and the grammar schools (mostly fee-paying).
In this story the boys have not been given any prior warning that this is the day of their eleven-plus examination - that was the author's experience and was typical practice at the time.
" I sit up in the middle of the night with the horrible realisation that HAIR is to HEAD as BEARD is to CHIN not MOUSTACHE. "
Although The Marx Brothers had their film heyday in the 1930s they were still popular in the 1950s. Harpo, the brother who played dumb (though in reality he could speak perfectly well) was a perfect foil to the voluble Groucho. Harpo got his points across through mime and the honking car horn that he wore at his belt.
" there's the new Ashington Grammar next to People's Park "
Ashington County Grammar School opened in 1960. As well as the new intake of first year pupils, the school welcomed transfers from the neighbouring Bedlington, Blyth and Morpeth Grammar School. The first head of the school was GTL Chapman. Ashington Grammar School became Ashington High School with Northumberland's change to comprehensive schools in 1974.
This final section reproduces press articles from The Ashington Advertiser and Newcastle Chronicle & Journal which relate to some of the stories in the collection. Most of these have been duplicated in the bookmarks here - the following bookmarks will signal where these are.