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Over the years I've read all of Richmal Crompton's 38 William books
over and over again, some of the 1950's radio scripts, heard all of
Martin Jarvis's wonderful audio books, seen all of the films and most
of the many TV series, so here's what I think. This particular ITV
(London Weekend Television) series of Just William was conceived,
executed and broadcast at just the right time - 26 episodes in total
shown at Sunday tea-times in 2 series during 1977/8. For my money
Adrian Dannatt as William, Bonnie Langford as Violet Elizabeth and
Diana Dors as Mrs. Bott (to only name a few) were perfectly cast, the
best there ever was. The rest of the cast were uniformly marvellous
too, in fact cast and crew entered into the spirit of the thing and it
looked like all enjoyed themselves.
The sweet little girl in white (1/4), first broadcast 27.02.77: This is where the Botts arrive and it's immediately arranged that William and Violet Elizabeth shall be friends and go away and play. The Outlaws (William, Ginger, Douglas and Henry) try to play Red Indians but just can't cope with the irrepressible ever-lisping VE and try to run away from her with alarming results. An absolute classic, bettered only by the original story.
Two good turns (2/11), first broadcast 8.1.78: Rigidly boring Uncle Frederick comes to stay along with his endless memories, mainly of his stamp collection. One of the sub-plots involved William's glamorous sister Ethel being unintentionally slandered by him as a boozy thief all because she had a cold. Hilarious stuff, RC surely would have approved!
These 2 episodes were recorded only 9 months apart, but Dannatt had grown noticeably larger in the latter, and although he still looked and sounded like William he obviously couldn't continue much longer getting away as an 11 year old. All in all it was an amazing achievement, from a time when UK family TV was generally dire, depicting a time long gone on a minimal budget successfully and getting the stories over almost perfectly. The BBC had another go in the '90's, threw more money at it and got the period right but not the characters. Maybe they should have used Thomas Henry's original illustrations from the books as a guide instead of using their own more expensive ideas. Why on Earth isn't the whole series out on DVD (2006)?
"Just William" is set during the 1930s, about a naughty school boy, William, with his own gang. The annoying Bonnie Langford played the annoying, lisping, spoiled brat Elizabeth Violet Rose Bott who always wanted to kiss William (yuk!), and threatening to "Scwme and scwme and scwme" and hold her breath until she turned blue if she didn't get her own way. The great Diana Dors played her stuck-up mother Mrs Bott. This is a great children's series, and I remember looking forward to it every Sunday afternoon on ITV. The BBC remade it several years ago but it didn't recapture the magic of of the '76 version. It would be great to see this version released on video or DVD.
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