WILLIAM BROWN AND THE JEWS
When I was about 8 years old, an aunt of mine bought me the first volume of the William books, which was entitled "Just William." I immediately became a William fan and for my subsequent birthdays and other occasions, I requested my relatives give me as presents further volumes. By the time I was about twelve I had accumulated nearly twenty volumes.
There were two volumes which had been published during the Second World War and my father asked for them at, I believe, Foyles Bookshop in the Strand. They told him that they had gone out of print, adding that they had had numerous requests from them. As I remember they took down my father's name and said they would inform him when they again became available, but we never again heard from them. In fact several years later, due to "a recurrent demand" for these "missing" books, they were re-issued but with less "dated" titles.
My brother, who is nearly nine years younger than me, also became a William fan and during the course of the years, received or bought the remaining volumes. The only exception was the last volume which was only published in 1970 after Richmal Crompton's death. However, during the 1960s the publishers abridged the various volumes which had been published in the past, by omitting several stories from each of them, and some of the volumes he received are indeed the abridged versions.
At a later date my brother gave me the various William books which were in his possession. I must admit that till this day, I sometimes reread the William stories!
I had noticed that Richmal Crompton had on a few occasions written about Jews in these books, but in a derogatory manner. Recently, I decided that I would look into this question. Today one has the Internet at one's disposal and it is a very powerful and useful tool for research, and indeed this became an important tool in my studying this topic.
I began by looking at the Internet on whether there was material on the mentioning of Jews in the William books. On this I found a few references, one of which was from "Wikipedia," the "free encyclopedia" on the Internet. This said that Richmal Crompton herself had had the story "William and the Nasties" (a play on the word "Nazis") removed, but gave no further details as to when this had been done.
I also found in an article written in 1999 that "several years ago" Macmillan, a publisher of the William books, had removed this story. I sent an e-mail to Macmillan Children's Books asking them from which edition and in which year this story had been omitted.
A few weeks then passed but I heard nothing from them. I therefore telephoned them. The person in charge of publishing the William books, Sarah Davies, informed me that she only started to work there in the 1980s but she doubted whether Macmillan had ever published this story, adding that by that period it was no longer socially acceptable.
I soon realised that to understand why Richmal Crompton had written such a story, I needed to know much more about her life. Again I turned to the Internet and found several very short biographies of her. At least one of them referred to a full length biography written by a Mary Cadogan. I then searched on the Internet the site "Malmad" which gives the online catalogues of many libraries in Israel, but this biography was not to be found anywhere in Israel.
I then learned that people could buy and sell books on the Internet "both new and second hand" via "Amazon." People would write the price they wanted for the books which they wished to sell. I might mention that the price asked for the same book by different sellers could differ "astronomically." I looked for this book by Cadogan and found the lowest price requested was 2.99 pounds sterling - (the publisher's price was about 8 pounds sterling). I immediately ordered this book via the Internet, paying by Visa.
Apart from the actual price of the book, there is a postage and packing charge, which can on occasion work out more than the cost of the actual book! I don't know what sort of commission Amazon gets from the sale of a book by this method. I noticed that it was considerably cheaper to have the book sent to someone in Britain rather than to Israel and I therefore asked permission from my brother-in-law who lives in London for me to use his address. The service was superb and within a few days my brother-in-law had the book in his possession, which he immediately posted on to me.
From the envelope in which my brother-in-law received the book, I could see that the seller lived in Norwich. Possibly he was some sort of dealer in books. I must say that the book was in mint condition. A few weeks later Amazon asked me to report on the quality of the service I had experienced in receiving the book and I gave a very positive reply. I wrote that the "book was in perfect condition, packing was excellent and it arrived even quicker than he [the seller] promised." I gave a rating of "5 out of 5."
I found this book invaluable in getting details of Richmal Crompton's life. I carefully went through it from cover to cover noting down together with the page numbers any points I found relevant and I finally had a very long list.
These points included the places where Richmal Crompton had lived throughout her life until she had written these passages about Jews. I saw an importance in this, since there are non-Jews in England who have never (or almost never) met a Jew. Some even believe that they have horns! All their information about Jews is only second or third-hand. I tabulated all the places where Richmal had lived together with the years she had lived in these places.
The London based "Jewish Year Book" has been published almost annually since 1896 and this is an ideal source to see where there had been Jewish communities in England and also the size of such communities. I knew that the Jewish National Library had a complete set of these "Year Books" in their Bibliography Room and I went there to consult these volumes. At first, both the librarian and myself could only find the latter years copies. However after some moments, we found that the remainder had been placed on the top of the bookcase, due to a lack of space. Going through the volumes, initially in ten yearly intervals, I managed to obtain the information I required.
There were still a few points I still needed to verify on Jewish demography in England of about one hundred years ago. Several years ago, my cousin Monty Richardson had supplied some material to Dr. Gerry Black for a book he was writing on the London Jewish Hospital and my cousin had given me a copy. From this and others books Dr. Black had written, I could see that he was authority on Modern English Jewish History. I therefore decide to consult him regarding the information I required. Despite extensive searches, I could not track down his telephone number. Fortunately however, Monty had it and I was then able to obtain from Dr. Black the appropriate information.
Someone had reported in "Wikipedia" that Richmal Crompton had come to the conclusion that the story "William and the Nasties" had become "inappropriate" and "had it removed" from the William book. But there were no more details as to when. I myself had the seventeenth impression which had been published in 1954 and it was certainly present then. My research indicated that the publisher George Newnes was no longer in existence; so where could I get my information from?
I began by submitting a question to "Wikipedia Reference Desk" asking when this deletion had been made. This desk operates by members of the public typing in their answers directly onto this site. In many cases, several people answer a particular question, with sometimes one answer contradicting another. In this case "Wikipedia" posted my question at "Talk Just William" but no-one answered it. I thus had to find an alternative method to obtain the information I required.
I did this by scanning the Internet for the book "William the Detective." I found many sites where bookshops were advertising to sell second hand copies of this book. They invariably gave details which might include which impression they had in stock, the year of its publication and how many pages it had. I saw that the 18th impression had the same number of pages as the 17th, so obviously this story was still included. In contrast the 19th and 20th impressions were listed as abridged with the later being even more abridged than the 19th impression. My immediate reaction was that the abridgement of the 19th impression was due (at least partly) to the omitting of "William and the Nasties."
However research is not done by "reactions" but by "ascertaining facts" I first made a list of the bookshops stocking this 19th impression and then verified their telephone numbers. I did this for several such bookshops, since I was doubtful at the time whether they would supply me with information regarding the contents of this book, since I was not going to untruthfully give the impression that I intended to purchase it from them.
I telephoned the first bookshop on my list, gave them the title and their inventory number of this book and asked whether they could tell me from the "Contents" page which stories were included. The shopkeeper immediately answered my request and read me the list. It was the last three stories of the 11 stories which had been omitted. "William and the Nasties" was story number 6. I then repeated the procedure for the 20th impression. The additional abridgement was the omission of story number 8.
In the 1970s, the publication was done by Armada. Their first edition of this book came out in 1971. Using my method of contacting the appropriate booksellers, I discovered that this edition was identical to the 20th impression brought out by George Newnes. There was a further edition by Armada published in about 1977. However I could not find a bookshop which stocked it. I did however find out that there was a copy in the Cambridge University Library. I was doubtful whether the librarian would be prepared to get a book from their shelves and look up a reference for me. But "nothing ventured nothing gained." I therefore telephoned this University Library and asked them if they could do this for me. They told me to send an e-mail which I did. A few days later I got a reply by e-mail listing all the names of the stories in this book. It was identical to the 1971 printing.
The next publisher was Macmillan and from another bookshop I learned that when they republished this book in 1986, they reincluded the last four stories which had first been deleted by George Newnes. However for the first time ever deleted from this book two stories "William and the Nasties" and also a story whose content could be considered as cruelty to animals. I should mention that every bookshop I contacted gladly gave me the information I required. I even had a case of a bookshop, who at the time could not track down the book amongst his inventory, telephoning me back from England.
I likewise wanted to discover whether the references to Jews which had appeared in the books "Sweet William" and "William and the Tramp" had also been deleted. Here I made two separate enquiries to Cambridge University Library and they answered me that in the first case it had and in the second it had not.
At about the same time as I was investigating whether and when references to Jews had been deleted, I was also looking into other questions in connection with this research.
One was a historical and contemporary study of the various expressions used by Richmal Crompton in connection with Jews. Such expressions included Jews as money-lenders, Jews as cheats, hook-nosed Jews, Jews as foreigners and illiterate (in English), Jews as criminals, and Nazi storm-troopers. To get this information, I utilised a number of sources. These included, extensive searches on the Internet, reference to books which included those which I personally owned, the Encyclopedia Judaica which was in the local Kiryat Arba Library, and many books found in the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem. The catalogue of this last named library is now on the Internet and so before I made my visits there, I was able to verify whether they possessed such a book and if so, what was its call number.
I recollect a few items of particular interest when researching "hook-nosed Jews." An article on the Internet referred me to an experiment performed about a hundred years ago where a researcher had physically measured thousands of noses of Jews in New York City and came to the conclusion that only about 14 per cent were hook-nosed. I managed to track down the original book written on this subject by the researcher. Another article on the Internet on hook-nosed Jews referred me to the student magazine "New Voices." I sent an e-mail to the student organisation asking for a reprint of this article and they replied that it appeared on the Internet adding "would love to read your paper when it is complete."
Another thing I recollect was that when I went to the Jewish National Library to look for a copy of Hitler's highly anti-Semitic book "Mein Kampf," most of their many copies seemed to be "missing." I therefore put in orders for all (or almost all) the copies appearing in their catalogue and finally they found just one complete copy!
Since items which are found on the Internet may be "here today but gone tomorrow," where possible I preferred a piece of information from a printed source rather than from the Internet. However with the enormous amount of diverse material which grows exponentially on the Internet from day to day, much of my source material was directly from the Internet. Whenever I utilised something from the Internet in my research paper, I would run off a hard-copy.
Although the research paper was on Richmal Crompton's William books, I felt I ought to at least briefly discuss other authors in English literature throughout the ages who had brought in Jewish characters in a derogatory manner. The authors I briefly discussed were Chaucer, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie.
Apart from having been a William fan, I was also once an Agatha Christie fan. I had clearly remembered that in the book then entitled "Ten Little Niggers" there was towards the beginning of the book some derogatory comments about a Jew named Morris. From a site in the Internet, I learned that these comments had been amended. Another site gave a further anti-Semitic passage from her book "The Mysterious Mr. Quinn." Although I have almost all Agatha Christie's books, this is one of the few I do not possess. An Internet search yielded that there were two copies in Israel, one of which was in the library of the Haifa Technion. Why such a book should be in the Haifa Technion Library is anyone's guess! I have a son studying there and he was able to borrow this book. I read it through from cover to cover but this anti-Semitic passage did not appear. Obviously, sometime during the bringing out of new editions, it had been found prudent to delete it.
Having collated a mass of diverse information on this subject, the time came to write up my paper. This extended to over 20 pages of size A4 and contained over 160 footnotes/references. A sizeable part of this paper was in describing in detail the passages in the William books referring to Jews. The expressions used in these stories were then discussed in the light of the origin and the historical and contemporary usage of such expressions in connection with Jews.
During the course of my research, numerous people had supplied me with information, in particular bookshops and libraries and I meticulously acknowledged each and every one of them in my footnotes, even if, as in a few cases, I did not incorporate the information they gave me.
As with most of my other publications, I put this essay on my website. In September 2006, I received an e-mail from Edward Ashbee, whose great-aunt was Richmal Crompton. Ashbee is an Associate Professor of American Studies in the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark.
In this e-mail he wrote: “I’ve just come across your essay on Richmal Crompton’s depictions of Jews, particularly in “William and the Nasties”…. The casual anti-semitism in some of the books is something I have been very aware of for a number of years although I am uncertain about the extent to which that kind of prejudice was commonplace in much of English society before the Second World War or if it is in some way exceptional in the William books. Anyway, interesting reading.”