When I was a child, just starting to get interested in books, my authors of choice were Enid Blyton, Noel Streatfeild, SE Hinton and later some classics. Neither Jacqueline Wilson nor Michael Murpurgo books had appeared yet, nor had Michelle Magorian‘s ‘Goodnight Mister Tom‘. It was first published in 1981 and I didn’t read it until one of my children had to study it at school and I needed to keep up. (I find myself increasingly having to run to stay level with my kids these days). I found the book to have an enduring story, fragments of which often scoot across my memory several years later. I have seen two stage productions of the work and enjoyed them immensely. The film version of ‘Goodnight Mister Tom‘ was released in 1998 and shown on TV over the Christmas break.
William Beech is evacuated from London during WW2, and billeted with Tom Oakley (John Thaw), a widower whose cottage overlooks the churchyard. Tom and William form an unlikely friendship, to the extent that when Tom does not hear from William once he has been returned to his mother, Tom sets off for London to find him. What he discovers is deeply shocking, but Tom will not be deterred in his efforts to give the boy a better life.
John Thaw is suitably curmudgeonly and Nick Robinson (not that Nick Robinson!) puts in a fine performance as the young William, gradually coming out of his shell and throwing off some of the anxieties he has brought with him from the city.
Filmed in Turville, Bucks (less than 10 miles from where I live, but I’ve never been there), I am sure the film affords a romanticised and somewhat sanitised interpretation of the evacuees experience. Nevertheless, as 108 minutes of entertainment, I loved it. ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ has earned its place as a modern classic; both the book and the film will be ones for sharing with my grandchildren one day.