Briefly, the story reveals the power of ‘second chances. The main character, Jean Valjean, is a morally conflicted paroled convict, prisoner number 24601, and the protagonist. Failing to find work with his yellow parole note and redeemed by the Bishop of Digne's mercy, he tears his passport up and conceals his identity (under the alias "Monsieur Madeleine" and later "Monsieur Fauchelevent") in order to live his life again as an honest man.
However, a willful police inspector, Javert (originally a prison guard) recognises him as the ex-convict and constantly pursues him to the point of obsession. He is determined to find him and have him duly face the punishment of the law at all cost.
In his pursuit to live a good and honest life, Jean Valjean, becomes an upright citizen and factory employer of the town he starts off his new life in. He becomes so respected that the town makes him their Mayor. When one of the female employees ( single mother, Fantine, who has left her child, Cosette with another couple to temporarily live) is discharged from her job in the factory Jean Valjean owns, and later dies, Jean Valjean promises to find the child and rear her as his own, and provide and care for her as a father might.
Jean Valjean finds Fantine’s child, Cosette, and buys her freedom from the child’s greedy foster parents. They head for Paris and find refuge living inside a nunnery, where Jean Valjean becomes the gardener. Over the years, Cosette grows into womanhood and France experiences revolutionary uprising and fighting in its streets. Inspector Javert is promoted to a role in the City of Paris. Cosette secretly meets and falls in love with Marius, a French student and revolutionary.
The story concludes in a final showdown between the police inspector, Javert, and after Javert drowns himself in the River Seine, Jean Valjean, Cosette and her love Marius set sail for the safety of England.
This story is, without doubt, the story that changed my life in so many ways. As a young man into his 16th year of life, I was constantly on the wrong side of the law. Instead of becoming a Probation Officer at the age of 30 years (many years after my life had been reformed like the life of Jean Valjean was), I could so easily have been a paroled prisoner on licence reporting to their Probation Officer.
I would steal anything I could get my hands on before the age of 16 years. As a nine or ten-year-old, I stole the diamond engagement ring belonging to my best mate’s older sister during a night when I was a guest at their house. Two day’s previously, I had decided to marry ten-year-old classmate, Winifred Healey when we were of marriageable age and to seal this pledge, I wanted to give her a diamond engagement ring. Winifred looked at the diamond ring, agreed to marry me and wore her engagement ring with pride around the school for two days. Once I knew the cops were on to me, I told Winifred that I still loved her and would marry her as I removed the sparkler from her finger. When I got home, five minutes later I saw a bobby come towards our front door. At that moment I panicked and threw the ring out the back window into the long grass. Worse luck me, dad had mown the back lawn the day before and the bobby found the ring in less than five minutes. After having the theft recorded at Cleckheaton Police Station, I received a caution and a few harsh words from a police inspector and a good hiding from my dad when I got home.
At the age of 15 years, I was passing Mr Northrop’s Green Grocer’s shop on Fourth Avenue. It was summer and the shop owner’s fruit was packed outside the shop window, arranged with the juiciest looking fruit displayed in the front crates to attract the buyers. I looked at the red rosy apples and the juicy peaches and despite having no pennies to buy, I did have the nerve to steal and the swiftness of foot to make good my escape as I ran off. Unfortunately for me, Mr Northrop saw me, ran from his counter outside and shouted my name as I ran off. Living less than 50 yards away from our house, I lived in fear the following days of what my father would do when he learned I’d stolen yet again.
About one week later, I started to worry when the figure of Mr Northrop approached our house and knocked on the door. Unfortunately for me, my mother was out, and dad was in. When dad invited Mr Northrop inside I waited in shame for the belting that lay ahead once dad learned of my theft from the kindly greengrocer. I could not have been more surprised, but the greengrocer hadn’t come to grass me up to my parents, but instead to offer me a Saturday morning job in his shop packing bags of potatoes. I didn’t know, but in an attempt to keep me out of trouble in my spare time at weekend, my mother had approached Mr Northrop days earlier and asked if he had a Saturday morning job I could do. Instead of being relieved that he hadn’t told either mum or dad about my fruit theft, I was about to indicate that since I’d started work at a Cleckheaton textile mill and I needed my Saturday mornings to relax, but my father replied, ”Thank you, Mr Northrop. Our Billy will be pleased to accept your offer of work.”
I worked on Saturdays for almost two years at the greengrocer’s shop. Mr Northrop believed in me and was good enough to offer me a ‘second chance’ in life when I most needed one. It was during this time that I read Victor Hugo’s book ‘Les Misérables’ and along with the greengrocer’s second chance he afforded me, once I read the book and saw as its central theme, ‘second chances’ and ‘character reformation’, I never stole again and started on my road to conversation, and became a young man who learned to give instead of take from society.
As a Probation Officer many years later, I saw the musical ‘Les Misérables’ and became close friends with Paul Whitaker, the man who did the sign language for deaf attendees. Paul founded the charity, ‘Music and the Deaf’ in 1988 and which he ran for 27 years. Over the years he has devoted his life teaching people who have been deaf since birth to enjoy music. Over the last five years, Paul, from Huddersfield, has been working with the ‘Mahler Chamber Orchestra’ on their ‘Feel the Music’ project, visiting thirteen different countries around the world. As an accomplished organ player himself, Paul kindly recorded a favourite hymn in York Minster that my adopted mother Etta Denton wanted playing at her funeral. He is a remarkable man who has given thousands of deaf people second chances to appreciate music.
When I became a children’s author in 1989, the second book that established me as an author of some merit was ‘Sleezy the Fox’. It is a story about a thieving fox who is given a ‘second chance’ to mend his thieving ways. This book sold in its tens of thousands, mostly to Yorkshire schools and libraries and raised a good part of the £200,000 that has been given to charitable causes from the sales of my books since 1990. Indeed, the book came to the attention of the late Princess Diana, who contacted me and requested two copies to be sent to her so that she might read to her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry at their bedtimes (who were then aged 9 years and 7 years respectively). It is nice to know that one of your books was read to the next King of England and his royal brother, by the royal mother.
All of the 27 years I spent in the Probation Service was spent helping others to make the best of the ‘second chances’ that life afforded them. Over the past six years, I have had four cancers in four different areas of my body. Indeed, I have had a terminal blood cancer throughout these six years and have had four cancer operations under a full general operation during the past six months. When I developed a Lymphoma over the Christmas period of 2016, and twice almost died, I had a DNR placed on me by my medics. At my worst time, I received a recorded song by my Mirfield friend Davis Green in a telephone message. David knew that one of my favourite songs was, ‘Bring Him Home’, from the musical ‘Les Misérables’. David, who can sing this song more beautifully than any other singer I have ever heard, sang this song at the wedding reception evening of mine and Sheila’s. His recording of the song, when I was dying in hospital, was done from his bedroom when he also was seriously ill. David’s rendition of this song was music to my ears and raised my spirits no end.
I would like to dedicate my song today to you, David. I cannot sing the song with your marvellous voice, but I gladly give you the best rendition that my 76-year-old voice allows. Whatever my recording of this beautiful song lacks in professional delivery; it is sung with the deepest of love and affection for your good self and all the Green family.
Love and peace Bill xxx