Sharon Lamb

The Return of Wilson

In August Dr. Sharon Lamb from the University of Massachusetts told the annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in San Diego, California, that modern superheroes may not be the best image for boys to look up to if society wants to promote kinder, less stereotypical male behaviours.

She said that unlike the superheroes of the past who often held ordinary day jobs and believed in social justice, the new breed are playboy millionaires who are aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speak about the virtue of doing good for humanity. She said that original superheroes like Superman, a reporter by day and the Green Lantern, a railroad engineer, were invented to fight for social justice and were a reaction to the rise of fascism. But the new superheroes only thought about themselves.

“Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence;… When not in superhero costume, these men exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns. The comic book heroes of the past did fight criminals, but these were (role models) that boys could look up to and learn from because outside of their costumes, (they) were real people with real problems and many vulnerabilities.”

Faced with the prospect of superheroic ‘bling’, ‘bullying’ and ‘misogyny’ having the same effect on British teenagers as on their American cousins perhaps it is time to find a super hero of our own, one who is above personal gain and violence. Perhaps the time has come to resurrect a great and largely forgotten British superhero – the legendary William Wilson.

He first appeared in a story in the 1029th issue of the ‘Wizard’ comic on the 24th July 1943. It was a gripping yarn apparently written by sports writer W.S.K. Webb of the “London Daily Clarion”. It told of a mysterious runner who appeared at the British Summer Championship at Stamford Bridge…


“I turned round and was just in time to see a man drop over the barrier onto the track a short distance behind the runners. In that first glimpse I saw to my amazement that he seemed to be dressed for running. He had on an old black running costume with half-length sleeves, the legs of which came below the knee. He strode nearer and I suddenly realised that his feet were bare…”

This was Wilson, a man born to run.

“The runner, whom the world was soon to know as Wilson, had gone ahead. His legs were a blur, his arms flashed like pistons as, with his head thrown back, he burst past (the front runner) and took the inside of the track with a terrific sprint….there was a rhythm about his running which told of the complete co-ordination of mind and body and he flashed past us with the grace of a greyhound!”

Wilson won the race in a world record time of 3 minutes and 48 seconds. Webb writes how "the crowd lifted up their voices in a shout that must have been heard halfway across London! Then the barefooted man in the old running costume disappeared back into the throng from which he first appeared.

Over the following years W.S.K. Webb’s stories in the “Wizard” and later other comics revealed the astonishing truth about Wilson; about how he had been born in Yorkshire on the 1st November 1795 which made him over 140 years old; about how he had dramatically increased his athletic potential and extended his life span on a diet of nuts, berries and spring water; about how he lived in complete isolation in a cave on the northern moors waiting… waiting for Britain’s call. For all of us avid readers that call came weekly -

  • When the England cricket team were tragically killed in a plane crash en route to Australia and Wilson flew out to captain the side and lead them to a famous Ashes triumph,
  • When a German team threatened to be the first to scale Everest and Wilson rushed to the Himalayas and raced up the mountain at incredible speed, without oxygen or protective clothing, to claim the honour for Britain.
  • When Wilson took part in a bare-knuckled boxing challenge to beat the US champion and thwart the Mafia before he could safely return home.

Wilson was for thousands of boys the perfect hero, tough, determined and capable but at the same time modest and unassuming and not interested in girls, an important consideration for most 10 year olds. Best of all, his powers were not found in magic or science. Anyone could be like Wilson if they were willing to live on nuts and berries in a cave on the moors. He was – and presumably still is – ageless and when one story reported him missing during the Battle of Britain, his readers agreed with W.S.K Webb. This man is not is dead.

“Unfortunately Britain’s casualties today include the world famous athlete, Squadron-Leader W. Wilson D.S.O, D.F.C and bar, who had 25 air victories to his credit, and whose leadership has been an inspiring factor in smashing the German air blitz on this country. Wilson’s machine was last seen on fire over the Channel after he had shot down two Junkers bombers and he is officially posted as missing…”

Missing! Never have I ceased to hope that some day he would be found alive. He upheld the prestige of Britain in peace and war. Perfection was his aim and he did not count the cost. He was the greatest man that I have ever met.


Some say that Wilson swam the 30 miles to the Dutch coast where he assumed the identity of a dead RAF officer and under this disguise and after so much public recognition and acclaim disappeared back to his isolation on the moors.

I believe that he is still there in his cave living on a diet of nuts and berries and aged 215. Like Drake in his hammock and King Arthur asleep in Avalon, Wilson is awaiting Britain’s call.

Now isn’t that the kind of superhero that we need?

— from Martyn Day