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Willikins by tolmancotton d7wshi4-fullview

Willikins is the butler of Sybil Ramkin and, after their marriage, Sam Vimes. He has been part of the Ramkin household for some time, starting work as a scullery boy when Forsythe was the family butler. He has now been raised to the role of butler himself and, in this role, he is a paragon of civility; mildly disapproving of Vimes's uncouth habits. Though Vimes remains uneasy with the idea of having a servant, he seems to have accepted the idea, in large part because that servant is Willikins, who possesses distinctly non-butler like abilities, as revealed first in Jingo. When Willikins temporarily suspended his duties to sign up with Lord Venturi's Heavy Infantry, he soon revealed himself to be an exceptional fighter, and an abnormally violent one at that. During the brief war with Klatch (see Jingo), Willikins managed to kill a number of Klatchians, bite off a nose during hand-to-hand combat and turned out to be an exceptional leader of men in his own right, managing to keep them alive despite numerous encounters behind enemy lines. He would later have a very surprising reunion with his employer, though he would not be nearly as surprised as Vimes (which can only be summed up in the man's own words: "I'll chop ya tonker off you greasy... Oh is that you Sir Samuel?"). Willikin demonstrated his fighting prowess once more in Thud!, when a group of would-be dwarf assassins attacked the manor by tunnelling into the basement. Unfortunately for them, Willikins was in the ice cellar carving ice and proved very efficient with the only weapon handy at the time -an ice knife. He managed to keep one alive and hang him on a meat hook by the collar, only to discover that his captive had died from poison ingested before the mission.

Willikins proved useful in The Fifth Elephant when he traveled ahead of the Ramkin coach to prepare the posting inns for the Duke and Duchess of Ankh. However, despite his tactical abilities with ice picks, knives, combs, hats, and cords, he faded out of the story and did not feature in the various scenes of attack.

The origins of his violent tendencies are shown to lie in his youth, when he was a member of the Shamlegger Street Rude Boys. His weapon of choice was an old hat/cap with sharpened pennies sewn into the brim (similar to James Bond's enemy Odd Job, who incidentally also served in the capacity of a butler). According to the man himself, the weapon could take someone's eye out, "with care". Due to his formidable skill in combat, Willikins is also part of the Specials, an auxiliary police force called up by the Watch when more men are required.

Fighting skills aside, Willikins is a very competent butler, embodying the very image of a butler "as fat as butter and as shiny as schmaltz". He coughs in a certain way, he politely requests that Vimes removes his razor before reading out a bit from the Ankh-Morpork Times knowing that Vimes will react violently to it. He quietly but competently goes about his business. It is mentioned in Snuff that he is also a member of the Guild of Butlers, Valets and Gentlemen's Gentlemen; given his competence and status and the way the City Guilds frown on non-Guild labour, it would have been surprising if he were not.

In Snuff he acted as a loyal and resourceful companion to Vimes providing him with information about the local area and its people, backup, and when required, lethal weapons. Willikins takes pleasure in pointing out that, as Vimes' personal valet and manservant, he outranks all other servants, including Silver, butler of Ramkin Hall. We also learn that he as an 'understanding' with Purity, the maid, although precisely what is understood remains a mystery. Willikins also has the wit to use psychological warfare; when it is necessary to bring out the best of Feeney Upshot, he fires a crossbow anonymously (the Burleigh & Stronginthearm Piecemaker Mark IX, no less) at Feeney's old mum, as if the shot has come from the unruly mob, thus angering him sufficiently to defy the Shire public. His skill with a steel comb as a lethal weapon has to be seen to be believed; he uses knives as nail files. Together with Detritus, he has enough firepower to match a platoon.

At the end of Snuff, and without his master's knowledge, he makes use of his day off by following the murderer Stratford while he is in the custody of the Quirm gendarmes. Knowing that the ruthless Stratford held a grudge against Vimes and would likely seek revenge should he manage to escape, Willikins watched and waited. He was still watching when a mail coach collided with the prison wagon and Stratford escaped in the confusion. He approached the killer on the open road, and calmly informed him that he had come to kill him 'to tidy the world up a bit'. The conclusion was that Stratford was very fast, but not fast enough and only managed to come second in the duel to the death with Willikins.

Willikins the butler is not to be confused with another Willikins who was a young actor with Vitoller's Men when Tomjon was a baby.


Willikins is more or less the classic example of the butler/manservant. He is also reminiscent of the kind of fictional butler/manservant who complements his master wonderfully yet unobtrusively. Following are some of the aspects of other butlers that he may be drawn from:

  1. Alfred displayed his hidden depths to his employer Bruce Wayne by defending the secrets of the Batcave against all foes, with extreme prejudice and great technical competence. In the later Batman stories, there is a suggestion that the Wayne family butler has been in gentleman's service all his life, save for a few trifling years, in his youth, spent in the British Army's special forces.
  2. In the long-running BBC Radio thriller serial Paul Temple (first broadcast in the 1950's and still a favourite today on BBC Radio Seven), the gentleman crime novelist turned Sherlock-Holmes-alike is ably assisted by his manservant, a salt-of-the-earth Cockney who can deliver a killer punch in his master's service.
  3. In the Japanese manga and animated series Hellsing, a butler named Walter is seen early on as a thin, middle aged-old man. However, when the Hellsing HQ is attacked, he displays impossible and amazing abilities: Namely manipulating spiderweb-thin razor wire with his fingers in such a way that he is able to slice a cigar in half from across a room, cut undead soldiers to pieces and, at one point, rip a piercing out of a mans lip. Later in the series he even uses his wires to "puppeteer" a corpse and make it fight for him. Walter also displays the ability to dodge bullets. In his youth, he fought in World War II and aided the stories' protagonist - Alucard - in destroying a Nazi undead research facility. The echoes of a young Walter in his older self are reminiscent of the echoes of a young Willikins.
  4. There is an air of Jeeves about Willikins too, the utterly unflappable and far-more-intelligent-than-his-master manservant from PG Wodehouse's incomparable Jeeves and Wooster series. Suave and completely in control of every situation, preternaturally aware of what needs doing/preparing, yet always in the background, allowing his preposterous master to reap all the benefits.
  5. These skills also resonate with Margery Allingham's fictional manservant Magersfontein Lugg (played by Brian Glover, in the TV series Campion) in her Crime and Mr. Campion detective novels. Servant and factotum to Mr Campion, Lugg is a former burglar with a gruff manner, who hinders Campion socially as much as he helps in his investigations. With reference to the underworld dialect of the Thieves' Guild, Lugg is the originator of the curious sentence, "It's crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide". The sentence means, "It's insane to try and bribe a policeman with fake money."
  6. In Snuff, Willikins takes on aspects of The Admirable Crichton, refusing a drink with his master as something "just not done", feeling bound by a code of class relations.
  7. It seems logical that Pratchett is thinking of his long time assistant and friend, Rob Wilkins, in his depiction of Wilikins, Vimes butler (assistant). However, there is no concrete evidence of this. Wilkins is writing Terry Pratchtt's official biography.



The Fifth Elephant