The Boy in the Dress (novel)

The Boy In The Dress is a children's book written by David Walliams and illustrated by Quentin Blake. It is the first book by Walliams, a television comedian best known for the cult BBC show Little Britain. It tells the story of a fourteen-year-old boy called John and a twelve-year-old boy called Dennis who enjoys cross-dressing, and the reactions of his family and friends.[1][2] It is aimed at readers aged eight to twelve, and is intended to teach children that cross-dressing is a healthy and acceptable hobby and not something to be ashamed of.[3] It has been adapted into a television film and a musical.

The Boy in the Dress
Boy in the dress.jpg
First hardback edition
AuthorDavid Walliams
IllustratorQuentin Blake
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreChildren's fiction (8-12)
Publication date
1 October 2008
Media typePrint


The story follows a 12-year-old boy named Dennis and his 14-year-old brother John, whose parents divorced when Dennis was only 7. The boys remain with their father, who resorts to comfort eating after his wife leaves. Dennis is talented in football and is one of the best on his team. However, he deeply misses his mother, who left their family about five years ago, and finds comfort remembering his mother's yellow dress in an old picture. Dennis sees the same dress on the cover of a Vogue magazine and buys a copy from Raj, the local shop owner. But when Dad finds the magazine, he is furious. John teases him by calling him "Denise". At school that day, Dennis is given detention for kicking a football through a window. While in detention, he talks to a girl named Lisa James, the prettiest and most fashionable girl in the school. Lisa invites him over to her house and dresses him up in girls' clothing. The two decide to go out in public, with Dennis, in an electric blue dress, under the alter ego of "Denise", a French exchange student who speaks very little English. They go to Raj's corner shop. Raj does not recognise Dennis, believing he is "Denise". Following their success in fooling Raj, Dennis goes to school with Lisa – as "Denise".

Dennis upsets his French teacher by criticizing her French accent. At the break, Dennis kicks a football, slips, and is revealed to be a boy. Mr Hawtrey, the headmaster, expels him from the school for cross-dressing. Dad is furious and sends Dennis to his room. Darvesh, Dennis's best friend, comes over but is sent back to his home by Dad. Pushed by Darvesh, Dennis goes to an important football match on Saturday, where his entire team encourages him to play in a dress. The team wins against Maudlin Street, the rival football team. Dennis's dad attends the match, forgives Dennis and defends him from Mr Hawtrey. On an early Sunday morning, Raj informs Dennis that Mr Hawtrey's sister, Miss Doris, buys the Telegraph now instead of him. He adds that there is "something funny about her". Lisa and Dennis go to Raj's shop and find out that Miss Doris is actually Mr Hawtrey cross-dressing in a skirt. The two threaten that unless Dennis is readmitted to the school, they would tell everyone about Mr Hawtrey's cross-dressing habits. Mr Hawtrey gives in and agrees to reinstate Dennis.

At the end of the story, Dennis, his dad, and his brother get over the pain of the loss of Dennis's mother, Dennis and Lisa stay friends, and John starts to look out for his younger brother more.


  • Dennis Sims - A 12-year-old. He lives with his brother, John, and his dad, an overweight truck driver. Dennis has a best friend called Darvesh. He lives in an ordinary house in an ordinary town and he's different. He is a pupil at Elm Forest School. Dennis prefers wearing girl's clothes instead of boy's clothes; with the help of Lisa, he invents an alter-ego, "Denise", who is a French exchange student. He is played by Billy Kennedy in the TV movie.
  • John Sims – Dennis's 14-year-old brother who is a pupil at Elm Forest School. He is played by Oliver Barry-Brooke in the TV adaptation.
  • Lisa James – A 14-year-old. She is the prettiest girl in the school and is adored by everyone, she is a pupil at Elm Forest School. Lisa loves Vogue, fashion, dresses and shoes. She is played by Temi Orelaja in the TV version.
  • Miss Windsor – A French teacher. She is played by Jennifer Saunders in the TV movie.
  • Raj – Owner of a local newspaper-shop. He is kind and loves children. He is played by Harish Patel in the TV adaptation.
  • Mr Hawtrey (called Mr Hawthorne in the TV movie) – An extremely strict and unfair headteacher to the school. He expels Dennis for cross-dressing, but he himself cross-dresses, too. He is played by Tim McInnerny in the TV version.
  • Gareth Small – a 14-year-old boy in Lisa's class and Cherise's boyfriend. He is shown to be the captain of Dennis's football club and is a pupil at Elm Forest School. He is played by Sonny Ashbourne-Serkis in the TV Movie.
  • Mac Cribbins – a pupil at Elm Forest school who is in Lisa's class. He is very greedy and he likes Denise. He does not appear in the film adaptation.
  • Darvesh Singh – Dennis' best friend and is a Sikh, he's also in Dennis's football club and is very polite, he is a student at Elm Forest School. He is played by Aaron Chawla in the TV adaptation.
  • Jaspreet Kaur – Darvesh's mum. She is a Sikh, and she's very supportive and a bit weird. She is played by Meera Syal in the TV version.
  • Mum – Dennis and John's mother who is very beautiful. She leaves and never comes back. Her name is not mentioned in the book and in the film. In fact, there are not any pictures of her in the book. She is played by Emma Cook in the TV movie.
  • Dad (Called Peter Simms in the TV adaptation) – Dennis and John's father, whose name is not revealed in the book. He is a long-distance lorry driver, who resorts to comfort eating after his wife leaves. He is played by Steve Speirs in the TV version.

Literary significance and receptionEdit

Reviewers and the press noted the book's resonance with Walliams's own cross-dressing.[3] Philip Ardagh in the Guardian noted the novelty of Walliams's light-hearted approach to the themes, compared with treatments in earlier children's books on the subject like Terence Blacker's 2004 title Boy 2 Girl.[4] Nicolette Jones in the Times praised Blake's illustrations and, though she called Walliams' writing "not the finest", noted "Everyone is on the side of freedom and tolerance by the end, for which the book must be applauded."[2]


The Boy in the Dress has been the subject of some controversy. In September 2017, during the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, retailer Aldi was criticised in Australia by some customers for selling the book. One customer claimed the book had an "agenda" to "groom and sexualise" children, while another accused Aldi of "child abuse", with some threatening a boycott. Other customers defended the company.[5]


Dennis's father tells him "No more Small England, or whatever it is". French teacher Miss Windsor cuts short a school detention, hoping to get home in time to watch Neighbours, though in America this reference has been changed to The Young and the Restless. On page 104, it is mentioned that Lisa has a purple dress she'd copied from one she'd seen Kylie Minogue wear at an awards do.

Publication historyEdit

The book was published in hardcover by HarperCollins in October 2008, with a paperback release scheduled for May 2009.[6] Walliams and his comedy partner Matt Lucas recorded an audiobook of the story, also for HarperCollins, which was released in November 2008.[7] HarperCollins were reported to have signed Walliams for a two-book deal.[1][3]

Film adaptationEdit

A television film adaptation was produced for BBC One, and aired on Boxing Day 2014 at 6:55 pm.[8]

Filming began on 19 October 2014, according to Walliams' Official Twitter page. Casting for the episode[clarification needed] was later announced on 21 October 2014.[9]

Stage musical adaptationEdit

A stage musical adaption of the book has been produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon for Christmas 2019 (with an anticipated West End transfer in 2020). The musical is adapted by Mark Ravenhill, features music and lyrics by Guy Chambers and Robbie Williams, and is directed by RSC artistic director Gregory Doran.[10]


  1. ^ a b Salter, Jessica (7 August 2008). "David Walliams in Bond Street as a 'laydee'". London: Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 January 2009.
  2. ^ a b Jones, Nicolette (26 October 2008). "The Boy in the Dress, Sunday Times review". The Times. London. Retrieved 21 January 2009.
  3. ^ a b c "Walliams book has laydee's touch". BBC News Online. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  4. ^ Ardagh, Philip (15 November 2008). "Review: The Boy In The Dress by David Walliams". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 January 2009.
  5. ^ McCauley, Dana (6 September 2017). "Aldi has been criticised for stocking a kids' book about a boy in a dress".
  6. ^ The Boy in the Dress paperback listing. ASIN 0007279043.
  7. ^ "The Boy in the Dress Audio book". Archived from the original on 2 August 2012. Retrieved 21 January 2009.
  8. ^ Jeffery, Morgan (10 March 2014). "David Walliams' Boy in the Dress to be BBC One film for Christmas 2014". Digital Spy. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  9. ^ "Kate Moss joins David Walliams BBC comedy". 21 October 2014.
  10. ^ "Robbie Williams and David Walliams team up for The Boy In The Dress musical with Royal Shakespeare Company". iNews. 25 May 2018. Retrieved 26 May 2018.