The original artwork depicted comes from an early 1980s advertisement for A.D.S. speakers (the object on the bed is a speaker). For legal reasons, later pressings were produced with new artwork, a lilac-tinted still of Billie Whitelaw from the film Charlie Bubbles, directed by Albert Finney. The sleeve for the 1988 CD single reissue shows Colin Campbell from the 1964 film The Leather Boys. This artwork had previously been used in Germany for the single "Ask".
When the band performed the song on Top of the Pops, Morrissey ripped open his shirt to reveal the words "MARRY ME" written on his chest ("Would you like to marry me?" is one line of the song).
How can you stay with a fat girl who'll say "Oh, would you like to marry me, and if you like you can buy the ring?"/ She doesn't care about anything...
— Morrissey in "William, It Was Really Nothing"
The song is popularly believed to have been written by Morrissey about his short-lived friendship with Billy Mackenzie, lead singer of Associates. The compilation Associates: Double Hipness, released in August 2000, included the song "Stephen You're Really Something", recorded by Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine during the Associates reunion in 1993 as a tribute to "William, It Was Really Nothing". Morrissey has said of the song:
What 'William It Was Really Nothing' is about is... it occurred to me that within popular music if ever there were any records that discussed marriage they were always from the female's standpoint - female singers singing to women: whenever there were any songs saying 'do not marry, stay single, self-preservation, etc'. I thought it was about time there was a male voice speaking directly to another male saying that marriage was a waste of time... that, in fact, it was 'absolutely nothing'.