Rewind: ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole’ revisited

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‘There is a new girl in our class. Her name’s Pandora. I might fall in love with her. It’s about time I fell in love; after all, I am thirteen-and-three-quarter years old.’


What’s it about?

Based on the first two volumes in the wonderful series of novels by Sue Townsend, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ (rightly re-titled The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole for its second series) was produced by Thames Television for ITV and chronicled the exploits of the angst-ridden title character – an intellectual trapped in the body of a spotty teenager struggling to cope with love and life in the dark days of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.

Whilst having to deal with his parents’ failing marriage, the crotchety behaviour of Bert Baxter, the old man for whom he reluctantly cares, and the reluctance of the BBC to broadcast any of his poetry, Adrian does his best to crack on with the love of his life: horse-riding academic genius and proto-revolutionary class pinup, Pandora Braithwaite.


Who was in it?

The character of Adrian Mole was young actor Gian Sammarco’s most memorable TV appearance, although he also featured in the Doctor Who story, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (as Whizzkid, an amusingly unflattering pisstake of anorakish fanboys).

Many years before Molly Weasley looked after that other youthfully bespectacled product of a dysfunctional family, Harry Potter, Julie Walters starred in the first series as Sue, Adrian’s mother. She was replaced for the second by Lulu. Adrian’s father George was portrayed by Stephen Moore – who had a small role in the criminally underrated John Cleese film, Clockwise, as Mr Jolly, a teacher more adept at shagging sixth-formers than finishing his sentences – while Beryl Reid and Bill Fraser played Grandma Mole and Bert Baxter respectively.

Stephen Mackintosh (seen most recently in Inside Men) portrayed Adrian’s best friend Nigel, Chris Gascoyne (Peter Barlow in Coronation Street) was school bully Barry Kent and Lindsey Stagg – in her only television role – played Pandora.


Best moment?

To pick a single moment from a series so hysterically wonderful – wisely, the scripts stuck to the unsurpassable genius of Townsend’s storylines – is as impossible as trying to hide a copy of Big & Bouncy from your mum and dad. Instead, we draw your attention to the eternally splendid theme song by
Ian Dury, ‘Profoundly in Love with Pandora’, which is most definitely a reason to be cheerful.


Last seen?

The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole aired on ITV in 1987, and although the books carried on into the 1990s and beyond, the Thames series sadly did not.

In 2001, the BBC produced an adaptation of the fifth novel, The Cappuccino Years, starring Stephen Mangan as an adult Adrian living in London and working as an offal chef during the early days of Blair’s Britain. Alison Steadman and Alun Armstrong featured as Sue and George Mole, while Helen Baxendale played Pandora, now a rising star among the ranks of New Labour MPs.


The future?

With five of the eight novels unfilmed and a ninth book due for publication in 2013, there’s still a wealth of material available for future television adaptations. However, the relative failure of The Cappuccino Years series (which failed to capture the magic and mirth of the brilliantly satirical original novel, despite being scripted by Sue Townsend herself) suggests the elder Mole works better in print than he does onscreen.

Like the books, the original Thames series appealed to teenagers and adults alike; any future TV version would be wise to try to emulate this.


> Buy the new Complete Adrian Mole DVD boxset on Amazon.

What are your memories of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole? Let us know below…