When I first got my hands on The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ (Adrian Mole’s age not mine - I was eleven) I read the line ‘Barry Kent trod on my head in the scrum’ repeatedly, with tears of laughter clouding my eyes. When I got the book back out again (aged thirty plusalittlebitmore…) that sentence just makes me smile now rather than giggle hysterically, but the book definitely stands the test of time and is still highly amusing.
Adrian Albert Mole worries. About the state of the world, the state of his parents’ marriage, the state of his skin and other teenage-body-related matters and the state of his love life. The only place he can let all these anxieties out is in his diary; a journal containing his innermost thoughts and fears. And poetry. Let’s not forget his poetry. He regularly sends verse to the BBC in the hope they will recognise his talent. This is an example of his talent:
The tap drips and keeps me awake, In the morning there will be a lake. For the want of a washer the carpet will spoil, Then for another my father will toil. My father could snuff it while he is at work, Dad, fit a washer don’t be a berk!’
Moving on. There is something vulnerable about Adrian; he’s been lumped with a thin skin plus an over-analytical mind as well as a bad haircut and unfashionable clothes. In his eyes he is a sensitive and mature writer; an intellectual unfortunately surrounded by philistines who don’t understand him. In the readers’ eyes, of course, he is a precocious, childish hypochondriac but the book is written so beautifully that you are often able to look past the adolescent navel-gazing and angst, and feel the genuine teenage heartbreak beneath. (Saturday January 31st: ‘It is nearly February and I have nobody to send a Valentine’s Day Card to.’)
He has a wonderful ability to over-dramatise, in the way that only an inwardly-looking adolescent can. In his second entry, on the first page of the book he writes: ‘I felt rotten today. It’s my mother’s fault for singing ‘My Way’ at two o’clock in the morning at the top of the stairs. Just my luck to have a mother like her. There is a chance my parents could be alcoholics. Next year I could be in a children’s home.’
To be fair, his parents do sound pretty awful…father George is not exactly a man bursting with vitality. Or employment. And mother Pauline is having an affair with next door neighbour ‘Ratfink Lucas’. The dog is, quite frankly, a liability. Adrian doesn’t seem to have all that much in common with best friend Nigel, and his new relationship with Bert Baxter – a revoltingly unhygienic pensioner – and his Alsatian Sabre is going to take some working at. School bully Barry Kent menaces him for money and his headmaster is a psychopath. The one beacon of light in Adrian’s life is new girl Pandora Louise Elizabeth Braithwaite, a beautiful ‘treacle-haired’ fourteen year old who Adrian decides to fall in love with when he sits next to her in Geography class.
Pandora is intellectually superior to him, very political (she goes on to become one of ‘Blair’s Babes’ in the Labour government) and, sadly for Adrian, going out with Nigel. Thankfully this doesn’t last for too long and shortly after they break up Pandora and Adrian become a couple. At the end of the book Adrian reveals that he has just begun to commit ‘non-sexual adultery with Barbara (Boyer – a new addition to Adrian and Pandora’s radical group ‘The Pink Brigade’).’ He swears Nigel to secrecy, only to have Nigel ‘blab it all over the school’ and Pandora break up with him. There is a glimmer of hope however; the day after his fifteenth birthday Adrian accidentally glues his nose to a model aeroplane and has to endure the embarrassment of being laughed at by the staff in A&E. Crushed, he rings Pandora and she agrees to come round to see him. As we turn the final page we’re left wondering whether she has forgiven him for the Boyer episode?
Adrian’s diary was published in 1982. He was created by Sue Townsend, an author and playwright who writes both fiction and non-fiction. The story is set during 1981 and ’82, and part of its humour comes from not only Adrian’s anxieties over his own life, but also the ill-informed views he assuredly holds on real-life events, such as the Royal Wedding, the Falklands conflict, and the reign of Margaret Thatcher.
Mole’s story was quickly continued in The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole with further updates on his tragi-comic life coming in Adrian Mole from Minor to Major (1991); Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years (1993); Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years (1999); Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction (2004); The Lost Diaries of Adrian mole 1991 – 2001 (2008) and Adrian Mole: The Prostate Years (2009).
In 1985 the first series of the television adaptation of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ went out. It’s rare that a character that you’ve taken to your heart in print can be played on the screen without disappointment, but in Gian Sammarco the casting crew found as close to Adrian Mole as they could ever get. He took on Adrian’s characteristics with ease, and his voice as narrator allowed you to believe that he really was the nerdy teenager. In fact, most of the casting was pretty spot on, with Stephen Moore (the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Felicity Kendal’s cheating boyfriend in Solo, and for an extra trivia point he is also step-brother to S’Express music maker Mark Moore…) playing Adrian’s dad, and Julie Walters his mum.
Everybody’s favourite dotty relative Beryl Reid took on the role of George’s mum and the other two notable pensioners in Adrian’s story, the disgusting Bert Baxter and his wife Queenie, were played by Bill Fraser (Hancock’s Half Hour, The Army Game, Ripping Yarns) and Doris Hare (theatre, film and television actress who memorably turned down the role of Ena Sharples in Coronation Street). Lindsey Stagg stepped into Pandora’s indomitable shoes, pulling off her intellectual dominance over Adrian with ease.
The series was given an extra dose of cool by its theme music, the very eighties ‘Profoundly in Love With Pandora’ (of whom more later) written by Ian Dury and Chaz Jankel (guitarist, keyboardist and song writer in Dury’s band The Blockheads), and sung by Dury himself. (Sing along everybody…’My mother’s heart and soul have gone halfway up the pole, my father’s on the dole….’) It was released in October 1985, but it didn’t make much of an impact on the singles chart, reaching only number 45.
Whilst the fashions and references to culture and world events may have dated, the trials and tribulations that Adrian Mole face will still seem relevant to today’s teenagers: parents, romance, bad skin and wayward dogs.