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Remembering Andrew Davies' classic children's series starring Charlotte Coleman
At 4.55pm on Monday the 25th of October 1982, young viewers tuning into ITV came face to face with an extraordinary new creation. A wise-cracking, mop-headed cockney girl with the unlikely name of Marmalade Atkins burst onto British tv screens, thumbing her nose at authority and leaving a trail of destruction and havoc in her wake. She didn't care about school, she didn't care about her parents, she only cared about one thing - muckin' about, cock!
Before each episode, a "bad girl warning" would flash up on the screen, advising viewers to switch off or change channels before it was too late. What followed was a kind of junior version of The Young Ones, compressed into a manic fifteen minutes of slapstick, pantomime and hilariously biting satire. Despite its "childrens" status, there were enough rude jokes to extend its appeal to teens and send parents into fits of indignant rage, who did not appreciate references to characters like "Sheikh Your Willy" or Marmalade's constant habit of adressing everybody as "cock" (short for "cockney" but still possessing a good measure of shock appeal).
The central character of Marmalade Atkins was played by 14 year old Charlotte Coleman, who was already familiar to UK viewers from her role as Sue in Worzel Gummidge. The ultimate tomboy, she rejects every attempt to feminise her or turn her into a "good girl", going to any lengths to upset the status quo. Essentially a solitary figure (she has no real friends to speak of other than a talking nodding dog), she posseses an heroic quality which allows her to come out on top in any situation regardless. A natural leader, she can both galvanise people together or sunder them apart.
Marmalade's parents are every bit as odd as their daughter. Despite their working class roots, they have ascended to the upper classes via Mr Atkins profitable business schemes, which mostly involve swindling rich arabs in the city. Mrs Atkins spends her whole life on the phone to Harrods in a quest to spend her husband's money as fast as it comes in. Sporting a hideously pretentious accent cultivated to disguise her humble origins, she indulges in mink eyelashes and other outlandish luxuries while forever berating Mr Atkins for his loutish behaviour ("the only reason I tolerate that man is because he's practically a millionaire!") The only thing they hate more than each other is their daughter, Marmalade.
In an earlier pilot episode, the Atkins had tried to rid themselves of Marmalade by having her sent into space. Now, with the aid of chirpy do-gooder social worker Mrs Allgood, they embark on a crusdade to turn their troublesome offspring into a "good girl" - first by sending her to a variety of different schools, then by calling in an animal trainer, then a nanny, and finally by packing her off to Dartmoor prison.
In the end though, it's all in vain as nothing and no-one can control Marmalade Atkins - truly the worst behaved girl in the world.
Taking a broad swipe at Britain's educational and social institions, Andrew Davies' scripts were rich in satire and possessed a quality of subversiveness which appealed to the post-punk generation of the early 80s. Parents hated the show with a passion, which of course ensured that their children loved it all the more. Ultimately though, it was Charlotte Coleman's charismatic portrayal of Marmalade that made the show such a success. Following Charlotte's untimely passing in 2001, after an accomplished career in tv and cinema, it was little surprise that many people remembered her best for her timeless portrayal of the inspirational pint-sized heroine of their childhoods.
Clip: Opening title sequence
Episode One: Cringe Hill
After being expelled from Grimleigh County Junior School for razing it to the ground, Marmalade Atkins is assigned a social worker (or "mealy-mouthed do-gooder") to help turn her into a good girl. Mrs Allgood believes that sending her to Cringe Hill Comprehensive may be just the thing she needs. Upon arrival, Marmalade finds herself in a war zone populated by yobs intent on remaining at school well into their thirties. Two brutes take a particular dislike to her, robbing her on a daily basis until she foils them by tricking them into eating chocolates injected with Grippa Gum. The headmistress, furious about Marmalade compromising the school's time honoured tradition of corruption, expells her - but not before mistakenly eating one of the chocolates herself.
Trivia: Cringe Hill was based on the long running British soap Grange Hill, set in a tough city school.
Watch the opening episode
Episode Two: The Convent Of The Blessed Limit
Mrs Allgood decides that a strict convent education is what Marmalade needs, and arranges for her to attend the exclusive Convent Of The Blessed Limit. There confronted by baseball bat-wielding nuns with an extreme penchant for sadism, she sets about "putting herself about" despite their best efforts to tame her. After embroidering her classmates' pigtails and locking Sister Conception and Sister Purification in The Bad Girl's Cupboard, she is expelled briefly before returning after a change of heart by the nuns, who have just completed a course in "modern teaching methods". Despite their best attempts to "understand" Marmalade, they are no match for the worst behaved girl in the world.
Clip: Marmalade's first day at the convent
Episode Three: Marmalade At Eton
Mr Atkins believes that sending Marmalade to a posh private school could be just what she needs. Just one problem - Eton only takes boys. A quick change of hairstyle and a bulging bundle of crisp fivers lobbed in the direction of the headmaster enables the plan to go ahead though, and Marmalade is introduced to the world of Latin, teddy-bear cuddling snobs and gentrified school bullies. Despite their dislike of "the oik", they are defeated in a pillow fight with Marmalade and decide that she is actually "spiffing" after all. The official school bully also runs foul of her and is quickly deposed from his position, but Marmalade's brief reign of terror comes to an end when she is expelled for destroying the Eton longboats.
Trivia: for this episode, Charlotte forsook the wig she usually wore in favour of her own hair.
Clip: Marmalade ousts the resident school bully Fortescue, then has a chat with the headmaster
Episode Four: Walkies
Clara Coalhouse - the famous dog trainer - is Mrs Allgood's latest choice of mentor for Marmalade. Despite the difference of species, Clara is gung-ho about her new assignment and sets about training her new charge. Unfortunately, Marmalade doesn't make a very willing student - until Miss Coalhouse thwarts her with an automated training device. Despondent, Marmalade consults her Nodding Dog, who advises her on how to deal with the ghastly Clara Coalhouse.
Trivia: Clara Coalhouse was based upon tv doggie personality Barbara Woodhouse, with her catch cry of "walkies!"
Clip: Clara Coalhouse inspects Marmalade
Episode Five: Marmalade At St Cecilia's
After assaulting good girl Cherith Ponsomby, Mr and Mrs Atkins ship their daughter off to the exclusive St Cecilia's on the advice of Cherith's mother. After arriving and being presented with a selection of older prefect girls on which to have a crush, Marmalade is warned by headmistress Miss Bloomingdale to beware The Phantom Of St Cecilia's. Marmalade suspects that the ghost is simply a ruse to stop the girls wandering about at night though, and soon discovers why - every full moon the staff are holding parties for high society and selling off the students' belongings (most crucially their monthly hamper of tuck). No problem - Marmalade sorts them out with the aid of her posh girl's lacker stick.
Clip: Marmlade and Cherrith Ponsomby study macrame while their parents catch up on gossip and yoga
Episode Six: Marmalade In Venice
Following a road accident in their Rolls with Marmalade at the wheel, the Atkins are determined to ship their daughter as far away as humanly possible. A residential finishing school in Venice seems like the perfect solution. Signora Randolini has taught the Borgias but even they pale next to the havoc Marmalade causes in her school. A lesson in eating spaghetti like a lady goes wrong when Marmalade offers her own eating tips to the girls, and a pleasant trip in a gondola turns into a watery disaster when Marmalade sinks the boat and maroons her classmates.
Clip: Marmalade arrives at the Randolini Finishing School
Episode Seven: Nanny
Mrs Allgood, now undergoing psychiatric treatment, has the bright idea of calling in her childhood nanny to take charge of Marmalade. Nanny turns out to be very much of the Old School, quickly putting everyone in sight in their place with her trusty square of sticking plaster. At a loss, Marmalade consults her Nodding Dog again on how to deal with Nanny. He advises her on how best to use the few resources available to her, and the bullying old bag is quickly despatched over a steep hill via a handy wheelchair.
Clip: Nanny makes her grand entrance
Episode Eight: A Short Sharp Shock
Mrs Allgood has reached the end of her tether: Marmalade has got to go. After being put on trial for vandalising Nanny and "general muckin' about", Marmalade is packed off to Dartmoor prison for three years. Unfortunately though, the tough inmates take a liking to their diminuitive new companion, especially when she wins them the right to have tomato sauce and comics at mealtimes. Next she takes on Mr Big, who doesn't like the fact that all the prisoners have suddenly stopped giving him two cigarettes a day. Marmalade convinces his two henchmen to stand up to him too , and Mr Big has his arms and legs ripped off. Upset by this sudden change to the status quo, the prison officials force Marmalade to escape, much to the sadness of the other inmates.
Clip: During tea at The Ritz, the Judge (Max Wall) takes a fancy to Mrs Allgood's fat little legs
Episode Nine: The Nativity Play
Leaving Dartmoor prison on her donkey Rufus, Marmalade arrives home only to find herself being shunted back to The Convent Of The Blessed Limit. Things haven't changed much at the convent, with Sister Conception and Sister Purification abandoning their brief policy of tolerance and reverting to good old fashioned baseball bats. A Christmas nativity play is planned, and typically head girl Cherith Ponsomby is chosen to play Mary, while Marmalade is given a single line as the inn keeper. Her promise of a loan of Rufus goes awry when Mr Atkins unexpectedly sells off the beast to an Arab client, so he and Mrs Allgood are drafted in as a pantomime horse instead (but only, leers Mr Atkins, if he can play the back end). It's no great surprise when the play ends in disaster, with Marmalade making some last minute modifications to the script and Cherith landing head first in a bale of straw.
Trivia: this was the only episode to feature Marmalade's donkey Rufus. In the books, Rufus could talk and was in most of the adventures. For the tv series he was largely replaced by Marmalade's talking Nodding Dog.
Clip: Sister Purification and Sister Conception discuss the play with the girls
Episode Ten: Marmalade At The Albert Hall
Mrs Allgood's psychiatrist Dr Glenfiddick persuades Mr and Mrs Atkins to advertise for a private tutor. The tutor has a novel method of getting his way - by offering reward tokens. Sadly for him, Marmalade soon uses up most of his tokens and then moves onto his clothing. Meanwhile, Marmalade's old mate from Dartmoor - Bonzo Brown - sees the advert himself, breaks out of prison and turns up at the door masquerading as one Professor Brown. Marmalade and Bozo don't much fancy schoolwork and decide instead to train as Tag Team wrestlers, calling themselves Uncle Horrible and the Mean Midget. Finally they make it to The Albert Hall, where Mr Atkins plans for them to deliberately throw the fight. They have other ideas though, and Mr Atkins loses his bet as Marmalade and Bonzo escape and all hell breaks loose.
Clip: How Marmalade got her name
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|From the Junior TV Times, October
Charlotte lets it be known: she's not another Marmalade! Charlotte Colman, who used to be Sue in Worzel Gummage, is soon to appear in the title role of Thames TV's Marmalade Atkins. She's enjoying it apart from one thing...
"She's terrible," Charlotte groaned. "She's a rebel: we go to places like Eton, have a nanny, even hire a woman like Barbara Woodhouse, and they all give up on her. And everybody says I'm like her...but I'm not! I don't dress like her- she's in a big baggy jumper and a mini-skirt while I wear things like ski-pants and fifties' dresses. Even my hair is different. When we did the original episode, last year, my hair was crazy, all different colours, so we used it. Now I've had it cut in a bob so I have to wear a wig, which is horrible because it itches. I suppose I do get into a bit of trouble at school but that's mostly because, although I enjoy going there, I'm not very good at it. I do want to learn and I try quite hard but that's mostly because, although I enjoy going there, I'm not very good at it. The only thing I'm any good at is art- the worst is geography. Maybe I jut don't like school work."
Well, maybe she is...just a bit...like Marmalade Atkins!
Written by Andrew
Incidental music by Andy Roberts
Title theme by Bad Manners
Directed by Colin Bucksey and John Stroud
Produced by Sue Birtwhistle for Thames
Originally transmitted 25 Oct 1982 - 3 Jan 1983
Charlotte Coleman -
John Bird - Mr Atkins
Lynda Marchal - Mrs Atkins
Gillian Raine - Mrs Allgood
Brian Glover - Sister
Matthew Scurfield - Sister Purification
Sandra Osborn - Cherith Ponsomby
John Fortune - Dr Glenfiddick
Campbell Morrison - Bonzo Brown
Celebrate Christmas with Marmalade, cock, on Channel Nun!