Saturday, 12 April 2014

Adrian Mole and Sue Townsend



The author Sue Townsend died this week, to the huge sorrow of all her fans. She was a unique comic writer, with an appeal that transcended all boundaries. Children could read Adrian Mole and be on his side (while enjoying the gentle mockery and feeling superior to him) while adults loved him too, but could see his parents’ point of view.

Two weeks ago I wrote a blog post on Bad Mothers in Fiction (here on the blog and also on the Guardian books blog) and included these lines:
At this point we sense that Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole is ready to insist that his mother Pauline should be added to the list – but I reject that totally. She is a Mother Courage for the age, spending the child benefit on gin and fags, endless boyfriends in tow, but always turning up for her children – she’s a fictional mother for real mothers to relate to.
And Adrian Mole turns up in my Guardian piece on Diaries, unsurprisingly.

Below are two other posts on the books. Longer versions of them originally appeared here and here.

The First Rule of Fancy Dress Parties

Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction by Sue Townsend

published 2004 entry for New Year's Eve 2002

[Adrian Mole is going to a fancy dress New Year’s Eve party. His girlfriend Marigold has said she will come as Coco] I was mortified that it was not Coco Chanel who emerged from a taxi… but Coco the Clown. Marigold was wearing an orange fright-wig, a large checked jacket, hooped trousers, a bowler hat and flapping comedy shoes. She had completely misjudged the rules of fancy dress – that young women should dress alluringly...

My mother and father turned up carrying bulging black bin liners which contained their fancy dress clothes. They hogged both bathrooms for half an hour before emerging as Dolly Parton and Saddam Hussein.

observations: Adrian Mole is one of the great comic creations of all time, and Sue Townsend has continued to make him as funny as ever, while also portraying every aspect of life - she has perfect pitch, it’s like reading a time capsule. If this world disappeared, you could re-create the past 30 years in the UK from the combined Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones books. Or even longer - the noted historian David Starkey once compared the Tudor King Edward VI to Adrian Mole, to great effect. Starkey is lucky to have Adrian to work with.

And of course Adrian is right about the rules of fancy-dress (known as a costume party in the USA). Adrian’s lost love, treacle-haired Pandora Braithwaite, would never make Marigold’s mistake, and Adrian will always end up with the woman who doesn’t understand the rules. Pandora has earlier opened the door ‘wearing her usual belly dancer’s fancy dress costume… She then gave me a flashy pink jewel and a piece of Blu-Tack and asked me to fix it into her bellybutton.’ This despite being an MP and junior minister. Adrian himself has come as Gustave Flaubert, one of his favourite authors. Clothes in Books applauds!

The picture is from the Library of Congress and is on Flickr.



Commemorating a Mayday victory 

Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino years by Sue Townsend

Published 1999 Diary entry 1st May 1997



[It is election day in the UK. Adrian and his family are preparing to vote.]

I answered the door to find a handsome blond man carrying a parcel. It was Nigel. He used to be my best friend at Neil Armstrong comprehensive. ‘Nigel!’ I said. Then ‘What are you doing driving a van? I thought you were gay.’

Nigel snapped, ‘Being gay isn’t a career, Moley, it’s a sexual orientation.’…

My mother… ripped open the parcel eagerly, saying ‘It’s my Labour victory outfit. I’m wearing it at the count tonight.’ Her face sagged past its normal levels when she saw the navy-blue trouser-suit nestling between the sheets of tissue paper. ‘I ordered red’ she shouted. She ranted on about the impossibility of wearing navy blue at Pandora’s victory party tonight. She threatened to sue [retailers] Next for the psychological trauma she was suffering…

I offered to ring Next and arrange an emergency delivery of a red suit. She said scornfully ‘As if.’ But I called Nigel on his mobile and he promised to do what he could, though he warned that ‘anything red’ was sprinting out of the warehouse and prophesied that there was to be a Labour landslide.


observations: And Nigel was right, there was a (real-life) Labour landslide that night, and Adrian’s lost love Pandora was indeed elected to parliament (also wearing a red suit). The Labour victory in 1997 was a supreme moment for those who had hated the Thatcher years in the UK – perhaps comparable with the election of Obama in the USA in 2008, though of course the colours are reversed. Like every longed-for new regime, it eventually lost its shine. But it was a great night.

Pauline Mole, Adrian’s mother, is Cleopatra with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth and a drink in her hand, seen always, of course, through Adrian’s eyes, but still shining on as a beacon of unmaternal liveliness. Her age is a matter of mystification for the constant reader. When Adrian Mole started out in 1982, she seemed like our mothers. Now she is like us.

The picture is from the San Diego Air and Space Museum archive, via Flickr.

8 comments:

  1. Moira, thanks for this interesting post about Sue Townsend. I didn't know she'd passed away. I might have read something by her in the past but I'm not sure.

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    1. Her books were lovely, Prashant, very funny but full of good nature and warmth. If you come across them you should read another!

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  2. Obviously aware of the books, but I never felt compelled to give them a go. A shame she's passed.

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    1. No you should Col - anyone who has ever been a parent or a child should read them! I honestly feel I could recommend them to anyone.

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  3. Moira - What a lovely tribute to Sue Townsend and her most famous creation. She will be sorely missed. I love the way you've expertly chosen snippets that reflect both her writing style and her wit. What a fine writer....

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    1. Thanks for the kind words Margot. And yes, Sue Townsend could always bring a smile to the face, and that will continue to be true.

      I think blogger is playing up, there was some delay with this comment - sorry about that.

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  4. Totally unaware of Sue Townsend and Adrian Mole. But I love the style of the excerpts here. And I love the idea of a mother and father turning up as Dolly Parton and Saddam Hussein.

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    1. They are very very English, but still I think anyone can enjoy them. If you ever get the chance (book sale?) then you should pick one up and try it, for sure.

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