Marmalade Atkins

I've always had a soft spot for incredibly rude children. In books obviously, real rude children need shutting in the garage.

It's not so much the bad boys I like; Just William, Dennis the Menace, Horrid Henry et al have always had something of the bully boy about them, redeemable mainly because the softies they bully are worse.

No, it's the girls who really rule, from the horse lifting, hair raising antics of Pippi Longstocking, to the sweary, scary Hit Girl from Kick Ass. Somehow they're more charming, more otherworldly and definitely funnier.

As I was researching (or looking for distractions from) my book, which features one such antagonist as the lead character, I kept coming back to one bad girl in particular – Marmalade Atkins.

She’s probably best remembered from the early 80s ITV series Educating Marmalade, starring the brilliant Charlotte Coleman. The series was incredibly faithful to the books – perhaps because it was scripted by the author Andrew Davies, who would go on to become Mr Costume Drama. If you’ve never seen it, there’s little on Mr Davis’s future CV (except possibly the blackly surreal A Very Peculiar Practice) that will prepare you for Educating Marmalade.

Often the experience of revisiting a much loved childhood artefact leads you into a pit of nostalgic despair: ‘What did I possibly see in this?’ You ask after running into an episode of Jamie and the Magic Torch. ‘I Know I was only nine, but really, there are nine year olds these days making better TV than this.’

In the case of Educating Marmalade happily this isn’t true. It's very stagey and wobbly round the edges and the theme tune by Bad Manners is certainly not the rip-roaring anarcho anthem I remember shouting along to. But it definitely stands up.

It plays out like a cross between The Young Ones, Rentaghost and Grange Hill. Although it’s never been commercially released a good number of episodes are on you tube, and they stand up pretty well today. If what you remember about kids TV is charming fare like Bagpuss and The Flumps, then I warn you, you're in for a rough ride.

Aside from the sparky script it’s the central performances that really make the programme stand the test of time. The exchanges between Coleman and John Bird as her Arab swindling father are particularly priceless.

It's that relationship between Marmalade and her ghastly nouveau riche parents that’s at the core of her bad attitude. Most of the stories spring from Mr and Mrs Atkins ever more desperate attempts to get rid of their daughter in a succession of ill-fated schools, culminating in her being sent into space, in a doormobile.

What really surprised me was how much the stories had stuck with me. I didn't really recall the plots (which are broad Farce), but I had subconsciously remembered that Marmalade, like my character Tyger, also went to a convent school called the Sacred Heart, staffed by a pair of sadistic nuns. Though my nuns didn't have moustaches. A damning oversight I admit.

There are five short books to read, starting with Marmalade and Rufus (her malevolent donkey). And while I'm on the subject of Charlotte Coleman, there's plenty of other stuff to check out, from Four Weddings and a Funeral to Oranges are not the Only Fruit. A little seen gem you really should check out is one her last roles before she died, the BBC sitcom How Do You Want Me? Co-starring Dylan Moran and with a marvelous, malevolent turn from Peter Serafinowicz. It's great to see Coleman back, still with a little of that Marmalade magic that she brought to all her best roles.


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