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Lizzie Dripping / Lizzie Dripping Again (1973-75)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Lizzie Dripping / Lizzie Dripping Again (1973-75)
BBC1, 13/3/1973-27/3/1975
9 x 25 min episodes in two series, colour
DirectorPaul Stone
ProducerAngela Beeching
Writer/CreatorHelen Cresswell

Cast: Tina Heath (Penelope Arbuckle - 'Lizzie Dripping'); Sonia Dresdel (the witch); Barbara Mitchell (Patty Arbuckle); Geoffrey Matthews (Albert Arbuckle); Ann Morrish (Miss Platt); Jane Lowe (Aunt Blodwen Cole); Sheila Raynor (Gramma); Keith Allingham (Jonathan)

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12-year-old 'Lizzie Dripping' is a thoughtful child given to flights of fancy, whose friend is a cackling old witch.

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Increased BBC Children's department budgets in the early 1970s lead to a live-action adjunct of storytelling slot Jackanory (1965-96). Jackanory Playhouse (1972-85) majored in traditional folk and fairy tales, but one notable modern exception was 'Lizzie Dripping and the Orphans' (tx. 15/12/1972), specially-commissioned from children's novelist Helen Cresswell.

Cresswell's 'Lizzie Dripping' is a thoughtful, slightly introverted 12-year-old girl living in the quiet English village of Little Hemlock. Really named Penelope Arbuckle, she is known by all as Lizzie, a colloquial nickname in the rural Midlands for daydreaming little girls. Cresswell first heard the name over her garden fence, from a neighbour despairing of her daughter.

Playing Lizzie was Tina Heath, an experienced 19-year-old; some sources suggest the good-looking young actress dressed down and lied about her age to win the junior role. Such 'playing down' had, however, been something of a tradition in British children's TV since the 1950s.

The 'pilot' lacked one core element introduced in the first episode of the series proper - a witch Lizzie meets in a church graveyard. The reality of this ostensibly imaginary friend was moot - the witch seems always to be around when Lizzie gives vent to her mischievous side, suggesting a submerged alter-ego.

Much use was made of voiceover: Hannah Gordon narrated the pilot, while longstanding Jackanory reader Ann Morrish introduced first series episodes in character as Lizzie's schoolteacher. Lizzie aired her perceptive, internalised views of adult foibles via voiceover - Heath delivered more dialogue in post-dubbing sessions than in performance. Voiceover is a device sometimes frowned upon but executive producer Anna Home believed its use here was a justified "creative and positive" one. Morrish's narration was dropped for sequel Lizzie Dripping Again, but Heath's own commentary remained.

Lizzie's absent-minded adventures were simple and good natured, slight even, but evoked a childhood of carefree, endless summers, a style falling out of favour after the success of the tough, contemporary Grange Hill (BBC, 1978-2004). Cresswell's local area, the conservation village of Eakring, Nottinghamshire, provided an idyllic rural backdrop untouched by the modern world.

The series departed with Lizzie saying a wistful goodbye to her witch, a metaphor for her growing up. Heath (who became a Blue Peter presenter in 1979) reprised Lizzie in 1987 for a BBC talking book. Cresswell wrote one new Lizzie tale for Jackanory's 21st Anniversary in 1991, begetting five further adventures the following year, read onscreen by Patricia Routledge.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Miss Platt's Introduction (2:32)
2. A witch in the graveyard (2:11)
3. Turning a cat into a toad (2:55)
Complete episode: 'Lizzie Dripping and the Witch' (19:46)
Jackanory (1965-96)
Home, Anna (1938-)
Children's Fantasy and SF
Children's TV Drama
Children's TV in the 1970s