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Press Gang (1989-93)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Press Gang (1989-93)
Richmond Films and Television / Central for ITV, 16/01/1989-21/05/1993
43 x 30 min episodes in 5 seasons
ProducerSandra C. Hastie
Written bySteven Moffat
Created byBill Moffat

Cast: Julia Sawalha (Lynda Day); Dexter Fletcher (James 'Spike' Thomson); Lee Ross (Kenny Phillips); Paul Reynolds (Colin Mathews); Kelda Holmes (Sarah Jackson); Mmoloki Chrystie (Frazz Davis); Lucy Benjamin (Julie Craig)

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The story behind the Norbridge Junior Gazette - a school newspaper breaking real news.

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This school drama with a twist, about life on a newspaper staffed by schoolchildren, was the idea of Bill Moffat, a headmaster in Paisley, Scotland. Moffat had been working on an environmental studies pack based around a newspaper for young people and thought this might make a good basis for a television series. The episodes were written by his son Steven, another teacher.

A companion to Norbridge's local paper, the Norbridge Junior Gazette was staffed by school pupils in their spare time and run by teenage iron maiden Lynda Day, despite the attentions of wisecracking American boy Spike Thompson. Spike and Lynda's on-off working and extra-curricular relationships and hilarious slanging matches ran throughout the series.

Press Gang managed to be perhaps the funniest children's series ever made and at the same time the most painfully raw and emotionally honest. The tone could change effortlessly and sensitively from farce to tragedy in the space of an episode. The series took on a whole range of 'issues' - glue sniffing, teenage suicide, drug deaths, child abuse - but most importantly couched them all in witty stories with inventive plot twists.

From the third series the Gazette became a commercial concern, as by now the cast were too old to play schoolchildren. The characters became perhaps just that bit too sophisticated and aspirational for the child audience but the scripts continued to sparkle. By its end, the series looked like a teen series in need of a new timeslot. While there must have been a temptation to turn the ensemble show into pure soap opera, the output actually decreased over the run, keeping standards high.

The series deservedly won a BAFTA Award for Best Children's Programme and a Royal Television Society Award.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. The End (1:40)
3. Sinking ship (3:36)
Complete episode: 'There are crocodiles' (24:59)
Moffat, Steven (1961-)
Fletcher, Dexter (1966-)
Spiers, Bob (1945-2008)
Central Independent Television