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Educating Marmalade/ Danger: Marmalade at Work (1982-84)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Educating Marmalade/ Danger: Marmalade at Work (1982-84)
Thames Television for ITV, 25/10/1982-3/1/1983; 20/2-30/4/1984
21 x 15 min episodes, colour
Created byAndrew Davies
Written byAndrew Davies
DirectorsColin Buckley
 John Stroud
 Peter Duguid

Cast: Charlotte Coleman (Marmalade Atkins), John Bird (Mr Atkins), Lynda Marchal (Mrs Atkins), Carol MacReady (Mrs Atkins), Gillian Raine (Mrs Allgood), Elizabeth Estensen (Wendy Wooley)

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Marmalade Atkins is the worst behaved girl in the world so the authorities do their best to make her a good little citizen.

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This brash and noisy television comic strip was developed by Andrew Davies from his own book, Marmalade and Rufus. Marmalade Atkins, the worst-behaved girl in the world, had a punk-style makeover for television and became a wild-haired, bubblegum-blowing, machine-gun toting Cockney brat.

Both children and critics loved the series, responding to a layered approach mixing loud, colourful slapstick with sarcastic, subversive wit. After a successful pilot in the anthology series Theatre Box, the first series, Educating Marmalade, took a sideswipe at 'mealy-mouthed do-gooding' social workers who try to make Marmalade conform by sending her to a variety of schools. Davies revels in lampooning the education system - from the yobbish Cringe Hill (a spoof of Grange Hill (BBC, 1978-)) to public schools all too ready to take a bribe from Marmalade's wide-boy father.

Other institutions mocked included the prison service and the Catholic Church, with the Convent of the Blessed Limit populated by burly male actors playing sadistic baseball bat-wielding nuns (nuns would surreally feature in Davies' later University satire A Very Peculiar Practice (BBC 1986; 88; 92)). The nannies who reared Britain's ruling classes were also rendered as grotesques: "give them all a smack on the B.U.M!"

For the second series, Danger: Marmalade at Work, the bad girl was sent on a succession of work experience schemes by the wet liberal social worker Wendy Wooley. This series lacked the satirical edge of the first, being a bizarre, hyperactive pantomime that saw Marmalade join the army and the police force (providing a sly cameo for ex-Z Cars actor Stratford Johns). It also spoofed the disaster movie ('Airplane Atkins') and the American musical drama series Fame! ('Shame').

Made on a low budget but with innovative use of stylised design and video effects, the series boasted knowing performances from John Bird, Brian Glover, Lynda Marchal (later La Plante) and Charlotte Coleman as Marmalade. Like its titular heroine, the series seemed dumb and brash at first, but possessed a real spark of intelligent wit.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. First day (1:32)
2. The ghost of St Cecilia's (3:07)
Complete episode: 'Marmalade at St Cecilia's' (14:52)
Belles of St Trinian's, The (1954)
Our New Errand Boy (1905)
Tilly, The Tomboy, Visits the Poor (1910)
Just William (1977-78)
Bird, John (1936-) and Fortune, John (1939-)
Davies, Andrew (1936-)
La Plante, Lynda (1943-)
Children's Entertainment and Comedy