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Adrian Mole’s on-screen portrayals, across two television adaptations sixteen years apart, have always struck me as unconvincing. Or more precisely, in these series, Adrian just doesn’t look like I imagined. In the 1985 Thames Television adaptation of The diary of Adrian Mole, 13 and a half years old (then again in Adrian Mole’s Growing Pains in 1987), he was played by the young Gian Sammarco – tousled black hair, glasses, androgynous features, soft pale skin, innocence personified. That casting choice didn’t quite ring true to me. In the 2001 BBC version of The cappuccino yearsStephen Mangan does a fantastic job embodying the character’s insecurities, naivety, vanities, and tenderness, but he ultimately feels a bit too handsome — even muscular — for adult Adrian Mole.

While reading The diary and Growing pains at the age of 10 and 11, I imagined him differently: red-haired, thin but wiry – a bit like a shorter version of Nicholas Lyndhurst as Rodney Trotter in Only fools and horses. And although he wears glasses in both adaptations, it is never specified in the books that he wears them; even in the wonderful section of The True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole (1989) when he painstakingly, forensically takes the reader through his physical appearance, no glasses are mentioned. Moreover, at the start of Growing pains, his best friend Nigel says he looks like Dustin Hoffman (though his mom scoffs at the comparison). Forty years after the publication of The diary in October 1982, and eight years after the death of his brilliant and imposing author Sue Townsend, Adrian would now be 55 years old. Maybe he would now look like Dustin Hoffman in I Heart Huckabees.

But my impression of Adrian Mole may have always been a bit different from how the books and the character are generally viewed. Probably deeply unhealthy, reading and re-reading those first two books at that age was like consulting how-to guides for being a teenager; a plan for a virtuous adolescence. “You know this is supposed to be a parody, a joke, right?” one or both of my parents have told me at various times. But everything Adrian did and said seemed like something to aspire to, however exotic – despite (perhaps because of) my roughly 80% misunderstanding of Townsend’s surprisingly intelligent mind. Literary aspirations despite a lack of comic talent or knowledge; passionate devotion to a first love, Pandora; frustration with home and school life and with friends; a fixation on a changeable, unwieldy body – all things that Adrian Mole tested seemed to offer a textbook for early adolescence. I took it very seriously – something that resulted in almost as much humiliation and absurd ideas about self-image as he cultivated for himself.

Besides reading the books when I was too “young and dumb” (to use Adrian’s phrase), my take on Adrian Mole was somewhat distinctive is that I was reading Townsend’s work – if deeply rooted in England, English references and a certain type of Anglicism – from the other side of the world: the rural outskirts of Sydney, Australia. From there, the diaries were mysterious and compelling insights into strange procedures and rites – idiosyncratic but vaguely poetic aspects of English society, culture and customs. The many cryptic and enigmatic terms and references that baffled included: spotted dick, toad in the hole, getting your “leg on it”, what a “giro” was, what a “joss stick” was, dinner parties schools, the speaking clock, “the bomb”, BUPA, blue stone, pebble mill, who were people like Malcolm Muggeridge, Alma Cogan and Selina Scott. Perplexity over these things gave me something in common with Hamish Mancini, Adrian’s New York-based correspondent, who True Confessions writes to Adrian asking for translations or explanations of many of these oddities, after Adrian makes the strange decision to send him his previous journals to read. So Hamish and I were enlightened by Adrian on the Rastafarian faith (“Members are generally black”), Skegness (“a proletarian resort”) and the spotted dick (“I find your sexual innuendos on my favorite pudding at home”). ‘extreme’), along with 46 other things, meticulously listed. Moving to Britain in the mid-1990s gave me a better understanding of what all the entries in this glossary represented – and indeed several of them, such as school dinners and balaclavas, were just as sinister that Townsend made them appear.

To leaf through Adrian Mole’s first two books today is to be struck by certain things in particular. Chief among these is, for all his blunders and ignorance, the admirable and enduring moral core that Adrian displays throughout (and Townsend holds him to). For example, there is the entry in Growing pains where Adrian, having fallen out with the gang of local bully Barry Kent (his former tormentor), is involved in the gang’s overturning of a public trash can which results in shards of glass strewn across the sidewalk. Adrian returns later that night to put it away because he “wouldn’t like a small child falling on it”. Then there is his sincere concern for the brother of his nemesis, Clive, a soldier involved in the Falklands War; the time he spends all night on the phone asking people for donations for the funeral of Queenie Baxter (wife of Bert, the pensioner he cares for through his school’s Good Samaritans program); and the occasion of the birth of his sister, Rosie, when Adrian is the only person by his mother’s bedside in the hospital.

Another aspect that stands out today is Townsend’s layers of humor. Whenever Adrian Mole’s books are celebrated in the media, familiar jokes are quoted, such as “I read some Pride and Prejudice, but it was very old fashioned. I think Jane Austen should write something a little more modern. Or “I read Scoop by a woman called Evelyn Waugh. The examples are countless – the jokes not only being at Adrian’s expense like these, but also ridiculing the pervasive hypocrisy of every adult in his life. But Townsend also constructed more subtle and clever jokes like this when Adrian meets Nigel just after Christmas at Growing painswhich of course I did not learn to read when I was a child:

I saw Nigel in his new leather pants posing at red lights. He suggested that we go to his house to “talk”. I agreed. Along the way, he told me that he was trying to decide what kind of sexuality to opt for: gay, bi or straight. I asked him what he felt most comfortable with. He said “All three of you, Moley”. Nigel could never make up his mind.

He showed me his gifts. He had: a multi-purpose gym, Adidas football boots, a Mary Quant makeup basket and unisex joggers.

Another theme that runs through every Adrian Mole book, and seems particularly relevant in 2022, is the treatment of the British political climate at the time. In the early books at least, Townsend, a committed socialist, isn’t overly polemical and doesn’t use Adrian’s life as a platform (a book like the 2004 Adrian Mole and weapons of mass destruction is, as the title suggests, a different proposition). However, we do get fascinating insight into the impact of Thatcherism on a lower-middle-class family and its wider social milieu.

There is George Mole, Adrian’s father, a staunch Tory who remains a staunch Tory even though his life seems to be falling apart, due to dismissal and lack of job opportunities, due to Thatcher’s measures. Adrian’s mother, Pauline, is a longtime Labor voter spurned by Thatcher, who tries to apply the philosophy of Germaine Greer. The female eunuch to its provincial and suburban existence in Leicestershire, while dealing with the bureaucracy and indifference of the benefit system (the aforementioned transfer). Adrian himself is largely ignorant, but Pandora is politically aware and castigates the royal family even when it gets her into trouble at school. His wealthy parents, who could be described as champagne socialites, are another political presence in Adrian’s circle, as are Baxter, a staunch communist and war veteran, and his school principal Reginald “Popeye” Scruton. , a Royalist and Thatcherite, and possibly The diary and Growing pains‘ the most reactionary character (although Adrian’s paternal grandmother, Edna May, comes close). With these characters, Townsend presented a spectrum of how Thatcher’s presence permeated the daily lives of “ordinary” people – in a way that, especially from today’s reading, doesn’t seem to destroy relationships. and split households. It must be said, too, that Townsend aims for political correctness through the character of Rick Lemon, the leader of Adrian’s youth group, who at some point questions his decision to buy rhubarb at the supermarket because ” the form was phallic, perhaps sexist”. .”

To mark 40 years since the publication of The Secret Diary, Penguin Michael Joseph publishes a new edition with a foreword by Caitlin Moran. And Netflix would have obtained the rights for another screen adaptation. Whatever the casting choices, hopefully Adrian’s silliness, sensitivity, ridiculousness and huge heart will be retained – all things, perhaps, that can be found in this excerpt from his essay. creative in english The Secret Diarywhich in many ways delivers the essence of the character (“Pandora thinks it’s the best thing I’ve ever written,” he notes):

A solitary boy, his loins inflamed, sits and gazes at his calm reflection in the torrential torrent. His heart is indeed heavy. His eyes fall to the ground and land on a marvelous majestic butterfly with multiple colors. The winged insect takes flight and the boy’s eyes are blown away until they are just a speck on the red-hued sunset. He feels on the zephyr a hope for humanity.

About Marion Alexander

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