Sunday, 10 June 2012

415: The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole

The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, 1984
By Sue Townsend

In the first and second of the Adrian Mole books, Adrian's best friend was Nigel, who is trendier and more clued up (as far as a teenager can be) than Adrian. In the second book, Nigel is revealed to be gay. There’s nothing you can pluck out in the first book, but there’s a certain dramatic build-up and spoonfeeding of information in the jokes in "The Growing Pains", most obviously in Mole’s puzzlement over the boys only Halloween party. Once Nigel comes out Townsend plays with people’s attitudes as Mole first tries to distance himself from his newly outed friend. The final confrontation over starting the Gay Club at school is the pleasure in talking about something that has previously been unspeakable, and so the forces of authority are unable to reply in kind since as far as they are concerned they must self-censor about homosexuality and cannot engage in argument. Not much else is made of Nigel’s sexuality otherwise and he is just Adrian’s friend. A portrayal of gay teenager in the mid-80s is a relatively brave and sympathetic act by Townsend.


Twenty-First after Trinity. Hallowe’en Daylight Saving Time ends (USA and Canada)

At five o’clock I was asked by my so-called best friend Nigel to go to his Hallowe’en party. He said, ‘Forgot to send you an invite, zit face, but come anyway, dress as a warlock or you won’t get in.’ I decided not to go as a warlock; I wanted to break away from stereotypes, so I went as a fiend. My mother helped me to assemble a costume. We used my father’s old flippers, one of my mother’s long-legged black leotards and an orange fright wig she bought years ago when she went to my father’s fishing club dinner and dance. I looked a bit indecent in the leotard so I put my swimming trunks over the top, but when I got the whole lot on I didn’t look a bit fiendish, I just looked dead stupid. My mother had the idea of putting a nylon stocking over my fiendishly made-up face. It looked a bit better but my costume still lacked a certain something. At seven o’clock I had a crisis of confidence and almost took everything off, but my mother fetched a can of green neon spray paint that we used to perk up last year’s Christmas tree. She sprayed me from head to toe with it. The dog whimpered and ran under the draining board. So I knew I must have achieved the right effect.

The short walk to Nigel’s house was an ordeal. A gang of little kids in pointed hats ran up to me screaming: ‘Trick or Treat.’ I kept telling them to bugger off but they followed me to Nigel’s, trying to tread on my flippers. Nigel wouldn’t let me in at first because I wasn’t in warlock costume. (He’s so literal! He’ll end up working with computers if he’s not careful.)

But I explained that I was a fiend and he relented. Nigel’s mother and father were upstairs watching telly, so we raided their drinks cupboard and drank Tia Maria and Egg Flip Cocktails. There were no girls at the party, which was a bit strange. Nigel said that girls make him sick. The warlocks and me danced in the pumpkin light to Duran Duran records. It was OK, I suppose, but without girls it lacked a certain je ne sals quoi (French for something or other). At ten o’clock Nigel’s mother ran in with a running buffet. The food was all gone in ten minutes. Most of it was eaten, but a lot got thrown about. Without the civilizing influence of girls, boys return to the wild.

Went to the ‘Off the Streets’ youth club party with Pandora. Nigel caused a scandal by dancing with Clive Barnes who was wearing lipstick and mascara! Everyone was saying that Nigel is gay, so I made sure that everyone knew that he is no longer my best friend.

Walked up and down the High Street in my sheepskin coat and cashmere scarf. Saw Nigel in his new leather trousers posing at the traffic lights. He suggested we go to his house to ‘talk’. I agreed. On the way he told me that he was trying to decide which sort of sexuality to opt for: homo, bi or hetero. I asked him which he felt more comfortable with. He said, ‘All three, Moley.’ Nigel could never make up his mind.

Nigel has formed a Gay Club at school. He is the only member so far, but it will be interesting to see who else joins. I noticed Brain Box Henderson hovering around the poster looking worried.

Mr Scruton has ordered the closure of the Gay Club, saying that he and the school governors couldn’t sanction the use of the school gym for ‘immoral purposes’. Nigel pretended to be innocent. He said, ‘But, sir, the Gay Club is for pupils who want to be frisky, frolicsome, lively, playful, sportive, vivacious or game-some during the dinner break. What is immoral about gaiety?’ Mr Scruton said, ‘Nigel, the word “Gay” has changed its meaning over the past years. It now means something quite different.’ Nigel said, ‘What does it mean, sir?’ Scruton started sweating and messing about with his pipe, and not answering, so Nigel let him off the hook by saying: ‘Sorry, sir, I can see that I will have to get an up-to-date dictionary!’


The two books were adapted into TV series (The Growing pains of Adrian Mole in 1987) which if you’re of a certain age (cough-cough) have a powerful nostalgia factor not just in taking the viewer back to the mid-80s but also for featuring an enormous number of English character actors in supporting roles. In particular there is a certain joy in seeing Freddie Jones as the sputtering headmaster eventually bested by his pupils. The accents are somewhat wrong, being that imprecise Black County / Birmingham hybrid actors offer up when a role is anywhere in the Mildands instead of the Leicester tone it ought to be, but then that only made the programme seem even closer to home for me at the time.

Gian Sammarco as Adrian Mole
Steven Mackintosh as Nigel Partridge

0.00 – 3.03
(The bit where one of the boy guests acts Adrian to dance is a new addition here)

4.24 – 5.16, and 10.55 - 13.35

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