Written by Sue Townsend and originally featuring in a short-lived arts journal entitled ‘magazine’, Nigel Mole was the first incarnation of what soon became the nations favourite whiney teenager. The Diary of Nigel Mole, Aged 13¼, was later broadcast by Radio 4 on New Year’s Day in 1982.
The success of the radio play encouraged Methuen Publishing to commission a book. Renamed (so as to not be too similar with Nigel Molesworth, a schoolboy character created by Geoffrey Willans) and 6 months older The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ was published the following September, selling a million copies within a year.
A West End stage play followed (running for more than two years) before Thames TV came calling. Beating over 100 other auditions, Gian Sammarco was chosen to play the lead with Julie Walters and Stephen Moore giving the show some well known faces as Adrian’s mum and dad.
The success of Secret Diary led to a further series based on the second book The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole and featured Lulu in place of Walters.
The show was revived in 2001 when the BBC took the reigns to produce six episodes based on the fifth Adrian Mole book, The Cappuccino Years. Stephen Mangan played Adrian alongside Alison Steadman and Alun Armstrong as his mum and dad.
- The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (1985)
- The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole (1987)
- Adrian Mole – The Cappuccino Years (2001)
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole
Starting with a double-length pilot and featuring the best cast of all three series we are quickly introduced to the main protagonists in Adrian, his classmate and crush Pandora, best friend Nigel, mum Pauline, dad George and cantankerous old-timer Bert. With little scene setting we are thrown into the turmoil of Adrian’s life as mum starts an affair with Mr. Lucas from down the road and leaves Dad who then starts his own liaison with Doreen ‘ Stick Insect’ Slater. School bully Barry Kent is demanding money with menaces until Adrian’s gran (played excellently by Beryl Reid) and a school project introduces Adrian to pensioner Bert whom Adrian becomes a long term friend.
In truth little of great note happens with the plot in the first series, but that was never really the point as we watch Adrian celebrate the wedding of Charles and Di, fall in love, have his tonsils out and inadvertently start a school protest by wearing red socks. Featuring a fine cast and some slightly risque humour for what is seen as a kids programme, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole may not have aged as well as we might have hoped, but it remains both fun and funny for most of its three and a half hour run.
The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole
Requiring a major change in cast when Julie Walters was unavailable for series 2, Growing Pains features Scottish singer Lulu as Adrian’s mum. Lulu gives it her best shot, but her fake brummie accent always leaves you longing for Walters and this small change has a big impact.
The story arc for series two is a similarly convoluted tale of marital and extra-marital relationships as both Pauline and Stick Insect fall pregnant, Bert gets married and Adrian and Pandora swing from truly-madly-deeply to complete apathy and back again. This incestuous twisting of the stories from Secret Diary all becomes a bit messy and unnecessary other than an excellent episode where Adrian runs away from home (to Grimsby and not London as “that would be the first place they would look”). By the time the series ends you feel that Adrian’s diaries have run their course, so I am glad that they didn’t stretch the thin concept any further (not for another 14 years anyway).
Adrian Mole – The Cappuccino Years
Moving to the BBC in 2001, Cappuccino Years focuses on a 30 year-old Adrian (Stephen Mangam) and his adventures around the time of Tony Blair’s landslide New Labour victory in the general election of 1997. Adrian is an offal-chef in a Soho restaurant, Pandora (played by Helen Baxendale) is running for MP and Pauline lives in a sexless marriage to George whilst raising Adrian’s son (the mother is under house arrest in Nigeria!).
For much of the series we are treated to another set of relationship merry-go-rounds as Pauline falls for Ivan (Pandora’s father), only for George to rediscover his mojo when he moves in with Tanya (Pandora’s mother). The cast features a number of reasonably big names, but almost all of the characters come off as annoying and any empathy for their situation is snuffed out pretty quickly.
Bringing Adrian back for a third series was a brave choice and the theming around a momentous period in British politics should be perfect for feeding the nostalgic itch. But unfortunately Cappuccino Years fails to strike any kind of chord and within two or three episodes became a chore to watch. There have been nine Adrian Mole books in total, but in all honesty only the first has delivered a full entertaining TV show and I really hope that Adrian (who will now be almost 50) has packed away his pad and pen for good.
Time hasn’t been kind to poor Adrian and repeat viewing becomes a bit of a slog. Following the law of diminishing returns, the series’ go from good, to watchable, to downright bad and can therefore only be recommended for a nostalgic trip down memory lane. Even then your best bet is to pick off odd episodes on Youtube rather than force yourself to sit through the complete saga.