The Demon Headmaster Is A Marvellous Series And This Is The Best Children’s TV Show I’ve Ever Seen.
Wait, what? That doesn’t sound right at all. Have you ever revisited Press Gang and been amazed at the levels of sophistication, intelligence and wit that the show possessed? At how it juggled a large cast and managed to explore some very serious subjects at the time? It feels bad for comparing two very different shows with slightly different target audiences, but I can’t make the claim that The Demon Headmaster Is A Marvellous Series And This Is The Be —
It never broke the mould in terms of children’s TV, nor did it possess any extraordinary feats of outstanding television, but The Demon Headmaster always remained in the public consciousness of a certain generation of school children. Based on the series of books by Gillian Cross, the first of which is still taught in schools. The concept of the Headteacher being a scary evil manipulator wanting control is still being given to school children across the United Kingdom. This reviewer, who hasn’t seen the episodes in a long, long time – found himself watching and being amazed at how much of the series that he could recall. Whilst it remained in the memory, you could not predict just how much of it remained.
The Demon Headmaster (Is A Marvellous…) follows the story of foster child Dinah Glass (Frances Amey) who is sent to live with the Hunter family (the mum being played by Tessa Peake-Jones). She meets her two new foster brothers Harvey (Thomas Szekeres) and Lloyd (Gunnar Cauthery) who aren’t particularly pleased to have her there. Part of this is because they believe that she’ll become one of them, which describes all the other children and staff at their school. They’re all organised, quiet and completely obedient to the ever-present Prefects, who dish out cruel punishments to anyone falling out of line. It transpires that the school is under the hypnotic control of the sinister titular Headmaster (Terrence Hardiman) who wants order and control. His origins and name unknown, he uses his hypnotic abilities to scheme to control everyone in the world.
The first series is an adaptation of the first two books which follows Dinah defeat The Headmaster as he plans to hypnotise the whole nation on TV; and then meets him again as he plans to hack into Downing Street’s computer systems to hypnotise the Prime Minister. Series two follows The Headmaster’s attempts to create a new lizard/human hybrid; whilst the third delves in the creation of an artificial intelligence.
One of the aspects of the series that I believe got forgotten about as time went on is that the stories got more and more science fiction orientated. The plans of The Headmaster aren’t really out of reach of technology, but it’s interesting that the series does touch on some things that are relevant today. They’re not in-depth and the series is never at the level that it has a subtle layer that older children and adults can discover many new meanings in it. But the third series particularly has an interesting prediction on what we know in the present day as Siri and Alexa; and how they can gain sentience pose issues to those who want order but don’t fully know why. The low production values and dated technological become part of its charm, and does add an extra of element of enjoyment.
In fact, the third series is the strongest. The Headmaster loses his memory and finds himself doing battle with artificial intelligence which means that things aren’t as easy for him as previous seasons. As with the second, the single story is played out over a longer set of episodes so things feel richer and develop at an easier pace. Character development starts kicking in around the third series as well, with Dinah learning from previous encounters and things feeling like a more personal threat when Dinah’s foster mother is risk. It leads up to the finale of the third season as the relationship between them pays of and their shared history means that the climax plays out a little more differently than before. It’s a brilliantly satisfying finale.
Revisiting old children’s TV shows always has an element of fear as the memory of them can’t live to the reality. The Demon Headmaster isn’t going to win many new fans, but I don’t think it’s a series that will have memories “destroyed.” Hardiman’s performance is slightly more pantomime that you can remember, but he still has a fully imposing presence that can’t help but generate a chill whenever he’s on screen. Frances Amey does well as the intellectual foil, if perhaps some of the plotting makes her realise things a little too late than her intelligence suggests. Some characters are a little bit neglected the later in the series you get, especially a lot of SPLAT when guest characters take up more screen time due to their proximity to the main plot.
Then we get to the subject of extras. Or the lack of. There’s nothing here whatsoever with the exception of English subtitles and episode selection. The DVD menu is a rather static screen that’s repeated on every DVD. It’s a slight disappointment if I’m honest – I’d of thought there may have been at least something there.
Still, in the canon of British TV, The Demon Headmaster is nestled in the “not groundbreaking but fondly remembered” camp and a rewatch doesn’t hurt it in the slightest. Hardiman’s performance is one of the better adaptations of a children’s book villain and he does make the series. If you used to watch the series, it’s worth a revisit and it’s very easy to rewatch. If you were hoping for any extras though, you’d be disappointed.
Overall, all that’s left to say is The Demon Headmaster Is A Marvellous Series And This Is The Best Children’s TV Show I’ve Ever Seen.