This review first appeared in The Student, Tuesday 24th September 2013
First broadcast over thirty years ago, it’s surprising how relevant and downright hilarious Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ remains. Nicholas Barnes narrates the Leicester teen’s daily gripes and musings with deadpan brilliance, from his lust for treacle-haired classmate Pandora to his dismay at being an ‘intellectual’ in a sea of plebs.
Despite his conceit and general ignorance, Townsend’s creation remains enormously endearing. He might have moments of stunning pomposity: referring to a bottle of wine as having ‘a pleasant enough vintage’; or loaning a pen to Pandora and reflecting ‘I think she appreciates these small attentions’ (a line taken straight from Pride and Prejudice, a book he casually dismisses as ‘old-fashioned’ a few days previously). But Adrian has many decent qualities. He volunteers to help Communist pensioner Bert Baxter with arduous and grotty tasks, and remains sweetly ignorant of his mother’s affair with a neighbour, despite the glaringly obvious signs.
So many of his agonies remain relatable: his hatred for P.E; his troublesome skin; his ‘erotic dreams’; and his shame at being seen in public with his badly dressed parents. The Tories were in power then and are in power now, unemployment was rife then as it is today, and Adrian’s mum’s attempts to break the mould of housewife and mother is part of a battle many women are still fighting (Adrian hates his mother reading The Female Eunuch because it means he has to do housework and eat boil-in-the-bag dinners).
So whilst it is Abba rather than Kanye West Adrian listens to in an attempt to muffle the noise of his arguing parents, his angst remains as identifiable and entertaining as it did in 1982, and doubtless will do thirty years from now.