Murphy’s Mob is now into its stride on television. The tie-in book has been on sale since January.
Chris Powling takes a look at them both.
As the sports-commentators say “there’s a lot to play for” in young people’s television these days – about twelve million regular viewers if we accept Grange Hill as the current front-runner. Plus, of course, tie-in paperback sales that have now topped a million. So how much of a challenge is Central T.V.’s new series Murphy’s Mob? Will attendance at the Dunmore United Supporters Club be as compulsory for young viewers as at that most over-subscribed of all comprehensive schools? According to Phil Remond in the last issue of Books For Keeps he hasn’t much to worry about:
‘To make any inroads into Grange Hill now they’d need to do something with a lot of episodes, and no ITV company has got the money for that. They’re in a cleft stick. They want the success but they are frightened of the risk. They are also frightened of controversy, frightened Mary Whitehouse is going to be offended.’
Well, enough money has been found for Murphy’s Mob to go out twice weekly for eight weeks with a follow-up series already in production. Its writer, Brian Finch, has neatly side-stepped the second difficulty, too. Grange Hill came as a shock to many adults who don’t actually work in schools because the youngsters it portrays have more than a passing resemblance to human beings – very different from the forelock-tugging little swots of popular preference. On the other hand we all know about football supporters, don’t we? The discovery, via Murphy’s Mob, that they too are uncannily human will be greeted with relief in some quarters, and as a cop-out in others. What Brian Finch has sussed at the outset is that kids are just people who haven’t lived very long – and like the rest of us are avid producers and consumers of that staple soap-opera commodity gossip. This out-of-school series, like its in-school rival, is an unashamed celebration of the button-holing, ear-bending, well-I-never-did chinwaggery in which we all participate unless we’ve opted to become a hermit. As such, there’s bound to be a certain overlap of subject-matter. The personal rivalry, the conflict with authority, the sense of young wings nervously, truculently being spread is standard stuff – as is the characterisation: the shadow of resident heavy Bernie Russell was first cast by Booga Benson, for example, and it’s not hard to identify other outlines that Trisha, Tucker, Benny et al., have made their own. All this, as Brian Finch would recognise, is no more than canny slip-streaming that won’t do the series a bit of harm – especially when backed up by a catchy title-song, nippy narrative line and lickety-spit direction and editing. So far so good … but also merely what twelve million fans have come to expect. Where Murphy’s Mob hopes to score a decider is through the adults it has on offer. For Grange Hill grown-ups do have an unfortunate tendency to be either parents or teachers which is no way to make themselves popular with kids. I’ve a hunch that the impact of this new series won’t depend on its uniformly competent young players at all but on the appeal, or not, of Ken Hutchinson as manager Mac Murphy, Terence Budd as the pop-star turned club chairman Rasputin Jones, and on Peter Blake as the errant soccer international Jock Ferguson. Who on the staff of Grange Hill can compete with this trio? Succeed or fail, Murphy’s Mob as a T.V. serial is at least an honourable contender.
Not so the book. It’s ‘written’, if that’s the right word, by ‘Michael Saunders’, if he’s the right person. My guess is that he doesn’t exist. He’s a figment of typography. a mere peg on which to tie-up the tie-in. Take this for example:
‘Hidden behind a buttress in the forecourt, they watched Mac lock up his offices and drive away in his battered old Jaguar. Then they stole out and forced a side door. As they made their way behind the terraces, they passed a chained and barking Rover… ‘
The latter is a dog, of course, not a car – but if you think a joke is intended you won’t by the time you’ve got as far as this passage on page 34. Like Mr Lee on page 62 who “sat down, his heart beating as he tried to control his anger” (what was his heart doing up till then?) or Luigi and Angelo who on page 76 “seemed to be taking a perverse pleasure in the hammering United was getting” (why perverse when it’s their own side doing the hammering?) What we have here is evidence of a mind-sapping indifference to language. To say that the text of Murphy’s Mob is hack-work would be to dignify it. Its sole object is to plod its way through the plot – the sort of ‘story so far’ that never actually reaches the apotheosis of ‘now read on’. Perhaps Brian Finch, along with Phil Redmond, would admit to being “not a literary writer”. However, Phil Redmond at least had the sense to call in someone who is – Robert Leeson. In comparison with Murphy’s Mob, Leeson’s Grange Hill novels are luminously literate. Murphy’s Mob must be the first book on the Puffin list which takes longer to read than it did to write. For the missed opportunity alone, someone, somewhere ought to be thoroughly ashamed.
IN VIEW SOON
A re-run of the Victorian children’s story, The Little Silver Trumpet, starts on BBC 1 on 28th March. It will run for five weeks in the tea-time serial slot.
An `updated’ version of L.T. Meade’s original story, by Thea Bennett, is available from Knight, 0 340 28041 95p.
IN VIEW BUT LATER
The Thames TV serial of Coral Island announced for this Spring has now been postponed until the Autumn. Too late though, we hear, to stop Magnet’s tie-in version (by Olive Jones) from hitting the shops. So that’s one tie-in cover which will have to wait around for a bit for the rest of the package to turn up.
SENDAK ON OMNIBUS
On 9th May BBC 1’s Omnibus programme will be devoted to Maurice Sendak and his work. It’s over two years since he completed Outside Over There (Published here by the Bodley Head last May) and since then he has spent an increasing amount of time working on stage sets and costume designs for, amongst others, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen and his own Where the Wild Things Are.
Last year he was in this country working on the sets for the opera, The Love of Three Oranges, due to be produced at Glyndebourne at the end of May.