Oh, to be twelve years old in a straw hat and blazer, hugging dull, tidily dressed parents goodbye and chugging westward with your lacrosse stick on a steam train to go to a school in a castle!
To feast at midnight, to dream of making the first team and to dodge Matron’s ferocity by hastily mending your ripped frock because you are a bit of a tomboy.
To be brave and decent and stick by your mates, eat your porridge and swim every morning in a deep, icy rock pool and defy the perils of jealousy, ink bottles and the school’s resident ghost.
In these days of family confinement and neurotic virtual socialising, CBBC knew exactly what it was doing in bringing forward its nostalgic, yet strangely relevant, remake of Enid Blyton’s First Term At Malory Towers.
In this scene, the girls arrive at Malory Towers, all prim and proper in straw hats and peach-coloured uniforms
‘Blyton’s post-war tales are strongly infused with necessary post-war feminism’ – Purves
Ella Bright’s Darrell, with her bobbed hair and clear-eyed, friendly but worried intensity, is very taking
Libby Purves writes approvingly of this adaptation, claiming it is ripe for a Hogwarts generation
The Hogwarts generation, lured back to the idea of boarding-school life, will absolutely get it.
Girls especially, because Blyton’s post-war tales are strongly infused with necessary post-war feminism (our heroine Darrell wants to be a doctor, not a nurse, and gazes at the glass tubes and skeleton in the science room with glee).
The artful modernisation by Sasha Hails and Rachel Flowerday is not only ethnically mixed, aware of modern feelings about bullying and beefed-up with incident to keep the plot moving, but firmly keeps the message of the Blyton original.
Which, for all the original author’s plodding prose, remains curiously moving, especially just the day after we saw the Queen remembering how it was to be about that age a few years earlier, during the War.
It was filmed in the West Country and in Canada, and is a ‘summer delight to contemplate’
This scene depicts the girls hearing a ghost story while in bed in their dorm at Malory Towers
When the headmistress, Jennifer Wigmore’s dignified Miss Grayling, calls in the new girl Darrell, she reminds her that what the country needs is not just exam success, but that all the girls in her care should become ‘loyal and trustworthy: Good sound women the world can lean on!’ That’s an untouched Blyton line.
Many young men were dead; the sense that women had to step forward was strong.
Ella Bright’s Darrell, with her bobbed hair and clear-eyed, friendly but worried intensity, is very taking. She’s fresh from playing Lily in the Harry Potter stage version, by the way.
She gets a soupcon of extra mystery by a fresh thread of plot that suggests that she was thrown out of her last school, St Hilda’s.
To be brave and decent and stick by your mates, eat your porridge and swim every morning in a deep, icy rock pool and defy the perils of jealousy, ink bottles and the school’s resident ghost
‘Watch and dream’, writes Purves of Malory Towers
Is the jealous Gwendoline going to expose her dark past? That gives the modern sub-teen audience a bit of Netflix-y suspense.
Danya Griver is splendid as conflicted mean girl Gwen. We who know school stories (and who, 50 years ago, knew boarding school life) know immediately that anyone who sneaks to Matron and prefers brushing her hair to trying out for the lacrosse team won’t get invited to the midnight feast. However smart her pyjamas may be.
We also know that she will take several chapters to become potentially a best friend to our heroine. Actually, these days, Gwen would be an Instagram braggart, devoted follower of Miley Cyrus and part-time troll. But we are not, thank heavens, living in these days. We’re hardly into the 1950s, and a very refreshing place it is too.
All schoolchildren will recognise the teachers and marvel at the combination of old-fashioned clothes and manners and the girls’ unheard-of freedom to nip out into the woods, shove each other off sharp rocks and do night excursions to rescue one another from scrapes.
It was filmed in the West Country and in Canada, and is a summer delight to contemplate.
I have to admit that, after the first episode – of 13 – I was sucked into bingeing onwards on iPlayer, if only in hope that Gwendolen would come to grief.
And I can tell you that there are terrific dramas in part two, involving some misplaced lacrosse boots, an errand boy’s bicycle, the deceit of Matron by flattery involving Rita Hayworth and plenty of hearty striding about in culottes on the sports field.
Watch and dream.
Malory Towers is on Mondays at 5.30pm on CBBC and available on BBC iPlayer