Kids from 47A (The): The Complete Series 1
A bit of a myth has been put about in recent years - not least by Phil Redmond himself - that the arrival of Grange Hill in 1978 marked a Punk Rock-style 'Year Zero' for children's television drama. Before Tucker, Benny and company brought us down to earth with the impact of Justin Bennett falling off that wall, or so we're led to believe, there was nothing but wall to wall 'improving' costume drama with plucky stage school youngsters, which utterly failed to meet the needs of an audience who would rather have been glugging down Top Deck shandy and reading Skinhead Escapes.
Needless to say, this doesn't really stand up to scientific analysis. There were always well behaved children and badly behaved shows. Even as far back as the mid-sixties, series like Quick Before They Catch Us (BBC1, 1966) and The Tyrant King (Thames, 1968) had at least touched on the interests, issues and obsessions of their target audience. More recently, Sam And The River (BBC1, 1975) had made much of the title character's background in a pub-running single parent family, whilst the startling Rocky O'Rourke (BBC1, 1976) followed a gang of young petty criminals as they found themselves caught up with more sinister underworld figures. King Cinder (BBC1, 1977) centred around a group of aspirant speedway riders, and while the controversial King Of The Castle (HTV, 1977) may have taken place largely in a fantasy world, it was nonetheless a fantasy world extrapolated from the experiences of a public schoolboy forced to live in a dilapidated tower block overrun by knife-wielding gangs. Even just a couple of months before Grange Hill arrived, The Paper Lads (Tyne Tees, 1977-79) introduced viewers to a bunch of thickly-accented mischief-makers whose light-hearted escapades were nonetheless underscored by regular threats of a good thumping. And then there was The Kids From 47A.
Clocking up a whopping forty two episodes between 1973 and 1975, running to three series and a special, The Kids From 47A seems to have been part of a concerted attempt by ATV to bring more of a note of realism into their children's output; A Bunch Of Fives (1977) featured a group of slang-happy schoolchildren who elected to publish their own scurrilous underground school magazine, while Four Idle Hands (1976) followed a pair of underachieving school leavers played by Phil Daniels and Ray Burdis as they sought to acquire gainful employment, and Raven (1978) starred Daniels as a young offender who becomes involved in a mystery surrounding a controversial archaeological dig. Though arguably broader and more played for laughs than many of its contemporaries - to the extent that it was deliberately omitted from The Hill And Beyond: A Children's Television Drama Encyclopedia (BFI, 2003) but was included in the equally picky The Radio Times Guide To TV Comedy (BBC Worldwide, 1998) - The Kids From 47A is in many regards the most down to earth of the lot, avoiding high drama and supernatural elements in favour of simply charting the ups and downs of the Gathercole children as they find their way through life without their parents, with recent school leaver Jess stepping up as head of the household and struggling to balance the demands of looking after her younger brothers and sister with the demands of her highly prized office job.
Created by actress Charlotte Mitchell, at that point well known to the target audience as Amy Winthrop in The Adventures Of Black Beauty (LWT, 1972-1974), The Kids From 47A was scripted by a team of young writers that included Phil Redmond and Lynda La Plante (then still credited as Lynda Marchal), and initially overseen by script editor Philip Hinchcliffe, whose taste for blunt realism would soon lead to problems when he took over as producer of Doctor Who between 1974 and 1977. This DVD from Network features the first series in full - happily, the full run of forty two episodes still exist, which is something of a miracle for an ATV-produced videotaped drama - and this is the first time that any of the series has been seen, outside of archive TV events and the inclusion of the first episode on one of the Look-Back volumes, since the original transmissions.
There is a good deal of curiosity value in watching The Kids From 47A, both in terms of its groundbreaking approach and its inadvertent capturing of everyday seventies fashions and architecture (something of a rarity even in children's television), and interesting direction that contrasts noisy and ramshackle scenes where the youngsters are left to their own devices with quieter and more formal sequences where they come into contact with outsiders, but curiosity value alone is not normally enough to keep modern viewers hooked for a whole fifteen episodes. Thankfully, the slowly yet steadily developing storyline as the children struggle to keep themselves financially buoyant and to hide the truth from the authorities is engaging from the outset, with the surprisingly clearly defined characters constantly learning from their mistakes and minor triumphs. What's more, the comic content is derived entirely from their endeavours and relationships, rather than the expected contrived slapstick setpieces, making it closer to Curb Your Enthusiasm than to A Horse In The House. They are boisterous yet naturalistic and are well played by the young cast, and are all shown to have flaws which impact on the others yet are accepted in for the sake of family unity. This is something that continues to evolve over the remaining series, and it's a fair bet that most viewers will leave this first one wanting to move straight on to the next.
It's fair to say that The Kids From 47A is to Grange Hill what, well, all those early Pub Rock bands were to punk, and that Phil Redmond's later creation finally succeeded in delivering on the promise shown in earlier shows like this. That said, dismissing any of these earlier efforts on the basis that Grange Hill did it better is a mistake, as you'll be missing out on some hugely entertaining television that stands up a lot better than anyone might quite reasonably expect it to. Of course, you don't often see The Gathercoles watching TV, but that's another story...
Leave a family of children aged between 9 and 16 to run a flat on their own, and what happens? Can they cope without adult assistance? Should they be left to muddle through alone, or would they be happier and safer in the care of the local authority?
Just how the Gathercole family – Jess (at 16 the matriarch), Binny (14), Willy (12) and George (9) – manages to survive in such circumstances is the premise of this major children's series broadcast in the early 1970s. Starting from the time their widowed mother is suddenly taken into hospital The Kids from 47A chronicles four very different siblings overcoming a multitude of problems and misfortunes – sometimes dramatic, sometimes full of humour.
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