How did Sue Townsend become the best selling author of the 1980s? How did a spotty adolescent schoolboy from Leicester become a hero of page and screen?
Well, a character called Nigel Mole, a year older than Adrian, but also a teenage diary keeper and created by Ms Townsend, made his debut in July 1980 at a writers' group meeting at the Phoenix Arts Centre, Leicester.
The part of Nigel was played by actor Nigel Bennett, who had asked Sue Townsend if she had anything he could use for an audition for Huckleberry Finn.
Mr Bennett was impressed with the character of Nigel Mole, and and began work on adapting Ms Townsend's script for a one man show.
In October 1980, Nigel Mole made it into print for the very first time when a Leicester arts magazine, which was soon to fold, published extracts from Nigel's diary, freshly rewritten by Sue Townsend, using the title Excerpts from The Secret Diary of Nigel Mole Aged 14 ¾.
Janet Fillingham, Sue Townsend's theatrical agent, advised her to expand on the Mole theme, and sent a Nigel Mole monologue to BBC Birmingham. The BBC rejected the play but, unknown to Sue Townsend, Nigel Bennett had submitted his Mole audition piece to John Tydeman, Assistant Head of Radio Drama at Broadcasting House.
In March 1981, Mr Tydeman commissioned a thirty-minute radio script based on the diary of Nigel Mole. In September 1981, Janet Fillingham sent a copy of the completed radio script to Geoffrey Strachan, Managing Director of Methuen, suggesting that the script had the potential to be made into a book. Strachan agreed and during early 1982 Sue Townsend worked on the manuscript.
In November 1981, young actor Nicholas Barnes, exactly the same age as Nigel Mole (now a year younger at 13¾), recorded the Thirty Minute Theatre piece for BBC Radio 4.
Broadcast on 2 January 1982, The Diary of Nigel Mole Aged 13 ¾ proved to be a great success, prompting John Tydeman to commission a radio series adapted from the forthcoming book. However, Geoffrey Strachan was concerned that the name of Nigel Mole was too close to that of Geoffrey Willans' Down with Skool character, Nigel Molesworth. Nigel briefly became Malcolm Mole, but Sue Townsend, remembering the Vicks nasal spray TV ad, was not happy with the name. Darius and Marius were toyed with, then Adrian burst forth.
Sue Townsend found the adjustment difficult. She wrote to Geoffrey Strachan: “Are you absolutely dead set against 'Nigel Mole'? I am suffering severe withdrawal symptoms. I have lived closely with Nigel for a couple of years and Adrian can’t take his place. I've tried to accommodate him but failed.”
But the fates positively beamed upon Ms Townsend, despite her trauma over the name change. The book - The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ - was sent to Methuen in instalments in the April and May of 1982 and published in the October.
And it went straight into The Sunday Times best sellers list.
This book and its sequel, The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, earned Sue Townsend the truly glittering prize of becoming best selling author of the 1980s.
Midway through the decade, the telly beckoned...
Mountains Out Of Mole Hills
TV Times, 31 Aug - 6 Sep 1985:
The laughter continues on ITV with the "The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole", Aged 13 ¾, which begins in two weeks. The series is based on the gloriously funny book by Sue Townsend, which has already been translated into 17 languages, including Japanese, Russian and Serbo-Croat, and is now selling by the million. So its popularity with viewers seems certain.
Adrian Mole is a worrier. He worries about his mother (is SHE worrying too much about Mr Lucas next door?). He worries about his diet (is he getting enough vitamin C?). He worries about his acne (or maybe it's lassa fever), about the girl he worships (Pandora), about how he's going to pay protection money, and about sex. It is his age, probably.
Thames Television auditioned over a hundred boys for the part of A Mole (13 3/4) before choosing 14-year-old Gian Sammarco, a Northampton schoolboy. In contrast, over 500 girls were tried out for Pandora. Young Lindsey Stagg, also from Northampton, won the role.
As for the adults, they are some of the finest names in British comedy acting, including Beryl Reid and Julie Walters.
A great feature of the series was Ian Dury singing the theme tune - Profoundly In Love With Pandora.The "Sun", 1986 - Julie Walters has vacated the role of Pauline Mole, so Lulu steps in...
The '80s adolescent (and beyond) agonies of Adrian were greatly appreciated, both on page and screen. And several follow-ups since have ensured that we have been able to follow his progress from lad to man. I was slightly older than Adrian, but still very much of the same era and found a lot of Ms Townsend's insights into how some of us young lads were back then rather uncanny.
Here's a choice snippet from True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole (1989), which could almost (but not quite, thank God) be an extract from one of my own early diaries - poetic, angst-ridden little... er... soul that I was:
In my desperation I went to the Lake District on the train. I was struck down by the beauty of the place, although saddened to find that there were no daffodils flashing in my outer eye as in William Wordsworth the old Lake poet. I asked an ancient country yokel why there were no daffodils about. He said, "It's July, lad". I repeated loudly and clearly, (because he was obviously a halfwit) "Yes I know that, but why are there no daffodils about?"
"It's July," he roared. At that point I left the poor deranged soul. It's sad that nothing can be done for such pathetic geriatric cases...
And to end on, this heart-rending poem for Pandora Braithwaite, the great love of Adrian's life:
I am but young
I am but small
(with cratered skin)
hear my call
If you haven't met Adrian yet, hurry along there...
And read about my horrific experiences as an unwitting Mole clone here...