Sunday, 5 March 2017

Worzel Gummidge

I'd never heard of Worzel Gummidge or Barbara Euphan Todd before this book came to the top of my 1001 reading. Which is a bit surprising I suspect. Worzel Gummidge started his life as a character in what was meant to be a one-off  BBC childrens radio play (The Scarecrow of Scatterbrook Farm) in 1935. Clearly he was very popular as this became the start of a ten book series. Worzel Gummidge was the first Puffin book published in 1941. 

Twelve year old Susan and her brother ten year old John have been sent from London to a farm in the village of Scatterbrook to recuperate from whooping cough. 

In December last year I read Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes (see my review) which was also written in the 1930s and all three of the main characters also contracted whooping cough and had a country recuperation, which made me wonder if there was a particularly bad outbreak of whooping cough in England in the 1930s, but I couldn't find any reports to back this up. Of course whooping cough was a persistent threat at that time, children and their parents would be very familiar with the illness. 

Whooping-cough had left them cross and quarrelsome. They weren't allowed to go near other children because they were still infectious, and all the grown-up people of the place were too busy to be bothered with them. 

A perfect recipe for an adventure. 

They couldn't spend much time in the lofts because the dry hay-dust got into their throats and made them cough. They weren't allowed to play in the farm kitchen except on soaking days, because Emily said, 'Fresh air is the best doctor.'

So each morning John and Susan are bundled up into the winter clothes and set outside for a "nice brisk walk" and only to come back for lunch and dinner each day. Soon they meet Worzel Gummidge, a perfect companion for the probably-still-infectious. Worzel is a scarecrow with a face made from a carved turnip who comes to life. Worzel is a bit BFGesque in some of his sayings, although of course Worzel predated The BFG by some thirty years or so. 

'I heard you argufying.'

The child and Worzel have some gentle, wholesome, 1930s rural adventures and scrapes- there is missing laundry, a village fair and stealthy nocturnal outings. 

All the old ladies from the almshouses were swooping down on hats and petticoats. They jerked their arms in and out of coat-sleeves. They jostled one another, flapping and chattering like the seagulls that follow the plough on windy March mornings. 

Worzel Gummidge became an endearing TV series in the late 70s, early 80s- starring Jon Pertwee, forever famous as the third incarnation of Dr Who. I'm not sure if it was ever shown in Australia, I presume it was, I don't think I ever saw it, I wouldn't have been much interested at the time. 


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