Malory Towers on TV series two – Episodes eleven and twelve

I think it’s obvious that I haven’t gotten as into this series as I did the first – hence the sporadic posts with lengthy gaps between. I did sit down and watch the final three episodes of the series earlier this week, though. I had only planned to watch two but found myself wanting to see what came next, a first for this series I think.

Episode eleven – the quiz

My memory is hazy as it’s been a while since I watched episode 10, but I seem to recall Mr Parker being absent for a while. He’s back now, and scolds Ellen for being late to the class – yet half the class is missing anyway. He wants to pick a captain for a quiz team as they are to compete against a nearby boys’ school – Thackerton College.

Naturally Darrell is captain with the other members being Alicia, Jean and Ellen. Gwen is in the background and it’s funny watching her face as she honestly looks as if she’s expecting to get picked.

Ellen is keen to start studying and revising for the quiz right away but as Alicia asks how do you practice a quiz? Darrell suggests they revise capital cities and highest mountains etc. Irene brings up Gregorian chants and surprises them all by talking about them in knowledgeable detail. At this point I made a bet to myself that Gregorian chants would come up in the quiz and either the girls would lament not having Irene on the team or would have remembered something she told them before they cut her off.

Alicia then heaps more difficulties on Ellen – telling the others that she thinks Ellen is the thief. This does happen in the book as well. Strangely, Darrell thinks her diary can provide evidence for or against. Apparently she writes down everything she has done every day, along with everyone else who was there and what they were doing. At the time one of the things was stolen she has recorded that they went swimming and Ellen came late, only putting her feet in. I find that all a bit far-fetched. I know Darrell is a writer (her word-blindness having apparently resolved itself after first year as it has never been mentioned again) and would write a lot, but she’s got other hobbies and interests beyond recording the whereabouts of her entire dorm every minute of the day. They actually have no evidence against Ellen – other than her being poorer than the other girls and often going off on her own. At least book Ellen had been seen looking in drawers (for exam papers).

Ellen doesn’t get know about the accusation so she is more concerned with the quiz. She begs Mr Parker to let her off the team, but he refuses as he has a personal grudge and wants them to thrash the Thackerton team.

Sally forbids Alicia from doing anything about Ellen until she herself as looked into it. I thought it odd that Alicia just accepted that so easily, but then suspected she was just appeasing Sally. I was spot on as Alicia then accuses Ellen to her face later.

I was sorry that Darrell didn’t do a better job of defending Ellen, she just said a few things about her being innocent until proved guilty, and she was part of the team for now implying she expected Ellen to be proven guilty soon.

Ellen goes straight to Miss Grayling (who seems rather more accessible than in the books – I doubt any of the book girls would go banging on her door unexpectedly) but only asks to get out of being on the quiz team. Miss Grayling – not knowing the whole story – asks Ellen to sleep on it.

Returning to something that actually resembles the book again, Ellen sneaks off in the night and Darrell (lying unnaturally flat on her back) wakes up and follows her. She finds her looking in Mr Parker’s drawer and accuses her of being a thief. She demands Ellen turn herself in to Miss Grayling or Darrell will do it herself.

There’s no physical fight as in the book, nor does Darrell discover that it’s answers Ellen is after. Ellen’s headaches are also not part of the plot now. Book Ellen goes to bed but then to the San because of her headache. TV Ellen goes to Miss Grayling’s study, but bumps into Mr Parker who I assume is returning from an evening out as he’s all dressed up (it’s the middle of the night according to him, though!) and he packs Ellen off to Matron as clearly a crying girl must be dealt with by a woman.

The quiz goes ahead without Ellen – to everyone’s surprise Irene gets her place instead. Mr Parker (in a swish set of teaching robes) reads the questions. The Thackerton boys call him Old Nosey Parker – a nod to the girls’ name for the original Miss Parker.

The lead of the boys’ team is arrogant enough to say may the best man win to Darrell who responds excellently with shame you’re just a boy then. Unfortunately the girls are atrocious. I didn’t expect them to know every answer but very quickly they are 14-0 down. Not only do they not know the answers most of the time but are incapable of the simple task of ringing their bell before answering. If they do answer the fail to ring the bell (thus awarding a penalty point to the opposition) and the one time Darrel rings first, she rings two words into the question – how many – so has no chance of getting it right. They are definitely rattled by what has happened with Ellen – they think she’s been expelled as she has disappeared from the dorm so I suppose they should get some leeway but it’s really embarrassing.

We skip a lot of the quiz, but we see Darrell finally answering one right, then Irene messing up a question. The score jumps to 38-19 without us seeing them get more than one right, so heaven knows how they managed to pull that off.

They take a half-time break and Darrell tells the team that only she will ring the bell after they have conferred on each answer (ala University Challenge). Is that going to be enough? Apparently yes as suddenly they seem to know every single answer.

The score then is 63 all. There’s one more question (127 questions seems a random number though). It’s about… Gregorian chants! I was awaiting Irene getting a moment of glory but she goes all vague and forgetful, thankfully the others did listen to her before and are able to come up with the answer, giving them the win.

There isn’t a lot of Gwen in this episode but she does become relevant towards the end of the episode. Of course she knows as well as the audience that she in fact is the thief and not Ellen. You can see she is clearly relieved that someone else is taking the blame for what she’s done and she just sits back and keeps her mouth shut – this is possibly some of the worst Gwen behaviour we’ve ever seen. Her performance in the first book/series trying to get Darrell in trouble for smashing a pen etc is awful, but imagine letting a girl get expelled because she’s been accused of your crimes?

I have to say Ellen’s storyline doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We began with the overworked girl, afraid of falling behind, being snappy and so on, like the book, then most of that got forgotten after she spent a few days in the San. Then it has been resurrected in the form of the quiz storyline which lacks the same sense of fear and urgency of the original. Book Ellen is terrified of getting bad grades and losing her scholarship. TV Ellen is worried about doing badly in a quiz, a ‘fun’ event which has no bearing on her end of year results or scholarship – though it might mean the other girls giving her a hard time. Stealing the quiz answers seems a step too far even for Ellen, but in trying to make her storyline last 12 episodes they’ve had to stretch it out and add padding. I think it would have worked better to have the quiz in the first half of the series, with her being stressed about it and perhaps ending up in the San, then that way she could have still tried to steal the exam results in this episode.

Episode twelve – the heroine

We begin with the aftermath of what the girl’s think is Ellen’s expulsion. Sally wants to search Ellen’s trunk which is still at the end of her bed (a clue that Ellen is still in the building and isn’t being considered a thief, surely!).

Sally is unusually insensitive and wonders why Ellen’s taken all her stuff, Jean tells her she hasn’t taken anything, what’s in her trunk is all she has. I was actually relieved that Gwen hadn’t put the stolen items in Ellen’s trunk as I could totally see her doing that.

Instead she’s sticking with the book and trying to put the stuff into an envelope which is clearly far too small leading to it bursting. We all know where this is going. On their way to class she asks Mary-Lou for paper and string, asking her to leave them on her bed. She will need to borrow some money for postage, so she goes off somewhere that isn’t class.

In the next scene (after the opening credits) Matron is shown collecting for an orphanage, and Gwen is looking at the collection with a total there’s my solution expression on her face. The others from her class are there too, but it feels like this scene should have gone before the previous one, with Gwen then sneaking off to try to steal some of the charity money – Matron finds a ten shilling note missing later.

Mary-Lou is desperate to help Gwen throughout – this seems rather less likely than it did in the book with the charming (and non-spiteful) Daphne. It leads to her addressing the parcel to Gwen’s mother – a supposed birthday present to her – and going off along the cliff path to post it as Gwen has a ‘report’ with Mam’zelle. Mam’zelle actually comes to the dorm to collect her which seems very unlikely. Surely Mam’zelle would just send one of the girls to fetch her? In another odd moment Matron tells Sally there’s a thief and asks her to hunt her out – not at all professional even for Matron.

Instead of a blustery late afternoon with impending darkness, this is a warm summer’s day so it is already less dramatic. In the book we don’t see what happens to Mary-Lou on her walk, we only find her halfway down the cliff when Daphne goes looking for her. On TV we get to see her trip over nothing, sending the package flying over the edge, and Mary-Lou then leaning over the edge to see it. The actual fall isn’t shown.

Gwen goes after her and finds her about three feet down the cliff, holding on to the package and they have a nice chat before Mary-Lou tries to hand her the parcel. It’s a bit Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Elsa’s in the cracked floor and trying to get the grail, and the parcel goes the way of the grail tumbling down. They have another little chat about that before Gwen puts her hand down for Mary-Lou. The dialogue rather spoils what would otherwise be fairly tense – surely I can’t have been the only one shouting stop talking and start rescuing at the TV?

They’re about two or three inches too far apart, and only now does Mary-Lou appear truly frightened. (This is sort of akin to the Titanic where you are half-convinced Jack could get on the door with Rose, it feels like they could just put a little bit more effort in and reach each other).  Instead Gwen runs for the seemingly superfluous rope on a nearby gate. Giving them the benefit of the doubt we can say the latch on the gate is broken – but the rope there is about ten times the length needed to hold it closed, and is more the length needed to rescue someone from a cliff… Mind you I noticed the rope earlier and thought it weird, not thinking at all that without her mackintosh on Gwen would need something for the rescue.

In the book it’s all very dramatic and dangerous. Daphne wraps her legs around a gorse bush and lowers her mackintosh belt tied to her tunic belt and just has to hold on as she can’t pull Mary-Lou up.

Gwen has a handy warning sign to tie her heavy-duty rope to, and then lets that down for Mary-Lou. It even has a nice loop at the end to hold on to, but as Mary-Lou only uses one hand to grab it, she doesn’t have the grip to get pulled up (though Gwen isn’t strong enough to lift her anyway). When Darrell arrives she takes hold of the rope too – Gwen is anxious as her hands are slipping even though the rope’s tied around the sign too. After that Matron and Mr Parker arrive (still in broad daylight) and get Mary-Lou up. Though they also pause for several lines of dialogue before doing anything, which although amusing spoils the tension that’s built up.

I can understand how modern safety rules combined with a limited budget for special effects would mean the original cliff rescue might not be possible, but they could at least have had Mary-Lou a bit further down the cliff. Then it’s back to her dorm – not even the San, though I suppose she’s not cold and wet like Daphne was.

Talking of the San that’s where Ellen is, having had a visit from Miss Grayling. Her illness is being put down to attacks of the nerves or what we’d call panic attacks. This adds some more realistic reasoning behind Ellen’s behaviours but it’s a pity it wasn’t more obvious at the time.

Miss Grayling is understandably quite hard on her but I came away from it thinking that cheating at a quiz is not the same as cheating at tests or exams. Cheating at a quiz is definitely wrong, but there was no reward or prize for winning. Cheating at an exam would have meant an undeserved mark and all the ongoing benefits of having passed the exam.

We end on it being the last day of term and my guess is the girls go to retrieve the fallen package and it reveals the true thief (as in the book), but also find the treasure as the cliff was the same bit where the cross had once stood.

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2 Responses to Malory Towers on TV series two – Episodes eleven and twelve

  1. Lapsed Blyton Fan says:

    The highlight for me of these few episodes was Gwen’s gradually rising panic as she realises she’s boxed herself into an impossible situation.

    I didn’t mind the cliff rescue being on a beautiful sunny day rather than on a dark and stormy night – it made it more plausible Mary-Lou would go that way, though less so that the others would then know to come running after her.

    The creation of a University Challenge episode was an interesting idea, if not very Enid Blyton, and brings in new characters. As you say, it was a bit feeble though how the girls magically went from being completely hopeless to winning. I was going to say I didn’t think quizzes in that format really existed until the TV era of the 1950s, but to be fair I’ve looked up and there were ones like that in the radio era of the 20s and 30s, even with women competing alongside men.


  2. James Hogan says:

    Nice review. I haven’t watched any episodes, but I usually find that filmed productions of Enid’s books very rarely follow the original story line and aren’t worth the effort.


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