“Sex and violence; I love children’s television” ~ Frazz Davies, Press Gang 4×01
Steven Moffat, regardless of what you think of him now, created one of the single greatest female characters ever to hit television screens, as well as one of my all time favourites. This was way back in the late 80s, early 90s, in his first television outing. The character? Well, of course, it’s Lynda Day from the children’s television show Press Gang. And don’t think I don’t see you heading for the back button, just stop right there. Press Gang is one of those shows that really, you should check out again as an adult.
The premise of the show was simple; taking a bunch of school kids and letting them run their own paper. From this we got the typical sort of storyline, a lot of school related stuff, and the occasional Very Special Episode which were actually handled surprisingly brilliantly for the time. The two parter Something Terrible often ranks high on fan lists of favourite episodes, and for good reason. Looking at the still difficult to address topic of child abuse, the episodes managed to not only make it work without coming across as condescending of the issue, but by using the most unlikely character to do so.
And of course, there was the entire series spanning relationship of Lynda and Spike, filled with sarcasm, banter, and irrepressible chemistry that sparked from Page One. They were THE couple of the show and it was all very Moonlighting. Without that dynamic, the show would have been fun, sure, but not something to go and rewatch and love.
The first two series see all the characters in school, working on the paper in their part time. All well and good. Series 3 onwards sees these characters taking the paper on as a professional business, and apparently managing to do well enough, though never really making a great profit. (Colin Matthews – another fantastic character – was in charge of the money. It’s likely his fault, but he’ll get the books to you next week to prove otherwise.)
Lynda Day is the editor-in-chief, happily described as an amoral, uptight, warped, repressed, power mad bitch. She is, and it’s fantastic. Lynda is confident in herself, though prone to a nervous hiccup at social situations, and knows she’s good at the job she’s been given. She can turn pretty much anything to her advantage – even herself and her staff being taken hostage by a gun maniac. Moffat has been quoted as saying – in the creation of Lynda – that:
“…I’ve never been a 17 year old girl, it’s rather interesting to think like one, or rather force yourself to consider the world from that perspective. And it actually started to make me angry. I’d never really thought about it before, but you know, when I’d consider the world from the viewpoint of this dynamic, highly intelligent, highly talented 17 year old, and think what’s going to happen to her, think about how much harder it’s going to be for her than it would be if she’d been a boy, it made me SO angry.”
And… that’s what makes Lynda so brilliant really. Yes, she’s amoral and power mad, but that’s completely fine. Well, actually, no, obviously it’s not completely fine and there are moments when she even admits she’s crossed a line but we the audience are never made to look down on these qualities of hers. They are to be admired, even if we ultimately know we’d never get away with them.
Press Gang is a show that appeals to both the child and the adult. As is typical of Moffat, the writing is peppered with witty turns of phrase, and clever uses of getting stuff past the radar. The stories still hold up surprisingly well to a modern audience – the basic premise was even recently reused for the show The Latest Buzz – and the characters, well, if you watch this for anyone, watch it for Lynda Day,
Though she’ll probably just ask why you haven’t got that report in that she wanted yesterday.
(Secretly always wanted to be Lynda Day. Can’t manage the awesome, though.)
Press Gang is available from Amazon.