Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Socialising The Stigmatisation Of Single Parents From 3+

Or: I've Almost Certainly Thought Too Much About This But Dear God I've Watched This Episode Of Fireman Sam 20 Times And I'm Going Mental.

For the most part, the characters of Fireman Sam are pretty standard children's TV fare.  There's the dopey-but-likeable Elvis, the stuffy-but-likeable Officer Steele, the token-female-firefighter Penny, and, of course, our lantern jawed hero, Sam.
You could concuss a donkey with that chin.
The crew go around saving the various denizens of the not-in-the-least-bit-offensive-to-Welsh-people Pontypandy from differing degrees of peril, ranging from "mild" to "pretty much non-existent".  It's all very gentle and entertaining, in a brightly coloured, clearly designed to sell toys to three year olds kind of a way.  It's also very inclusive.  There's only around 15 - 20 people who live in Pontypandy (depending on the series you're watching) and at least 20% of them are from minority ethnic groups.  We've come a long way from the original Fireman Sam series, who's big concession to multiculturalism was an Italian woman called Bella Lasagne.

I wish I were making that up.

The Price Is Right

And then there's these two:

"Look, Mum, I don't know why they decided to make us CGI either!"
Dilys and Norman Price.  (In case you can't tell, Norman is the washing basket.)  Norman is the "bad boy" of Pontypandy.  He's forever not listening, running off, doing stupid things and generally causing mild peril to befall everyone nearby.  Without Norman, half the episodes of Fireman Sam would consist of nothing more exciting than Elvis spilling a cup of tea.

I'll be honest, I don't think Google image search really understood the question.  (This is in the second line of results for "elvis spill tea".  The earlier images aren't any more logical, either, although at least two do contain The King.)
What's relatively unusual about Norman is not that he's naughty - there are a lot of characters in kids TV that are naughty - but that he's bad.  Norman has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  He's not kind, he's not caring, he's not even funny.  He's Dennis the Menace without the obvious fantasy.  He's Timmy the Sheep without the heart of gold.  He's... well, to be honest, he's a pretty convincing little pain in the arse, of the sort we've all met at some point in our lives.  But the thing that really stands out about Norman is his mum.

"Oh, hello.  I'm just doing some ironing in the middle of the shop because the artists couldn't  be bothered making an extra room."
Dilys Price is, so far, the only single parent I have seen in a kids' TV show.  I don't mean CBBC type children's TV, I mean TV aimed at pre-school age small people.  There is no mention of what happened to Norman's (presumably ginger) father.  He might be dead, living with a stripper in Barbados or working in some sort of old fashioned, salt-of-the-earth occupation in the heart of Cumbria.

"Look out, Jess, it's the CSA!"
That doesn't matter.  What does matter is Dilys.  Dilys who, bear in mind, runs her own business and looks after Norman single-handed.  That's a strong, independent female character right there, surely?


For some reason, the writers of Fireman Sam have decided to give Dilys not one, not two, but three character traits (that's a lot in kids' TV).  Firstly, Dilys cannot see Norman as anything other than her "little treasure" and is unable to enforce any sort of discipline on him.  The washing basket scene above is an example of this.  The entire plot revolves around Norman refusing to do his chores.  (OK, that's hardly an oddity in the genre, but still, it's a strike against the show.)

Secondly, Dilys is a stupid social climber.  She often attempts to use big, fancy words and picks the wrong ones.  (She is prone to malapropisms, if you want the technical term.)

A creamsnatcher, according to Dilys.
In the defence of the writers, a fair number of these are actually pretty good jokes.  A good malapropism takes a certain amount of skill and wit to write and Dilys' stumblings usually raise a smile from me.  It's not a positive character trait, however.

Lastly, Dilys is inappropriately, voraciously sexual.

Dilys doesn't mind who she's putting the moves on, although she does have a noticeable preference for men with white moustaches, but she's never successful.  The usual response is a hurried, and somewhat disturbed, brush-off.  It's pretty creepy once you notice it.

So, to recap: the only single parent character I (and thus Alex) have ever seen on kids' TV has a terribly behaved child who she believes is an angel, is thick as mince and would fuck anything that moves.

Classy, HIT Entertainment, classy.


  1. I've watched that show a few times and I'd agree with the first two, but I really never got the "fuck anything that moves" angle. Maybe I need to watch again?!

  2. The "fuck anything that moves" only comes up in some episodes I'll admit. (Mind you, so do the malapropisms.) I first noticed it in the Great Fire special (from which that still is taken) and have seen it in a couple of others since. Maybe I'm just hyper aware of it after being creeped out the first time. Or maybe I'm just imagining it. Who knows?

  3. I am so glad our two monsters are largely beyond CBBC stage. I grown so, so bored of Fireman Sam. It's now all in the past. Yay, and so on.

  4. This post is *brilliant*.

    Was looking for a screengrab of Norman Price and his MAM, in the middle of writing a post for next week explaining why Fireman Sam is now banned in our house.

    (It's because our son keeps calling Mummy, MAM.
    We are not Welsh or from Liverpool.)

    But your post really gets to why this sucks on a whole new level. Thanks!

    Also got a video of a HIT entertainment licenced 'ride' that lasts for 50 seconds in return for two pounds... might have to dig that out now.
    It'll appear here...