BBC children's series set in the imaginary village of Little Hemlock about a mischievous 12-year-old girl, Penelope Arbuckle (played by future Blue Peter presenter Tina Heath), and her imaginary witch friend (Sonia Dresdel), who only Penelope (and the TV audience) could see.
Penelope Arbuckle was the Lizzie Dripping of the title, the name being a provincial term in the Nottingham area for a plucky girl who has difficulty in telling the difference between fact and fiction. The character was created by Helen Cresswell after overhearing her neighbour address her daydreaming daughter with the words "Wake up, Lizzie Dripping!" In the series, Penelope's mother was played by Barbara Mitchell who excelled at playing the bossy mother in a number of series and was most famously known as Frankie Abbott's ma in Please Sir!
Cresswell, a scriptwriter and author of more than a hundred children's books, mostly comedy and supernatural fiction, devised the story for a single Jackanory Playhouse presentation, a departure for the series as it had only previously adapted already published titles. Entitled 'Lizzie Dripping and The Orphans' it was broadcast in December 1972 and commissioned as a full series the following year. The witch, it was heavily suggested, was a figment of Penelope's imagination "Wherever you be, there am I", the witch tells Lizzie, "Anywhere you can go, I can go" - a metaphor representing Penelope's boredom with her surroundings.
The stories, all of which were self-contained rather than the usual episodic format for children's drama series at that time, were told entirely from the young girl's point of view with a narrative supplied by Heath for moments when Penelope was thinking (Hannah Gordon did the honours in the pilot) and Ann Morrish, Penelope's schoolteacher, introduced the first series episodes in character.
The series was filmed in the Nottinghamshire village of Eakring, where Cresswell lived at the time. Only nine episodes were made, the first four in 1973 were written directly for television and the other five episodes came two years later after three 'Lizzie Dripping' books were published in 1974, and this latter series, Lizzie Dripping Again, was based on those books. Both series were released on DVD in 2017 except for the original pilot which no longer exists in the BBC archives.
The episodes were Lizzie Dripping and the Witch (13 March 1973), Lizzie Dripping Black Sunday (20 March 1973), Lizzie Dripping Runs Away (27 March 1973), Lizzie Dripping and the Leek Nobblers (3 April 1973), Lizzie Dripping and a Wish (27 Feb 1975), Lizzie Dripping and the Little Angel (6 March 1975), Lizzie Dripping Tries a Spell (13 March 1975), Lizzie Dripping by the Sea (20 March 1975) and Lizzie Dripping Says Good-Bye (27 March 1975). The last episode, as the title suggests, has Penelope saying a wistful goodbye to her witch - another metaphor for the youngster growing up.
Helen Cresswell, who once explained, "I write a title, then set out to find where that particular road will take me", had more television success with The Demon Headmaster (1996-1998).
Published on December 31st, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.