For 13 episodes in the first series, Super Gran was a smash, and guest stars were queueing up to join in the fun
Review by Brian Slade
The world had seen many superhero adaptations by the mid-1980s, mostly American imports. Invariably there was angst in the mind of the hero, like Batman or The Incredible Hulk, or a need to preserve the hero’s real identity as with Superman. But in 1985, one Granny Smith, originally from Glenwhiskey but now living out her retirement at the seaside town of Chisleton, dispensed with the inner doubts and double identities as she embraced a new lease of life. Hang about, lookout, for Super Gran!
Forrest Wilson had penned books about the unlikely hero Super Gran in the 1970s, but in the 1980s, Tyne Tees came calling looking to make his comic creation a star of children’s television. Under the screenplay talents of Jenny McDade, that is exactly what they did to great success.
Granny Smith (Gudrun Ure) is the gran of young Willard Dalglish Keegan Smith (Iam Towell). Hard of hearing, hunched over and frail as they get, she is innocently watching her grandson playing football down at Chisleton Park, unaware that the entire town’s lives will soon be changed forever. On the top floor of a nearby building that overlooks the park, there lurks an evil mastermind in the form of Roderick Campbell – known to those unfortunate enough to cross his path as Scunner Campbell, in the language of Super Gran a man who is the absolute pits.
Campbell (Iain Cuthbertson) has heard of a magic ray machine invented by local eccentric Inventor Black. Devised to create superfood, Campbell intends to use it on himself to become a super-villain. Unfortunately, he has set it up in a room with nephew Tub (Lee Marshall), who in an effort to help his uncle causes the ray machine to misfire, sending its powerful ray out through the window and sending the first person it hits onto their backside – namely, Granny Smith.
Initially just enjoying piling onto the football pitch to the amazement of the boys kicking around the muddy grass, Super Gran is pleaded with by Inventor Black’s granddaughter Edison Faraday Black (Holly English) to assist her in getting the ray machine back. Willard is reluctant as he considers Edison to be ‘a ginger nutjob’ and he wants his gran back doing washing and cooking him burgers. But Super Gran is embracing life with her new powers, and she becomes front-page news in the Chisleton Bugle.
Super Gran does of course succeed in thwarting Scunner Campbell, but not in rescuing the ray machine in one piece. Alas, as Campbell and his two incompetent Mumuscle Men (Alan Snell and Brian Lewis) sink upon their attempted escape, the machine is damaged beyond repair. With Inventor Black having not kept his blueprints, the ray’s effects cannot be reversed and so Super Gran is here to stay.
For 13 episodes in the first series, Super Gran was a smash, and guest stars were queueing up to join in the fun. Sheila Steafal, Lulu, Irene Handl, Roy Kinnear, Burt Kwouk, Lulu and even comedy legend Spike Milligan were amongst the cameo names in the first series, as well as Billy Connolly, who also provided the annoyingly catchy theme song.
With a Christmas episode and a second series of 13 episodes, nothing changed in terms of popularity, even though the child stars changed over, with Michael Graham, Samantha Duffy and Jason Carrielles taking over the Willard, Edison and Tub roles. The guests became even more remarkable. Bernard Cribbins, Melvyn Hayes, Patrick Troughton, Leslie Phillips and even sports stars Willie Thorne and Eric Bristow appeared. There was even a Carry On… thread running as Patsy Rowlands, Joan Sims and in his final role, Charles Hawtrey joined in the fun.
Super Gran was always battling Scunner Campbell throughout the two series, with an occasional dastardly foe thrown in for good measure, including an evil lookalike Greta Garboils also played by Ure. The slapstick humour and the buffoonery of the Muscle Men was great fun for the target audience.
Amazingly, despite winning the International Emmy for Children and Young People in 1985 and selling to a multitude of countries, the popularity of Super Gran wasn’t enough for Tyne Tees. Much to everybody’s surprise, the show was axed despite rumours of a third series being in the offing.
The joy of Super Gran was in the humour. The voiceover that storied that fateful day in Chisleton was tinged with comedy, while the names of some of the supporting characters will have tickled the funny bones of parents watching along with their children. Grandparents were invariably seen as cool, and while Super Gran wouldn’t necessarily have been everybody’s cup of tea, it was nonetheless a massive success for Tyne Tees and deserved a longer stay on the airwaves than the bosses permitted.
Published on August 30th, 2023. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.