Phil Daniels: 'You didn't use to see working class people on kids' TV'

The Quadrophenia and Mallorca Files star on his favourite childhood shows, and the limitations of on-screen representation

I’m 62 now, and kids’ TV was all pretty awful when I was watching it. Watch with Mother and the marionettes on Flower Pot Men are probably my first recollections, but it wasn’t until Blue Peter and Magpie came along that I got more interested.

Blue Peter was cool, but I always remember my illusions of the presenter Peter Purves being shattered when I was about 20. He was at a party I was attending, wearing an Afghan coat with a joint in his mouth. I thought it was amazing that he’d gone from being on Blue Peter with a tie on to that.

In 1977, there was a show Granada did with Marc Bolan, called Marc. I think it only lasted six episodes because he then died, but that used to have bands on, such as Generation X. It was something much more trendy that began to have more of an influence on me than the other shows.

Marc Bolan performing with T Rex in December 1972.
Marc Bolan performing with T Rex in December 1972. Photograph: Michael Putland/Getty Images

Since my dad was a caretaker of a block of flats, he’d always come home for lunch, and we used to watch a show called Indoor League, too. Daytime TV was just starting off in those days, and they would show pub games like darts or bar billiards – I remember us sitting down to watch that together.

Phil Daniels as a child.
Phil Daniels as a child. Photograph: HANDOUT

British kids’ TV was always a bit weird, though – the kids all came from nice homes and nobody was ever from a working-class background. I started out myself making children’s TV, first, with a show called The Molly Wopsies, which was set in a village in Oxfordshire during the second world war. I was just out of school, but when I did a series called Four Idle Hands, I noticed things changing. That was one of the first kids’ TV shows to have two lads leaving school and not being able to find a job. Each week, the episode was them trying out for a new job. Before then, social issues were never addressed on kids’ TV, and this marked something new.

People liked it, too. But, as usual, the powers that be said that, because the show was about being unemployed, they wouldn’t give it a second series; it was too depressing a subject. That was at the time when unemployment happened to be rising massively, too.

All episodes of The Mallorca Files are now available on BBC iPlayer

Contributor

As told to Ammar Kalia

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