Sunday, February 9, 2020

Worzel Gummidge: A Scarecrow For Our Times

Zoë Sharp

Does the name Worzel Gummidge mean anything to you? Worzel was a scarecrow who could walk and talk, and who befriended two children who came to stay at Scatterbrook Farm, with resultant adventures.

If you were growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, you possibly remember the TV series with Jon Pertwee in the title role, and Una Stubbs playing life-size fairground attraction, Aunt Sally.

Far more recently, actor Mackenzie Crook—better known for his appearances in the UK version of The Office and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise—took up the mantle. Two episodes were broadcast in the UK over last Christmas. And a pure delight they were, too.

I know everybody didn’t quite get on with the look they gave the scarecrow—some unkind references were made to Freddie Krueger. Claims were made that some younger viewers were ‘left terrified’ but that simply makes me wonder who allowed them to see the horror movies from which the Krueger character originates in the first place?

But the history of Worzel Gummidge goes back much further than you might think. The stories were written by Barbara Euphan Todd, with the first published in 1936. A couple of years later, the rights were acquired by Puffin Books and WORZEL GUMMIDGE: THE SCARECROW OF SCATTERBROOK became the first fiction title published by that imprint.

Ms Todd wrote ten Worzel Gummidge books in all, with the last—DETECTIVE WORZEL GUMMIDGEpublished in 1963, and illustrated by a number of artists. She also collaborated on turning the stories into radio plays for children in the 1950s. Five of the stories were narrated by Gordon Rollings for the BBC children’s TV programme, Jackanory.

The first time Worzel appeared on television was in 1953 in Worzel Gummidge Turns Detective. Another series—with Pertwee and Stubbs—ran from 1978-1981. It was revived six years later, based in New Zealand, as Worzel Gummidge Down Under and ran for another two years.

Barbara Euphan Todd
Mackenzie Crook’s decision to revive the character now may seem strange but in fact it reflects a growing trend in TV drama to approach the subject of the climate crisis. The latest series of the long-running sci-fi drama, Dr Who, with Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, has had catastrophic climate meltdown at the heart of several episodes.

And the first of the latest Worzel Gummidge incarnation saw the countryside stuck in the perpetual heatwave of summer, with crops refusing to ripen and the seasons unable to change without some otherworldly intervention. This involved getting two old adversaries to work together for the greater good. A moral lesson, for sure, but delivered with a light touch.

It seems that TV drama is slowly starting to move away from the bad guys wanting to dominate the world and instead focusing on the good guys trying to save the planet. Is this a trend we’re going to see more of in novels as well? I wonder what influence it might have? And will it all be too late anyway…?

I’ve only had environmental issues as the focus of one of the Charlie Fox series so far—FOURTH DAY. At the time I wrote it, I wondered if anyone would believe that such a fuss might be made about the extraction of oil shale. And we know how that one has turned out!

This week’s Word of the Week is inchoate, which means something just begun and which is still rudimentary or not yet fully formed or developed. It is often confused with incoherent, meaning lacking in clarity. Only when the inchoate thing is completed can it be judged to be truly incoherent.

Upcoming Events:

May 1-3, Newcastle City Library, Newcastle upon Tyne.

June 4-7, Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel, Bristol.


  1. I often wonder about what upsets kids. Some fairy tales are pretty gruesome. To say nothing of what goes on in some cartoons. For example, a character is pushed over a precipice and then gets up and runs away. That has some issues of its own...

    1. And it appears that anything supplied by a company called Acme has a lot to answer for in those cartoons, Michael.

  2. Lovely story, Zoe. We have a famous scarecrow across the pond. Unlike some leaders of nations, he knows his shortcomings.

    1. But Worzel Gummidge does have a brain. It's made from conkers...

  3. I'd never heard of Worzel Gummidge before (but then, I'm a proud member of the American Ignoracy...). Fascinating. 'Inchoate' is one of those words that I've read many times, but I can't remember EVER hearing anyone actually use in speech. Now, if you put a 'col' in the middle, that could be an UGLY word: inchocolate.

    1. Ah, I think that's because the educated among us tend to use, instead of 'inchoate', the phrase 'half-arsed' instead. Much the same meaning!
      And yes, 'inchocolate' sounds infinitely worse...

  4. Worzel Gummidge sounds like a very nice fellow. I have some books for him to read. In preparing for moderating duties at an upcoming conference, I've noticed that more and more authors are raising climate change issues as an element in their stories. Perhaps they finally got around to reading "Fourth Day."