The not so Secret Garden

Quite frankly Colin needed a damn good slap

In early November, I enjoyed writing posts about disability and the First World War – the long shadow it cast into the 1970s during mine and Jenny’s formative years. The positive images we could see as primary school aged children were of elderly men injured in that war to end all wars. What we, or in particularly Jenny wasn’t seeing were role models she could relate to as a disabled child.

I’ve racked my brains and the only programme devoted to disabled children in the ’70s that I can think of was a meagre ration of 30 minutes a year on BBC children’s TV. It was at the end of each series of We are the Champions on BBC1. Each week, throughout the early summer, state school kids would compete in school-sports-day-type events culminating in a final. Hopelessly dated in the 2010s, but ground-breaking for its day. This for one reason only – the last programme of each series was dedicated to schools for the disabled.

That exception aside, the only disabled child Jenny and I saw on ’70s kids’ TV was a character in The Secret Garden. First broadcast in 1975, the BBC adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book has gone on to become a classic of children’s television.

We were six when it was first shown. At the time I’m sure the plot made very little sense to us. As for its disabled character named – improbably for an Edwardian story – Colin, he’s just too wet for words and quite frankly needed a damn good slap. Repeated endlessly, the only thing I liked about it was the evocative theme music, The Watermill by Ronald Binge.

Is it usual for a six-year old boy to have taken such an aversion to a costume drama with a ‘nice’ story? Trying to make sense this, I worked it over in my mind until eventually it all clicked.

I definitely remember my annoyance centred on the Colin character and I found the answer when I looked back to the start of 1975 and realised what was going on in my own – and my twin sister’s – life at the time The Secret Garden was being shown.

Broadcast in seven weekly ennui-filled episodes between 1 January and 12 February 1975, The Secret Garden coincides with Jenny going into hospital to have an operation to lengthen an Achilles tendon – one of the operations she underwent in childhood.

This operation was particularly wretched. When grandma visited Jenny in hospital, Jen complained bitterly: ‘they haven’t made my leg any better.’ That frustration, that futility, permeated the whole household. We could feel Jenny’s pain and share the disappointment – in fact, this is the only time I remember seeing mum cry about Jenny’s cerebral palsy.

And through all this, the realisation that, of course, Colin gets better. Real life as we all know, is not like that. But tell that to a six-year old.

About Ed Green

Writer and editor, Yorkshire bred, now living and working in Central London. This blog charts the writing of my memoir 'Twinned' - life with and without my disabled sister. It features disability issues, cerebral palsy, traumatic death, bereavement, twinless twins, guest posts, and throws in the occasional 'off topic' post.
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