Stalky & Co is a 6-part adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s 1899 novel which was broadcast on BBC television in 1982.
It’s a curious affair for family drama, the story of three close friends at a posh boarding school and the pranks and scrapes they get up to at the turn of the century. The first episode for example sees Stalky (Robert Addie) buying some guns from the shooting gallery of a local fair, for some jolly larks shooting rabbits on the grounds. And then Beetle (David Parfitt) shoots a cat and without any remorse they stick the body in the roof above the dorms of the other school for hilarious putrefaction stench antics. It sits very oddly.
The stories are based on Kipling’s own experiences at school, the novel itself was based on connected short stories, so the episodes are fairly self contained. Beetle, Stalky and M’Turk (Robert Burbage) are prankster chums, tormenting teachers and getting righteous revenge on bullying.
And although this may be a great adaptation of the book, it just hasn’t aged well. Partly this is because what might once have been a jolly “oh how lovely” look at naughty kids making do at school back in the early 80s, resonates very differently now. This is a school for wealthy boys, and the cast is exclusively male. The naughty kids come across as over confident and over privileged. And with our current government it all seems rather retrograde to consider these characters as anything but socially alien. Unfortunately the ra-ra-ra antics happen in an atmosphere of forced hilarity, but mostly lacking in actual laughs.
There’s none of the charm of Nigel Molesworth or the St. Trinians stories so beautifully envisioned by Ronald Searle.
Nonetheless the episodes are well structured and directed, and the children players do their best with the material given. Indeed there are elements of banter between the kids which promises more than is delivered. For a show shot on video rather than film it looks pretty good too – nicely designed and not horribly over-lit like so much drama the Beeb used to produce at Television Centre. At 30 minutes apiece the episodes don’t outstay their welcome, it’s just that there isn’t much to keep us interested to begin with.
Stalky & Co is out on DVD on the 28th March.