Back in the late 1980’s, a bored school teacher turned his hand to writing for television. Using one of his father’s ideas as a basis, Steven Moffat created one of the most original and fondly-remembered children’s TV show ever. The continuing story of a children’s newspaper run by kids, for kids Press Gang never once spoke down to its audience and used the themes and dialogue more usually seen in adult drama series. Over the course of five series, we followed the on/off/on-again relationship of Spike Thomson (school clown and serial Romeo) and Lynda Day (hard-nosed newspaper editor), set against a backdrop of news stories and intrigue. It was always compulsive, and often surprisingly hard-hitting for a teatime show.
Former child-actor Dexter Fletcher played Spike with an air of brash confidence that was impossible to dislike, while newcomer Julia Sawalha was the perfect foil as Lynda, the editor you loved to hate. It’s a testament to the acting skills of Sawalha that she could play a complete cow like Lynda Day without holding back, and yet still make her likeable and funny. Moffat’s scripts were full of venom and clever word-play, ensuring that even after repeated viewings the stories were endlessly entertaining and never stale.
As a new writer finding his feet, it’s true that Moffat’s writing became stronger as the series progressed, but that’s not to say that the standard wasn’t exceptional from the beginning. The tales of life at the Junior Gazette grew darker and more mature along with its cast, but it never ceased at its heart to be a kids’ show, albeit one that pushed the boundaries.
The Network releases of Press Gang are on the whole very satisfying packages. Each series is released in its entirety, with excellent picture and reasonable sound (mono, but crystal clear). The story goes that Steven Moffat was disappointed not to have been consulted in time to provide interviews and commentary tracks for the first series and actively pursed Network to make sure each the next release had more to offer the fans. This was, after all, the series that launched his career! And the commentaries on series two with Moffat and Julia Sawalha are hugely entertaining. It’s a shame they only appear on this series, but this was probably a result of time and budgetary restraints. The second season definitely gets the best of the extra features with a gag reel and behind-the-scenes documentary, but PDFs of the scripts and programme guides flesh out the later releases quite nicely.
:: Complete SeriesWritten by Steve Moffat, the Bafta award-winning Press Gang has been lauded as one of the finest shows made for children's television, and will be released in its entirety in a seven-disc set on 17th October 2005. The set contains all five series of the ITV drama that launched the careers of Julia Sawalha and Dexter Fletcher , as well as giving early roles to Lucy Benjamin and Paul Reynolds.
The set retails at £79.99, runs for 1075 minutes approximately, and contains a host of extras including commentaries, a making of documentary, trailers, a series guide, and PDF copies of the fanzine. This is a must for any fan of the series.
Network have been very generous in providing me with a copy to give away, and all you have to do to be in with a chance of winning the complete second series is let me know the answer to the following question:
The writer, Steve Moffat, contributed scripts to a recent hit in the ratings concerning a time-traveller - what was the series called?
Well, due to a typo, I left the competition running a bit longer than intended and this virtually doubled the number of entries. The answer to the question was Doctor Who, which most of you got right, and the lucky winner was Desmond Farrier. You prize will be on its way to you as soon as possible.
:: Series One
This series sets the tone for everything that follows fast dialogue, stories with a twist, and irresistible characters. Just as appealing to children as it is to adults, this is an impressive debut for a writer new to television.
- Page One - the race for a ‘grabber’ story for the front page blinds Lynda to the fact that maybe class clown Spike Thomson knows a thing or two about journalism…
- Photo Finish - Lynda has her big story for the first edition, and it causes quite an uproar.
- One Easy Lesson - Adrian Edmondson guests as a hopeless teacher suffering a crisis of confidence, so star reporter Sarah Jackson sets out to help.
- Deadline - when a printer’s strike threatens next week’s edition, the news team set out to write the following week’s news before it happens! In three hours…
- A Night In - Lynda is in a foul mood and giving everyone late duty, while Colin the financial brains behind the Gazette is trying to meet the richest man in town.
- Interface - Who is the mystery writer providing TV reviews for the paper and why is he so hard to meet?
- How To Make A Killing, Part One - Who keeps drawing chalk outlines on the ground beneath the Highpoint Flats, and why? Assistant Editor Kenny is determined to find out. Stars Sadie Frost.
- How To Make A Killing, Part Two - Kenny has found out Susie’s secret, and gives the Gazette its biggest campaign yet.
- Both Sides Of The Paper - “The Phone Ranger” wants an interview with Lynda, while the Headmaster wants to suspend publication of the paper. Comic actor Patrick Barlow guests.
- Money, Love And Birdseed - Why is the newsroom full of pigeons, and does Bobby Tweed have anything to do with the thefts around school?
- Monday-Tuesday - How can two days be so different? Comedy one day, Tragedy the next…
- Shouldn’t I Be Taller? - Colin wants to be Editor, and after a particularly nasty dirty tricks campaign, it looks like Lynda will be going for good.
:: Series Two
Further trials at the Junior Gazette, with both the writer and his cast really hitting their stride. Stand-out episodes are Going Back To Jasper Street (just for the delicious nostalgia and baffling mystery), and Something Terrible, a very brave and effective piece of television.
- Breakfast At Czar’s - Following the collapse of their main story, the news team work through the night to produce a new edition.
- Picking Up The Pieces - Colin promotes Frazz as a new Chess champ, despite the fact that he cannot play at all… And is Spike returning to his old ways?
- Going Back To Jasper Street - A wooden figure provides a mystery for Lynda about her past, while Colin needs lessons in love from Spike.
- The Week And Pizza - Spike and Tiddler conspire to interview a local author, while Sam struggles to fire a member of the graphics team.
- Love And The Junior Gazette - Lynda needs an escort for a business function anyone but Spike. Meanwhile Kenny is flirting with a wrong number.
- At Last A Dragon - Lynda and Spike go to an all-important cocktail party and meet a strangely-familiar Arab.
- Something Terrible, Part One - Colin has a secret admirer in 11-year old Cindy. She’s seems to be trying to tell him something, but why is it so hard?
- Something Terrible, Part Two - Cindy’s horrific secret is revealed, but who will believe the usually-insincere Colin?
- Friends Like These - An unbelievable opportunity to interview an awkward pop star, on the very day that Lynda’s top reporter resigns… Guest stars Suggs from Madness.
- The Rest Of My Life - An explosion in town destroys a local record store, but is Spike really buried in the rubble?
- Yesterday’s News - Another feud between Spike and Lynda, but with deeper consequences than usual.
- Rock Solid - Spike and Lynda’s relationship is in tatters (again), but Colin is more interested in the newly-discovered musical talents of Kenny.
- The Big Finish? - Spike is going back to America and the Junior Gazette looks set to have an all-new news team. Or is there another way?
:: Series Three
The actors (and audience) have grown up and the stories start to reflect this. The series could be said to have a darker tone now, but it is still quirky and funny. For a highlight, The Last Word manages to be both thought-provoking and suspenseful, and very memorable.
- The Big Hello - The Junior Gazette has gone pro, and Lynda sets her sights on my adult news stories. Her tactics stay firmly in the playground however when Spike returns with a fiancé!
- Killer On The Line - Sarah gets a wrong number, who may very possibly be a murderer and her biggest story ever.
- Chance Is A Fine Thing - Kenny is in one of his philosophical moods, much to Lynda’s dismay, and Colin gets a date.
- The Last Word, Part One - A lone gunman in a clown mask holds siege at the Junior Gazette. Not everyone on the news team will survive…
- The Last Word, Part Two - At the funeral, the full story of the siege finally emerges.
- Holding On - A crooked hypnotist provides the paper with their biggest story, while Spike’s fiancé Zoe returns to drag him back to America.
:: Series Four
Stephen Moffat was really playing with the medium now Bad News almost seems to prophesize (and warn against) TV reality shows and mass media, while UnXpected is a marvellous mystery. She’s Got It Taped is maybe the weakest of the bunch, but still holds your attention. Love And War brings a lump to the throat with it’s unexpected subject matter, while In The Picture is pure farce (shades of Coupling?). While Press Gang flirted with fantasy endlessly throughout its run, Moffat really went for it with Day Dreams one of the freshest and funniest episodes.
- Bad News - The paper is under new management, and the team are fighting for their jobs so is an appearance on an early morning kids’ show really going to help?
- UnXpected - Frazz is seemingly being haunted by a long-dead actor, while Lynda looks in vain for a dinner companion.
- She’s Got It Taped - After a terror attack in Norbridge, one of the bombers sets his sights on Sarah, who might unwittingly know a little too much.
- Love And War - Spike’s life-long feud with his father reaches it’s peak, but Colin’s latest get-rich scheme is proving distracting.
- In The Picture - Colin’s latest ploy to sell more papers may very well shut the Gazette down altogether. Meanwhile, Lynda meets someone strangely familiar. Featuring Sharon Duce.
- Day Dreams - Is Lynda’s love-life really pre-destined (and doomed)? Maybe her Guardian Angel can help…
:: Series Five
The last series is arguably the funniest, but still has it's share of dark moments (particularly the hard-hitting closing episode There Are Crocodiles). We start with a meditation on media power and responsibility with episode one (Head and Heart) that is thoughtful and clever, but then temporarily abandon the serious stuff until the series' end. Steven Moffat is at his best with the humorous stories, and Windfall stands out as the pick of the series for it's non-stop farce and incredible dialogue. A worthy closing season, with a typically teasing finale.
- Head and Heart - The news team have the inside scoop on a particularly juicy story - but it means ruining the reputation of a former ally. Publish or be damned?
- Unexpected - Sarah wants to finally leave the Gazette behind, but will the Queen of Dirty Tricks Lynda Day let her go quietly?
- A Quarter to Midnight - High drama and suspense when Lynda finds herself in mortal danger, and not a soul knows where she is...
- Food, Love and Insecurity - Can Spike seduce his way to a front page story without Lynda's jealousy ruining everything?
- Windfall - When Julie agrees to coach Colin with lessons in love, few could predict the escalating dangers that follow!
- There Are Crocodiles - A drug scandal threatens to close the Gazette for good, but Lynda's not going quietly.