Stand back Supergirl, says Tony Fyler.
As the world prepares to welcome a new version of Supergirl, the time seems right to take a look back at the Superest Superhero Of Them All. It’s time to remember SuperGran.
No, I haven’t been smoking anything funny – back in 1979, Scottish writer Forrest Wilson created a character the likes of which had never been seen before. If you thought the original image of Superman lifting up a car was spectacular in its day, imagine the same scene, but with a frail-looking, doddery, tartan-clad grandmother on the business end of a Ford Mondeo. That was SuperGran. The books were highly popular, and six years later in 1985, the world got its first glimpse of a live-action SuperGran, as 59 year-old Scottish actress Gudrun Ure became the face and the body of SuperGran in a TV show that caught the mood of the time perfectly. I’ve written before about the late-70s to mid-80s being a time for the inversion of geeky norms, with Douglas Adams running away with science fiction and making it gloriously silly in the Hitch-Hikers’ Guide To The Galaxy, Dangermouse and Bananaman ripping brand new comedy holes out of the superspy and superhero genres as animated shorts, and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series of novels turning the world upside-down, ironing it flat, and sticking it on a bunch of elephants ton top of a giant space-turtle. SuperGran was very much part of that moment, doing for superheroes the same thing that Bananaman did – only doing it in live-action. Oh, and Scottish. Very, very Scottish.
In the event that you’ve lived a sheltered or deprived life, or that you’re actually (bless little geeky heart) actually too young to have been alive and appreciative in 1985, the premise was fairly simple. Doddery old Granny Smith (yes, like the apple) gets hit by a ‘superpower ray’ invented by Inventor Black. She had an arch-nemesis, the (did I mention it was very, very Scottish?) ‘Scunner Campbell’ – a local Lex Luthor played with rrrrrrrolling thespian glee by (Scottish) actor Iain Cuthbertson. Usually, he would set his toughs – The Muscles and Tub – on her in the middle of some convoluted and deliciously loopy scheme, and the cue would be given for a comedy fight scene, where Ure’s Granny Smith (looking like she weighed 70 lbs dripping wet) would make mincemeat of them, then Cuthbertson would gurn and snarl and wonder how such a thing had occurred – again. Clearly he’d missed the part where she was a “Super” Gran.
SuperGran had a couple of super-friends (they weren’t super, they were ordinary), and throughout two full series and an hour-long special, Ure made SuperGran an 80s legend, doing the vast majority of her own stunts, which was saying something as there was usually at least one demented example of SuperGran skill per episode. It’s also worth mentioning it had one of the coolest, ear-wormiest theme songs of the 80s. What the live-action Batman theme had done in the 60s, with its “Batman! Batman! Batman!’ motif, it’s no exaggeration to say the SuperGran theme did in the 80s, with a ridiculously catchy baseline, and no less a figure than Billy Connolly on vocals. (Connolly had had a musical career in a band with Gerry ‘Baker Street,’ ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ Rafferty before he became the funniest man on the planet, and released a couple of comedy singles in the 80s.)
It’s possible that people will write SuperGran off as a silly little Scottish programme with recycled silly plots, but before you do, remember this: the show won an Emmy, spawned two computer games (the height of superhero cool in the mid-late 80s), and was even credited by the University of Nottingham as having been instrumental in ‘reshaping the perception of grandmothers by socio-cultural messages as well as personal experience.’
Just out of curiosity, what has Game of Thrones done for grandmothers lately?
A third series was planned in 1988, and there was even talk of SuperGran – The Movie (probably involving filming in Spain – you can’t help wondering if they looked at The Two Doctors and thought ‘Maybe notsomuch’), but the series was cruelly axed because Tyne Tees Television, which had made the show and done quite nicely from its overseas sales – would you believe the most Scottish of superheroes was very big in both China and Cuba? – decided that what the world really needed that year was more game shows. Thanks, Tyne Tees, good decision, ya great bam!
So as we head into another year of big and small screen superheroes – as Supergirl joins the fray, Daredevil comes back, the Flash and Arrow continue their adventures, Ben Affleck becomes Batman and we get an on-screen Wonder Woman again, I say let’s take time out and raise a glass of Irn Bru to the one, the only, the world-conquering SuperGran.
Time for a reboot, surely?
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk