The time had come.
The typing stopped.
The kettle boiled
'Beaker Club, Beaker Club, Beaker Club...' These were the eager chants of a pair of maturity-stunted morons as they sat down for some nostalgia infused, family-friendly fun at Britain’s favourite ‘Dumping Ground’. The Story of Tracy Beaker filled many an afternoon in the first couple of months of Quarantine, a constant in our schedule of re-watches, new discoveries and cinematic exploration. It also filled many an afternoon in our childhood.
We still knew the words to the theme tune. More often than not, a couple of minutes into an episode and we could remember the details and exactly how it ended (and how those shoddy animations played out). We could quote lines of dialogue watched thirteen years ago. We could name all the characters. We cursed Justine Littlewood and cooed at Peter. We cheered for Mike and admired Cam. The legacy of Beaker was in our blood; we were the Beaker Club.
It’s the first time I’ve seen the House-Swedes embarrassed of us, the two natives.
In Beakers long run on CBBC, with five series and many re-incarnations since such as The Dumping Ground and Tracy Beaker Returns, the original had its place in the childhood of my generation in that we always praised it for its realism and depiction of a difficult but sadly necessary part of our system in the UK; that of foster homes. And this could be true for the first two series, with latter series only dabbling in realism when it was essential.
And series one, although silly and naff in some places, still hit home pretty hard. There were some beautifully tender moments between the kids and the care workers, with a feeling of genuine pleasure when the kids got fostered, finding nice people to start lives with. It treated all its subjects as human beings (No matter how rude Tracy could be, which was very – how parents must have despaired!). And wading through early 2000's nostalgia, drowning in the Big Brovas references, the fashion, the decor, the Steps poster was a bonus.
I still remember the hype around the ‘film’, the special in which her mother returned and it broadcasting during (possibly) a school holiday. Watching it as a child, it seemed like a satisfying, encapsulating drama as we watched Tracy ‘Huckleberry Finn’ her way across England in search of her stunt-double mother. At the time a mind-blowing revelation, assuming Tracy was lying about her mother being a Hollywood actress, but now it's a detail that actually contradicts the canon of the first series and the original books (although if the re-watch has taught us anything, consistency is not TSoTB strong point – they moved house so many times, it fell like production crew were gaslighting us).
The quality dropped by the third series so dramatically that it became a trawl to finish; no one told us we had to complete it, it was necessary to our existence and pride that we meet the end of Beaker just as we had years before. It was sad to see. The film was a bore. The loss of Jenny, Duke and Mike caused uproar to the peace of our house for some time as we pined for days gone by. We began to ship characters, just to pass the time. I still feel Mike and Cam had something going for them. Then the return of the latter brought only disappointment. Sid, Head Care Worker number three), became public enemy number one. Characters were dumbed down. The animation, once it was out of the mind of Tracy Beaker, became more ridiculous and drove us to the brink of juvenile insanity with its innocuous use that took up a third of each episode! Beaker was not made to be watched back-to-back…
We invested so much time and attention during our rewatch as adults. We were so intertwined with the drama, and we were surprised by its impact on us as adults. When did we stop watching it? It didn’t feel like we ever did. It had me wondering how I went from binging on this show along with Cartoon Network, Hannah Montana, Lizzie Maguire, Scooby Doo and Spongebob Squarepants to suddenly binging Supernatural, The X-Files, Mad Men, Cowboy Bebop, Parks and Recreation… When did it happen?
It was such a slow process, I didn’t even notice. One day I came home and instead of putting on My Parents Are Aliens, I tuned into the Gilmore Girls. Even as I sit and think it over in my head, it was all so gradual that it slipped past before I knew I’d let it go. Yet I still feel like such a child, even now. Watching grown up shows, I get excited like one. At a new story, a new series. I’m a massive child. And maybe there’s no shame in it as long as it doesn’t get in the way of my own personal growth. No one said I had to grow up.
It doesn’t mean if you gave me those things again, I wouldn’t watch them now. Of course I would. If you gave me old Cartoon Network, with The PowerPuff Girls, Dexters Laboratory, Cow & Chicken, The Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy, I would waste months and never come out again. The watchability is still there. I still watch Spongebob and Scooby Doo if it’s on.
What am I talking about? Who knows… I wanted to talk about Tracy Beaker and the re-visit to something that doesn’t feel very long ago. It’s not until you start counting that the hour glass manifests itself and you see that pile of sand, dripping through bit by bit, has grown a lot taller since you last looked. I feel so old. Beaker felt so old. But watching it felt like coming home from school, the smell of Bangers, Beans and Mash wafting through the house, the clatter in the kitchen, the looming threat of mother appearing at our Kitchen hatch (joining onto the lounge) above my head and demanding to watch Deal or No Deal before dinner was done.
Beaker is still very much a nostalgic relic and I could easily re-watch the first series with no worries at all, but this must come from the book being a treasure for me growing up. But my life would still be fulfilled if I never had to see any of the others ever again. My tastes have evolved since then, but I don’t forget my roots. The silliness that shaped me into the little cretin I am now comes so much from the after school telly and the lazy weekends, the adventures during the holidays and the books I would stay up late and read.
It’s just weird when I think of myself on the sofa watching Maxie lock Jenny out of the car for buying him the shoes he didn’t want and knowing that she didn’t know where she’d be in the years to come. How complicated life had been since then. And how much solace she would get from her escape into the fictional worlds, be it on paper or on TV. I suppose a little bit like Tracy. Only, she had the balls to tell people to ‘Bog Off’ first.
Images from: Tracy Beaker: The Box Set. (2008). Directed by Various. [DVD]. UK: Universal Pictures UK.