An Honorary Mention, for Sue Townsend
I am very sad to hear that Sue Townsend has passed away, aged 68. She was the acclaimed author of the series of novels featuring the character Adrian Mole, the first of which – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ – was published in 1982.
Townsend was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Loughborough University on Friday 20th July 2007. She was made Doctor of Letters honoris causa.
This was the same ceremony in which I was awarded my own PhD. I was unaware until the day itself, as I think were most of the other graduands, that Townsend was going to be present. In addition to all the other emotions that day there was the sense of seeing someone genuinely famous, and not just ‘academic’ famous, someone you had heard of even if you hadn’t read any of their books.
The weather was terrible that day. The dark clouds, which had been gathering over Loughborough all morning, and had been adding to the sense of pressure I’d been feeling, finally poured out their rain during the ceremony itself, causing the roof to roar.
I already had a headache. By the time I went out for a celebration meal with my family that evening, it had turned into a migraine.
I was a little preoccupied during the ceremony itself. I was busy worrying about walking across the stage in front of the gathered multitudes and all those watching online. I was worrying about not missing my cue to make my way to the steps, about which hand I should use to collect my certificate and when I could place my hat on my head (there are rules of etiquette about these things).
And because of this worrying I can’t really remember Townsend’s speech. I do have a vague memory of it being cheekily risqué in a way that instantly endeared her to the gathered student population and which made me wonder if the dignitaries on stage were sitting quite as comfortably as they had been before.
I was aware of the Adrian Mole books (how could I not be?) but, to be honest, hadn’t read any of them. I was a little too late for Adrian. It was, it seemed, something for the older kids and not just because it was rude. I wasn’t aged 13¾ myself until September 1992, the era of grunge, of the Super Nintendo, of John Major’s Conservative government. By the time I was the age Mole was in his first diaries Mole himself had already grown up. The world of his early teenage years wasn’t one with which I was familiar.
I have recently addressed this gap in my reading. Last year I read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ for the first time and found it to be funny and clever and socially aware in all the ways that everyone has always said it was. It was, in short, a delight.
I’m very pleased that, on what was a special day for both of us, I’m sure, I was able to spend just a few seconds with Sue Townsend, even if it was only for the time it took me to walk up some steps, shake hands with the university Chancellor, collect my certificate from my Head of Department, put my cap on and leave the stage to the left.
© James Holden 2014
Published Friday 11th April 2014