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Why Marmalade Atkins is a Comedy Icon

When it comes to girls and young women characters there appears to be an odd belief that there are few examples of them in comedy, specifically examples who could be held up as comedic role models. I seem to have some extra time on my hands right now and rather than rearrange my wardrobe I have decided to dedicate an essay each to the fictional girls and young women who deserve more recognition for their comedy.

Let me start by stating that among Marmalade Atkins’ many, many, many crimes is the fact she almost killed my dad. One night, long ago, my dad was reading Marmalade Atkins’ Dreadful Deeds to my sister and me in a caravan on a campsite in France. We’d all been enjoying the book. We’d found it funny, I daresay the three of us had even LOL’d a couple of times. Then suddenly, my dad went silent and began to shake uncontrollably. His cheeks turned puce. He wheezed and shook until the whole caravan heaved and tears streamed down his cheeks. Had there been room between our twin beds, I think he would have rolled on the floor.

My mother, alarmed that our temporary tin home was trembling, ran in to find her two young children looking on at their father in shock. We had no idea what was going on. My mum diagnosed it as acute laugher as he tried to read what had made him so hysterical and this is what was so funny: in the story, Rufus, the talking donkey (there’s a talking donkey in this book, but he’s diabolical, not whimsical) had begun to mournfully sing You’ll Never Trot Alone.

Reader, I still don’t get quite why my dad – not a football fan, let alone a Liverpool fan – found that so funny. But he did. And he didn’t breathe for some time. And that is the story of how Marmalade Atkins (or rather her creator, Andrew Davies of Pride and Prejudice fame) almost killed my dad.

I don’t know if anyone has ever dreamed up a character like Marmalade Atkins before or since Andrew Davies’ created her and it is insane to me that she isn’t massive. Honestly, if you have children buy them these books. Her parents alone could have their own book series. Mr Atkins is a conman who makes his money selling off landmarks such as Nelson’s Column, Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace, Mrs Atkins spends this money on fur coats (to be worn all at once), pet crocodiles and whatever else Harrods is willing to sell her. Both are at their wit’s end with their daughter Marmalade, though they’re clearly terrible people either way and would probably only have been marginally less neglectful had she behaved well.

Marmalade was the girl who could not be tamed, she addressed everyone as ‘cock’ (as in ‘wotcha cock’ not… ‘hello dickhead’) and unlike William Brown, she never meant well. There are no lessons in this and no redemptions. Expelled from yet another school, Marmalade finds herself at home having to entertain herself alone and Rufus the hat-wearing talking donkey decides it’s time to take her under his wing.

The pair of them cause havoc together, taking liberties, betting on horses, seeing off social workers, going into space in a dormobile, terrorising nuns, breaking out of prison and generally putting themselves about. Together, Marmalade and Rufus pull off many a cunning stunt, but the biggest feat of all is how nobody questions what a little girl and a talking donkey are doing together.

If you have a character you’d like to suggest for this, then tweet me @funnywomened

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