Susan Lillian ‘Sue’ Townsend, was born in Leicester on 2nd April 1946 and died after a stroke on 10th April this year. She was probably best known for creating the character Adrian Mole.
Sue Townsend was the eldest of five girls and left school at 15 having earlier failed her 11-plus exam. After writing in secret from the age of 14, She first became known for her plays, her signature character first appearing in a radio drama. She enjoyed great success in the 1980s, with her Adrian Mole books selling more copies than any other work of fiction in Britain during the decade. This series, which eventually encompassed nine books, takes the form of the character’s diaries.
Sue Townsend was extremely poor until well into her thirties and used her experiences of hardship in her work. In her later years she suffered ill health. She developed Diabetes in the mid-80’s and in her later years she suffered serious sight and mobility problems. She was eventually registered blind in 2001 and received a kidney from her son Sean after suffering kidney failure in 2009. Sue ended up as a single parent with three children after divorcing her husband Keith until she met and married Colin Broadway. It was Colin who encouraged her writing and she joined a writers’ group at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester. Through this she eventually wrote her first successful play Womberang in 1979 and went on to write several more plays and television successes The Refuge and The Spinney.
The success of Adrian Mole began after Sue Townsend wrote a play called The Diary of Nigel Mole, Aged 13¼ which was broadcast on Radio 4. Sue was then commissioned by Methuen to write the first Adrian Mole book, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾. This topped the best seller list after only a month and sold a million copies after a year.
The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole (1984) was reputedly based on her children’s experiences at Mary Linwood Comprehensive School in Leicester. Several of the teachers who appear in the book, such as Ms Fossington-Gore and Mr Dock, are based on staff who worked at the school in the early 1980s. When the book was televised, it was mostly filmed at a school nearby.
The Queen and I (1992) is a novel imagining that the Royal family have been re-housed in a council estate after a Republican revolution, although it turns out to have been merely the monarch’s nightmare. This book was later adapted for the stage with songs by Ian Drury and Mickeyn Gallagher.