This entry in Nostalgia Time is a little bit different. The Demon Headmaster was a long running children’s show, based on a popular series of books by Gillian Cross. The series followed the exploits of Dinah Glass, a foster child who comes up against the sinister headmaster of her new school. She soon discovers that The Headmaster is a supernatural hypnotist, running the school perfectly and scoring the best test results by hypnotising the entire student body at once during assemblies. However, it’s not just Ofsted The Headmaster is trying to win over, as Dinah begins to suspect the school is just a testing ground for something far more ambitious.
Terrence Hardiman terrified my generation with his terrifying portrayal of The Headmaster, and while the plots became goofier as the series wore on, the show was always well cast and performed. Child actors aren’t known for bringing out the best of the material, but the story worked and kids were believable enough in it. So effective was it that much of the show’s visuals are still burned into my brain. The hypnotised kids waiting patiently in lines to start the school day, and later the creepy testing facility hidden in the woods. The use of something familiar, a typical british school, to create fear and suspense would later be revisited in Series 2 of the rebooted Doctor Who with Toby Whithouse’s School Reunion. Both featuring brainwashed children and a dark patriarch at the top.
The Demon Headmaster has been gone for a long time now. The last book was in 2002, the TV show finished in 1998, and Children’s TV has moved away from strong narrative drama anyway. Still, it’s nice to remember a time when Children’s TV was so imaginative and so motivated by encouraging independence, free thought and intelligence.