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Literature / The Demon Headmaster

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Funny you should be so tired, so early in the day...

The Demon Headmaster is a book written by Gillian Cross in 1982. The story concerns Dinah Glass, an orphan who's just recently been fostered by the Hunter family. On her first day at her new school, she makes some interesting observations:

  • First: All the students are wearing a green uniform. Not only that, but they behave in an oddly uniform manner, using recess to memorise lessons learned in class, and marching around the halls.
  • Second: All the students, when asked of their opinion about the school, say "The Headmaster is a marvellous man, and this is the best school I've ever been to."
  • Third: There are six prefects (three boys, three girls), who are directly employed by the Headmaster to keep order.
  • Finally, when she actually meets the Headmaster, she learns that not only is he a serious stickler for order, but he also has the ability to hypnotise people merely by looking at them.

Fortunately, she discovers that her foster brothers are incapable of being hypnotised in such a manner, and have formed a group with three other students known as SPLAT (the Society for the Protection of Our Lives Against Them).

Following on from the success of that book, Cross wrote a second book, The Prime Minister's Brain (1985),note  where Dinah encounters the Headmaster again when he tries to access the Prime Minister's computers in the guise of running a computer competition.

The third book, Hunky Parker is Watching You (1994, later reprinted as The Revenge of the Demon Headmaster) follows SPLAT as they become entranced in a new Merchandise-Driven franchise, Hunky Parker (an "ed-U-cated" pig). Dinah (for once, the only one not entranced) discovers that the show not only uses Subliminal Seduction, but that the Headmaster is (surprise surprise) behind the whole thing, even going so far as to use a large holiday centre as a sort of sweat shop.


This was followed by The Demon Headmaster Strikes Again (1996), with the Headmaster this time running a Biogenetic Research Centre, which is researching the ability to clone people.

The Demon Headmaster Takes Over (1997) follows on directly from the last one, with the Headmaster's clone developing a computerised brain and then losing control of it.

The final book in the series to feature Dinah and the other original children is Facing the Demon Headmaster (2002), where SPLAT once again run up against the Headmaster, who is this time involved with a new club. A new entry in the series, Total Control (2017), features a new group of schoolchildren and sees the Headmaster return to his original occupation in a new academy; this was followed by another new book, Mortal Danger, in 2019.

The series was adapted for television by the BBC, broadcast over three series from 1996-1998. The first season was adapted from the first two books, the second from The Demon Headmaster Strikes Again, and the last from The Demon Headmaster Takes Over. (Hunky Parker is Watching You was skipped, and Facing the Demon Headmaster was published several years after the TV series ended.)

In 2019, the BBC announced that a new Demon Headmaster series had been commissioned, and would be an adaptation of Total Control.

This series contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The Demon Headmaster Takes Over ends without revealing if the Headmaster will ever wake up from his coma; the television adaptation expressly shows him waking up from it in the very last scene. (There would be more books published after Takes Over, but not for another five years, whereas it was the final book to be adapted for television.)
  • Adaptation Expansion: The second and third seasons of the TV series significantly expand the role of the Headmaster. In Strikes Again the Headmaster doesn't appear until about two-thirds of the way through the story, and in Takes Over he isn't seen until the very end.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: In both the book and the TV adaptation of The Demon Headmaster Takes Over, the Hyperbrain is defeated because it cannot compute illogical information, and SPLAT get everyone they can to speak gibberish into the Green Hand badges connected to the Hyperbrain until it overloads. In the book, Dinah discovers this after she tells the Headmaster his name is Rumpelstiltskin whilst stalling for time, but in the TV adaptation she starts reciting a nonsense poem for no clear reason and discovers it that way. (Even more strangely, the Rumpelstiltskin bit is still in the TV version, but is placed at a later point and is part of Dinah shouting nonsense to try and overload the Hyperbrain.)
  • Adults Are Useless / Cassandra Truth: A hypnotic Headmaster controlling a school is a claim most parents would dismiss. But even if they decide to see for themselves, they end up getting hypnotised too.
  • Aesop Amnesia: Everyone in the village talks in a robotic voice about what a good neighbour the SRC is and what a marvellous man the controller is, but somehow Lloyd and Harvey never make the connection. Even Dinah takes a long time to work it out.
  • Alliterative Name: Harvey Hunter.
  • Antagonist Title: The Demon Headmaster.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: During the second half of the first series of the TV show the children break in via the rubbish chute.
    • Played straight during their escape from the fire in Vulcan Tower's control room.
  • Artifact Title: "The Headmaster" is only one in the first book. The heroes continue to call him that because it's how they first met him, his real name is never revealed anyway, and it's creepier than whatever his current job is.
  • Assimilation Academy: The Headmaster's idea of a perfect school, unsurprisingly.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: The British Army arrives at the Biogenetic Research Centre in order to disassemble and to incinerate it, after the events of Strikes Again. Not only do they arrive six months late, but their visit also causes the reincarnation of the Demon Headmaster... and the resulting Takes Over, and its sequels. Seriously...
  • Catchphrase:
    • "Got you guessing? That's how I like it!"
    • "The Prefects are the voice of the Headmaster. They MUST be obeyed!"
    • "Funny you should be so sleepy so early in the day...your eyelids are getting"
    • Author Catch Phrase:
    "We'll go to the police!"
    "And tell them what?"
  • Cloning Blues: The Headmaster in the fifth book onwards is actually a clone of the original, lacking any of the real Headmaster's memories, although this is only really relevant in the first book featuring the clone.
  • Comic-Book Time: The first book was published in 1982. Facing the Demon Headmaster was published in 2002, but is set seemingly no more than a few years after the first book, and yet the holographic mask which is an important plot point seems far too advanced for the eighties, and Homer Simpson of all things makes an appearance towards the end.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The Headmaster himself in Strikes Again, where he falls into his Evolution Accelerator machine and gets disintegrated.
  • Divide and Conquer: In Strikes Again/the second TV series, the Headmaster instructs Rose to turn Lloyd and Harvey against Dinah.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": It appears the Headmaster does have a real name, as it is a significant plot point in Takes Over (and a smaller one in The Prime Minister's Brain), but nobody ever actually says what it is.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: Vulcan Tower, the Headmaster's choice of HQ in The Prime Minister's Brain.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Take a guess...
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Headmaster on a couple of occasions.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Rose in Strikes Again
  • Immune to Mind Control:
    • The five founding members of SPLAT are somehow immune to the Headmaster's hypnotic powers. As such, they are exempt from the assemblies (which the Headmaster uses as mass-brainwashing sessions), and sit in detention with the prefects watching over them instead.
    • In The Prime Minister's Brain, only Harvey and Ingrid are immune to the Headmaster's addictive octopus computer game, which rather annoys Lloyd.
  • Inexplicably Awesome: The Headmaster has no name or background and his abilities are the only supernatural element in the setting.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: Duh.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Lloyd, who is initially a Jerkass towards Dinah but comes to respect her later in the first novel, and looks out for his younger brother Harvey throughout the stories with a natural Big Brother Instinct.
  • Live-Action Adaptation
  • Market-Based Title: Hunky Parker is Watching You became The Revenge of the Demon Headmaster.
  • Mass Hypnosis
  • Milkman Conspiracy: The Headmaster is rather fond of these.
  • Mischief for Punishment: Dinah engages in this to find out what exactly is wrong with the school.
  • Never Learned to Read: When Ian tries to ask Eddie Hair for an autograph, Eddie claims he can't even read, let alone write.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: At the end of the first book, the Headmaster gets the opportunity to speak on national TV because Dinah indirectly gave Lucy the answer to the question that wins the school quiz.
  • No Name Given: The Demon Headmaster's name is never revealed. He is only ever referred to as the Headmaster.
  • Operation: [Blank]: In the TV series, the Headmaster names his Master Plan as...MasterPlan.
  • Out-Gambitted: "You cannot beat me. I think you will find that I am always a step ahead."
  • Reboot: The latest novels Total Control and Mortal Danger (and upcoming TV series).
  • Show Within a Show: The Eddy Hair Show, Hunky Parker, APE!, all of which are plot-relevant.
  • Smug Snake:
    • The Headmaster, on multiple occasions.
    • Rose, especially in her prefect days.
  • Spanner in the Works: The Headmaster did take measures to ensure Dinah could not interfere with his plans again by ensuring that the computer at Vulcan Tower excluded anyone named Dinah Glass from the competition. However, he did not anticipate Dinah being adopted by the Hunters and changing her name. Hence, she still gets in.
  • Stalker With A Testtube: A decidedly non-romantic version: the Headmaster employs Dinah's father at the Biogenetic Research Centre, so he can steal Dinah's DNA and create Eve, a human/lizard hybrid.
  • Subliminal Seduction: "Hunky—or nothing!"
  • Take Over the World: The Headmaster's ultimate aim. In The Prime Minister's Brain he wants the contestants to hack into Downing Street's computer so he can arrange a face to face meeting with the Prime Minister, which will then lead to meetings with all the other leaders of the world.
  • Teen Genius: Dinah
  • Team Mom: Mandy
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Reboot, when Lizze Warren accesses the Headmaster's computer with the username Inspirational and the password everystudentisastar, both of which formed part of repetitive sentences spoken to her by the students.
  • Theme Tune Cameo: A chiptune rendition of the TV show's theme can be heard in the background of the Octopus Dare game.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Inverted, as it is the Headmaster who says this to S.P.L.A.T.
    "Next time, I shall win! And I shall NOT forgive you!"
  • Transfer Student Uniforms: Dinah wears her old school's uniform on the first day.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Headmaster (at least, that's what he'd have you believe). He has no interest in money and just wants a world of perfect order and efficiency - at the cost of all emotion and curiosity.
  • We Meet Again: The Headmaster delivers this exact line to Dinah when they come face to face again near the end of the second series.
  • We Will Meet Again: See This Is Unforgivable! above
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Headmaster has shown no problem with killing the members of S.P.L.A.T.


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