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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 British 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 behave impeccably. Not only that, but they behave in an oddly uniform manner, using recess to memorise lessons learned in class, and marching around the halls in perfect unison.
  • 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, her foster brothers are among a small group of students immune to the Headmaster's hypnosis, and have formed a group with three other students known as SPLAT (the Society for the Protection of Our Lives Against Them). They discover that the Headmaster has plans to hypnotise the entire country, so Dinah and the rest of SPLAT set out to foil him.

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 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, which commenced airing in October 2019. A second season was planned, but delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led to this second season being cancelled.

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 until the 2019 revival.)
  • 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 (although he was referred to as 'The Director' in Strikes Again when meeting new ally Simon).
    • Dinah Hunter actually knows his name, but when she mentions it to his clone, we never learn what she said to him.
  • Assimilation Academy: The Headmaster's idea of a perfect school, unsurprisingly.
  • Bland-Name Product: In the 2019 series, Angelika and her mother belong to an activist group which has a logo resembling that of the organisation "Extinction Rebellion" with its logo turned sideways and a line through the middle.
  • The Cameo: The original Headmaster appears in the final episode of the 2019 tv series.
  • 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?"
  • 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.
  • Continuity Reboot: The latest novels Total Control and Mortal Danger.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Plays a part in the 2019 series; as the Headmaster has created a system where the students don't 'learn', but are just programmed to go along with their designated 'specialities', this allows Lizzie and the others to disrupt the Headmaster's planned presentation by switching the students' relevant material, such as essentially arranging for the football team to perform Swan Lake and a Shakespearean 'expert' to recite an insulting poem.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The Headmaster himself in Strikes Again, where he falls into his Evolution Accelerator machine and gets disintegrated.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: A chiptune rendition of the TV show's theme can be heard in the background of the Octopus Dare game.
  • 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 Cannot Comprehend Good: In The Prime Minister's Brain, Dinah is invited to the final of the competition, despite the computer being programmed not to admit anyone named Dinah Glass, because the Headmaster never anticipated that she might be adopted by the Hunters and change her name. He even acknowledges this.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: Vulcan Tower, the Headmaster's choice of HQ in The Prime Minister's Brain.
  • Faking the Dead: In the 2019 series, Dinah Hunter faked her death years ago when she moved on to join MI6, allowing her to keep a discreet eye out for the Headmaster.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Lloyd, being Hot-Blooded and one to jump to conclusions, thinks the Headmaster's plan in the first book is to hypnotize the nation to rob a bank, or just each send him £100, to make him the richest man in the world. His assumption isn't bad in terms of maths; a rough calculation based on the 1982 population would garnish him close to four and a half trillion pounds. Ian and Harvey are quick to agree with him, but Dinah (correctly) infers that he has more insidious intentions for this hypnosis scheme.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Take a guess...
  • Happily Adopted: After Dinah is adopted by the Hunters, she makes it clear that she considers them her family. Even when she found a man in a coma who may have been her biological father, she made it clear that while she wanted to find out more about him, she would still consider Mr Hunter "Dad", and previously made it clear that nobody could have been a better mother to her than Mrs Hunter.
  • Happy Ending Override: The original TV series had Rose finally breaking free of the Headmaster's hypnotism after his death, staying in Shellbrook with her new friend Simon. The 2019 series reveals she was victimized once more by him in her teens, with his causing her illness as a means of control. Also Dinah, who falls under his sway once more and almost helps him complete his plans.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Rose in Strikes Again.
  • Hijacked by Ganon: The final episode of the 2019 version shows the intimidating new headmaster is subservient to the original one.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Headmaster on a couple of occasions. The 2019 Headmaster gets this as well in the final episode; after a series of hypnotizing everyone it's him who gets hypnotized into submission by the original Headmaster when their plans go wrong.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: Duh.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: The Headmaster. Especially noticeable when he hypnotises people.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: In the 2019 series, the original Headmaster steps in to inform the new one that he should abandon the current plan and withdraw, as there is no way to implement their original agenda after Lizzie Warren and her gang have exposed his plans on live television and Dinah has contacted her associates at MI6.
  • Leitmotif: A sting from the original theme tune can be heard in that of the 2019 TV series. It also appears in one episode when we see an outfit resembling one the original Headmaster wore and again when the original Headmaster first appears in the final episode.
  • Live-Action Adaptation
  • Mass Hypnosis: The Headmaster can hypnotize at least an assembly hall full of people on his own, but he at least believes that he could hypnotise an entire country if he was able to get on television.
  • Milkman Conspiracy: The Headmaster is rather fond of these, staging takeover schemes while operating from a school, a computer science camp, a holiday camp, a scientific research centre, a university computer lab, and a popular nightclub.
  • Mischief for Punishment: Dinah engages in this to find out what exactly is wrong with the school.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The Headmaster's school was unnamed in the original books. It was named "St. Campion's" in a theatrical adaptation in the late 90s.
  • 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 (albeit days before she could have realised it would significant).
    • In the 2019 series Lizzie attempts to hit Dinah to snap her out of making a deal with the Headmaster, only to reveal to everyone that Dinah was using a hologram. This leads to the Headmaster freezing everyone where they're standing and demands that Dinah give herself up in person.
  • No Name Given: The Demon Headmaster's name is never revealed. While he certainly has a name, as Dinah is made to add his name to a list of people with access to the Prime Minister in The Prime Minister's Brain and his lack of knowledge of it plays a part in Takes Over, he is only ever referred to as the Headmaster.
  • Oblivious Adoption: In episode nine of the 2019 series, the Headmaster brainwashes Ethan and the Warren family to make everyone think Ethan is one of their biological family members.
  • Operation: [Blank]: In the old 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."
  • Properly Paranoid: In The Demon Headmaster Takes Over, Harvey is the first person to suspect that the Headmaster is involved in current events, with most characters dismissing this idea after witnessing the Headmaster’s death in the last book until they realise they’re up against the Headmaster’s clone.
  • Rock Beats Laser: A possible way to view the conclusion of "Win-Day" in the 2019 series, when the original Headmaster confronts the new Headmaster and hypnotises the new Headmaster despite only being a holographic projection of himself.
  • Shaped Like Itself: In the 2019 TV series, Tyler names his robot...Robot (or Robo, for short). Though this is actually an acronym.
  • 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.
  • Spoiler Title: The identity of the controller in The Prime Minister's Brain is not actually revealed until near the end. However, as the book is now usually retitled The Demon Headmaster and the Prime Minister's Brain to tie it in with the rest of the series, this gives it away.
  • 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 combining Dinah's intellect with a lizard's lack of emotion.
  • 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. Although she is in primary school, she is able to hack her way into the Prime Minister's computer.
    • Sophie in the 2019 series is an expert at chemistry, although this may be due to the Headmaster's influence.
    • Tyler in the 2019 series becomes an expert at robotics, which leads to him building a robot.
    • Ethan in the 2019 series is an expert hacker before he is subject to the Headmaster's influence.
  • 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.
  • 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:
    • After being humiliated on television by having gunge dumped on him during the Eddie Hair Show, the Headmaster finds S.P.L.A.T. outside the school afterwards and says that they will meet again.
    • In the final episode of the 2019 series, the original Headmaster tells Lizzie that they will meet again.
  • Wham Episode:
    • The sixth episode of the 2019 TV series reveals that the series is not a Continuity Reboot of the original, as it first seemed, but a sequel to it, with the children discovering the original Headmaster's old school, multiple references to the first series and a message from Dinah Hunter.
    • The eighth episode of the 2019 series then reveals that Lizzie and Tyler's mother is in fact Rose from the old series, having hidden under a new identity.
    • The tenth episode of the 2019 series reveals the Headmaster of Hazelbrook is a different person to the original Headmaster and is subservient to him.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Headmaster has shown no problem with killing the members of S.P.L.A.T.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: May apply to the 2019 series; Dinah initially assumes that the current Headmaster is the original character in a new body, much like how he was 'reborn' as a clone of himself in the original series, but the final episode reveals that the Hazelbrook Headmaster is actually a separate person from the original Headmaster, who holds a position of authority over the new one.


Video Example(s):


All Pupils Shall Obey

Dinah Glass is reprimanded on her first day at her new school by the very creepy school prefects.

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Main / TransferStudentUniforms

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