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Series / Press Gang

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The main characters, circa series three.note 

"Sex and violence; I love children's television."
Frazz Davies, "Bad News"

Press Gang was a UK children's comedy-drama that aired for five series from 1989–93. Produced by Central Television for ITV's CITV brand, the show received a 1991 BAFTA for "Best Children's Programme (Entertainment/Drama)". It acquired a cult following both during and after its run, and its creator and sole writer, Steven Moffat, would later become a writer – and eventual showrunner – for the revived Doctor Who.

The series followed the trials of The Junior Gazette, a youth newspaper founded to keep the 'problem children' from the local comprehensive school out of trouble. The paper in fact usually provided them with further opportunities to get into trouble, as they investigated stories ranging from glue-sniffing by local kids to leaking sewage at the school headmaster's house, and eventually 'graduated' to running the paper as a professional youth newspaper.

Although extremely prone to Very Special Episodes, as the show covered everything from Star Wars conspiracy theories to child abuse, it usually managed to avoid becoming Anvilicious, mainly thanks to very sharp writing from Moffat and charismatic performances by Julia Sawalha as 'warped repressed power-mad bitch' editor Lynda Day, and Dexter Fletcher as Fake American badass Spike Thomson, the show's resident bickering duo with Belligerent Sexual Tension.

This show provides examples of:

  • An Aesop:
    • From "Monday-Tuesday", there's the joint message that being nice and actually working hard is probably going to be a much more effective way of getting what you want out of life rather than trying to bully, blackmail and force people into doing things your way. Also, you never know what is going on in someone's private life or what kind of emotional state they're currently in so you should always think before you speak.
    • On a similar note from "There Are Crocodiles", there is only a limited amount of responsibility you can put on other people's shoulders for the choices and mistakes you make yourself, especially when you had already been warned about the potential consequences.
  • Anyone Can Die: Subverted when we learn that gunman Donald Cooper in fact killed himself, rather than any of the main characters, during the gun siege, reinstated with the death of Lynda at the end of the final series - or is it?
  • Author Appeal: Non sexual - the episode "unXpected" is about how amazingly awesome the cancelled sci-fi series Colonel X is, with the Colonel (and the deceased actor who played him) being portrayed by Michael "Valeyard" Jayston. Moff is, of course, a Doctor Who fan.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Spike and Lynda
  • Berserk Button: Particularly in the early episodes, Lynda gets even more explosively outraged than usual if someone dares to suggest that she might care about Spike.
  • Big Disaster Plot: In "The Rest of My Life", there is a huge explosion at a local block of flats which has a busy record shop underneath. Lynda motivates the team into hurrying to report the breaking news, until she notices that Spike is not present. Lying amongst the rubble, Spike talks to a girl called Mary Brien, buried deeper below the debris and badly injured.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The series finale "There Are Crocodiles" sees Lynda become trapped in the office while a fire rages out of control, destroying everything. Spike then sees what he assumes to be her ghost appearing to him in a dream and the two have a brief heart-to-heart before Lynda switches on the light, revealing herself to be apparently alive and relatively unharmed despite Spike repeatedly asserting that she couldn't possibly have made it out and Lynda not saying how she apparently did. Spike asks if he'll wake up if he tries to kiss her and she tells him it's his choice whether to see if he's dreaming or not. The show officially ends just before they kiss, leaving Lynda's actual fate uncertainnote .
  • Bottle Episode: "A Night In" features only the regular newsroom set and the main cast.
  • Brick Joke: in Spike's very first attempt to flirt with Lynda, he says that "If this was the olden days, like, hundreds and hundreds of years ago? I'd kill a dragon for you." Lynda calls it "the worst chat-up line I've ever heard." A season and a half later, the episode in which they get together is called At Last a Dragon!
  • Character Development: Lynda and Colin's relationship changes notably and permanently after their heart-to-heart conversation leads to her helping him to help Cindy in the second season two-parter 'Something Terrible'. Before, she cut him no slack whatsoever. After, she can actually be quite protective of him at times.
  • Clint Squint: Spike had the former page quote.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Frazz, who thinks that 'Purple' is a star sign - along with 'tarmac' and 'helium' when prompted by the editorial team.
  • Connect the Deaths: In the episode A Quarter to Midnight, Lynda was locked in an airtight vault with a half-broken phone (meaning she could call people, and hear what they were saying, but they couldn't hear what she said back). When she didn't turn up at work and four co-workers all reported the same weird phone calls in the middle of the night, they drew a cross to find that X marked the spot.
  • Creepy Children: Sophie and Laura, Colin's disconcertingly weird little assistants, who feed people 'death sweets' and measure their teachers for tombs. They are, however, the source of a lot of Black Comedy throughout the first two seasons.
    Spike: (to Lynda) I'm telling you, I know at least three guys in the Fifth Year who pay those two protection money.
    Mr Sullivan: Are they on the same rates as the staff?
  • Deadpan Snarker: Lynda. In spades. Spike tries to be, but is usually too amused at his own wit to pull it off. Kenny also has his moments occasionally - probably from osmosis with Lynda.
  • Death Glare: Lynda has a particularly good one as her default expression.
  • Disabled Snarker: Billy Homer
  • Disappeared Dad: Lynda's. Never explained. note 
  • The Ditz: Sam. Julie could be considered this to a lesser degree, though the trope was in full effect in the first series.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Press Gang: About a group of children who run a school newspaper, some of whom have been forced into doing the job as punishment for misbehaviour. The original treatment played on the pun even more, with two warring school gangs being forced to work together. However, this was toned down to two occasionally-sparring characters for the final show.
  • Emotionally Tongue-Tied: Lynda and Spike are unable to bring themselves to say 'love' to each other and end up resorting to anagrams, declaring "I vole you".
  • Epunymous Title: 'Day Dreams', 'unXpected'
  • Gainax Ending: Whether or not Lynda survived the fire in the final episode is never answered, as the final scene may or may not all be just Spike's dream.
  • Generation Xerox: Spike and Linda to Spike's mom and dad.
  • Genius Cripple: Also borderline Disability Superpower - tetraplegic Billy Homer, played by real-life tetraplegic Andy Crowe, who engages in Hollywood Hacking from the newsroom computers, is Internet-savvy in 1989, and generally uses his Magical Computer for the common good.
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: Lynda Day, of the brown curly hair suggesting evil and/or Ax Crazy tendencies variation.
  • High-School Hustler: Elements of this trope in the characters of both Colin and Spike
  • Honest John's Dealership: Colin Matthews, who has been known to sell, among other things, defective half ping-pong balls, cans of soft drink that stain people's faces green, homicidal "security" briefcases, and the services of a sadistic hypnotist. For some reason that is never entirely clear to the audience or the rest of the characters, he is somehow allowed to remain in charge of the newspaper's finances.
    • possibly because of his insane salesmanship skills (it's implied he brings in all their advertising revenue), possibly because since these are teens we're talking about, he's the only one on staff who can read a balance sheet properly?
  • I Gave My Word: forms the Framing Device of The Last Word, part 2. Lynda promised Donald Cooper that if harmed no one on the staff, she could get him out without any of his family and friends knowing he was the gunman. When he kills himself instead, Lynda puts her plan into action: the gunman escaped, and Donald Cooper joined the Junior Gazette that morning. And she gets the entire staff to go along with it.
    Lynda: I made him a promise, Spike! I told him that no one need ever know!
  • Intergenerational Friendship: a very low-key version with Lynda and her teacher Mr Sullivan. While there's no hint of favoritism, Mr Sullivan definitely has a soft spot for Lynda. In return, he's one of the few people Lynda will actually take advice from, to the extent that in Day Dreams her guardian angel takes the form of Mr Sullivan in a brilliant white suit.
  • I "Uh" You, Too: Lynda and Spike, unable to express their true feelings, resort to using anagrams, leading them to profess that "I vole you"
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Lynda. Frequently. Granted, she's never nice about it and is as prone to making mistakes as everyone else but many of her summations (particularly her speech to the ghosts of David and "Whatshisname" in "There Are Crocodiles") fit very snugly into this trope.
  • Kavorka Man: Spike, despite being short, not especially attractive, and insisting on wearing leather jackets and sunglasses indoors, apparently has no trouble both attracting a string of conquests that he uses to annoy Lynda, and continually stealing Colin's love interests note . Although he does have a considerable dose of charisma.
    • Also implied several times with the stout and balding Mr Sullivan.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: Lynda is exactly like Spike's estranged mother, something which she takes the time to point out.
  • Lack of Empathy/No Sympathy: Lynda Day is like this most of the time. However, many of these examples end with whoever she's talking to, or even just the audience admitting (however reluctantly) that she has a valid point
    Lynda: Look, I'm sorry you died, okay? I do care, but to be perfectly honest with you, I don't care a lot. You had a choice. You took the drugs. You died. Are you seriously claiming no one warned you it was dangerous? Pardon my saying, but it takes a lot to convince you there's a health risk. I mean have you had a look at the world lately? Just how dumb do you think it's safe to be around here? There's plenty of stuff going on that kills you and you don't get warned at all. So sticking your head in a crocodile's mouth you were told about, is not calculated to get my sympathy. You're dead, and I do care. But you were weak and stupid and you made a bad choice. And actually that isn't a crime. It just happens to have the death penalty. You had a warning, you had a choice. You got it wrong. Sorry. That's life for you.
  • Locked in a Freezer: An episode had Spike trapped under the rubble of a collapsed record shop, only able to speak to another trapped girl through a piece of piping. She later died of her injuries. A later episode had Lynda trapped in a bank vault and running out of air.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: one of the B-plots of the season 2 opener "Breakfast at Czar's" involves Frazz finding out that all of his made-up horoscopes have actually come true for people he knows, especially the Junior Gazette Staff.
  • Meaningful Background Event: In one shot of the opening montage to the episode At Last A Dragon, Lynda, anxious about attending a cocktail party with Spike, is seen lying on her bed reading J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, a novel about a rebellious, wisecracking American teenager.
  • Noodle Incident: Whatever Spike did at the school dance that got him condemned to the Junior Gazette instead of expulsion. A member of the production team let slip that he mooned the dance. Not to mention Lynda listing off the times he did 'something crazy'note : the Fifth Year Dance, Sarah's birthday party, Julie's birthday party, Kenny's birthday party, the school Sports day, the Staff-Pupil Social...
  • Not Even Bothering with an Excuse: In the episode "A Night In", Lynda is handing out 'yellow slips' which mean that the recipient has to work on Saturday evening. Cue a round of excuses...and, when the round gets to Kenny, a wry look and the question, "Can you tell me which excuses haven't been used yet?"
  • Parental Abandonment: Spike's messily divorced parents and dead father
    • Subverted when Lynda pretends that her parents are divorced in order to manipulate Sarah into staying on the paper (though it must be added that Lynda's father is never seen nor mentioned throughout the whole series.)
  • Platonic Life-Partners Kenny and Lynda; who have known each other since they were about six.
  • Put on a Bus: Kenny leaves for Australia before Series 4 begins, and is only ever mentioned in passing. This also happens to Sarah in Series 5 when she leaves the Junior Gazette to go to university (which was also the reason for actress Kelda Holmes deciding to leave the show).
  • Running Gag: used often for a B or C plot throughout an episode.
    • Interestingly, whenever an episode focuses on Spike and Linda's relationship ("At Last a Dragon" "Love and War") Colin will be the only other regular cast member to show up to provide this.
  • School Newspaper News Hound: Pretty much the whole cast, but particularly reporter Spike Thomson and features writer Sarah Jackson, fulfill this trope
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Literally enacted by Spike and Lynda in the episode 'Bad News'. Leading to the page quote!
  • The So-Called Coward: When a gunman is loose in the newsroom, Colin runs back into the building to save his friends. Later subverted when he returns to his weaselly ways after the siege is over, even using his gunshot wound to guilt Lynda into ceasing to shout at him
  • The Starscream: Wee Tiddler.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Steven Moffat and producer Sandra Hastie were both impressed with Lucy Benjamin's performance as minor character Julie Craig, and expanded her role for the second series. However, after Moffat had delivered the first few scripts they discovered Benjamin would not be available for filming; the character of Sam (played by Gabrielle Anwar) was a hasty replacement, to the point that for the episodes already written they just changed every mention of the name "Julie" to "Sam".
  • Trash the Set: The ending of "There Are Crocodiles", where the Junior Gazette headquarters burn down, came about at least partly because Steven Moffat was sick of the set by that point and was determined to destroy it.
  • Tsundere: Lynda is an epic-level example of this.
  • The Unfettered: Lynda. About the only thing she won't do for the Junior Gazette is fold to blackmail - and while the suicide of the blackmailer throws her off her game considerably, as soon as she discovers the paper being run into the ground by Colin, she's back with a vengeance.
  • Very Special Episode: Too many to count! Having said that, they were very well done, and often some of the highlights of a series.
  • Visions of Another Self: As shown by this very trope page, they devoted much time to the tempestuous romance of leads Lynda and Spike. One episode has a flashback to Spike's parents meeting for the first time - played by Julia Sawalha and Dexter Fletcher.
  • With Friends Like These...: Lynda to just about everyone; Colin to Spike and Kenny