Simon is an ordinary schoolboy whose best friend happens to be a large, fun-loving and occasionally reckless witch. Of course, no one except Simon and his friends believes this. To the adult world, she is simply an elderly eccentric and their views on her range from poor old lady to outright nuisance. Simon's school, holiday and home life are all enlivened by the presence of the witch (her name is never revealed, indeed she doesn't seem to have one) and by her furniture-eating cat, George. Other characters in Simon's life include his schoolmate Jimmy Watson, school swot Sally, and his long-suffering mother, while later stories added the upper-class Cuthbert and sweet little girl, Angelica.
Simon and the witch first made their debut in Margaret Stuart Barry's book of the same name in 1976 and seven more books followed, becoming a mainstay of children's fiction and school libraries in the UK throughout the 1980s. Each book originally told six separate short stories but from Simon and the Witch in School these became chapters in a continuing narrative. The books, published in paperback in Young Lions, were:
- Simon and the Witch
- The Return of the Witch
- The Witch of Monopoly Manor
- The Witch on Holiday
- The Witch V.I.P.
- Simon and the Witch in School
- The Witch and the Holiday Club
- The Millionaire Witch
Two TV series, a total of 25 x 15-minute episodes, were made by the BBC and first aired on Children's BBC in 1987-1988, being regularly repeated and last appearing on BBC Choice in the early 2000s. The first series adapted and expanded upon Simon and the Witch in School and the second did the same for The Witch and the Holiday Club, though all simply aired under the title Simon and the Witch. The scripts were by Valerie Georgeson, the producer was Angela Beeching and the director was David Bell.
The late Elizabeth Spriggs played the witch with Hugh Pollard as Simon. Other notable guest stars included Nicola Stapleton (later Mandy in EastEnders and Janine in Bad Girls) as Sally, Joan Sims as local bigwig Lady Fox-Custard and, in the first series, future film actress Naomie Harris (now the Bond films' Miss Moneypenny) as Joyce.
Simon and the Witch provides examples of:
- The '80s: The TV series is quite a social document of life for a young person in Britain in the late 1980s, complete with phones that have dials, toad in the hole for school dinner and not a computer in sight. And that's without mentioning Sally's fashions in the second series.
- Abhorrent Admirer: Simon and Cuthbert both gain unwanted attention from Angelica in the second series, though it's because she's younger than them and too sweet and soppy for their taste, rather than the traditional reasons. And of course they're primary age, so any girl's attention is an embarrassment.
- Adaptation Expansion: Both series considerably expand the stories from the books they are based on, though they remain generally faithful to them.
- Adaptational Intelligence: Miss Phoeble is a fairly ineffectual teacher in the books and easily confused. On TV she doesn't live up to her name nearly as much and seems quite competent and able to keep order in her class.
- Adaptational Villainy: Sally is introduced in the first book as a friend of Simon and a bit of a know-all, but not a bad person. The TV series (though to some extent the later books as well) upgrades her to a Smug Snake and Spoiled Brat who's always trying to get the witch and her friends into trouble, while demanding respect from everyone and giving none, except to Lady Fox-Custard and teachers. An example of the contrast between the two versions of the character is her destruction of Simon's model giraffe: the book Sally does this in a moment of anger when her own design doesn't work and finally says sorry; the TV Sally does it out of sheer spite and jealousy and is never seen to apologise.
- Adults Are Useless: Simon's mother frequently tells him off for calling a "poor old lady" a witch and ignores all evidence of magic; headmaster Mr Bodley has no idea what's going on in his own school; and teacher Miss Phoeble is similarly oblivious even when a fluffy snake or multiple portions of fish and chips appear in her classroom.
- All Witches Have Cats: George.
- Born Unlucky: Jimmy continually bemoans the fact that nothing ever goes right for him. In one episode he gets drenched with water twice and just knows a third such experience is coming. And it does. The Halloween episode sees him compare notes with similarly unlucky witch Minnie the Moan. Jimmy never walks on cracks in the pavement, Minnie actually fell into one.
- The Bully: Sally has elements of this, particularly in her mockery of Jimmy over his reading ability at school, and when she leads Cuthbert and Lady Fox-Custard in keep fit.
- Character Name and the Noun Phrase: The series title.
- The Comically Serious: Simon's reaction to most of the witch's antics. Even more so with Hugh Pollard's performance on TV.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: The first book sees Sally as a minor character and friend of Simon and Jimmy doesn't appear at all. The witch is slightly grander and more well-spoken than she becomes.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The series title.
- Funny Foreigner: Mr Valdini in the second series is a very stereotypical Italian.
- I Own This Town: Lady Fox-Custard frequently uses her wealth and power to control local events and increasingly, to make trouble for the witch. The Mayor, Mr Bodley, the Vicar and Simon's mother are all in her thrall to some extent.
- Lethal Chef: The witch and her fellow witches prepare such foods as worms on toast, beetles, snake sauce and mice (not mince) pies, but they can never persuade Simon and his friends to try them. However, Simon does accept a foaming green drink in one episode.
- Named by the Adaptation: Angelica is given the surname Makepeace.
- Newscaster Cameo: Newsround presenter John Craven in the first series (whose chair collapses when George nibbles the legs) and, by a slight extension, BBC weatherman Michael Fish in the second series, with scenes shot on the forecourt and in the foyer at Television Centre.
- Nice Girl: Angelica. The adults wrongly think that Sally is this.
- No Name Given: This series makes quite a feature of this one. The witch doesn't seem to have a name and is only referred to as "the witch" by herself and Simon's circle. This leads to a scene in the first TV series where they're calling for her outside her house and have to shout "Witch!" There's a running gag in the first series where adults call her "Mrs...Er..." though the witch thinks this is Miss Phoeble's name. In the second series Mr Valdini calls the witch "old tatty lady". Simon's mother is also unnamed and the witch calls her Mrs Woman. Finally, Sally's non-speaking friend seen sitting and giggling beside her in class in the first series has no name.
- The Prima Donna: Sally in the school pantomime. She's said by Miss Phoeble to be a good singer and dancer, though with the witch around she never gets the chance to prove it.
- Quintessential British Gentleman: Cuthbert, a Right Honourable, is such a gentleman that he wears a suit over his school uniform, says "awfully sorry" and reads The Times in class when it's meant to be covering the desks for a craft lesson. When the friends form a holiday club in the second series he wants to elect a secretary and take minutes. The witch notes that such a meeting is more likely to take hours.
- School Play: The school pantomime closes the first series.
- Servile Snarker: Lady Fox-Custard's butler, Hopkins, at every opportunity. In his first scene he makes it clear that she is on probation as an employer as much as he is as an employee. He can barely hide his contempt for her nouveau riche Ladyship and frequently joins with her nephew Cuthbert in jokes at her expense, though she generally fails to notice.
- Teacher's Pet: Sally is class monitor, an advanced reader and expects the leading role in the school pantomime as of right. On TV she's expert at sucking up to Miss Phoeble, while in the same move turning round and sticking her tongue out at the witch. Partly averted in that Miss Phoeble will tell her off like anyone else if she's actually caught doing wrong.
- Unnamed Parent: Simon's mother, called "Mrs...Er..." by Lady Fox-Custard (as is the witch) and "Mrs Woman" by the witch herself. The books feature Mr and Mrs Watson, but we never learn their first names, and Sally's mother, who is never named. Indeed, we don't even know Simon and Sally's surnames.
- Villain Team-Up: Sally and Lady Fox-Custard join forces in the second series in their attempts to close down Valdini's cafe.
- Witch Classic: She can ride a broomstick (albeit stolen from the school cupboard), has a magic wand, an animal companion (George) and of course, practises witchcraft (the TV witch is slightly more competent at this than her book counterpart). Sistership and the trio are seen in the Halloween episode with Hatty the Howl and Minnie the Moan and each series also has a visit from the witch's actual sister, Tombola.
- Wicked Witch: There are moments that suggest she could be this if Simon weren't around to act as her conscience. The book version is ready to kick a child's sandcastle down or lure Sally into falling into a hole in the road. On TV she's more mischievous than wicked, although she's quite happy to allow Jimmy to stay in detention and take the blame for passing her note around the class, until Simon intervenes. On occasions both Sally and Angelica seem to suffer embarrassment or upset at her hands rather more than they deserve. Simon sums the whole series up in a second series episode when he says: "You're not a poor old lady... you're a wicked old witch!" and she says: "Yes, I am, aren't I?" and they laugh.