A Look Back at Tucker's Luck: An Obscure '80s Antidote to The Inbetweeners | Fanboys Anonymous

A Look Back at Tucker's Luck: An Obscure '80s Antidote to The Inbetweeners

Posted by Graham Roberts Monday, September 8, 2014
The Inbetweeners cast
The Inbetweeners (UK)title card.
The Inbetweeners as a serialized TV show was a British creation that, at the time of initial viewing, I thought was exceptionally novel or unique. Never before (or so I thought) had a British scriptwriter addressed that awkward stage akin to purgatory between childhood and adulthood. However, as is often the case, I thought wrong. Yes, for those of you who have seen The Inbetweeners (either the British or the American adaptation), much of the viewing enjoyment is derived from sharing with the boys their experiences as they get into one farcical or ridiculous situation after another and then have to deal with the inevitable consequences. However, an all-the-more accurate portrayal of this British "inbetween" life stage hit British TV screens some 30-odd years earlier, and although billed as a children's TV show—to coin a phrase that seems to have been invented by the BBC to describe their TV programs (sometimes inaccurately)—Tucker's Luck  truly is "gritty."

Title card for Tucker's Luck
Tucker's Luck title card.
Produced, set, and aired in the early 1980s, Tucker's Luck is a spinoff of Grange Hill, an exceptionally long-running serialized children's TV drama set in a fictitious (yet in many ways realistic) secondary school in suburban London. Over its 30-year run, the series naturally evolved; however, the initial 4 seasons or so followed the lives of several characters as they progressed through their school years from the first to fifth years (this is not what they are called, but to make it easy for anyone not familiar with the English school system, these seasons chart the progress of the students from approximately ages 11–16).

Naturally, the show does not merely reflect the students' academic progress and engagement in lessons—that would be exceptionally boring—but instead uses lessons and the school as a catalyst or springboard from which the viewer is taken on a journey of exploration, gaining insight into the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. Topics include issues such as dealing with bullies, peer pressure surrounding drinking and taking drugs, whether to push someone in a swimming pool or play a juvenile prank on a fellow classmate, and so on. In many ways, the series was intended to act as a form of parable or instructional device; the show has no overarching narration, but the action is shaped so that the consequences of unwise decisions are demonstrated, often in very stark ways. Indeed, in some episodes highlights or cliffhangers have included students dying (on camera) of drug overdoses or as a result of falling through the roof of unsafe buildings due to misadventure.

Grange Hill title card
Grange Hill early seasons title card.
Three of the main characters with whom British children would have been intimately acquainted (via watching Grange Hill over the prior 4 seasons) continue their journey toward adulthood in Tucker's Luck. These are Peter "Tucker" Jenkins (thus the luck or perhaps misfortune of Peter is referenced in the title), Alan Humphries, and Tommy Watson. All three got into many adventures and scrapes throughout their Grange Hill school careers, in many ways paralleling their Inbetweeners counterparts in the latter stages, and this is all the more apparent when we see them again in Tucker's Luck. Yes, although puerile humor and sexual references to women/girls were much less evident in Grange Hill, fundamentally the boys are similar in their "normality": they are not especially good looking, strong, intelligent, or rich. However, neither are they ugly, weak, mentally challenged, or poor. Thus, a vast majority of the audience can relate to them very well.

These everyman characters leave school with little or no qualifications and attempt to find work in a very difficult market. Recession is gripping Britain both on and off screen, and without any real plan or structure to their lives, the first season seems to simply chart how the characters idle away their time drinking, recovering from hangovers, and visiting the Job Centre (the British equivalent of the welfare office). Along the way, Alan's father dies, saddling both Alan and his paternal uncle with debt and forcing them to sell both their family home and small construction business; Tucker's dad walks out of the family home never to return; and Tucker's kid sister goes missing for several days, prompting a huge search operation.

Characters in Tucker's Luck
No, this is not the first line-up for New Kids on the Block,
they are the main characters in Tucker's Luck from left to right
Tommy Watson, Peter "Tucker" Jenkins and Alan Humphries.
This all sounds rather negative and more of an endurance than a pleasure to watch. However, what makes this show so interesting is the way the characters mature and, in the latter episodes, triumph over adversity and gain some direction in their lives: Tucker finally admits defeat and realizes that he must gain qualifications in vehicle mechanics before he will be given a job in a garage, so he enrolls on a college course, and Tommy joins the navy. All of this action is set against the backdrop of '80s British working class society in London, and from a sociohistorical context—especially to someone born in the '80s—this proves to be very interesting.

Although The Inbetweeners is much more upbeat and somewhat more shallow in its oversimplification of how many suburban teens emerge from childhood innocence in the most clumsy way possible, it is perhaps the perception that these individuals are outcasts—almost pariahs on the edge of a society that they themselves do not feel part of—that makes them endearing to the viewer. In the case of Tucker's Luck, it's not just the main characters who cannot find work; countless others are also in this situation. In the Inbetweeners, countless people are pathetic in their normality; they don't have loads of girlfriends or excellent sex lives, but they do have hang-ups, embarrassing illnesses, and parents who care about them—much like the viewers at home.

Do you remember Tucker's Luck? Did you like it? Feel free to share your memories of it or the '80s in general in the comments below.
THIS POST WAS WRITTEN BY A GUEST WRITER

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