Classic TV Revisited: Catherine Cookson’s The Mallens

The Mallens was a memorable Catherine Cookson adaptation about a Northern squire with a ruthless streak that aired on ITV between 1979 and 1980 starring John Hallam, Juliet Stevenson, Gerry Sundquist and John Duttine

Gritty Catherine Cookson costume drama about a wicked squire with illegitimate children sprinkled all over the moors of northern England.

Why was it so good?
The hairstyles were some of the most memorable ever seen on TV. The ruthless Thomas Mallen’s distinguishing mark was a large white streak through his black hair, which made him resemble a human badger. He passed this on to his offspring.

How did it begin?
Granada TV chiefs knew they were on to a winner when they decided to adapt Catherine Cookson’s novels for the small screen. The move came after the success of the TV version of her book A House Full Of Men in 1977. The Mallens was based on her tomes The Mallen Litter, The Mallen Streak and The Mallen Girl, it ran for two series until 1980 and was a huge hit with more than 13m viewers.

What was it about?
The Mallens was basically captivating tosh with John Hallam sporting a hairstyle similar to one- time World Of Sport host Dickie Davies. Hallam played wicked Squire Thomas Mallen, who raped and pillaged his way across 19th-century Northumbrian moors, leaving a string of babies with the same white-streaked quiff. A wrong’un, he went bankrupt, moved in with his nieces and promptly raped one of them, who got pregnant and died.

Did the evil Squire get his just deserts?
In the end, realising his wickedness, he committed suicide. A second series followed which focused on his deaf illegitimate daughter Barbara (Juliet Stevenson). She had a doomed romance with Michael Radlet (Gerry Sundquist), illegitimate son of her ruthless half-brother Dick (John Duttine). The series also starred David Rintoul, Pippa Guard and Caroline Blakiston.

Did the hairstyles catch on?
Not really as it was the age of perms, mullets and post-punk hairdos. Only time there has been anything like a Mallens coiffeur was when Glenn Close sported something quite close to it in the re-make of 101 Dalmatians. There may also have been a sighting of it in kids’ show Bodger And Badger.

What happened to the cast?
Juliet Stevenson’s career flourished with the film Truly, Madly, Deeply and the TV drama The Politician’s Wife. John Duttine became a household name. Tragically Gerry Sundquist committed suicide in 1993, aged only 37.

Distinguishing features?
Hair – groomed perfectly even though hair driers did not exist in Victorian times and the nearest barber was in Newcastle.

Do say
“Gritty Cookson saga. Shouldn’t Dickie Davies have royalties for the hairdos?”

Don’t say
“Grim oop north period piece which explains why no-one wants to live there.”

Not to be confused with?
The British Hairdressing Awards; The Silver Streak;The Barber Of Seville; Help It’sThe Hair Baear Bunch; Cutting It.

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.