Being the girl one in 80s kids’ TV

From Smurfette to Sweet Pea to Rainbow's Jane, being the girl in 80s children's TV wasn't much fun, as Jenny remembers...

Hello, how are you? I am fine. I’ve always wanted to write that. I should have had a penpal when I was younger.

Recently I have discovered a trend in the kids’ TV of my youth, and it only took me 25 years to discover it. In certain cartoon universes of back in the day, there seemed to be a ratio of approximately one woman to approximately all the men. I’m going to call this trend ‘being the girl one’. Or, if you prefer, ‘the village female’.

It also seemed to be the case that the woman one’s purpose was to be the woman one, and nothing else. This was entirely reasonable in the 80s because, as you know, girls didn’t develop eyes until 1997, when New Labour legalised women. As such, they had no use for this new fangled ‘television’ nonsense.

However, some pioneering, forward thinking TV producers were able to envisage a world where girls watched television alongside their eyed counterparts, and they took the risky step of sticking a woman one in their shows, just in case.

Ad – content continues below

Let me take you through a journey of village whores, village old ladies, and village woman ones.

Sweet Pea, Poddington Peas

I never gave much thought to the idea that peas could be sexist. How wrong I was. Even a show about something as harmless as sentient vegetables manages to sneak a token woman one in there.

Sweet Pea’s one purpose in life is being pretty. As we all know, there’s nothing more offensive to humanity than an ugly female pea. And since when did peas have hair?

To be fair to the show, there are a couple of other female peas – Chip-Pea, who is your standard fishwife and, unsurprisingly, works in the chip shop, Penela-Pea, whose sole purpose in life is to push her baby round in a pushchair, Tea-Pea, who makes the tea, and Soap-Pea, who exists because the writers were running out of decent pea puns. However, Sweet Pea is the only one to be featured in the opening credits, and as such is the leading female pea.

What’s happened in my life that I now find myself writing the phrase ‘leading female pea’?

Sweet Pea’s Wikipedia entry describes her as ‘blonde sweet female pea’. That’s her personality. To the best of my knowledge, she doesn’t have an episode of her own; instead she hovers on the sidelines simpering and being blonde. A bit like He-Man.

Ad – content continues below

Soo, The Sooty Show

I hate Soo. Soo is the equivalent of pissing out an ice cube. If ever Sooty and Sweep are about to have fun, Soo is lurking round the corner waiting to pour cold water on their plans, with her whiny voice. And she was always telling on the others.

However, I’m going to cut Soo some slack here; it’s not easy being the girl one. Take, for example, the episode Stargazing, in which Soo wants to go into space with the others, but she is told she can’t because she doesn’t understand things like that, and should just stick to doing the hoovering instead. Bizarrely, the episode features June Whitfield, who agrees that women are useless.

Possibly, Soo’s main role in the show is to be the boring, naggy one, fitting in perfectly with the stereotype of the girl one being, well, boring and naggy. It must be said, though, that in Stargazing Soo disregards the men’s attempt to shackle her to a life of domestic drudgery: she steals the rocket and goes into space on her own. She wins some points for that, but it doesn’t stop me rolling my eyes whenever she appears on TV, which is surprisingly often considering I’m in my 30s.

Of course, Soo had another big story arc – getting pregnant. This played out in the Sooty & Co episode Soo Gets Pregnant (I couldn’t be arsed to look up the real title, that’ll do). In this episode, Soo pretends to be pregnant in order to screw with Sweep’s mind. She stuffs something up her dress and declares “I’ve got the whole Manchester United team up there!” Reader, if I was into football I’d make some sort of Manchester United pun here, but I like darts, so let me just say that I’m sick of Phil ‘the power’ Taylor.

Jane/Dawn, Rainbow

There are a lot of arguments to be made for Rainbow being the most progressive, forward-thinking kids’ show ever, apart from maybe Sesame Street. But that doesn’t mean the show didn’t fall foul to the ‘having a woman one’ trope.

Rainbow did have a fine selection of female guests (Patsy Rowlands and Lynda Baron being two stand-out examples), but there seemed to be an odd rule that only one woman was allowed to be a constant presence. Hence when Rod, Jane and Freddy left to star in their own show, Jane’s role as ‘the woman one’ was immediately filled by Dawn Bowden, their next door neighbour who definitely wasn’t getting up to anything with Geoffrey.

Ad – content continues below

Two episodes stand out as far as Jane is concerned – Work That Dad Does, and Getting Your Own Way. In the first one, the whole episode is spent arguing that women can do things men can do, such as painting a wall, much to Zippy’s disgust. In the second one, the main conflict is taken up with Geoffrey, Rod and Freddy wanting to watch the football, while Jane wants to watch a cookery show. She has to, she’s the woman one.

Meanwhile, both Jane and Dawn were forever knitting jumpers for Geoffrey. Jane once knitted a terrible pink monstrosity, and started crying when Geoffrey rejected her efforts like the alpha male he is.

Other Jane/Dawn highlights include: the time Zippy ordered Dawn to drop everything and make him a cake, and the time Jane was singled out as a babysitter (I know Geoffrey was technically a ‘guardian’, but supervising a bear, a hippo and a rugby ball alien isn’t really in the same league).

Smurfette, The Smurfs

Let’s move on to a classic, and a character which paved the way for the ‘village whore’ trope to exist (in my head). Most of us have made the joke that Smurfette only exists to ‘stop the male Smurfs getting too stressed’, but is there really no more depth to her character than that? I realise I’m using the phrase ‘depth of character’ when referring to The Smurfs, but cut me some slack here.

There are two other semi-prominent female Smurfs – Sassette, a child Smurf and the second female to be ‘created’ – I assume no one knows who the father is, and Nanny Smurf, who didn’t appear until season 8, due to being gone for 500 years because she was imprisoned by a haunted house. As a woman, I’m sick of being imprisoned by haunted houses, I wish they’d stop bringing it up in TV shows.

Back to Smurfette. Smurfette was created by the show’s bad guy, Gargamel. In order to distract the Smurfs to make catching them easier. In other words, Smurfette’s original purpose was to get her tits out so the others would fall over themselves trying to get to her. I always thought they’d shipped the woman one in from, I don’t know, a warehouse somewhere, for the purposes of being the woman one. However, she was ‘rescued’ by the Smurfs and turned into a ‘real Smurf’ in the episode The Smurfette.

Ad – content continues below

Princess Romy, Around The World With Willy Fog

“It’s my turn, the gentle touch, I’m Romy, they love me so much…”

I will leave this entry in the capable hands of an old acquaintance of mine who, when introduced to this show, had only one comment – “He’s banging the hell out of the cat”.

Princess Romy is first introduced to us in episode 9 – The Remarkable Rescue Of Romy. We learn that Romy is a young widow who is hours away from being made to throw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre. Naturally, Romy makes no attempt to save herself, and copes with her predicament by fainting. The menfolk bluster in and carry her away, sealing Romy’s fate of forever being known as ‘the woman one’.

Naturally, Romy later shows her gratitude by being in love with Willy Fog. But let’s face it, you’d do the same in her position.

Annie and Clarabel – Thomas The Tank Engine

“Those are my coaches. Give them back!” – Thomas, Emily’s New Coaches, Season 7

Yes Thomas. They are definitely your coaches, and no woman one has the right to go swanning round liberating them willy nilly.

Ad – content continues below

Okay, I guess this one’s kind of stupid, but have you not been paying attention to the rest of this article? It’s all stupid.

Annie and Clarabel are Thomas’ groupies. Either that or he just drags them around by their faces. Sodor didn’t see a proper female engine until 2003, with the arrival of the aforementioned Emily, who immediately caused shit wherever she went. Until Emily’s arrival, the main women ones in the show were Annie and Clarabel, Thomas’s lovely, blushing sets of baggage.

This is by no means a definitive list, and I’m not writing this because I am anti-men (men are tremendous). I’m just trying to highlight an odd trend that seemed to take hold of kids’ shows when I was a kid. I’m sure the token woman one isn’t nearly as much of a thing now as it was then, but the trend wasn’t all bad. I mean, if it hadn’t been for Jane, I would never have learned how to make that ‘delicious fruit drink’ for the men, and then carry it to them on a tray all the way from my house.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of pioneering female characters in the kids’ shows of yore: She-Ra, The Sorceress (not helped by her agoraphobia), Cheetara, Jem, Queen Nessie, The Powerpuff Girls and, erm, Penny Crayon. But I can’t help noticing that some shows appeared to only have any female characters because the network ordered them to. That’s a fair point I suppose; as I said earlier, only boys watched TV back then.

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.