It’s weird how some of the most unexpected things can catch you out. I woke up this morning after half remembering a television series from my childhood called The Owl Service. I remembered it as a really good (sort of) ghost story. Well anyway, I went online to find out about it, and actually confirm that it had existed, my having a long history of mixing up elements of lots of different shows, and thus remembering TV shows that never actually existed. Though they would have been awesome if they had.
Anyway I found it, and yay, delight ensued. I then decided to find out some of the background history of some of my favourite children’s drama programs from the 70’s, and 80’s. This of course led me to The Famous Five. And I don’t mean the sort of alright version from the 90’s.
The version released in the late 70’s is a show that has some meaning to me. It was the first time I ever saw someone with my surname acting in anything. Michelle Gallagher. Who played my very unsurprisingly favourite character from the books, George. Anyway it kind of resonated with my childhood mind, that this tomboy was played by a girl with the same name as me. It gave me this odd sense of wonder which has never quite left me, were we related in some distant way? Was she like her character in reality, or a lil girlie girl. All the usual questions that pass through a child’s mind.
So I did a little research. Wanting to find out how the show came to be made, and what the actors all did after the show. The story of the show was interesting enough I suppose, though hardly fascinating. It was produced by a studio who wanted to make money so that they could pay their staff, and make more shows. But it did interest me that the girl who played Anne went on to be a primary school, religious education teacher of all things. Then when I dug a little deeper I discovered that Michelle Gallagher was dead. That she had in fact taken her own life in 2000.
That information just pulled me up short. I mean sure she must have been 13 or 14 in 1978 when the show was made. (That year being another reason the show resonated with me throughout my childhood, after all it’s the year I was born in.) But that would have only put her in her 30’s when she died.
But what threw me most, is that another of the “girls” who helped to shape my mind, and my view of myself is gone from the world…
George of Famous Five fame, Michelle Gallagher: I learned from her that it was okay to want to grow up to be a smart, tomboy. (bear in mind I was maybe 6 seeing that show the first time, 14 was grown up. Besides at 6 I was really unaware of the other difference between the apparently male, and women of the world.)
Sara Jane Smith, the second best of The Doctor’s companions, Elizabeth Sladen: She showed me that you know what? It’s okay to look damn good, while being smarter than the boys, a tomboy, and to generally be kicking ass good and hard while doing it. All without breaking to many nails.
As for the third? Well as far as I know she is still very much alive and kicking. As for who she is, let’s just say that both her characters, and her reality are equally admirable and leave it at that.
So back to those who are gone. Oh the characters they made still live on in DVD’s, on the internet, and in occasional reruns. But the women who made those characters come to life, who by mixing parts of themselves with parts of people who never existed made the unreal real, at least to my young unformed mind, are gone from the world. (What I actually believe is far more complex but this is neither the time, nor the place for that particular discussion.)
That they’ve left us saddens me. Not because I knew them, but because I always wish anyone who has knowingly, or unknowingly helped me to become who I am only the best. I wish them to be happy, healthy, and to have the chance to help someone else. Many someone’s else. Still at least with actresses their bodies or work still live on, and may be able to help nudge some other lost lil transgirl on to a healthier path that doesn’t lead only to self-destruction.
And while entertaining people is a good legacy to have, maybe, just maybe even unknowingly helping even a handful of girls like me to achieve their potential is a slightly better fate?