Helen Cresswell (11 July 1934 – 26 September 2005) was an English television scriptwriter and author of more than 100 children's books, best known for comedy and supernatural fiction. Her most popular book series, Lizzie Dripping and The Bagthorpe Saga, were also the basis for television series.
Cresswell's TV work included adaptation of her own books for television movies and series: Lizzie Dripping (two series, 1973–75), Jumbo Spencer (1976), The Secret World of Polly Flint (1987), and Moondial (1988). Works by others that she adapted for TV include The Haunted School, Five Children and It (1991), The Phoenix and the Carpet (1997), The Famous Five (1995–96), and The Demon Headmaster (1996–98).
Cresswell was born in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. Her mother arranged Greek-language instruction for her daughter at age 12, when she was hospitalized one year with spinal problems. She was educated at Nottingham High School for Girls, and at King's College London, where she graduated in English literature. Cresswell and her childhood sweetheart Brian Rowe (married 1962, dissolved 1995) had two children. On 26 September 2005, Helen Cresswell died in her home in Eakring, Nottinghamshire, aged 71, from ovarian cancer.
Cresswell had great "popular impact" because she "diversified into writing for television, in 1960, with a script for what was then called Jack Playhouse, bringing simple storytelling to BBC children's TV." She tried writing for adults but succeeded with the child audience. Her first book was published in 1960, Sonya-by-the-Shore, and the Jumbo Spencer series followed. Yet she considered herself a poet until The Piemakers (Faber, 1967) won both "success with young readers" and approval from critics. It was a commended runner-up[a] for the Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book by a British subject.
She was one of three or four runners-up[a] for the Carnegie Medal on three later occasions: namely, for The Night Watchmen (1969), Up the Pier (1971), and The Bongleweed (1973). In 1989, she won the Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association, recognising The Night Watchmen (Faber, 1969) as the best children's book published twenty years earlier that did not win a major award.
Although the "Demon Headmaster" TV series (1996–1998) was a success, her "star waned" as the BBC "turned to the tougher damaged heroines of Jacqueline Wilson, typified by Tracy Beaker, resident of The Dumping Ground." (Wilson introduced Beaker in 1991 and "The Story of Tracy Beaker" on television ran from 2002 to 2006.) Her daughter, Caroline, believed that Winter of the Birds (1976) had been her mother's own favourite work. Cresswell once explained, "I write a title, then set out to find where that particular road will take me", and Caroline recalled, "Mum never plotted her books, she just wrote."
The BBC aired a six-part TV series, Five Children And It (1991), using Cresswell's adaptation of the 1902 novel by E. Nesbit. Next year Cresswell's print sequel was published, The Return of the Psammead (BBC Books, 1992), which was the basis for a TV sequel of the same name in 1993. She also adapted the second book in Nesbit's trilogy, The Phoenix and the Carpet (1904), for a television serial transmitted in 1997.
Lizzie Dripping stories
Posy Bates stories
Two Hoots series
The series was illustrated by Martine Blanc and published by Ernest Benn Limited.
- Today there are usually eight books on the Carnegie shortlist. According to CCSU some runners-up through 2002 were Commended (from 1954) or Highly Commended (from 1966). There were about 160 commendations of both kinds in 49 years including four for 1967 (one highly commended) and three each for 1969, 1971, and 1973.
- "Author Helen Cresswell dies at 71" (obituary), BBC News, 27 September 2005; retrieved 23 August 2012.
- "Helen Cresswell" (obituary), Maggie Brown, The Guardian, 29 September 2005; retrieved 23 August 2012.
- "Helen Cresswell" (obituary), The Telegraph, 29 September 2005; retrieved 23 August 2012.
- Helen Cresswell at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2013-06-29.
- "Carnegie Medal Award". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 2012-08-23.
- "Phoenix Award" Archived 20 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
- Helen Cresswell at IMDb. Retrieved 2012-08-23.
- Obituary, The Independent, 28 September 2005; retrieved 23 August 2012.
- Obituary, The Times, 30 September 2005; retrieved 23 August 2012.(subscription required)
- Tribute to a voice that crossed generations, Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Times, 8 October 2005; retrieved 23 August 2012.(subscription required)