The Bagthorpe Saga

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The Bagthorpe Saga is a series of 10 fiction books written by author Helen Cresswell between 1977 and 2001.[1] The series became the basis of a TV comedy series - also called The Bagthorpe Saga - in 1981, and also won two International Reading Association awards.[2] The books were published in the UK and the United States by Faber and Faber.


The saga follows the lives of the eccentric Bagthorpe family, who live in Unicorn House in an unspecified but rural part of the UK. The nearest large settlement is the fictional town of Aysham.

Books in the Saga[edit]

  1. Ordinary Jack (1977) ISBN 0-380-43349-4
  2. Absolute Zero (1978) ISBN 0-571-11155-6
  3. Bagthorpes Unlimited (1978) ISBN 0-380-49296-2
  4. Bagthorpes Versus the World (1979) ISBN 0-340-72246-0
  5. Bagthorpes Abroad (1984) ISBN 0-14-031972-7
  6. Bagthorpes Haunted (1985) ISBN 0-340-71655-X
  7. Bagthorpes Liberated (1989) ISBN 0-02-725441-0
  8. The Bagthorpe Triangle (1992) ISBN 0-571-17805-7
  9. Bagthorpes Besieged (1996) ISBN 0-571-17423-X
  10. Bagthorpes Battered (2001) ISBN 0-340-78824-0

Main characters[edit]


  • Henry Bagthorpe, father of the family. A scriptwriter for the BBC.
  • Laura Bagthorpe, mother of the family. An agony aunt (under the name "Stella Bright"), and part-time magistrate.


Three of the four children are held (chiefly by themselves) to be frightfully gifted ('genii') and work assiduously at the many 'strings to their bows'. Boasting about their many talents is not regarded as boasting but as 'taking a just pride in their accomplishments'. Only Jack is ordinary.

  • William Bagthorpe, sixteen, whose talents include drumming, amateur radio, mathematics, and tennis. He spends much of his spare time communicating with a character called "Anonymous from Grimsby".
  • Tess Bagthorpe, fourteen, fluent in French, (in one book, Tess undertakes to rewrite Voltaire to get into the Guinness Book of Records), she also plays the oboe and piano and has a black belt in judo
  • Jack Bagthorpe, twelve, who has no 'strings' whatsoever
  • Rosie Bagthorpe, ten, whose 'strings' include mathematics (putting her in competition with William), violin,painting and photography.

Other family members[edit]

  • Grace Bagthorpe, mother of Henry Bagthorpe. She and her husband, Alfred, live with the other Bagthorpes at Unicorn House, on a 'temporary' basis. Henry Bagthorpe is described as being her favourite son as he is always easy to goad into a good argument. However, she would never admit this. She holds a vendetta against Uncle Parker for running over her evil pet cat, Thomas I four years ago (in Bagthorpes V. the World, she acquires a new cat, Thomas II, who Daisy calls Little Tommy) but dotes upon Daisy, calling her a "shining jewel of a child" and probably recognizing her as a kindred spirit.
  • Alfred Bagthorpe, father of Henry. Unlike all the other Bagthorpes, he is described as living a quiet life, enjoying fishing and watching television with the sound turned off. Both watching television without sound and his ability to live a peaceful parallel life in the Bagthorpe household can be attributed to his reduced hearing - Russell describes him as "S.D. - Selectively Deaf"
  • Celia Parker, daughter of Grace and Alfred, and sister to Henry. Married to Russell Parker. Their home, a short distance from Unicorn House, is called The Knoll. Celia wears cheesecloth in the manner of a dishevelled Greek heroine. She writes poetry and can finish The Times crossword faster than Henry Bagthorpe.
  • Russell Parker, husband of Celia Parker. He has a large private income from "something in shares", drives fast (on one occasion running over Thomas, Grandma Bagthorpe's cat) and also enjoys goading Henry Bagthorpe into massive arguments.
  • Daisy Parker, the precocious and trouble-making 4-year-old daughter of Celia and Russell Parker. Goes through phases, which include flooding, arson, morbidity (described as "Intimations of Mortality" by her mother), and graffiti.
  • Uncle Claud, a vicar. He is the son of Grace and Alfred, and brother to Henry. Married to Penelope, they have two children Luke and Esther. He and his family are considered very boring by the rest of the Bagthorpes.
  • Aunt Penelope, an obsessive compulsive and very religious lady, who is the wife of Claud. She is sufficiently worried for her children's health that she puts all library books in the oven to sterilise them before letting her children read them. The rest of the Bagthorpes were very amused to learn that on one occasion she forgot the books, burning them.
    • Luke, and Esther, Penelope's and Claud's two genius children. Luke is a Young Brain of Britain,and Esther tells tales. They do one another's boasting.
  • Great Aunt Lucy, an eccentric elderly relative of Henry, who lives in Torquay. In Bagthorpes v. the world, Great Aunt Lucy visits the Bagthorpes, and her great-nephews and nieces spend the book trying to get rid of her. She does not believe in Time, consequently has no set time for anything, is afraid of the full moon and has a vicious Pekinese called Wung Foo.

Other characters[edit]

  • Mrs. Fosdyke, the Bagthorpes' housekeeper.
  • Zero, the Bagthorpe family's pet dog.
  • Joseph O'Toole, a whiskey addicted tramp.
  • Max Fosdyke,Mrs Fosdyke's son, on the run for stealing a cashcard.
  • Billy Goat Gruff, Daisy's beloved, psychotic pet goat.
  • P.J, a director from Borderline Television whom Tess unwillingly invites into the Bagthorpe household after she wins a competition on The Happiest Family in England. He is thoroughly unpleasant and the Bagthorpes accordingly give him hell.
  • Atlanta, the Danish au pair. William and several of his friends develop crushes on her.

Television series[edit]

The Bagthorpe Saga
Created by Helen Cresswell
Starring Edward Hardwicke
Angela Thorne
Dandy Nichols
Tim Preece
Madeline Smith
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 6
Running time 30 minutes
Original network BBC1
Original release 25 March –
29 April 1981

The Bagthorpe Saga, a six-part adaptation of the first two novels (Ordinary Jack and Absolute Zero) was broadcast by the BBC in 1981. The character of Rosie was eliminated and some of her dialogue and character attributes were given to Tess. Each episode ran for 30 minutes.[3]



External links[edit]