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 bases for television series.
Cresswell's TV work included adaptation of her own books for television movies and series: Lizzie Dripping (two series, 1973–75), 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, 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 Helen 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 earned a degree in English literature.
Cresswell and her childhood sweetheart Brian Rowe (married 1962, dissolved 1995) had two children, Caroline Rowe (born 1963) and Candy Rowe (born 1971) and two grandchildren, Ellie Staves (born 1996) and Lucy Staves (born 1999).
On 26 September 2005 Helen Cresswell died peacefully 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 Jackanory 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 “critical acclaim”. 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, “Cresswell's 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 “The Story of Tracy Beaker” on television ran from 2002 to 2006.)
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.”
In 1991 the BBC aired a six-part TV series, Five Children And It, using Cresswell's script adaptation of the 1902 classic 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 1997 TV show.[