The phrase "Press Gang" has its origins in naval terminology, and is specifically associated with the Royal Navy in the 17th and 18th Centuries. "Pressing" was probably going on long before then, however.

Members of "Press Gangs", or "The Impress Service" as it was formally known, could be found in most ports and were a group of men who would tour the locality looking for suitable candidates for the Royal Navy, whom they would abduct into service. This was all perfectly legal and above board because the Royal Navy was viewed as an essential service which needed 'recruits' desperately. So, one minute you're staggering down the road on the way home from the pub with a belly full of ale, the next you're off to sea.

The actions of the Royal Navy's press gangs may have been technically legal and proper for them to do to British subjects. The press gangs, however, didn't really pay too much attention to the citizenships of the drunks they gathered off the streets -- or off other ships, on the occasion that the RN press gangs boarded another ship purportedly looking for deserters.

Their habit of picking up sailors off American merchant ships and impressing them into British service with false desertion claims ("well, hell, they're just rebellious colonials anyway") after the American Revolution was one of several causes of the War of 1812.

British television series which aired from 1989-1993, about a group of teenagers who run a newspaper called the Junior Gazette. This was an award winning show, but was often criticised because of its adult subject matter and language. (I think they managed to get the word "bitch" into almost every episode.)

The stories were written by Steven Moffat, and the series was based on an idea by Bill Moffat. Bob Spiers directed the majority of the episodes, though I'll clarify the other directors in the episode guide. (You may seen some of Spiers' other work, like Spice World.)

The cast:

This show is my all time favourite. I have several episodes on tape, and I watch them over and over, because to this day, I have not seen better writing in a television show.

"Ok it's like this: there's a tribe living by a river, and in the river are crocodiles. The tribe has one particular piece of wisdom passed down through the generations. It goes like this: If you happen to meet a crocodile, don't sick your head in its mouth.

Every now and then, and who knows the reason, people ignore this advice, which is sad, because they die, but very stupid because they were warned. They had a choice.

The moral of the story is this: you can't afford to be stupid. There are crocodiles."

---Lynda Day, Press Gang "There Are Crocodiles"

The key to Press Gang was that it was a children's TV show that didn't demean or belittle its audience, and hence, it won a lot of fans, myself included. It pictured kids the way we wished we were; sharp, cool, funny, loaded with devilish wisecracks. It was often uproariously funny, the dialogue between Lynda and Spike particularly fizzed with venomous one-upmanship.

It worked best because it wasn't billed as a comedy, and never took itself as a comedy. It was a drama, which just happened to have witty characters. It wasn't afraid to have episodes based on drug use (How To Make A Killing; There Are Crocodiles,) child abuse (Something Terrible), senility and death (The Rest Of My Life.) Pleasingly, it never got preachy:

            Spike: "Drug abuse is an issue. Why don't we tell them about the dangers?"
            Lynda: "Drugs can kill you. What a headline. Next week, why it's bad to fall off high buildings."
                         -- There Are Crocodiles.

If the characters began two-dimensional -- and they did, what with the obsessive editor, Lynda; the rebellious delinquent American, Spike; the studious and talented Sarah; the Arfur Daley-clone Colin, and the loveable Teddy Bear Kenny -- they develop gradually over the course of five series. Lynda and Spike's love/hate relationship blossoms and see-saws realistically. Sarah develops as a writer, as she fights Lynda's crafty manipulation in order to get into University. Even financial whizz Colin, consistently the most shallow of the characters and often basically an excuse for farce, gets the chance to develop (typically, though, once he gets a serious storyline in Something Terrible, no-one believes him...)

It wasn't all as sophisticated as this, of course, and hindsight has blotted a lot of the bubblegum filler from people's memories, but Press Gang remains a shining example of what can be good in "children's television." Long overdue a repeat.

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