Who could possibly point the finger of scorn at Sue Townsend, creator of everyone's favourite teenager? Who casts the first stone at the satirical author of The Queen and I, a staunch republican but still compassionate about a deposed Royal Family? Sue Townsend, that's who. "
It was so awful, a job I'm always ashamed of having done," she says. "In 1963, I was 17 and living on my own. I used to hang around with Leicester's bohemians - there were 10 of us - and one of my friends used to work for a man called Tosh, who looked like Leslie Phillips, with a moustache and a mock-posh accent. Tosh claimed to represent an educational package called the Parents-Pupils Development Plan. You had to sell this door-to-door; I was really scared by how good I was."
Down the mean streets of Leicester Sue would go, knocking on doors of less well-off citizens and asking: "Do you want your children to do better than you've done?" After the inevitable "yes", she would unfurl a vast chart, packed with happy-looking children and parents, many sporting mortarboards. With her foot in the door, she would enthuse about the Development Plan, which consisted largely of a set of bottom-of-the-range encyclopedias.
"Sometimes they already had encyclopedias; you could tell they were untouched." Sue's job was to get them to agree to see another rep, who'd hand over a free taster book and try to sign them up for payments for the (un-needed) volumes. …