Dani Harmer is returning to our screens tomorrow (Friday, 12th February) as rebellious CBBC character Tracy Beaker in the three-part series My Mum Tracy Beaker – but this time Tracy’s all grown-up, with a daughter of her own.
Based on Jacqueline Wilson’s book of the same name, the series follows a now-30-year-old Tracy, who works in a cafe, and her 10-year-old daughter Jess as their lives are turned upside when Tracy begins a romance with an old friend-turned-footballer from her Dumping Ground days.
With the show set to feature cameos from fan-favourites Justine Littlewood (Montanna Thompson), Cam Lawson (Lisa Coleman) and Carly Beaker (Ruth Gemmell), My Mum Tracy Beaker will certainly be a blast from the past for many millennial fans.
The series writer Emma Reeves, who adapted the book for TV and wrote for The Story of Tracy Beaker, Tracy Beaker Returns and spin-off The Dumping Ground, spoke to RadioTimes.com and revealed what it was like bringing Tracy back to our screens.
Make sure to also check out our exclusive interview with the original cast of The Story of Tracy Beaker almost 20 years on, in which they reveal their favourite scenes from the show.
What was it like writing for Tracy Beaker after 10 years?
It was was sort of exciting, nerve-racking, a definite sort of privilege. I felt very lucky that I was the writer who got to do this. I think it’s really interesting because obviously I read Jacqueline’s book and the sequel to it and it’s just very interesting looking at what had happened to Tracy and how you sort of possibly square that with what happened in Tracy Beaker Returns which I think you can just about do.
How did you find writing dialogue for a 30-year-old Tracy?
Jacqueline’s characters and the way that Tracy comes across in the book is so clear that it didn’t feel challenging. I think we had a lot of discussions about “bog off” and whether she would still say it. We wanted to show that Tracy had grown in many ways but is obviously still the same person so in the end, she kind of says “bog off” in quotation marks and I think at one point, I have her saying: “I miss the girl who used to tell teachers to bog off.” So I think she’s very much grown up. She’s trying to control her famous Beaker temper but I think she’s still kind of a force of nature.
When I went to rehearsals, it was obviously under COVID conditions, everyone was two-metres apart and there were six of us all socially-distanced and John, the director, was doing some improvisation with Tracy (Dani Harmer), Jordan, who plays her boyfriend Sean, and Emma, who plays her daughter, and it was interesting watching Dani slip effortlessly into the character of Tracy and have this absolute resilience, confidence, cheekiness – she’s had to develop this strength.
With Tracy, she’s quite easy to write because you feel as though Jacqueline just writes her so beautiful, you can tell where Tracy is coming from and Jess is a very different character because Tracy has deliberately protected her and Jess hasn’t had to fight in the way that Tracy has had to fight all her life.
How was it writing Tracy as a mother?
In Tracy Beaker Returns, we saw Tracy grow into somebody who was actually very good at caring for young people and so it’s a bit like a continuation of Tracy Returns in a way because there’s a lot of the same person that Tracy always is. One of Tracy’s things, apart from her determination and cheekiness and her forcefulness, is she’s also very loving and I think that’s part of the heart of her relationship with her mum, that she kept caring for this person who kept letting her down.
We felt like the young people who were in her care, she fiercely loved them, she would do anything for them but in an impetuous way that’s maybe not necessarily the correct way or even the best way, but she has this strong force of love and that’s the sort of mum she is. She really would do absolutely anything for Jess. She’s possible over-protective and over-fierce in her defence of Jess or she can be, but she’s an absolutely brilliant mum because she loves so deeply and fiercely. And finally now she’s got Jess, she has that love returned in way a way which you know, her mother never gave her.
What was it like reuniting Tracy Beaker and Justine Littlewood after all this time?
I was delighted when I read the book to see that Justine was back because I’ve always been a bit of a Justine stan. When we were doing Tracy Beaker Returns, I think I pitched every year that Justine would come back and I was finally allowed to do it in the third year but I think I’d proposed that every single year because I love Justine and I think similarly her and Tracy are two sides of the same coin.
By the end of My Mum Tracy Beaker, partly because Tracy did find this stable mother-daughter relationship she’d been looking for with Cam, I think Tracy has managed to grow beyond the person she was in the Dumping Ground in a way more than Justine has. But I think both Tracy and Justine – they’re tough, they’re survivors because they’ve had to be, and they were also very neglected by their parents and they were in the same boat when they were young.
There are a lot of things that interest me about Justine and I think also the effect she has on Tracy because it’s surprising sometimes how much you think you’ve grown past somebody and then somebody from your past can have this effect on you that causes just total regression and I think that’s just an interesting thing to explore in Tracy and Justine. I think they sort of hopefully come to something approaching a truce at the end of My Mum Tracy Beaker because it’s not good for either of them to judge themselves against the other or to be in competition. They both see themselves as the persecuted heroine being tortured by the other one and that’s why they’re just so much fun to write together.
What was it like bringing Jess – Tracy’s 10-year-old daughter – to life on screen?
We worked very hard to try and get Jess right because some sorts of heroines lend themselves very easily to TV, particularly to CBBC, so for instance, I worked on Jacqueline’s Hetty Feather and Hetty is another very Tracy-like character in that she’s an absolute irrepressible force of nature. Those sorts of characters leap off the page and translate very easily into the lead of a CBBC show, whereas the sort of slightly quieter characters who are less sure of themselves, it can be harder to make them work as well.
The main thing is that we really see things through Jess’s eyes and Tracy sort of empowers Jess to drive the story because we hope that the audience will really like this relationship between Jess and Tracy because they’re a partnership and sometimes Jess looks after her mum just as much as Tracy looks after Jess. Because she’s never had to be as tough as Tracy, she’s never had to deal with the things Tracy dealt with as a child because Tracy made sure she didn’t, she seems to be a more shy, quiet character than Tracy is but actually she’s got that Beaker strength within her. When circumstances need it, Jess is absolutely incredibly strong. She’s studious, she’s academic, she loves to read so in a way, she’s somebody Tracy could have been if Tracy had had a different childhood.
Are there any Easter Eggs or hidden references that fans should be looking out for in My Mum Tracy Beaker?
I think there are a few and obviously we’ve got returning characters so I think there are a few mentions – keep a look out for writing on walls, things on the wall in the flat. Keep an eye out for the things you can spot and you get the odd references to characters so I think there are a few things that people might spot.
How do you find getting the tone right for children’s TV?
I think with something like this, the tone is there in Jacqueline’s books and I think we should try to follow that. Really, the sort of age group I write for, I mostly sort of write what will I find interesting and try to entertain myself really. There are certain guidelines and rules you have to follow like what you’re allowed to do on certain channels but things have changed over the years.
I try to write what I find interesting. I think obviously the main rules are don’t talk down and don’t be boring!
My Mum Tracy Beaker airs on CBBC and BBC iPlayer from Friday 12th February. Looking for something to watch? Check out our TV Guide.