Grange Hill. Series Three – Episode Seven

grange hill s03e07

Written by Margaret Simpson.  Tx 29th January 1980

A new girl, Fatima Bibi (Belgit Gill), is placed in the care of Sudhanami Patel (Sheila Chandra).  This seems to be because Fatima doesn’t speak any English and the assumption appears to be that Sudhanami will be able to communicate with her.

But it becomes clear very quickly that Sudhanami isn’t going to make any headway.  Mrs Conrad (Margaret Stallard), the teacher responsible for working with pupils who need to increase their English language skills, is quick to grasp the gulf between Fatima and Sudhanami.  Sudhanami comes from Uganda and Fatima hails from East Pakistan.  The unconscious racism on the part of the other members of staff who’d obviously assumed they’d be able to communicate is never directly commented upon, but is clear enough.

Grange Hill has, from the first episode, been a multi-cultural school, but it’s rarely something that’s been a central part of any ongoing story.  True, Benny did receive taunts about the colour of his skin in some of the early episodes, but he was also bullied because his family was poor.  This episode is therefore notable since it attempts to deal with two thorny topics at once – the problems of how those newly arrived (like Fatima) integrate into British society but also how the people already established (like Sudhanami and her family) adapt to the culture around them.

Fatima is a one-shot character and won’t be seen again after this episode.  This it’s a bit of a shame, since there would have been some mileage in showing her develop.  But Sudhanami does remain a semi-regular for a while (up until the end of series four).  She’s rarely central though, so this is really the one episode where she moves to the heart of the story.

Her father, Mr Patel (Minoo Golvala), wants to transfer her to an all girls school.  He seems to be almost a caricature of a traditional Indian father – he hates the fact that she goes to school with boys, listens to pop music, etc.  All this does rather beg the question as to why he allowed her to go to Grange Hill in the first place.

Although a strict traditionalist (he expects her to help in the shop and is reluctant to allow her to spend time with her friends outside of school hours) it’s clear that he does genuinely love her and has (or at least he believes he has) her best interests at heart.  As for Sudhanami herself, she’s somewhat submissive and is happy to follow her father’s directions.  If he decrees that she will take part in an arranged marriage sometime in the future, then that’s what will happen.

This may be an accurate, although not terribly progressive, portrait of the times – but it’s notable that as the series progresses we’ll tend to see children who will be much less prepared to toe the family line.  Instead they’ll be keen to embrace all that Western culture can offer, irrespective of what their parents may say.

Although this is a fairly serious episode, there are a few lighter moments.  Trisha and Cathy are aghast to find that Miss Mooney and Mr Sutcliffe are engaged – Cathy earlier remarked that Mr Sutcliffe “wouldn’t marry a thing like that”!  Trisha and Cathy also attempt to teach Fatima some useful phrases such as “Flippin’ ‘eck” and “Shut yer mouth”.

Tucker’s artistic flair is put to good use again when he designs a cut-out figure for the school fair.  The teachers line up to put their heads through the opening and have to suffer wet sponges being thrown at them.  It’s all for a good cause, so they can’t complain, and naturally the pupils are delighted for the chance to take their revenge – especially on Mr Baxter!

4 thoughts on “Grange Hill. Series Three – Episode Seven

  1. I’m glad I found your comments.
    I’ve been enjoying Grange Hill (a new discovery for me) for about a year.
    I loved this episode because “Fatima” was just adorable, and she reminded me of the many, many times I was new kid, immersed in a new culture, after moving to another state, or even going from North or South within the same state
    That was when my country had rather defined regional differences in culture and language.
    I’m with you I would’ve liked to her adjustments as time went on episode to episode, especially if she was wiz at math or science, or an great athlete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Miss Peterson doing that ‘if I shout at her loudly and slowly she will understand English’ thing. As for the insensitivity of “she’ll just have to do it in her vest and knickers then” and pulling up Fatima’s skirt to check on the knickers!!! Dreadful woman.


  3. I hope this episode wasn’t as cliched in 1980 as it feels today. The immigrant parent/Westernised child culture clash story is well trodden but often seems to go down the same stock issues. I forget who it was who said that there was a time when the only variation in the parts offered to British Asian actresses was just which member of the family they would play in a story about arranged marriages. And Sudhanami’s father is a shopkeeper (and I suspect the reason it looks more like a stationery shop than a general corner shop is down to BBC advertising rules).

    (It’s also a surprising contrast with the last series where Susi’s parents were talking about entrance exams and boarding schools as the only alternatives yet here it seems there’s at least one all-girl’s school in the borough that Sudhanami could be transferred to.)

    The treatment of Fatima shocked me especially as Miss Peterson is her form tutor so isn’t discovering her lack of English for the first time in the changing room. And even when Cathy and Trisha are talking to Fatima and teaching her a few words there’s an uncomfortable feel that they’re approaching the situation like teaching a pet to be naughty. Fatima is said to be “Pakistani” and from “East Pakistan” but Bangladesh had been independent for nine years. Was this a slip or a very subtle hint that even Mrs Conrad and Sudhanami are ignorant?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Certainly in tv dramas of that time, GH included, there was often a focus upon the ethnicity or cultural background of Asian or black characters, in the context of ‘social problem’. (Though in an earlier series, there was also a Greek-Cypriot boy who was portrayed in a stereotypic way.)

      It was early days and a reflection of attitudes in the real world, both sympathetic and otherwise, and the writing was usually sincere, if a little ham-fisted on occasion. As time went on, you’d see this far less, and the characters would be presented just as young people, but early on the characters weren’t as nuanced. Benny’s character was perhaps an exception but even he had to deal with Michael Doyle.


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