Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 9th January 1981
This is a memorable episode for several reasons. Firstly, it introduces us to Gripper Stebson (Mark Savage). His character is made plain from his very first appearance – we see him indulging in a spot of shoplifting from the local newsagents whilst Pogo, Duane and Stewpot (Mark Burdis) look on. He later confronts the three of them and tells them in no uncertain terms to keep quiet – all of Gripper’s trademark menace is already well displayed.
But it won’t be until series five (when Gripper and the others move into the third year) that he’ll really develop into the monster who’ll dominate the series for a couple of years. Like all bullies he’s at his most effective when picking on those younger than him, so he’s somewhat impotent during series four (since he’s only a first-year and the other first-years outnumber him).
The computer teacher Miss Lexington (Allyson Rees) makes the first of her six appearances (four during the fourth series and one apiece in both series five and six). It’s easy to see why she quickly acquired the nickname of “Sexy Lexi”.
But the heart of the episode revolves around the sadistic games master Mr Hicks (Paul Jerricho). After a swimming lesson in which Stewpot, Duane and Pogo lark about, Mr Hicks confronts Stewpot and the boy cuts his head after Mr Hicks shoves him.
This scene, like the rest of the episode, is shot on film and there’s no doubt that the all-film nature is very much to the benefit of the drama (it allows for better timing on close-ups and reactions shots than would be possible in a multi-camera studio TV setup). There’s a lovely sense of tension after the incident – the pupils are appalled and Mr Hicks clearly realises he’s gone too far, but his authority and intimidating presence mean that they can’t directly challenge him.
But the full story comes out when Stewpot talks to his mother (played by Helen Cotterill) and she goes to the school to demand answers. This is an intriguing scene – Mr Hicks is confronted by Mrs Stewart, Stewpot and Duane but he’s easily able to browbeat both Stewpot and Duane into changing their story. Mrs McClusky and Mr Baxter are also present and seem quite happy to accept both the boy’s retraction and Mr Hicks’ comment that Stewpot “slipped on the wet floor” at face value.
But since Mr Hicks’ treatment of Stewpot isn’t an isolated case – we later see him (off-screen) slipper a pupil and there’s plenty of other anecdotal evidence of his misdemeanours – it’s a worrying thought that his reign of terror has been ongoing for some time with nobody picking it up.
Eventually, both the protestations of Miss Lexington and comments from some of the other pupils are enough to make Mr Baxter keep a close eye on Mr Hicks. And when he sees him push another boy, Mr Baxter springs into action. He calls Mr Hicks from the gym and punches him to the ground, with the ironic comment of “slipped on the wet floor, did you?”
Hicks is dismissed, whilst both Mrs McClusky and Mr Baxter offer Mrs Stewart their sincere apologies. She’s happy to consider the matter closed – but it’s plain from Mr Baxter’s final words (“skin of our teeth”) and Mrs McClusky’s expression that they both realise the fall-out that they and the school would have suffered had Mrs Stewart decided to take the matter further.