Written by Phil Redmond, from a storyline by Paul Manning
Tx 28th December 1981
Although the 1981 Grange Hill Christmas Special isn’t quite the last hurrah for the class of 78, it’s close. One of the surprising features about series five (which would begin transmission a week later, in January 1982) is just how marginalised Tucker and co are. One episode does feature them strongly but otherwise the likes of Tucker, Alan, Benny and Justin only make one-off appearances (and when they do it’s so they can interact with the younger pupils – the focus is always on the new arrivals).
Tucker’s Luck, which began in 1983, would provide an afterlife for Tucker, Alan and Tommy, but the rest of the original cast just fade away over the course of the coming year. This is in complete contrast to later eras, when the series became increasingly anxious to hang onto their regulars (by the 1990’s it was common for pupils to stay at the school for seven series – as the concept of the upper sixth form had been introduced).
But in a way it’s not hard to understand why this happened. The viewership of Grange Hill would tend it renew itself every five years or so, as older viewers moved on to be replaced by younger ones. Therefore the new audience needed to have younger characters who they could identify with – hence the class of 82.
Returning to the 1981 Christmas Special, the storyline was written by Paul Manning (as part of a Blue Peter competition) and was developed into a script by Phil Redmond (how much of Manning’s story remained is an interesting one to ponder). It opens with a bleary eyed Tucker telling Alan and Tommy that his brother has a job at an electrical wholesalers, which means he can bring home videotapes during the evening – as long as they get returned early the next day nobody’s any the wiser. Titles such as Saturday Night Fever and Alien (“the X version?”) help to instantly date the episode to the very start of the video boom. The novelty of being able to watch a film on demand, which meant you weren’t tied to the television schedule, is something that might be taken for granted now, but was a totally new concept then.
Grange Hill didn’t often do Christmas Specials, or episodes set at Christmas, so this one is something of a novelty. There’s no snow, but various characters spend a lot of time shivering and rubbing their hands together, which creates a wintry atmosphere (but knowing how programmes tend to be recorded in advance it wouldn’t surprise me had this been recorded the previous summer!) The school assembly scene is quite interesting – it’s shot very tightly which suggests that the number of pupils used were quite small. The main news to come out of the assembly is that there will be an end of term disco, which the long-suffering Mr Sutcliffe is persuaded to organise.
Tucker’s delighted, as he spies a chance to make some money, and he persuades Mr Sutcliffe to let him organise it. You’d have thought Mr Sutcliffe would know better by now, but there’s evidence that he’s somewhat under the weather (a running gag has various characters – Tucker, Mrs McClusky, Miss Mooney – pointing out how pale he looks).
Trisha and Cathy go shopping for clothes. Trisha’s not mellowed over the years – she’s irritated at being dragged around numerous shops by Cathy who’s desperate to find just the right thing to wear for the disco. Trisha’s determined not to make an effort, knowing that it’ll just be “the same old spotty faces making the same old spotty jokes.”
They’re both sporting new hairstyles, but the most remarkable transformation is that of Susi, who’s certainly changed since the end of series four. If it hadn’t been for the voice, I probably wouldn’t have recognised her at first. She’s still an item with Alan, although when he leaves school to go on the dole in Tucker’s Luck she brings their relationship to an end (which also means they didn’t have to contract her for the new series, which was a little bit of a shame).
Another thing which helps to date the episode is the admission price of 75p, which includes one drink and one sausage or one cracker. Bargain! Tucker’s state of the art disco equipment – complete with flashing lights – has been borrowed from his brother and it’s made very clear that should anything happen to it then Tucker’s life expectancy will be very short.
Some Brookdale ruffians attempt to steal the cashbox, which Mr Baxter rather unwisely left in Justin’s care, bad choice! After Tucker manages to duff them up and stop them, they then decide to take the disco equipment. It’s slightly odd that they could just walk out with this bulky equipment and nobody in the hall thought to raise the alarm, but there you go. Needless to say, Tucker and the others are on hand to once again dispense some rough justice. Remarkably, Doyle teams up with Tucker to beat off the Brookdale infiltrators. Doyle only has a few brief scenes, but it’s a nice touch that his final Grange Hill appearance sees him on the right side for once.
This episode didn’t feature in the repeat run of the 1990’s (probably because of music clearance issues). Some of the top artists of the era are featured – Madness, Ultravox, the Police, Squeeze, Cliff Richard (!). Thanks to YouTube though (as for virtually every episode from series five onwards) it remains in circulation.