Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 19th January 1982
It must be said that the saga of Belinda’s missing clarinet doesn’t rank as one of Grange Hill‘s dramatic highlights. Belinda (Paula Taras) was the sort of character that we’d seen before in the series and would see again in the future. They hover around the fringes for a while – maybe with the odd line or two – before stepping into the limelight for a few episodes. And after their brief moment of fame they return to the shadows.
The episode opens with a music lesson in which we hear N1 murder Yesterday. It’s ironic that Miss Griffiths (Anni Domingo) stops the recital to criticise Annette’s playing – that’s surely the least of their problems! They serve up a horrendous performance (I assume deliberately) that seems to last forever. It’s interesting that the school could afford to supply a whole class with a variety of musical instruments. Given the budget cuts that we saw in the last episode (where even books were hard to come by) this seems a little unlikely and my own memory of school music lessons from this era is that instruments were always in very short supply.
Quite how Miss Brooks could detect any sort of musical quality in that cacophony is a mystery, but she picks out Belinda’s tootling on the recorder as having some sort of merit and suggests to the girl that she tries the clarinet. She dangles the possibility that Belinda could join the school orchestra, but Belinda’s family would have to pay for the clarinet themselves.
The issue of the clarinet shines a light onto Annette’s character (and it’s not a flattering one). Fay and Belinda have become friendly and this is possibly one of the reasons why Annette persuades Fay that they should hide the instrument in the boy’s changing rooms for a laugh. It should come as no surprise to learn that when Belinda goes to retrieve it she discovers it’s no longer there.
Luckily it was insured, so Annette and Fay have to fork out ten pounds each from their savings to help cover the premium. The comedy highlight of the episode has to be Belinda shielding her eyes, desperately looking for the clarinet, whilst a topless Pogo looks quite puzzled!
It seems a little unfair that Annette and Fay have to pay the money. Yes, the clarinet was stolen from the unlocked boy’s changing rooms (and why was it unlocked? Mr Baxter never explains why) but had Belinda left it in the girl’s changing rooms then (had that been unlocked too) it could have easily have been stolen from there and Belinda would have had no-one but herself to blame.
Of much more interest than the missing clarinet is that this episode marks the first appearance of Mr McGuffy (Fraser Cains). With the general appearance of an unmade bed, Mr McGuffy is an enthusiast who sometimes struggles to make himself understood. He’s asked everybody to write about their first impressions of Grange Hill and is especially enthusiastic about Janet’s piece. “It give me the feeling of what it would be like to be a small, insignificant person in a large, bewildering community. One can feel small, confronted by the large, social units of today’s society. The individual shrinks, he becomes insignificant, a termite.” This goes way over the heads of Annette and Fay (“what’s he talking about?”)
Jonah’s piece is less than flattering to Mr McGuffy, but he’s not bothered about this. As he tells them, he wants the class to express themselves honestly and doesn’t want them “trammelled, constrained, fettered, held back” by what they think they should say, even if it’s uncomplimentary to him. This is a clear sign that he’s far from a run of the mill teacher and if he sticks around (watching the series for the first time you could never be sure if a character would become a regular, a semi-regular or would just make a one-off appearance) he’ll be one to watch.
As we know, he did stay with the series for the next three years and whilst they don’t meet here it’s clear that his free-and-easy attitude is not going to sit well with the autocratic Mrs McClusky. There’s going to be stormy times ahead.