Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 26th January 1981
After being very much a background character during series four – existing mainly to line-feed Claire – this episode is where Suzanne Ross begins to emerge as a character in her own right. Maybe it was felt that since Trisha was no longer around they needed another stroppy pupil – if so, Susan Tully certainly delivered. Tully would be handed the occasional challenging storyline (not least the period pains topic later in this run) and her performances obviously didn’t go unnoticed as she was one of the first actors to tread what would become a familiar path – from Grange Hill to Eastenders.
Like Trisha, Suzanne has a disdain for the rigid discipline of school life, but unlike Trisha (who was much more of a conformist) Suzanne has little compunction in playing truant. This seems to have been going on for some time, since Mr McGuffy doesn’t know who she is!
But that’s the least of Mr McGuffy’s problems, as he’s finding it difficult to get H3 tune into Shakespeare. Hardly surprising, you’d think, although matters aren’t helped by Gripper’s disruptive antics. This isn’t something we’ve seen before, as normally Gripper keeps a low profile in class (when he bothers to turn up at all). But he, along with the rest of H3, can clearly smell blood. Mr McGuffy has yet to prove that he can keep order and in the nature of schoolchildren down the ages they will continue to needle him until he either breaks or establishes his authority.
Mr Hopwood eventually runs Suzanne to ground. “It’s the oldest trick in the book, getting your mark and then bunking off.” Although when she mutters that it’s taken him long enough to find out, you have to agree. Unless she’s just been skipping Mr McGuffy’s English classes? Mr McGuffy has proven to be so disorganised that this would make sense. She also isn’t the first (and certainly won’t be the last) Grange Hill pupil to express a nihilistic attitude to life after school. Why bother to study and pass exams when you’re just going to end up on the dole? This is a clear indication that we’re in the early years of Margaret Thatcher’s reign as prime minster, where such remarks – even in a children’s series – were commonplace.
Tully’s gloriously pouty in her scenes with Brian Capron’s Mr Hopwood. Suzanne spends her time rolling her eyes and looking in every direction except at Mr Hopwood. “Look at me Suzanne, you can study the ceiling later.” They reach an uneasy compromise and she promises to attend school on a regular basis (“I might as well be bored here as out on the streets”) but it’ll become clear that it’s only a temporary ceasefire.