Written by Alan Janes. Tx 23rd February 1982
Roland’s counselling with the education psychologist Miss O’Keefe continues. You do get the sense that she’s beginning to despair a little, as the boy is lethargic and uncommunicative. Miss O’Keefe is convinced that Roland would be much happier if he made friends and lost weight. That many of his problems are caused by Gripper’s bullying seems to be something that hasn’t been picked up by the school.
But it’s reasonable to assume that if he had friends then he wouldn’t feel so isolated when Gripper comes calling. At least one person (Janet) wants to be his friend, but he’s vehemently opposed to this, as he tells Miss O’Keefe. Roland regards Janet as a busybody, always fussing and asking questions. He denies that he doesn’t want to be friends because she’s a girl (and the colour of her skin doesn’t seem to be an issue either) so maybe it’s because she’s simply raising points about his behaviour that he’d sooner not answer? In some ways Roland is a perfect victim – although we can argue that the system lets him down he also definitely contributes to his own downfall.
His misery increases after he walks through some scenery at the school revue rehearsals and Mr McGuffy, likening him to a baby elephant, tells him to leave. His participation in the revue – even if it was only tapping a tambourine in an off-key manner – had helped to bolster his self-esteem, so his abrupt removal is obviously a blow. That Gripper then appears, crueler than ever, is just another nail in the coffin.
With Denny and a couple of silent schoolgirls in tow, Gripper forces Roland to show them his belly. Gripper then tells the girls that Roland’s so fat he doesn’t have to walk home, he can roll and proceeds to demonstrate this by rolling him down the corridor. The non-speaking female extras look a little perturbed by this, but it’s Denny who tells Gripper that Roland’s had enough. Had all four of them delighted in Roland’s humiliation the scene would have seemed far too bleak – so this helps to soften the impact a little, as well as demonstrating that Gripper (like Booga Benson before him) is an unpredictable loose-cannon who sometimes goes further than his henchman ever would.
We once again see Roland’s rather wretched home life. In the Browning family the television is king – all the family take their meals in front of it, which has the effect of deadening their conversations. So Roland finds it hard to catch his parents’ attention as they always seem more interested in the goggle box. He’s a boy who doesn’t seem to want for material things – he’s clearly well fed and is supplied with a decent amount of pocket money – but even at home he has no-one he can really talk to. His parents listen to him, but only when they can bear to tear themselves away from the tv.
The following day, Roland doesn’t have the seventy pence that Gripper’s demanded. Gripper, holding court in the toilets, decides to punish Roland by writing that he visits a shrink on his form-room blackboard (it’s a running gag that Gripper’s not academically bright – confirmed by his poor spelling). This taunt finally makes the younger boy snap and he aims a volley of blows at Gripper. But Roland, despite his weight, is no fighter and Gripper regards the attack with contempt, soaking up the meagre punishment before turning the tables. Although the wobbling sinks – an obvious sign that this was a studio set – are a little distracting, it doesn’t really detract from the power of the scene. Gripper doesn’t hit Roland very hard – a few slaps on the face – but it’s the humiliation (being forced to the ground as well as his fear that his secret will be revealed to his classmates) that’s the key moment.
Annette’s the keenest to find out if it’s the truth but it’s notable that the others don’t make that big of a deal about it. Fay’s curious, but that’s all, and Jonah tries to stop Annette’s questioning. It’s a sign that the taunting Roland received from his classmates has diminished and if they’re not all exactly friends then there’s some form of acceptance. Although it’s true that both Annette and Jimmy crack gags at his expense later on and for Roland this seems to be the final straw.
So does he deliberately walk in front of the car? Earlier in the episode his father told him that the only way he’d be able to take time off school was if he was seriously ill. A car accident certainly qualifies, but there was another close shave before this one and it was clear then that Roland was simply not paying attention when crossing the road. It’s hardly a surprise that we don’t see the accident – finding a stutman to double for Roland would have been tricky – so that leaves the moment open to interpretation. But I’ve always been slightly baffled as to why the boy is lying behind the car. That would imply that it completely ran over him, which doesn’t seem likely.
Closing on a freeze-frame of Mrs Browning’s shocked face, it’s a dramatic ending – slightly negated by the shocking pink colour used for the end credits and the jaunty theme music instantly crashing in.