Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Fourteen

grange hill s06e14

Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 18th February 1983

We’ve reached episode fourteen and it’s the first time this year we’ve seen Mr Baxter on videotape.  Hurrah!  Michael Cronin’s only two previous appearances this year were brief film inserts, so it’s long overdue that we should have an episode where he makes a more substantial contribution.

The first scene is between Mr Baxter and Randir.  In Mr Baxter’s world, if you’re good at sports then you’re good, full stop.  Randir’s prowess on the football field has long been established and his decision to carry on playing during a vital school match even though he was carrying an injury (later discovered to be a fractured wrist) clearly meets with Mr Baxter’s unspoken approval.

The return of Gripper begins the endgame of his storyline which has dominated the series since the first episode of episode five.  It had to come to an end – indeed, it seems a little unrealistic that he’d not been expelled before – and Barry Purchese was charged with making his exit as memorable as possible.

Before that happens, there’s some other business to attend to – not least Mrs McClusky’s decision to suspend Mr McGuffy.  It’s a gloriously played comic scene between Gwyneth Powell and Fraser Cains.  When Mr McGuffy protests at Mrs McClusky’s criticism of his conduct and dress, she snaps back that “I haven’t called you here for a debate, Mr McGuffy!” as months of long held exasperation clearly bubble to the surface.

A good demonstration of Mrs McClusky’s skills as a politician is provided when she initiates a referendum into the question of flexi-time.  Mr Hopwood is more than a little surprised, but when she tells him that the referendum will only decide whether to refer the matter to the board of governors, things become clearer.  The governors will dismiss it out of hand, but Mrs McClusky will have been seen to have done something to address the situation, even if it was ultimately futile.  As I said, a skilled politician.

Gripper’s persecution of Randir is an early flashpoint.  Along with his increased mob, he’s cornered the boy in the toilets and their fun is only brought to an end when Mr Baxter storms in.  “Not back in the school five minutes and you’re spewing out your poison.”  When Gripper calls Mr Baxter a paki-lover the teacher reacts with fury, thrusting Gripper’s head into the sink and threatening to wash his mouth out with soap.  It’s a moment that crackles with electricity, although you have to say that Mr Baxter was lucky to escape a charge of assault.

If Mr Baxter is furious with Gripper, then he’s even angrier with his mob.  “As for you bunch of slimy no-goods, you’re worse than he is. He’s rotten, but you lot … you just feed off him like a bunch of maggots.”  When Georgie makes a dismissive sound, Mr Baxter steams over, grabs him by his shirt and points a finger in his face.  The look of fear in the eyes of one of the boys in the background helps to sell the intensity of the scene.

Now that Gripper’s got his own firm he reopens for business.  First is on his list is Pogo – Gripper decides that an exchange of notes (a pound note for the note he’s acquired from Pogo’s girlfriend) is fair.  Yes, Pogo has a girlfriend!  Considering that in the previous episode he was railing against girls in his usual way, this is a little surprising.  Finding out her identity will be a small running thread that’ll continue until the end of series six as Stewpot and Duane (now friends again) continue to be intrigued by his mystery girl.

Mr McGuffy’s suspension means that Mr Baxter is drafted into covering his English lesson, much to the amusement of the fourth-formers.  Precious is convinced that once he sees what they’re studying that’ll be the end of the lesson.  But Mr Baxter isn’t quite the uncultured man he might appear to be.  “Elizabethan verse romances? Oh yes, this is the stuff of literature this is. Drayton, Marlowe, Shakespeare, my word. Wasted on you bunch of philistines of course.”  Another lovely scene which demonstrates just how much Michael Cronin has been missed this year.

Aside from demanding money with menaces again, Gripper’s also got other scores to settle.  One of them is with Claire, thanks to the article on him that she wrote for the underground school magazine.  His choice of revenge – a dirty mop thrust into her face – is suitably unpleasant and provides the episode with yet another dramatic moment.  Stewpot’s naturally incensed and is all for rushing out and dealing with Gripper there and then, but Duane manages to talk him around.  Instead, they team up with Glenroy, who’s already teamed up with Randir.  Rather like the opening episode of series six, it shows how opposing factions in the school can be united because of their hatred of Gripper.

Once again, the mayhem is cut short by the timely arrival of Mr Baxter.  “No, I’m sorry lads. I can’t allow it. Not vigilante groups. Doesn’t matter how justified you may feel. But we let you all down though, haven’t we? There’s no excuse, not really. That evil toe-rag should never have been allowed back on school premises, but he was. And in the space of one morning he’s attacked people because of their colour, because of their sex.  I also hear you’re back to demanding money with menaces, Stebson.  What an utter and complete charmer you are lad.”

As the picture freeze-frames on a shot of Gripper walking to Mrs McClusky’s office to face expulsion (with the cheers of the others ringing in the background) it’s an apporiate way for his time at Grange Hill to end.  Gripper would later make a few one-off apperances, but his absence would leave something of a void.  GH would create many more bullies over the course of the next few decades, but some of them struggled to escape from the long shadow cast by Mark Savage’s intimidating performance.

6 thoughts on “Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Fourteen

  1. The highpoint of Grange Hill is this episode which the BBC would probably be too scared to air today.It’s a classic for sure. The later bullies don’t add up to much. I left school in 1980 so maybe I was behind the times but the notion of a female bullying boys was rather stupid in my view so I could never take Imelda seriously when a kid like Ziggy would have just punched her in the face. We don’t hit girls is all well and good but Imelda deserved it and she could have been taken down with one shove. Gripper remains the most memorable bully in tv history


  2. From 1993 onwards, until the late 1990s, BBC2 used to televise Grange Hill every Sunday morning, starting from series one episode one. As a teenager, I loved the weekly installment of retro GH on the Sabbath Day.

    I remember going away with my Dad when this episode was repeated on BBC2 and I was extremely disappointed that I missed it.

    When I resumed my Sunday ritual the following week – Gripper and his cronies were gone (not even mentioned!) and GH was in Wales!!!!

    It wasn’t until several years later that I finally watched this episode and it really is a magnificent climax to a slow burning story.

    Gripper Stebson is GH’s most notable bad ‘un. His rein of terror was quite brutal and intimidating at times. He really was rotten to the core and his evil personality knew no bounds.

    The racism story of Series 6, was quite a bold move to televise in a children’s programme, but it was nicely done without being too offensive. As it has been said – a modern day TV programme would never go near a story like this and I very much doubt GH Series 6 would be repeated either!!!!

    It is a fantastic end to a legendary character. Gripper had to go – and this episode is an excellent conclusion to his character and his long running story, which had first began in Series 4.

    Mark Savage is on fine form as always, but the wonderful Michael Cronin steals the crown here in his scenes as Mr Baxter. A truly great teacher.

    The final scene of the three thugs doing the walk of shame along the corridor is one of my favourite closing scenes from GH. This was GH at it’s very best.


  3. A contender for best-ever episode of GH. It’s so well written, filmed and performed, and I think it stands up well even in comparison to dramas aimed at older viewers. The tension is there from start to finish.

    I like the scene with Mr McGuffy. Even though he’s being berated by Mrs McCluskey (who seems to have morphed into Anne Robinson here, vocally), he still comes across quite nonchalant, probably too nonchalant, which winds up Bridget even more.


  4. Quite a strong episode that Britbox feels the need to carry multiple warnings about. It’s a pity though that Mr Hopwood isn’t there for Gripper’s downfall after all their earlier confrontations.

    But it’s also amazing that Grange Hill never gets into legal trouble. Gripper is right that he could potentially bring a charge against Mr Baxter for assault, he’s also got potential for libel over the magazine article (although I doubt he’d ever think of that) and Mr McGuffy could have a case for unfair dismissal.

    And it’s nice to see Mr Baxter given the opportunity to break the stereotype of PE teachers as ignorant philistines. But that scene with Randir at the start shows how even Baxter is ignorant as he stumbles over his name and has to be corrected that it’s not a “Christian name”.


  5. One of Grange Hill’s finest episodes. Love the background cheers as Gripper exits Grange Hill to begin his career as a Butcher’s Boy.


  6. The end of Gripper was a highlight of the series, the bully and his two henchment being marched off to be expelled, but seemed to leave a void with regard to really nasty characters for the rest of the eighties. Imelda Davies had her moments, such as when she put fiberglass down Ziggy’s shirt, but was shown to be someone who was troubled and came from a broken home, so could be pitied in a way when she was expelled. Also Mauler and his Gridiron crew could turn nasty now and again, but he became a comic figure later in his career and by the sixth form, had become respectable. So for me, Gripper, closely followed by Booga Benson in series 4, was the ultimate in nasty characters in the classic Grange Hill era.


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