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.