Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 20th January 1984
Annette has received a letter inviting her to take part of the finals of the fashion contest she entered a few weeks back, but neither Miss Gordon or Mr Howard will allow her to take time off school. This doesn’t bother her as she bunks off anyway. Jeremy returns from suspension, as mischievous as ever. The others give him the cold shoulder but he continues to act up during their swimming lesson, where tragedy strikes ….
Ms Firmin is her usual charming self, unable to hide her glee that she’s the only one from the school chosen for the finals. Mandy sums her up succulently with a single word (“cow”). It’s a mild form of abuse, but it still a slightly jolting moment.
The third years have a biology lesson where they witness a rat being dissected. If this had occured a decade later there probably would have been a debate as to whether it should have happened at all. But here, the teacher just gets on with it and those who want to stay do and those that don’t are free to sit in the other room. There’s no suggestion that they don’t stay out of a sense of animal rights, simply that they felt a little squeamish. This scene might be a little jarring for modern viewers, but it’s an accurate picture of school life back in the 1980’s. Back then, animals were used in lessons and I personally don’t recall any objections being raised.
Jeremy can’t resist hiding Diane’s schoolbag in the same cupboard as the dissected rat, which has inevitable consequences. It’s yet another idiotic action which further estranges him from the rest of the class and drives Mr Howard to despair.
For those keeping track of Mr Howard’s pursuit of Miss Gordon, this episode he bumps into her (literally) which seems to please him no end. He’s certainly gained some ground on Mr Smart who hasn’t made a move for a few episodes …..
Annette’s dreams of stardom come to nothing when she realises that there’s hundreds of girls in the queue ahead of her (and they taunt her by pointing out that she’s the only one in school uniform). She returns to school, downhearted, and refuses to get changed for swimming. This initially seems to be just another case of her stroppiness, but then we see her roll up her jumper to look at her arm. Together with the comments from previous episodes it’s another moment that suggests all isn’t well. It’s also an example of how the series was now much more confident to develop plot-threads over an extended number of episodes, no doubt happy that the audience would be tuning in week after week and also that they’d be paying close attention. Back in series two or three this would have probably been dealt with much sooner.
When I rewatched series six for this blog, I noticed that Mr Baxter mostly tended to show up on film. And again the same thing seems to be happening here – this is the first time we’ve seen him during series seven and all his scenes here are on film. Did Michael Cronin have other commitments which meant his time was limited, meaning many of his scenes had to be pre-filmed?
It’s rather nice to see Dennis Blanch as Mr Devereaux and he helps to serve as a reminder that I really should dig out Strangers to rewatch soon. He’s in the one swimming pool, teaching the beginners, whilst Miss Hartley (Angela Newmarch) takes the main class in the other pool. This isn’t the first time that pupils have been left unattended by the pool (series one, episode four) but this has fatal results. Miss Hartley decides to go back into the changing room to speak to Annette, who’s still refusing to come out of the cubicle, although her visit proves rather fruitless. As with the series one episode, it beggars belief that a whole class would be left to their own devices so close to water. And the fact that nobody seems to be to blame is something we’ll discuss a little more next time.
The moment when Zammo surfaces to shout that Jeremy’s in trouble is a chilling one. And the last few minutes, as Devereaux and Baxter frantically try to resuscitate the boy whilst the rest of the class looks on, is another striking image. As Devereaux tells Baxter that it’s hopeless – the boy’s lungs must have filled with water immediately – the picture freeze frames.