Written by Frances Galleymore. Tx 1st April 1985
Possibly inspired by Mr Baxter’s previous complaints that the others keep on finishing off the coffee without replacing it, the staff room is now the proud recipient of an imposing new vending machine. Mr Smart and Miss Washington aren’t impressed though, she comments that it just makes a terrible groaning noise and doesn’t deliver, leading him to respond that it sounds like the school in general. Mrs McClusky, of course, just happens to wander into the staff room at that precise moment ….
Caroline Gruber has another opportunity to demonstrate Miss Washington’s doe-eyed appeal after Mrs McClusky expresses her opinion that some of the first years (especially the ones in Miss Washington’s charge) are pushing the school uniform rules to the limit. It’s plain that Mrs McClusky believes that the younger teacher isn’t setting them a good example, but politeness – and Mrs McClusky is sweetness personified during this scene – dictates that she doesn’t openly come out and say so.
There’s some later nice staff-room interplay (Mr Bronson complaining about the level of smoke and continuing to bemoan the fact that others have taken his seat) but the episode revolves around two main areas – Eric’s accident and the babysitting misadventures at the McCartneys.
Those with fairly long memories might recall that Eric, previously revealed to be partially deaf, featured in an earlier series eight episode. The poor boy is now the recipient of Janet’s interest (who seems to have finally decided that Roland – constantly speaking French – is now totally absorbed with Fabienne) but she wasn’t there at the moment when Eric stepped out into the road and was knocked over.
I’m not sure whether Eric’s deafness is supposed to be a factor here – but this doesn’t make much sense if so, surely he’d have looked left and right to check the road was clear before crossing? Possibly he was simply chosen because whilst not a main cast member (whose absence would be problematic) he was still someone with a higher profile than a non-speaking extra – and therefore his accident would carry a little more impact.
If that was the case, they could have used Diane. Although she has a couple of lines in this episode, they only highlight just how underused she’s been throughout series eight (whereas during 83/84 she’d featured quite prominently). It seemed that once her spots faded away so did any thoughts about developing her character, so she’ll not return in 1986.
One point of interest is the way that Mrs McClusky appears on the scene mere seconds after the accident. How did she get from the school to the road outside so quickly? Was she waiting in the playground for such an accident to happen?!
Real-life school politics of the mid eighties do get a brief mention when the fourth-formers are left to their own devices, thanks to a cover strike. British schools were hit by waves of industrial action during this period, as teachers regularly worked to rule and refused to cover their colleague’s lessons. Phil Redmond would have no doubt made capital out of this, but here it’s very much an incidental point – at this point in the show’s history, staff-room squabbles are more over coffee and chairs than politics ….
There’s an air of deceit running through this episode. Fay agrees to babysit for Mr and Mrs McCartney and Julian offers to walk her home. Fay, still not keen on the worthy-but-dull Julian, tells him that the babysitting’s been cancelled, so that Jean-Paul can go instead. And with Annette and Stewpot also there, everything’s set for a cosy evening. Which of course doesn’t go to plan.
If Fay lies to Julian, then Stewpot continues to lie to Annette. Just as Claire’s been somewhat reduced in character during series eight, then poor Stewpot has also received the rough end of the scripting stick. By continually stringing both Claire and Annette along – lacking the courage to choose between them – he’s portrayed as buffoonish at best and an insensitive idiot at worst. Even here, he can’t bring himself to tell Annette that it’s over, but since he’s clearly not enjoying himself, why not?
Jean-Paul burns a hole in the McCartney’s carpet with his cigarette, providing us with yet another example of his flawed character. His plan – chuck a scatter cushion over the offending mark and walk slowly away – also highlights that he never stops to think about the consequences of his actions. This moment was no doubt one of several created in order to prepare the ground for episode fourteen.