Written by John Godber. Tx 10th April 1985
Following her sons accident, Mrs Wallace (Zienia Merton), leads a spirited demonstration outside the school, calling for a pelican crossing.
This demo comes rather out of the blue, since we’ve seen no preparations previously. But on the plus side it’s good to see Zienia Merton (probably best known for Space 1999) as a crusading parent. What’s really interesting about these early scenes is that some of the other teachers – Miss Booth and Miss Washington – have already decided that Mrs McClusky is bound to react unfavourably.
It’s therefore ironic that Mrs McClusky is shown to be fully in favour of the aims of the demonstration. She also calmly points out that blocking the road will do little good and instead will only serve to alienate both the police and motorists. Mrs Wallace, in the white heat of anger, eventually comes around, but it’s much more surprising that Miss Booth or Miss Washington take so long to grasp this obvious point.
This episode is probably the best so far during series eight for Gwyneth Powell. Mrs McClusky tangles entertainingly with Mr Bronson (always a delight when those two lock horns) and she also faces off against the builders. They’ve returned to start work in earnest but have to shamefacedly admit that the reason they’re so far behind is because they’ve been nipping off to help the old folk with their house repairs.
Once again, there’s an inversion of our expectations – everything seems to be set up for Mrs McClusky to react in anger to this news, but instead she cues up Mr Bronson to splutter indignantly before swiftly cutting him off to sweetly praise them for their community spirit. Lovely!
John Godber was a very infrequent contributor to the series (this was the third of his five scripts). A pity, because there’s some sharp character work here (especially amongst the staff). Another enjoyable moment comes when Mr Smart and Mr Baxter discuss Mr Smart’s forthcoming Hardy exhibition. Mr Smart clearly assumes that Mr Baxter is unaware of Thomas Hardy, although Mr Baxter firmly makes the point that this isn’t so. Mr Baxter’s disgusted expression is a delight (and continuity wise it ties back to series six, where we learnt that he has a great love of English literature).
There’s a nice literary joke when the builders confess to Mr Smart that everything’s taken so long because a good deal of the wood in the school is rotten and has to be replaced. He wanders off, muttering that there’s “something rotten in the state of Denmark”, much to the builder’s bemusement (who later conclude he must have had a bad holiday there!). I don’t know how many of the target audience would have got this Shakespearian joke, so maybe it was one for the parents watching.
The other running thread of the episode concerns Hollo’s new blazer and shoes. This doesn’t really work, mainly because his blazer doesn’t look different from anybody else’s and we never see his shoes. But it does allow Robbie to indulge in that time-honoured school gag (pinching Hollo’s clothes from the changing rooms, leaving the poor boy trouserless).
Hollo and Gonch have also done some pinching though, taking Mr Bronson’s wig (the teacher was enjoying a swim and had left it by the side of the pool). It’s our first opportunity to see Mr Bronson sans wig (“he’s bald!” exclaims Hollo) and it leads into another great comic scene as the two boys, playing about with the hairpiece in the changing rooms, suddenly hear Mr Bronson approaching and have to swiftly hide the offending toupee. Alas, Gonch shoves it in the rubbish bin, where it gets rather dusty!
So as the episode ends, Mr Bronson has lost his wig and Hollo is deficient in the trouser department. Not the most dramatic of cliffhangers true, but an effective way to close one of the stronger episodes from series eight.