Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 7th January 1986
If the Christmas Special, in part, harked back to the past (featuring last hurrahs for some old favourites) then the first episode of series nine was an exercise in looking forward. This is partly symbolised by an unattractive piece of modern art – aptly titled “New Horizons” – but it’s mostly to do with the various arrivals and departures, courtesy of new producer Ronald Smedley.
The merger between Grange Hill, Rodney Bennett and Brookdale (which had been a running thread during series eight) is now quietly forgotten. This means that several characters (Banksie’s mate Loop and Julian Fairbrother) were probably deemed surplus to requirements although Banksie and Jackie – now assimilated as Grange Hill types – still had roles to play.
School uniforms, which had previously been abolished for the upper years, are quietly reintroduced. Nobody ever seems to comment on this which is a little odd (I’m sure Trisha, back in the old days, wouldn’t have taken this decision lying down!). The dramatic possibilities of Mrs McClusky continuing to chafe at only being the Deputy Head are quickly nullified when it’s revealed that the Headmaster, Mr Humphries, has died in a car accident. In time-honoured soap style this happens off screen (a quick and easy way to write a redundant character out).
But at least Mr Humphries merited a mention. Poor Loop and Julian Fairbrother are amongst those who join the long list of the Grange Hill vanished (characters who disappear and are never mentioned again). Annette’s absence is deemed worthy of comment (she had been in the series for five years though) when it’s revealed that she’s now living in Milton Keynes. A fate worse than death it’s implied.
With the episode count increased from eighteen to twenty four, some new blood was obviously required. Deep breath ….
Georgina Hayes (Samantha Lewis) is revealed to be the third member of Imelda’s gang. Georgina – like Helen – is positioned as someone who could be a good person if only she was able to escape from Imelda’s orbit. All three have been at the school for the last year (obviously always off-camera during series eight) but one genuine new arrival this episode is Ziggy Greaves (George Wilson).
Ziggy loves spiders (hence his nickname, although I daresay that most of the target audience – like Robbie – wouldn’t have heard of the David Bowie album which gave him his moniker). With a broad scouse accent, Ziggy is clearly an exotic and unusual creature. This ensures he ruffles a few feathers (crossing swords with Imelda and a frog whilst Trevor chunters away quietly that the newcomer is taking liberties). In time Ziggy will team up with third-wheel Robbie, thereby generating a new partnership to sit alongside that of Gonch/Hollo. Their friendship is tentatively begun here, although since there’s so many new arrivals and plotlines to set up it doesn’t go much further than a quick hello.
It’s not been uncommon for new characters to suddenly appear with everybody pretending they’ve been there for years (Kevin during series seven for example) but this episode goes one better as we see a whole form suddenly materialise out of nowhere. Laura Regan (Fiona Mogridge), Julia Glover (Sara McGlasson), Louise Webb (Alison McLaughlin), Ant Jones (Ricky Simmonds) and Danny Kendall (Jonathan Lambeth) are a bunch of third years no doubt less than delighted to learn that Mr Bronson is their new form tutor.
Laura and Julia both have influential parents (the games mistress and a school governor respectively). Louise isn’t given any lines here whilst Danny is shown to be completely disconnected – happy to flout school rules with seemingly not a care in the world. We’ve seen anti-authority figures before, but Danny is something different.
Ant doesn’t hit it off with Mr Bronson. Last year Zammo was his whipping boy and it seems that Ant will perform that same function this term. Once again we see a battle of wills between master and pupil, with both believing that they’re in the right. Ant had a good excuse for being late for Mr Bronson’s tutorial – a meeting with Mr Baxter – but Mr Bronson isn’t prepared to listen. Mr Baxter later confronts his fellow teacher and is less than cordial. “Insisting you’re right when you’re wrong won’t get you respect, it’ll get you resentment”.
On the teaching front, Mrs Reagan (Lucinda Curtis), Miss Partridge (Karen Lewis), Mr Kennedy (Jeffrey Kissoon) and Mr King (David Straun) all make their debuts. Miss Partridge hardly has the chance to open her mouth in assembly before a frog causes chaos (quite why the unnamed extra reacted with such terror at the frog – placidly sitting inside a crisp bag – is a slight mystery, but we can blame the script). Mr King fares a little better. His inexperience is shown (bringing the wrong register to the classroom) although his form group – E2 – don’t make capital out of this. He may be young, but he’s capable and good humoured and right from the start it’s plain that he has the respect of the pupils. His replacement next year won’t fare nearly so well ….
With so much going on, there’s still time to set up a few important plotthreads which will simmer away for a while. The relationship between Zammo and Jackie is a key one (it’s shown to have fractured, with them spitting venom at each other). Zammo’s also shown to be a little distracted, although the reasons for this aren’t elaborated on. Banksie’s brave but doomed attempt to grow a moustache amuses Fay, Julie and Jackie no end. Kevin’s tickled too – he mimics Banskie with a Sieg Heil salute – a little touch which you probably wouldn’t see today.
Possibly introducing the new arrivals of the course of a few episodes would have been more sensible, but although this first episode doesn’t stop to pause for breath, by the end Grange Hill‘s New Horizons have been firmly laid out.
7 thoughts on “Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode One”
It might be exacerbated by the bootleg copy that I watched this on, but this does feel like a very noisy episode to me, as well as a busy one. There seems to be a continual offscreen soundtrack of dripping water and playground noise.
By this stage, Mr Bronson reminds me of no-one else so much as Kessler in ‘Secret Army’. Its a great role for Micheal Sheard, but I don’t know if he’s that great a character… although I do certainly remember teachers like that still being around in the 1980s! It will be interesting to see if he has any quieter scenes left when he gets on reasonably well with anyone else.
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Clifford Rose as Mr Bronson! That might have worked just as well – although it probably would have been a much more restrained performance – icy detachment rather than full-throttle attack.
Actually, thinking about it, Clifford Rose can be seen as a Bronson-style overbearing schoolmaster in the 1975 BBC serial of ‘How Green Was My Valley’. Mr Jonas isn’t given any of the occasional human moments that Mr Bronson had, though (only about one per series, admittedly).
Good call. The BBC How Green is something I have pending on my rewatch pile – wonderful cast, even if the Morgan family have something of a mish-mash of accents (inevitable when both Welsh and English actors were cast).
And one connection can be made between How Green and GH 1986 – Keith Drinkel, who played Ianto Morgan in How Green and Mr Jones (later to mildly clash with Mr Bronson after Ant goes missing) in GH.
This episode of Grange Hill feels like an hour’s worth of television crammed into just 25 minutes.
I don’t think the show has ever managed to pull off introducing so many new prominent faces so well in such a tightly packed episode.
Many of the new characters here literally hit the ground running – particularly Ant & Ziggy. Imelda doesn’t count as she made her entrance in the Christmas Special the week before.
Series 9 was a remarkable series – it was tightly written and every character was at the top of their game, although the likes of Jane Bishop and Janet St Clair were a little underused.
The introduction of video tape for outdoor filming is certainly taken advantage of here with plenty of outdoor scenes played out around Neptune House – the BBC had only aquired the site a year earlier.
If this is the start of a new school year and episode 18 of series 8 was at the end of the old year then just where does the Christmas Special fit in? The 1981 Special can easily be placed in the otherwise unseen fourth year for Tucker and Trisha’s generation but there’s no obvious missing year here. Is there some sort of “Grange Hill Time” like Comic Book Time whereby years can pass without advancement?
This is quite a packed episode with all the introductions and a lot of blink and you’ll miss it but I guess it was easier to get all the new faces in place from the outset. Imelda is transferred into E2 here with the unspoken implication that this is an attempt to break up the trio (much like how Michael Doyle was moved into Mr Mitchell’s class midway through the first series) and so it is credible for them to have been off camera last year when it’s now rare to see characters from other forms in a given year.
And given what happens in later years it’s interesting to see that Danny Kendall misses what would have been his first meeting with Mr Bronson, starting as he intends to go on…
I made a similar comment on the post on the Christmas Special. However, it’s notably it’s never actually said it’s the start of a new school year (in fact, the phrase is very rarely used, at least in these early series): It’s simply the beginning of a new term. Aside from Ziggy, most if not all of the new characters are people who’ve been at the school a while, we’ve just never seen them before. So it seems just about plausible that this is the new term in January following the Christmas Special.