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.