Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Ten

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Written by Sarah Daniels. Tx 7th February 1986

The temporary classrooms finally arrive – this spells trouble for Mr Bronson’s car which, if he doesn’t move it, is likely to be turned into a pile of scrap metal.  Mr Baxter is understandably not terribly concerned (believing that it would probably be worth more to him as scrap!) but eventually deigns to send the ever-helpful Janet up to the staffroom to warn him.

There’s obvious comic potential in the sight of Mr Bronson running to the aid of his car, which is heightened when it’s revealed that the crane driver is – wait for it – a woman (played by Holly De Jong).  Calley and Ronnie, watching from an upstairs window, debate the merits of female crane drivers (Ronnie wonders how on earth a woman could have possibility got such a job).  The reactions from the older male teachers are equally as nonplussed.  Mr Baxter blurts out “you’re a woman” to her.  She replies that yes she is, and wonders if he teaches biology!

Mr Griffiths’ hero worship of Mrs McClusky is always a joy to behold.  Here, she tells him that it’ll be some time before they can go back to the old school, so the temporary classrooms will be around for a while.  He’s not delighted at the news (“oh my god”) but the look of pleasure and pride on his face when she tells him that he’s the first person she’s told about this – ahead of all the staff – is worth the price of admission alone.  Puffing out his chest and standing straight like a soldier, he assures her that his staff will give the school their 100% co-operation.  If only everybody could be as easily manipulated as Mr Griffiths …..

Ziggy and Robbie continue their never-ending quest to gain revenge on Imelda.  This week it’s water balloons.  I don’t really need to tell you that this ends in total catastrophe for them, do I?  In other news, Robbie’s had a haircut.  Not the most thrilling nugget of information I know, but when watching the series back-to-back things like this stand out.

Speaking of Ziggy, he’s had a reply back from the Duke of Edinburgh.  Since he’s absent, Gonch asks if he can pop round to his flat to deliver the letter.  That sounds remarkably helpful, so you probably won’t be shocked to learn that Gonch plans to substitute the rather bland and non-committal reply with something much more creative – which will lead Ziggy to believe that the Duke will shortly be visiting Grange Hill and will be pleased to receive as many chalk ends from Ziggy as can be collected.

Will Ziggy fall for such an obvious falsehood?  Course he will!  To further their devilish plans, Gonch and Hollo visit a local newsagents to run off some blank headed paper with the Duke of Edinburgh’s crest, which will enable them to write their own letter.  The shop is a lovely time capsule of the period – complete with mouth-watering jars of sweets behind the counter (although they were surely an anachronism even back then) – and a friendly shopkeeper (played by the very recognisable Brenda Cowling) happy to help the two lads (she believes they’re working on the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme).

A slight sliver of reality is introduced when they bluff her that the Duke is interested in the travails of inner-city life.  She sympathizes with this and tells them that running a shop in an area like this is no joke, due to the amount of shoplifting that goes on.   It wouldn’t have been a surprise to see them take advantage of such a kindly woman and indeed Hollo does stuff some chocolate bars into his pocket when she isn’t looking, but Gonch (“how would you like it if she was your Nan?”) makes him put them back.  He has his standards then.

There’s a lovely visual gag as the pair exit the shop and run back to school.  They pass a church which displays an ominous sign (be sure your sin will find you out).  And since the sign handily tells us that it’s Leavesden Road Baptist Church, a quick skim through Google Maps will find the same location today.  When I’ve got the time it might be interesting to try and pinpoint some of the other GH locations from this era.

Zammo’s devious plan to convince his mother that he hasn’t sold her decanter (instead he broke it in an accident) is played out here.  Part one requires pinching a glass beaker from a lab assistant (played by Tom Keller).  Whilst we know that Zammo isn’t the most together of people these days, this is odd.  For one thing, the smashed beaker wouldn’t resemble in any way the smashed decanter and for another, it’s difficult to see how dropping the decanter a couple of feet would have caused it to break (surely for something that sturdily built it would have to have fallen from a great height).

It’s therefore more than a little interesting that Mrs McGuire seems to swallow this unbelievable story so readily.  True, she does wonder where the stopper is (Zammo, thinking quickly, tells her that he’s sold it) but otherwise Zammo’s plan seems to have worked.  Or has it?  There’s several different ways this scene can be interpreted – either Mrs McGuire does believe her son’s story or she can’t yet bring herself to confront his lies and evasions.

The disappearance of her bike (presumably stolen and sold by Zammo like everything else) is another of those moments where it’s left dangling as to whether she believes his protests of innocence or not.  What’s noticeable about this scene is that Zammo seems more together and lies more fluently than he recently has been able to do to Jackie (he also looks his mother in the eye, something he hasn’t been able to do with Jackie).  There are several possibilities to explain this – either he feels more guilty when he lies to Jackie or he’s recently been drugged up and is therefore temporarily back in control.  Nothing’s ever explicitly stated, so the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions.

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4 thoughts on “Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Ten

  1. The female crane driver feels like a Sarah Daniels creation to me. I’m more aware of an authorial voice in this episode than usually, with the writer pushing at the format to see what’s possible in a rather cheeky way – the explicit cynicism about the royal family, showing one of the more sympathetic pupils shoplifting.

    “Mark my word, Mrs McClusky. The toilet maniacs have struck again!” is quite the silliest end line that we’ve heard so far.

    The Grange Hill lunchtime disco is playing ‘Walk of Life’ by Dire Straits.

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    • Yes, now knowing Daniels’ background it’s possible to pick out moments which seem uniquely hers.

      It would be interesting to know how extensively the episodes were storylined – no doubt certain beats had to be hit here (Ziggy and the Duke of Edinburgh, Zammo’s continuing problems) but outside of that presumably there was some leeway to develop character moments. Provided, I guess, they didn’t contradict developments elsewhere.

      Given that she was, and is, a notable playwright, she clearly must have got some satisfaction out of the show – given her twenty year association.

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  2. I generally pick up less of a sense of individual authorial voices in Grange Hill of this period than I did in the first six years. I think that’s because of the more soap-style plotting, with multiple storylines running through each episode. Some of the early Margaret Simpson episodes, for example were like single plays that happened to feature characters who we already knew well, but her 1986 scripts have only been particularly distinctive (for me) in the odd perceptive individual scene rather than as a whole.

    Sarah Daniels came to talk to my Contemporary Feminist Playwrights class in 1996, when I was a Drama student! I think that she said that she enjoyed the discipline and writing to specification of her television work, as a change from the more solitary and personal business of her theatrical career. Plus Grange Hill would have been a regular income for her, wheras theatrical comissions and revivals would be more fitful work.

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