Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Thirteen

grange hill s09e13.jpg

Written by Margaret Simpson.  Tx 18th February 1986

It’s half term, which is the cue for two episodes worth of out of school antics.  Ziggy and Robbie’s misadventures on the streets of London runs across this episode only whilst the travails of Roland/Zammo and Laura/Julia are spread across both.

Robbie elects to show Ziggy the sights, but since they don’t have any money the boys are forced to be creative.  For some reason (maybe budget related) there wasn’t a school trip this year, so these two episodes function as our main opportunity to see a handful of characters outside of the school environment.  That Margaret Simpson concentrates on only six regulars (although Louise also makes a brief appearance) helps to ensure that all the characters are afforded a decent amount of character development.

Robbie and Ziggy do a spot of ducking and diving (blagging their way onto a Thames pleasure boat for example) which gives their meanderings a slightly nihilistic feel.   It isn’t overstated, since they remain optimistic and cheerful, but there’s a vague sense that they’re dead-end kids with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  Later, when they run out of money the pair are forced to jump the barriers at the Tube station (and dodge the inevitably angry ticket collector).

But whilst both may be a little naughty at times they also still retain their child-like view of the world.  Ziggy’s belief that the Duke of Edinburgh had an intense interest in chalk, for example, or here – as Robbie elects to take Ziggy to a church where some years ago he saw bodies lying in an open crypt.  Unsurprisingly it’s a massive waste of time (the church has been turned into flats and the poor occupant they buzz is naturally perplexed by their request to see the bodies!).

For those who enjoy playing spot the well-known extra, look out some five minutes in as Pat Gorman makes a brief appearance (as man on escalator).

Across the years we only very rarely (Ray, Tucker) saw ex-pupils return to the series as adults.  This is a slight shame as it would have been interesting to have seen which ones sank and which ones swam.  Based on their time in school and their efforts here, it’s hard to imagine either Robbie or Ziggy having a glittering future once the doors of Grange Hill have closed on them for the last time.  But you never know ….

Laura and Julia are different cases altogether.  Both are intelligent, articulate and blessed with well-off parents, but neither of their home lives are necessarily always straightforward with Julia probably faring the worse.  We’ve already been primed that Julia’s father, Mr Glover (Vincent Brimble), is something of a tyrant and so it proves as we meet him for the first time.

Bad tempered would best sum him up. He’s far from happy with his daughter (especially the way she hogs the phone) and is firmly of the opinion that Laura and her mother are very bad influences on her. That he’s heading out to interview Mrs Reagan for the vacant post of head of sports at Grange Hill only adds a little spice to proceedings ….

Earlier in the series it was revealed that Mr Glover had blocked Mrs Reagan’s application. So either this is a second interview or somehow the plotline had become a little fractured (slightly sloppy script-editing maybe?)

Julia and Laura want to go to an all-night party but it’s plain that Mr Glover would never give his permission.  So they decide to go anyway (telling Julia’s parents and Laura’s mother that they’ve gone to visit Julia’s father).  Although Mr Glover might be painted in a somewhat two-dimensional way, it’s difficult not to admit that – as we’ll see next time – his judgement wasn’t the one which was lacking.

The mystery of Louise’s homelife is teased out a little more after she runs into Laura and Julia.  It’s obvious that Louise, with younger brothers in tow, doesn’t want to stop and talk, leaving the uncomfortable impression once again that all isn’t well at home.

It’s worth remembering that Mrs Reagan had asked the girls a while back to see if they could find out what the problem with Louise and her sister was.  But hey don’t appear to have done a great deal about this so far and it’s quite noticeable that although they do express a flicker of concern that Louise seems rushed off her feet, seconds afterwards they ignore her and return to the hot topic of whether Julia should have her ears pierced.

It has to be intentional that there’s a sharp cut early on from Ziggy’s bleak homelife (he shares a grimy one room flat with his parents) to the relatively palatial homes of both Laura and Julia. After Ziggy tells Robbie that anything (even traipsing around the city) has to be better than being stuck inside, the contrast between them and the two girls (chatting on the phone about boys they fancy and who – maybe – fancy them) is striking.

Meanwhile, Zammo’s story is reaching crisis point.  Zammo, along with Doug, Howard (Mike Smart) and Tamsin (Tracey Willmott) make their way to the arcade where Roland is working part-time.  All of Zammo’s companions are of the dubious variety, which instantly makes Roland a little suspicious – but he agrees that they can use the backroom (so that Tamsin can cut Zammo’s hair).  We later see them exit, with Zammo’s hair unchanged, so whatever happened in the room didn’t involve hair. By now the attentive viewer should have a good idea exactly what has been going on – which will be confirmed next time.

6 thoughts on “Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Thirteen

  1. Music in this episode:

    U2 – Wire
    Grace Jones – Pull Up To The Bumper

    As someone who was the same age as these characters, I can confirm that having little spare cash, getting the Underground to some out of the way place, getting lost and traipsing around is one of Grange Hill’s most accurate representations of the mid-1980s London teenage experience. Particularly at this time…

    One of the great discrepencies between Grange Hill and real life is that in 1986 actual Inner London Education Authority pupils were out of school as often as they were in, because of long-running rolling industrial action by teachers. Its something that seems to have been written out of history, but which was a formative experience for the generation who were at school at the time.


  2. Yes, the mid 80’s school environment was very much defined by the waves of industrial action. In addition to various one-off strikes, I can also recall being sent home several days in a row, purely because our form teacher was absent (clearly nobody else was prepared to step in).

    But apart from vague mutterings about striking due to the cramped conditions post fire, we don’t see this at all onscreen during this period of GH. Given that they were tackling the heroin issue, it’s hard to believe that they were afraid of controversy.


    • Wasn’t there a reference in a previous season to industrial action refusing to provide cover for such situations?

      But I suspect a storyline about staff union action might have been the sort of controversy they were nervous about, especially in 1985 when the scripts were being written. Not only was the miners’ strike recent but also this was the year of the Peacock Committee looking into the financing of the BBC and political controversy was probably something Children’s BBC (this was the first series to go out new under the brand) would try to avoid for the moment. By all means court controversy on a social matter but a political one would have been a different ball game.


  3. The head of sports thing does actually make sense but you need to pay close attention to follow the details. In episode five, we’re told that Mr Glover blocked Mrs Reagan being appointed but she could still apply and was still the acting head of department: ie someone (presumably Mrs McClusky and/or Mr Baxter) wanted to automatically promote her as the next most senior member of department, but Mr Glover insisted the post be properly advertised. So this is the interview stage of the process.


  4. One of my earliest memories of Grange Hill as a child was this particular episode.

    The memories of Ziggy and Robbie venturing into London felt like an adventure.

    There is something very similar to Willy Russell’s TV drama ‘One Summer’ here.

    Two scallywags (one a Liverpooler) escaping their dreary lives to explore a bit more of the world.

    Its a nicely done episode, which is a two part mid series ‘bubble’ away from the confines of the school.

    The Zammo/drugs plot continues to unravel, but when I watched this again recently, I do think Roly is very niave not to twig what is going on.


  5. As someone who was at school in London in the mid 1990s (my old school’s current building actually appears in a background shot) it’s interesting to see how some things had changed a lot. All the Underground stations seen look like everything had at least been repainted in just a decade but perhaps I never used the particular stations seen here at the time. And I don’t remember the tube having human ticket inspectors much but barriers had been installed almost everywhere in zone 1 and then started to appear across the whole network. The shopping centres around London also felt different with few having open air sections like the one we see here (quite a few had roofed them over). But also some things were the same – if you had little to do in the holidays then wandering round on the tube was an easy way to kill time and see the sights for nothing.


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