Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Twenty Three

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Written by David Angus.  Tx 25th March 1986

Zammo is a hot topic of discussion for the others but luckily Trevor’s on hand to correct Vince’s wild flights of fancy.  It’s a notable touch that, not for the first time, Trevor belies his generally negative image (hectoring and aggressive) in order to pour cold water on Vince’s heated imaginings.  Zammo, Trevor tells him, isn’t in prison – instead he’s in hospital, receiving treatment for his problem.

We might not see him until later on, but Zammo remains on many people’s minds – most notably Jackie of course.  Having refused Miss Booth’s offer to accompany her when she visits him, Kevin and Roland later find her sobbing bitterly in the cloakrooms.  Having sent Roland on, Kevin then does his best to comfort her.

This is a scene that’s open to interpretation.  Jackie makes her feelings for Zammo plain (she can’t forget him, but neither can she face him at present) so is Kevin being a loyal friend to them both or does he have his eye on Jackie?  His suggestion that they could both go and visit Zammo together makes sense (as Jackie says, there’s less chance that the conversation would dry up with three people present) but it’s the way that he hesitatingly suggests that afterwards they grab a hamburger which may indicate that he’s keen to supplant his best friend.

When they exit the cloakroom he places a friendly hand around her shoulders. This could be seen as either a supportive gesture or a territorial move.  Banksie just happens to be passing and unsurprisingly favours the latter.  Having sat out most of this series it’s nice to have Steven Banks back.  Not only does he clash with Kevin (taunting him about Jackie) but he’s also keen to prove his superiority over Mr Kennedy.

This is the cue for a decent comedy scene as Mr Kennedy runs rings around him on the basketball court.  Margie Barbour employs a few unusual directorial flourishes here – incidental music (very rare for this era of the programme) and a freeze-frame after Mr Kennedy lands the killer blow.  So round one to Mr Kennedy, but Banksie is convinced that he’ll beat the teacher during the Fun Run (yes I know, a Fun Run isn’t a race, but try telling Banksie that …)

Ant’s plotline (he’s run away from home) can’t really be judged as one of GH’s successes.  For one thing, it’s far too short (it gets wrapped up here) and for another, the level of jeopardy is very low.  Since he’s still dressed in his school uniform he clearly didn’t think things through very deeply (something of a trait with him) and his time seems to have spent dossing down in an abandoned house.  The use of a real location does help a little though and there’s another well-crafted directorial moment when Ant later returns to the house.  A tramp has taken up residence, but the light levels are low enough to mask this fact until he starts to move and leer at the unfortunate boy.

Apart from that, the other highlight is that Ant attempts to steal an apple from a market barrow and fails.  As I said, not the most gripping of storylines so it’s a relief that the episode closes with Ant returning home.  Back at Grange Hill he, like Zammo, remains a hot topic of discussion.  We only see Mr Bronson very briefly in this one but it’s a telling moment – Mr Baxter taunts him about his treatment of Ant which leaves Mr Bronson, for once, somewhat discomforted.

Louise and Cheryl’s story is brought to a (fairly) happy ending, thanks to the arrival of their aunt, Harriet Dean (played by Carmen Munroe).  She and her husband are happy to move to London and take care of the family, but Cheryl (a devote of healthy eating) is somewhat appalled by her aunt’s fondness for fry-ups.  We never see Harriet again, so presumably we can interpret this scene as a comic one and not a suggestion that the forceful Harriet will make all their lives a misery.

Danny’s not best pleased that his design for a school logo – suitably adjusted – will soon be pressed into service.  Mrs McClusky’s sweetly delivered comment that it will happen whether he likes it or not is a typically delightful moment from Gwyneth Powell.  When Mrs McClusky is at her sweetest then you should be very afraid ….

There’s yet another slightly unusual touch as we see Miss Booth on her way to visit Zammo.  Whilst she’s driving her car en-route, the soundtrack jumps ahead to her discussion with Grace (Heather Emmanuel) a worker at the rehabilitation centre.   With the aid of some mugs, Grace is able to give a visual explanation of Zammo’s former addiction but the question remains, will he be able to stay off drugs?

He enters the frame, lingering in the background unseen by both of them, which sets up a moment of tension.  This quickly dissipates as he seems much more like his old self, but it’s clear that the road to recovery is going to be a long one.  Several times during series nine we’ve had false dawns – Zammo appeared to be recovered but wasn’t – so it seems right that we’re left with a strong sense that his future is far from certain.

As his cheerful façade slowly begins to crumble (changing the shot to a view of Zammo through a rainy window was presumably an on-the-day choice, but since it helps to hide his tears it’s a good one) Zammo’s isolation seems absolute.  The way that Miss Booth clearly wants to comfort him but doesn’t is yet another subtle moment from a quality episode.

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