Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode One

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Written by Chris Ellis. Tx 5th January 1988

This episode saw the debut of a new title sequence and a re-arranged version of Chicken Man. Although both moves might have upset some old-timers, you can’t really argue that it wasn’t overdue. The original titles may have been iconic, but they always looked rather old fashioned, even back in the seventies. The new titles are more frenetic (Phil Cool, remember him?) but not as distinctive. In some respects they seem like a placeholder between the originals and the more successful nineties efforts.

A new group of first years are rapidly introduced. For those who like to compare the new arrivals to old boys and girls (looking for archetypes) then Chrissy Mainwaring (Sonya Kearns) and Susi Young (Lynne Radford) fit very nicely as the new Trisha/Cathy, Fay/Annette or Calley/Ronnie. Throw in Justine Dean (Rachel Victoria Roberts) as a fashion rebel very similar to Trisha and it’s plain that – to begin with – the series was treading familiar ground with these new characters.

But Matthew Pearson (Paul Adams) and Clarke Trent (Darren Cudjoe) are hardly in the mould of Tucker/Alan, Zammo/Jonah or Gonch/Hollo. Matthew is positioned more as a Justin Bennett type – a fish out of water at Grange Hill – whilst poor Clarke (you possibly won’t be surprised to learn that he receives a few Superman jibes) seems to exist mainly to line feed his new friend.

Our first sight of Matthew sees him looking longingly at the comfort and security of home from the back seat of his mother’s car as she drives him and his sister to school. If the point that he’s an unwilling new pupil needs to be hammered home, then luckily his annoying younger sister is on hand to tell him exactly what awaits him (namely that his head will be shoved down the toilet on a regular basis!).

For the loveable bad-boy quotient, you have to look to Tegs Ratcliffe (Sean Maguire). Out of the newcomers, Tegs makes the most immediate impression. Grange Hill might have had its fair share of tearaways in the past, but Tegs is a little unusual. He’s sold to us as a positive character, even though his background is a dubious one (his family are comprised of unsuccessful petty criminals whilst he’s already racked up an impressive criminal record as well).

In time we’ll see how the isolated Tegs forms a bond with Justine which – again – is an uncommon move for the series. It wasn’t totally unheard of (Trisha and Simon Shaw for example, or Duane and Tracy/Clare) but those examples demonstrate that friendships between first year boys and girls hadn’t happened for some time.

Series eleven also saw the introduction of Mr Robson (Stuart Organ). He was by far the longest serving cast member (notching up 264 episodes) although I doubt few would have predicted back in 1988 that he would become such a fixture (he eventually left in 2003, shortly after the show relocated to Liverpool).

A few older pupils suddenly pop up without warning later on this year (an occasional hazard at this school). Fiona Wilson (Michelle Gayle) slots in neatly with the other fourth form girls whilst Mauler McCaul (Joshua Fenton) and Ted Fisk (Ian Congdon-Lee) initially exist solely to cause grief to the younger pupils.

Fair to say that Mauler’s not exactly a bully in the Gripper class (or even Imelda, come to that). He’s played much more for laughs with Ted operating as his even dimmer sidekick. But for those prepared to stick with the series, Ted’s character will undergo something of a transformation in the years to come …..

The opening few minutes plays out in a predictable way as we see various characters making their way to school – some willingly, some not. The old hands – Ziggy and Robbie – are quite casual whilst some of the younger pupils – like Susi – are more anxious. Luckily, she’s got a confident friend in Justine, who tells her that the horror stories she’s heard (about getting beaten up and having her dinner money pinched) are all rubbish. Justine’s positive attitude is therefore shown to be in sharp contrast to Matthew’s more negative viewpoint (like Susi he seems to think that everybody’s looking at him – hence the way he flinches when his mother attempts to give him a goodbye kiss).

It’s an old trick, but during these early scenes with Matthew, the camera is placed low – at his level – which makes the sudden arrival into the frame of Trevor and Vince (keen to make Matthew’s first day extra special) a little more impactful. A pity that Paul Adams seems to be registering amusement more than fear during this scene, but no doubt this was down to inexperience (although he did have a few credits prior to GH).

A few golden oldies from years gone by are given another airing – such as when Trevor and Ziggy send the first years the wrong way to the assembly hall. Another rehash from the first episode back in 1978 finds Matthew left alone in the assembly hall (everyone else has been assigned a form apart from him). Whilst this is almost certainly an intentional homage, it’s probably not a moment tailored for long term fans. Indeed, GH‘s core audience was no doubt self-renewing (new ones joining as the older ones moved on to the likes of EastEnders) so this would have seemed fresh to most of the viewers.

Both Chrissy and Justine seem to be channelling Trisha Yates. Chrissy has an overbearing older relative also at the school (in her case, Freddie) whilst Justine has a highly relaxed attitude to school uniform, which is sure to get her into trouble.

Poor Freddie is bereft to learn that Julia won’t be coming back to Grange Hill. Sorry? Considering the way that he’s burned his way through the female population at GH, it’s hard to take his sorrowful persona very seriously. But with Julia gone (and Banksie too) that leaves the way open for Freddie and Laura to hook up …..

Mr Robson lays down a marker with E4 right from the moment he first walks into the room. With a stentorian rant, he instantly silences them (easy to see that he’s not going to be a walkover like Mr Scott last year).

Mr Bronson and Danny pick up where they left off. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m growing older, but I now find it much easier to side with Mr Bronson than I do with Danny. The boy’s clearly aggrieved at being kept down a year, but since – due to his illness – he’s missed a considerable amount of coursework it’s easy to see why the decision was taken. Unlike his earlier targeting of Zammo and Ant, there doesn’t seem to be any malice – at present – from Mr Bronson’s side of the table.

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