With Eureka due to release series five and six of Grange Hill on DVD later in the year, it seems like the ideal time for an irregular series of quick posts looking at some of the key themes developed across these two years. To kick off – the rise and rise of Gripper Stebson (Mark Savage).
GH had tackled bullying before (as early as the third episode of series one) but there was something very different about Gripper. Since the first series was episodic in nature, there wasn’t any room to develop the plot-thread of first-former Judy being targeted by the mean fifth-former Jackie Heron in any great depth. One intervention later, everybody lived happily ever after ….
Gripper would prove to have much more staying power. Indeed, although he had appeared in a handful of series four episodes and would go on to cameo in a few post series six ones (“oy! that’s my bike!”) the story of Master Stebson is also, in part, the story of series five and six.
Previous victims of bullying – such as Judy and Benny (who had been targeted by Doyle) – found they had others (Trisha/Tucker) who were prepared to stand with them. Poor Roland Browning (Erkan Mustafa) had nobody and this made all of his wretched misfortunes throughout 1982 even more disturbing. If the message from series one (delivered by Trisha’s older sister to Judy) seemed just a little too pat (report a bully and all will be well) then Roland’s silent suffering had more of the ring of truth.
It’s tempting to wonder if the change in tone was initiated by Susi Hush, the new producer for series five. It’s telling that the previous producer, Colin Cant, had – back in 1980 – cast severe doubts about whether GH could ever show the reality of bullying.
And yet that’s what was achieved throughout 1982 and 1983. Possibly this was simply an indication of the series’ increasing confidence – although GH had had long-running plot-threads before, this was the period when they started to elongate even further. With an established audience base, it seems likely that Grange Hill had no qualms in pacing certain storylines quite slowly.
In later years this could sometimes turn out to be more of a curse than a blessing (Gonch’s interminable money-making schemes became tiresome very quickly) but Roland’s apparent suicide attempt at the end of S05E16 has a special resonance due to the fact that it was placed towards the end of a run of episodes which had featured him under attack from Gripper on so many occasions.