Written by David Angus. Tx 26th January 1990
Although a few other plots bubble along today, this is very much Ronnie’s episode – something that’s reinforced by the way it opens and closes with her (and on both occasions she’s in a tearful mood).
We begin with a camera pan around her bedroom. She’s lying in bed whilst the clock radio burbles out the jolly sounds of Radio 1 (a cover version of Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World). The choice of song is a nicely ironic one, as the viewer processes the fact that every inch of wall space is taken up with posters protesting at animal cruelty.
Coming downstairs to breakfast, she discovers a budgie in a cage. Her mother explains that they’re looking after it for a neighbour who’s had to go into hospital. Ronnie instinctively goes to release it, but Mrs Birtles tells her not to – as the bird is happy in the cage. This moment of tension passes without Ronnie being able to articulate why she disagrees with this viewpoint, which in some ways is the episode’s theme – she wants to help all animals, but can’t find a way to do so.
Ronnie learns, via a chance meeting on the way to school with a couple of girls from St Mary’s, that they still dissect animals in their biology classes. This reveal is done in a rather clumsy way – Calley happens to bump into a couple of St Mary’s girls she’s friendly with (although we’ve never seen them before) and the talk instantly turns to their biology lessons.
Grange Hill no longer uses animals in their classes, although they did in the past (series seven, for example). Possibly we’re missing a trick here – had Ronnie suddenly launched a crusade to stamp out this sort of thing in her own school it would have had more of a dramatic punch.
The scene we do have is still effective though. Ronnie storms over to St Mary’s, wanders through the corridors and finally finds the biology class – whereupon she crashes in and hands out leaflets, to the bemusement of the pupils and the simmering anger of the teacher.
Few of the St Mary’s pupils seem that interested (although a few look slightly bashful). Possibly this because they don’t care or it might be that they don’t want to rock the boat – their grades mattering more to them than a handful of dissected animals.
This failure to connect only deepens Ronnie’s gloom and she goes off to wander up and down the high street, with seemingly every window (a butchers, a shop selling genuine leather handbags) causing her further pain.
In other news, we meet Mr Bentley (David Cann) for the first time. Given the way he’s been talked about in the past, it’s no surprise that he’s totally single-minded where his son is concerned – treating Mike more like a machine than a human being. The affable Mr Robson (someone who’s never been that keen on ultra-competitive sports) is polite, but his real feelings are expressed by the various faces he pulls as Mr Bentley drones on and on.
There’s a chance to dig a little deeper into Neil Timpson’s character. Caught by Mrs Monroe with a video nasty (the rather tame looking Ninja Demon) she has a friendly chat with him in detention about his home life, which possibly helps to explain his poor attitude at school.
It’s once again noticeable how sidelined a figure Mrs McClusky has become. Once upon a time she would have been the one to argue about budgets and funding with the likes of Miss Booth and Mr MacKenzie, but these days she’s perfectly happy to delegate that sort of job to Mr Hargreaves. This is all well and good, but it does mean she rarely has the opportunity to tackle any dramatic scenes.
Having said that, today’s episode slightly bucks the trend as she provides Ronnie with a shoulder to cry on.