Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Five

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 16th January 1979

The staff/pupil council was a popular theme during the early series of Grange Hill, but after series five it rarely surfaced again. This is a little surprising, since it offered a rare opportunity for all members of the school community to have a say (even if, of course, the teachers tended to win the day most of the time – much to the pupil’s chagrin).

The thorny topic of school uniform, a running thread through series two, is brought up here. There are some, such as third-former Jess (Sara Sugarman), who are strongly opposed to uniforms – later in the episode she mutters that they might as well just brand them all and be done with it. Sugarman’s performance is so deadly earnest that it does raise a smile – for some reason the issue of school uniform seems to obsess her intensely.

Penny Lewis, as the new first year rep, has less contentious topics on her mind. She wants the school to create a bookshop, whilst the other first years want a tuck shop instead. Poor Penny – when she asks for a show of hands to support her proposal for a bookshop, none are raised, but everybody supports the idea of a tuckshop.

Her mother later suggests an obvious solution – why not have a combined tuck and bookshop. And it’s instructive to hear her pass off the idea next day in school as her own! She’s a sneaky one, is that Penny Lewis.

The school council meeting also gives us a chance to see Michael Doyle’s father, the very important (at least in his own mind) Councillor Doyle. Like his son, he’s not the nicest of chaps – Doyle Snr is pompous and officious and seems keen to block any suggestions made by the pupils. His character is in sharp contrast to Mr Llewellyn, who is prepared to listen to suggestions (and is much more approachable than his successor, Mrs McClusky would ever be).

Elsewhere, this is one of the first episodes where the trio of Tucker, Benny and Alan is clearly established. Alan was a very peripheral character in the first series, but we’ll see him become a much more central figure over the next few years. And by the time of series four he’s supplanted Benny as Tucker’s best friend (especially when Benny fades away from view in the second half of the series).

In this episode they get into trouble for taking to the school jumble sale a chaise-long they thought was left for the binman. The owner of the antique shop (or junk shop, as Tucker more accurately called it) wasn’t best pleased – but it seems that an honest mistake was made, so once the boys lug it back to the shop all was forgiven.

It’s an eye-opener to hear that the clothes sold at the jumble sale were going for five pence each. I know this was 1979, but that seems like a bargain even then! It’s even more impressive when it’s revealed that the jumble sale made £435.00. How many items at five pence a time must they have sold to make that amount of money?!

Another lovely Tucker moment occurs when he shamefacedly realises he’s sold Mrs Bennett’s rather expensive coat for five pence! Although he did honestly think it was part of the jumble, so we can’t blame him for that.

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Four

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 12th January 1979

Love is in the air for Trisha, as both Simon Shaw (Paul Miller) and Gary Hargreaves (Mark Farmer) vie for her attention.

Simon Shaw was a rather short-lived character – he’s a central figure in the early part of series two before leaving for another school later the same year. It’s clear from the start that he’s someone with a problem – all the evidence points to the fact he has difficulty reading and writing.  Although since we’re mid-way through the school year it’s difficult to understand how this has gone unnoticed for so long. He’s clearly interested in Trisha, but she doesn’t seem to notice him – Trish has only got eyes for the fourth-form football star Gary Hargreaves (Mark Farmer).

Mark Farmer (later to turn up as a semi-regular in Minder) certainly has the gift of the gab, but Trisha’s mother warns her that he’s too old for her. Gary will pop up now and again over the next few series, almost always when the plot is football related.

Elsewhere, Mr Mitchell is appalled at the standard of grammar and punctuation in his class and Mr Baxter continues to rail against Mr Llewellyn’s timetable arrangements.

This is the first of Margaret Simpson’s scripts for Grange Hill. She’d go on to clock up nearly sixty writing credits on the show over the next decade or so (her last being the series finale in 1992).

Gange Hill. Series Two – Episode Three

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Written by Alan Janes. Tx 9th January 1979

This episode (the twelfth in the series) was the first not to be written by Phil Redmond. It was penned by Alan Janes who’d go on to script another eighteen episodes during the next four years or so.

Whereas series one concentrated on one class, in series two the focus often switches between two different classes and this is the first episode not to feature any of the characters who have until now been the main focus of attention (Tucker, Benny, Trisha, etc). Instead, we concentrate on two new arrivals – Antoni Karamanopolis (Vivian Mann) and Andrew Stanton (Mark Eadie).

Antoni is always falling asleep in class and a concerned Miss Summers (Philomena McDonagh) wants to know why. Since he’s Greek it’s maybe not a surprise (in clichéd television terms anyway) that his family own a restaurant and he’s been helping out several times a week. These late nights are clearly taking their toll, so Miss Summers pays his parents a visit.

Mr Karamanopolis (Alexandros Mylonas) is gloriously unrepentant about working his son so hard, but he quickly sees the error of his ways. Indeed, his change of heart does feel rather too rapid and it’s another indication that the series at this point was more comfortable in telling self-contained stories, episode by episode.

Andrew Stanton and Justin Bennett strike up a friendship, based on their love of music, but it’s hard-going at first since Andrew is constantly angry and upset. Eventually he reveals that he believes his parents are on the verge of splitting up – although by the end of the episode that doesn’t seem to be so.

This was a plot-thread that did have some legs – the Stanton’s marital problems are mentioned again in the third series and by series four Andrew’s father has finally left home (taking his younger sister with him) which drives Andrew to drink (literally – as Tucker and his friends have to try and look after the inebriated boy in a memorable episode).

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Two

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 5th January 1979

Benny’s still under suspicion and it’s enough to make him disinclined to go to school. So his parents decide to pay Mr Llewellyn a visit.

This particular story is wrapped up by the end of the episode, which does feel a little rushed (had it played out over a few more episodes then much more drama could have been mined from it). Over the years, we’ll see how Grange Hill would begin to interweave numerous plot-lines across the season. Although having said that, when Andrew Stanton is introduced in the next episode it’ll begin a storyline that isn’t resolved until the fourth series!

The true culprit is caught and punished, but it still leaves Benny feeling hurt and upset. Was he victimised because of the colour of his skin and his poor background? It’s interesting that the previous episode is quite explicit in showing how Benny came by his fifty pence (he found it lying on the ground on the way to school). Had they not done this, then there might have been some doubt as to whether he was telling the truth when he protested his innocence..

We also bid farewell to Judy as she leaves Grange Hill for Brookdale – although she’ll reappear in the final episode of series two.

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode One

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 2nd January 1979

There’s an influx of new faces in the first few episodes of series two. This is because the number of episodes were doubled from series one (from nine to eighteen) so more characters had to be created to share the various plot-lines

Cathy Hargreaves, Susi McMahon and Penny Lewis would all become central characters, whilst others (such as Andrew Stanton and Antoni Karamanopolis) would be placed more in the background, but did step into the limelight occasionally.

Mr Baxter, Mr Sutcliffe and Mr Keating all debuted as well (and would all be major figures in the development of the series during the next few years). A new headmaster, Mr Llewellyn (Sean Arnold) also makes his first appearance here and it doesn’t take long before he’s ruffled more than a few feathers amongst the staff.

Mr Baxter (Michael Cronin) views the new headmaster with disfavour – in his eyes he’s a progressive and his approach is doomed to failure. The Baxter formula for keeping order is quite simple – let them know who’s boss and don’t take any nonsense. Cronin’s pitch-perfect from his first scene as he’s able to bring a nice degree of resigned weariness to Baxter as well as a finely honed sense of irony.

Mr Baxter (like some of the other new arrivals) has presumably been at the school for a while – it’s just that we’ve never seen them. This is something that happens quite often down the years at Grange Hill – pupils and teachers just appear and everybody acts as if they’ve been there for years. And as we work our way through the entire series we’ll see that the reverse is also true – some characters just vanish, with never a word spoken about their fate.

At least the departures in series two (Ann Wilson and Judy Preston) aren’t brushed under the carpet – and in the case of Judy she does appear in the first few episodes before transferring to Brookdale. Ann Wilson is mentioned in the first episode, but we never see her (and by episode three we’re told that she and her family have moved abroad).

It’s interesting to ponder why Judy Preston was written out – as Penny Lewis essentially inherited the character of Ann, Judy could have been moved alongside her as her best friend (instead, another new character – Susi McMahon – was created). Perhaps it was felt that Judy was nice, but too wet.  Her place as Trisha’s friend is taken by Cathy Hargreaves (Lindy Brill). There’s certainly no doubt that Cathy is a more interesting character than Judy and the combination of her and Trisha seemed to click from the start.

Dramatically, this episode seems to be pitched at a higher level than most of series one. After Tucker’s high-jinks accidentally breaks a classroom window, Mr Mitchell finds himself publicly criticised by Mr Llewellyn for leaving his class unattended. The fact that Mr Llewellyn berates him in front of his class is a source of considerable annoyance to him and it’s the first sign that some of the staff are finding relationships with the new head to be rather difficult (this is something that will rumble on for the next few episodes).

The other major plot-thread of the opening episode concerns Benny, who finds himself accused of stealing fifty pence. The theft occurred during a football match between Grange Hill and Brookdale, and Benny was the last person to leave the changing room. He is in possession of a fifty pence piece, which is suspicious, but it’s not solid evidence. However, it’s enough to convince some of his team-mates, who tell Mr Baxter that they won’t play if Benny’s in the team.

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Nine

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 5th April 1978

Both Trisha and Benny decide to play truant – but for very different reasons. Benny has been suffering racial taunts at the hands of Doyle and his friends, whilst Trisha continues to clash with the teachers over her use of jewellery and nail varnish (both of which are strictly forbidden).  Mr Mitchell sets out to find them, which he does, and once again demonstrates that he’s the rare sort of teacher – the listening kind.

The chronology of this episode seems a little odd, since Benny’s back wearing casual clothes (which is one of the excuses Doyle uses to bully him). A few episodes ago we’d seen him kitted out in a new school uniform, so it’s a mystery what’s become of it.

The other taunts, about the colour of his skin, seem to be hard for him to take and its the reason why he skips school. Compared to Gripper’s reign of terror in series six it’s mild stuff, but it’s still noteworthy for the series to have tackled this topic so early on.

Trisha’s attitude is the one she’ll carry with her for the rest of her time at Grange Hill. She simply doesn’t understand why other people have the right to tell her what to wear. When school uniform is later made optional it’s something that obviously pleases her, but she’ll still find plenty of other things to complain about!

Trisha and Benny both run into each other (literally) whilst they’re truanting. This is the scene that has Trisha’s infamous line to Benny where she tells him that he “can’t help being a nig-nog.” It’s meant ironically (he answers back that she can’t help being a honky) but it’s one of those moments that would be almost certain to be snipped out now if the episode was repeated. Which is a shame, as it works in the context of the story.

It seems that nobody really believed Grange Hill would be a particular success, so the positive ratings and feedback (tempered with the negative feedback from some press and parents) seemed to have come as a surprise. A second series, with double the amount of episodes, was commissioned and from series two onwards the show would begin to develop a greater level of complexity (especially with interweaving plot-threads).

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Eight

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 29th March 1978

After Doyle steals an antique flintlock pistol, loaned to the school for the upcoming festival, the boys and girls team up to recover it.

Tucker’s convinced that Doyle took it – but he has no evidence. Trisha overhears him confronting Doyle and decides to take action herself. The relationship between Tucker and Trisha is always a joy – particularly in this episode when they call an uneasy truce in order to find the pistol. But some of the girls aren’t necessarily convinced that Tucker’s telling the truth (Ann reminds him that he once claimed that the Headmaster had a wooden leg!). However, Trisha does believe him (as she doesn’t trust Doyle – she thinks his eyes are too close together).

Various ways are mooted by the boys and girls about how they can prise the truth out of Doyle. Sending him to Coventry is one idea, whilst Tucker naturally favours beating the truth out of him. Surprisingly, the goody-goody Ann Wilson doesn’t consider this to be a totally bad idea either. And it’s the highly sensible Ann who eventually saves the day – by suggesting that the pistol could be returned anonymously.

Plot-wise, this one is fairly thin, but it’s the performances, especially Todd Carty’s spot-on comic timing, which make it so memorable.

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Seven

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 22nd March 1978

Perhaps the most significant part of this episode concerns Michael Doyle’s (Vincent Hall) transfer to Mr Mitchell’s class. It’s spelled out very early on that Doyle is bad news (he and his friends were bullying other pupils so it’s been decided to split them up).

Over the next few series he’ll lock horns with Tucker time and again, but in this episode he’s more concerned with Ann Wilson, who’s running for election to the school council. First though, she has to win the vote from her form (which she does, beating Tucker into second place).

It’s a shame that Lucinda Duckett didn’t return for series two, but it’s clear to see that her character (serious, hard-working) was simply re-created several times – firstly with Penny Lewis and then later with Pamela Cartwright. It’s quite possible to imagine Ann Wilson doing everything that Penny Lewis later did – clashing with Doyle, writing endless articles for the school magazine, etc.

Her path to election success isn’t straightforward though, as Michael Doyle uses all the tricks in the book (including intimidation) to ensure that his preferred candidate wins. But after a last minute adjustment to the voting (which I’m not sure was strictly legal) Ann is declared the winner.

This episode sees the first of three appearances by Carole Nimmons as Miss Mather. Nimmons has had a long and successful career, which includes the rather good series Bird of Prey, starring Richard Griffiths.

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Six

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 15th March 1978

Tucker’s still very much a loose cannon. His latest trick is seeing how often he can throw his woodwork chisel into a piece of wood – which is rather dangerous to say the least. The fact that the teacher remains oblivious to this no doubt would have upset those watching at home who already found him and some of the other pupils to be less than ideal role models.

His next wheeze is to persuade Benny to explore an abandoned building which he claims is an ammo dump. Rather unexpectedly, Justin asks to join them. Tucker’s reluctant (since the incident at the swimming pool) but Benny is happy for him to come along, so Tucker eventually agrees.

The abandoned building offers plenty of scope for unusual camera angles and tension is ramped up by mysterious noises (which turn out to be a cat!) But the abandoned building isn’t quite as abandoned as it seems – two workman turn up. As the three boys attempt to escape, Justin loses his footing and falls.

At first glance, it looks as if he might be dead. But it would have been a daring move (and probably a step too far) to kill off a pupil so early in the run. Although at the time the first series was made it was far from certain that a second would go into production, so you could argue that they had nothing to lose.

But after the fall-out that occurred over the swimming pool incident, they were probably wise to ensure that Justin only suffered broken bones and concussion. We’d have to wait a little longer before the series started killing off its pupils.

Mrs Jenkins and Mrs Green are called to the school and it’s refreshing that neither find fault with the school – they both put the blame onto their children (whilst also accepting that they have to shoulder responsibilty as well). After some deliberation it’s decided that only corporal punishment will fit the bill – and this is enough to finally wipe the smile off Tucker’s face (although, brave to the end, he does insist that he can take more punishment than Benny!)

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Five

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 8th March 1978

This is a rather nice episode, played mainly for laughs, which centres on Trisha and her well-intentioned efforts to help Mr Rankin (Blake Butler). Mr Rankin teaches biology and Trisha has recently taken to helping him tidy his lab in the lunch-breaks. Her sister teases her that it’s because she has a crush on him – something Trisha vehemently denies.

When Judy pops in, Trisha grandly tells him that she’s Mr Rankin’s assistant. Judy asks if she can hold the hamster and Trisha, against her better judgement, agrees. Naturally, the animal escapes and then the problems really begin.

In trying to find it, they overturn a bookcase, before Judy hits on the bright idea of buying another hamster at the local pet shop to replace it. There then follows a race-against-time, which doesn’t work out quite as intended (Judy is distracted when buying the animal and doesn’t notice that the one chosen by the assistant is a different colour!)

It’s all for nothing anyway, since when Mr Rankin returns he spots the original hamster on the floor. But he’s inclined not to punish them, since they did make an effort to rectify the problem. Trisha’s in trouble anyway though, thanks to a run-in with another teacher, Miss Clarke (Jill Dixon). She objects to Trisha wearing jewellery in the lunch-time, which irritates the girl no end.

This moment marks the beginning of Trisha’s battles against authority.  Any time she feels her basic freedoms are being eroded she’s not backwards in expressing herself ….

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Four

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Written by Phil Redmond.  Tx 1st March 1978

Episode four was the first (but certainly not the last) time that Grange Hill found itself courting controversy. This centered around the unsupervised swimming lesson which saw Tucker and his friends running amok in the pool.

Given that there were two teachers, Mr Mitchell and Mr Malcolm (Christopher Coll) on duty, it does feel slightly contrived that both of them were absent. The reason why one of them had to leave (a boy injured his foot) is reasonable enough, but when he only suffered a fairly small cut, did they really both have to carry him away?

Tucker, Benny and Alan decide to throw some of the benches into the pool and have a race – whilst being cheered on by the other boys. The only one who doesn’t join in is Justin (who’s no doubt still smarting from the fact that Tucker stole his trousers during their previous swimming lesson). He runs off to find the caretaker and when Mr Malcolm returns he has his own way of dealing with the miscreants.

His punishment (a ban from swimming for three weeks and a detention) does seem incredibly lenient though – anything could have happened in his absence and it’s remarkable that there’s no further action taken. Perhaps this is because Mr Malcolm is well aware that he and Mr Mitchell were at fault and considers it to be best to leave things as they are.

Tucker would later turn into something of a loveable rogue, but he’s simply a rogue here. His wild behaviour would continue in episode six, but the events there seem to finally bring him more into line.

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Three

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Written by Phil Redmond.  Tx 22nd February 1978

Judy Preston is still deeply unhappy at Grange Hill, bemoaning the fact that nobody ever speaks to her. Although, as her mother points out, she probably needs to put a little more effort into trying to make friends. But the next day it seems as if the first tentative steps towards a friendship are established after Trisha rescues her from the boisterous attentions of Tucker and Benny.

Tucker isn’t best pleased to find himself bested by a girl and offers her a knuckle sandwich – before belatedly remembering that he doesn’t hit girls. Always a charmer, the young Peter Jenkins!

But Trisha isn’t around when Judy finds herself facing the unwelcome attentions of three fifth-form girls, led by the spiteful Jackie Heron (Miriam Mann). All three clearly have a great deal of experience in bullying those younger than themselves and there’s something quite disturbing about these scenes.

Possibly it’s because we’ve seen how isolated and friendless Judy is, so we know that she’ll be totally unable to put up a fight. After rummaging through Judy’s possessions, Jackie spots a rather nice pen. Judy pleads with her not to take it, as it was a present from her late Grandfather. Jackie tells her that she can have it back – if the price is right.

Later, Trisha becomes aware of what’s happened and instantly decides to help. This gives us an early insight into Trisha’s character – she’s always keen to help the underdog and never seems to realise when she’s outnumbered. In this case, two first-years facing off against three fifth-years is clearly an unequal battle, but the prospect of defeat never seems to have entered Trisha’s head.

In the end, Trisha’s sister Carol (Julia Gale) saves the day. Like Jackie, she’s a fifth-former and is able to confront her on equal terms and so forces her to give back the pen. This episode has a clear message at the end as Carol tells the two girls that “people like Jackie Heron never pick on someone who’s able to stand up to them. So if you can’t do it, the answer’s simple – get someone who can. Look, if anything like this happens again, tell someone.”

Short of Carol looking directly down the camera and adding that that goes for everybody else watching at home too, the moral couldn’t have been more clearly stated.

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Two

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 15th February 1978

Mr Foster is something of a monster. There’s a slight resemblance between him and Mr Baxter (who is introduced in series two) but whilst Mr Baxter could be hard and uncompromising, he also had a kindly side. There’s no kind side to Foster (the amount of physical abuse he inflicts on the children is disturbing) . As a games master he’s strict and unrelenting – every pupil must have precisely the correct kit or they don’t take part in the lesson.

This brings him into conflict with Benny, who can’t afford to buy either a school uniform or a games kit. This is a particular problem since Benny wants to take part in the football trials, but without the correct kit Mr Foster won’t let him. His new friend Tucker comes to the rescue though, “borrowing” Justin’s sports top (I do like the way that Tucker never thinks to offer him his own!)

This still leaves the question of football boots. It’s nice that Mr Mitchell brings up the question in class and asks everybody if they have any suggestions since it helps to build a feeling of community. Ann Wilson (Lucinda Duckett) offers him her hockey boots – they’re not quite the same as football boots, but they’re better than nothing.

Eventually we see Mr Foster turn a blind eye to the hockey boots and he allows Benny to take part, but the fact he’s been so obstructive doesn’t reflect well on him. Mr Mitchell’s already told him that Green is a talented footballer and everything we’ve seen so far would suggest he’d be an asset to the school-team. So the fact that Mr Foster would be prepared to deny him a trial because he doesn’t have the right kit is rather petty-minded (you know that Mr Baxter would place ability over clothes any day).

Making brief appearances in this one are Perry Benson (later to become a familiar television face) and Brenda Cavendish as the games mistress. As a fan of Public Eye, it’s always nice to see Brenda Cavendish pop up in any other series.

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode One

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 8th February 1978

Benny Green (Terry Sue Patt) has the honour of being the first pupil we see entering the grounds of Grange Hill. Quite why he’s so early isn’t explained here – but it’s obvious from his opening scene that he lives for football. He’s also black and poor – both of which were considerable disadvantages in late seventies Britain – but he’s always a positive character and never spends his time complaining about what he doesn’t have.

This opener is quite effective in demonstrating how intimidating a comprehensive school could be on your first day and the key part of the episode is the way that the various pupils react. Tucker (Todd Carty) and Alan (George Armstrong) take it in their stride whilst Judy (Abigail Brown) and Justin (Robert Morgan) view the place with barely disguised horror. Both are isolated, since all of their old friends have gone to different schools. Trisha (Michelle Herbert) on the other hand, seems to regard the new school with complete disinterest.

Most are placed under the care of Mr Mitchell (Michael Percival). As their form tutor, Mr Mitchell will be a key figure in guiding them through the school year and it’s clear from the outset that he’s both funny and compassionate.

On the other end of the scale is Mr Foster (Roger Sloman) who we’ll see more of in episode two. He lacks all of Mr Mitchell’s redeeming qualities and his early run-in with Tucker makes this quite clear. It’s somewhat staggering to learn that Sloman was only thirty two at the time this was made, as he looks a good ten or fifteen years older. It certainly bears out the truth that some people aged quicker back in the old days!

What will become something of a GH cliché gets its first outing here – a noticeboard with an arrow pointing the way to the assembly hall (which handily can be turned the opposite way to fox a green newcomer!).  Ann (Lucinda Duckett), who overslept, is the first pupil to fall foul of this trick as several mean older girls, led by Jackie Heron (Mariam Mann), delight in sending her the wrong way.  Even as a child it never struck me as credible that the arrow would be a moveable one (why not just chalk it on the board?) but no matter, it’s certainly a memorable moment.

It was a nice touch that the final episode of the final series, broadcast in 2008, ended with yet another changed arrow gag.  The more things change …..

Although it might seem surprising that not all of the pupils are working class (the likes of Tucker, Alan, Benny and Trisha are firmly working class whilst Ann, Judy and Justin are resolutely middle class) this was an intentional move on the part of Phil Redmond.  One of the themes he wanted to explore was the way that Comprehensive Schools took in a range of pupils of mixed abilities and backgrounds – as opposed to the grammar/secondary modern split which had existed before.  It also helps to set up the possibilities of conflicts based on class, which would always be a fruitful avenue to explore.

Like a number of episodes from the early years, most of this one was shot on film and on location at an actual school.  Although single-camera filming would have been more expensive and slower than multi-camera videotaping in the studio there were obvious advantages – both aesthetic and financial.  The gloomy vistas of a real school (endless corridors seemingly stretching to infinity) are more effective at creating a sense of space and isolation than studio sets would have been.  Shooting on location also meant that substantial constructions (like the school assembly hall) didn’t have to be mounted in the studio, which made financial sense.

Colin Cant’s direction, demonstrated with the screencap above, sometimes liked to favour low angle shots.  It’s an obvious but effective trick – since the camera is positioned around Tucker’s eyeline, it makes Mr Foster seem more imposing than he otherwise would be.

By the end of the episode we’ve seen Tucker and Trisha clash for the first time and everything now seems to have settled down a little. The mystery of Alan’s surname (given as Turner in the episode, Hargreaves on the end credits and later to be changed again to Humphries) is a mystery that’s never been explained (at least not to me).

Look and Read – The Boy From Space. Series overview and BFI DVD review


Look and Read (1967 – 2004) was a long running BBC Schools programme that is fondly remembered by several generations of school-children.

Its aim was to help less developed readers gain confidence but the drama segments (each twenty minute episode would be a mix of studio based learning lessons and a continuing serial) ensured that the programmes appealed to most children.

The Boy From Space was the third in the Look and Read series, originally broadcast between September and November 1971 and was scripted by Richard Carpenter.

Carpenter had started his career as an actor and during the 1950’s and 1960’s he racked up an impressive list of credits on shows such as Z Cars, Softly Softly, Emergency Ward 10, No Hiding Place, Sherlock Holmes, Dixon of Dock Green and Strange Report.  But by the late 1960’s he had decided to change course and become a writer.

His first series, Catweazle, was an instant success.  Broadcast on LWT between 1970 and 1971, it starred Geoffrey Bayldon as a magician from Norman times who found himself adrift in the modern world and totally unable to understand many of the simplest things we take for granted.

Carpenter would continue to notch up an impressive list of writing credits over the next few decades (creating The Ghosts of Motley Hall, Dick Turpin and Robin of Sherwood, amongst others) and he also penned several further serials for Look and Read – Cloud Burst (1974) and The King’s Dragon (1977).

Turning back to the original 1971 broadcast of The Boy From Space, it comprised 10 episodes of 20 minutes duration.  Although it was repeated several times up until 1973, sometime after that the tapes were wiped which meant that that only the drama inserts remained.

At this point in time the majority of BBC programmes were made and broadcast on videotape.  Videotape was expensive and could be re-used, hence the reason why so many shows from this era are lost for ever – as periodically the tapes would be wiped so that new recordings could be made.

Film, however, could not be re-used, which explains why these sections of The Boy From Space remained in the archives.

In 1980 BBC Schools were looking around for a new Look and Read serial, so it was decided to use the material shot in 1971 along with newly created learning inserts.  And as the original music was lost Paddy Kingsland from the Radiophonic Workshop was commissioned to write a new score.

Wordy and Cosmo
Wordy and Cosmo

The 1980 series was presented by Phil Cheney as Cosmo with Charles Collingwood providing the voice of Wordy whilst Katie Hebb was the puppeteer who brought him to life.  Derek Griffiths led the team of singers who performed the educational songs.  The cast list from the 1971 drama inserts was as follows –

Anthony Woodruff as Mr Bunting
Colin Mayes as Peep-peep
Gabriel Woolf as Peep-peep’s father
John Woodnutt as the thin space-man
Loftus Burton as Tom
Stephen Garlick as Dan
Sylvestra Le Touzel as Helen

As with the 1971 series, it was broadcast over 10 episodes –

01 The Meteorite (15 Jan 1980)
02 The Spinning Compass (22 Jan 1980)
03 The Man in the Sand-pit (29 Jan 1980)
04 In danger! (5 Feb 1980)
05 The Hold-up (12 Feb 1980)
06 Where is Tom? (26 Feb 1980)
07 The Hunt for the Car (4 Mar 1980)
08 The Lake (11 Mar 1980)
09 Captured! (18 Mar 1980)
10 In the Spaceship (25 Mar 1980)

It’s fair to say that The Boy From Space is an odd viewing experience.  The drama sections concern two children, Dan (Stephen Garlick) and Helen (Sylvestra Le Touzel) who, whilst out stargazing, spy an object plummeting to the earth.  They decide to explore and discover a crashed space-ship.


Amongst the ship’s inhabitants is a young alien boy christened “Peep-peep” by the children due to his backwards language.  But there is danger from another alien who the children refer to as  “the thin space-man”, played by John Woodnutt.  He seems to have a hold over their new friend from space and this puts them all in danger.

Whilst this is obviously quite low budget, there’s plenty of merit here.  The child actors are pretty good (Le Touzel would go on to have a lengthy career) whilst Gabriel Woolf and John Woodnutt are as solid as you would expect.  Another plus point is the score by Paddy Kingsland.  Anybody who loves early eighties Doctor Who music will find much to appreciate.

The thin space-man
The thin space-man

The educational inserts may be of less interest to some, but thanks to the comprehensive package prepared by the BFI, there are several different viewing options.

You can either watch the series as broadcast in 1980 or there’s an option to view just the drama sequences in a new 70 minute edit on the second disc.

There’s also two versions of the BBC Schools LP recording.  The first is the original audio, with narration from Wordy himself and the other marries footage from the show along with the LP audio.

The original LP cover
The original LP sleeve

In addition to this, there’s Wordy’s Think-ups (animated lessons from the episodes), PDFs of the school brochures from both broadcasts and an interesting booklet which contains information about BBC Schools programmes in general as well as detail on the Look and Read series.

The DVD is part of the BFI’s Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder series of releases.  Also available now is The Changes, with others such as Nineteen Eighty Four and Out Of The Unknown to follow later in the year.

The series by itself would have been a worthwhile purchase but the supplementary features mean that it’s an even more attractive package. It’s probably not to everyone’s tastes, but it’s nice to see the BFI releasing something slightly left-field like this. Hopefully there will be more to follow in the future.

Look and Read – The Boy from Space comes to DVD

The Boy From Space BFI
The Boy From Space BFI

The Boy from Space is one of a number of British TV science fiction titles due to be released shortly by the BFI.  Originally broadcast in 1971 as part of BBC Schools’ Look and Read strand, it has gained a certain cult status over the years.

Written by Richard Carpenter (Catweazle, Robin of Sherwood), the original broadcast tapes were wiped following transmission, although the Boy from Space drama inserts were retained.

This meant that when, in 1980, Look and Read were looking for a cheap new production, it was decided to use the original 1971 inserts with newly shot studio footage featuring presenters Cosmo and Wordy.

The two disc release includes –

The 1980 series (10 episodes, each running for 20 minutes).

A new feature length edit of the drama inserts (70 minutes).

An audio version of the 1972 BBC Schools LP (running time 55 minutes) narrated by Charles Collingwood (Wordy).

A new presentation, syncing audio from the BBC Schools LP together with footage from the television broadcast.

Animated sequences and an illustrated booklet.

A full review of the DVD can be found here.