Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Sixteen

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Written by Alan Janes. Tx 23rd February 1979

Although the boys make it back safely, there’s no sign of the girls – so a full-scale search is initiated.  Justin wants to tell Mr Mitchell that they saw Penny and Susi in the forest, but the others aren’t keen as they know how angry he’ll be.  So for the moment they all keep quiet.

Apart from the natural dangers of the forest, an extra level of jeopardy is introduced when it’s revealed that a puma has escaped from a local wildlife park and is roaming around.  Since we never see it (we’re told later that it’s been caught) it turns out to be something of a red herring, especially when there are other dangers – such as marshlands – which could be equally as dangerous.

Eventually Justin decides to speak up – despite Doyle’s threats and this marks something of a turning point in Justin’s character.  He’s always been portrayed as rather weedy (in the previous episode the coach had to stop as he was feeling sick, for example) but he stands up to Doyle here and threatens to smash his face in if he doesn’t stop complaining.

Dramatically there’s not a great deal of tension during the search, since we can confidently assume that Penny and Susi are going to be found safe and well (a similar problem occurred in a later episode when Mr Baxter and Roland were lost on an outward bound course).  But the hunt for the girls is quite effectively staged – especially when it gets darker.  The only problem is that they presumably couldn’t afford to shoot at night, so instead a dark filter is placed over the camera to simulate the night-time ambiance.  The dead giveaway is the fact that the blue sky can still be seen (an unavoidable side effect of day for night filming).

Mr Mitchell is all for punishing the boys when they get back to school but Miss Clarke (Jill Dixon) is much more forgiving, considering that if the trip was partly to teach the kids about the countryside, then they’ve certainly learnt how dangerous it can be.  Her counsel wins the day and the pupils return to London a little wiser.

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Fifteen

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Written by Alan Janes. Tx 20th February 1979

School trips offer a chance to see both the pupils and teachers in a different environment, so it’s no surprise that Grange Hill would return to the school trip plot-line again and again over the years – since it always provided the writers with numerous dramatic possibilities.

One notable person missing from the trip is Tucker – which is a shame because there’s no doubt he’d have found numerous ways to liven things up.  We do have Doyle though – who also likes to be the centre of attention.  His first scene is lovely, as we see him marched to the coach by his mother who’s determined to put him on it, despite his protests.  He manages to break free from her, leaving her running after the coach brandishing his forgotten wellington boots!

He later antognises Penny and Susi – which is an early sign of the feud that he’d enjoy with Penny during series three (especially when he becomes a school rep, much to Penny’s irritation).  Penny’s at her most studious here – she’s puzzled as to why Susi decided to go on the trip since she doesn’t seem to have a great deal of interest in archeology.  Susi’s reply is telling – her mother told her to.

Although Susi’s mother hasn’t featured greatly so far, everything we’ve seen of her suggests that she’s keen to dominate her daughter but also can’t resist belittling her achievements.  She doesn’t believe Susi is particularly bright – even though Susi is that the top of most of her classes, Mrs McMahon is convinced that that’s more to do with the relative lack of ability from the other pupils than Susi’s own intelligence.

Doyle, Alan, Andrew and Justin decide to break free from Mr Sutcliffe’s party to explore the forest.  Since they’ve been expressly forbidden from going off by themselves, you know this is going to end in trouble.  Later, they spy Penny and Susi who have also wandered into the forest.  Doyle makes various animal noises which frightens the girls, causing them to run even deeper into the forest, where they find themselves hopelessly lost.

I wonder if this episode was originally scripted with Tucker, rather than Doyle, in mind.  Everything that Doyle does (placing a fake plastic spider on Penny, for example) could have also been done by Tucker and it’s unusual to see Alan team up with Doyle.  Possibly it was decided to change things around in order to move Doyle more into the centre of the action or maybe Todd Carty wasn’t available for the filming dates.

Whatever the reason, the episode ends with Penny and Susi lost, but the real danger they face only becomes clear at the start of episode sixteen.

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Fourteen

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 16th February 1979

Following SAG’s recent disruptions of school-life, Mr Llewellyn has instigated various procedures which he hopes will tighten up the pupils behaviour.  These include a zero-tolerance policy on late arrivals – which means that Mr Baxter is present at the front gate, making a gleeful note of every latecomer!

This is bad news for Tucker, who turns up some twenty-five minutes late.  Partly this is because he’s missed the bus, but it’s also because he was waylaid by three Brookdale boys on the way to school.  The running battles between the Grange Hill pupils and the Brookies would be a recurring theme during the next few years and even when the schools were merged in series eight the arguments and fights would rumble on for a time.

Tucker, Benny, Alan and Hughes are at their most boisterous in this episode.  A spot of fighting during lunch time is spotted by a teacher who decides they can drop a letter off at the secretary’s office since they’ve clearly not got anything better to do.  Tucker decides that if they do they won’t have time to go to the chippy, so Benny pops the letter into his blazer pocket to deliver later (the fact they don’t deliver the letter straight away seems set up to be important, but it later turns out to have no bearing on the plot).

They’re just as uncontrollable when they get to the chippy.  Tucker declares that he won’t have the chop-suey as he’s convinced that cats and dogs are put into it.  Instead, he decides he’ll have something that you can be sure is fine – a sausage (even though Hughes tells him that it’s made up of sawdust!).  Tucker’s slitty-eyed impersonation of the Chinese owner of the shop (highly politically incorrect of course) proves to be the final straw and all of them are forced to leg it.

More battles with the Brookies on the way back to school result in them taking Benny’s blazer.  This means that Tucker, Alan and Benny have to infiltrate the enemy territory of Brookdale in order to retrieve it.  As they pace the unfamiliar school corridors, there’s a rare use of incidental music to heighten the tension.  Since music wasn’t something the series used at this time it’s a little jarring to hear it in these scenes – but it does help to enhance this largely dialogue free section of the episode.

This episode is rather a throwback to the rough-and-tumble Tucker of series one, but since there hasn’t been a decent Tucker-centric episode for a while it’s a welcome one.

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Thirteen

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 13th February 1979

It’s the day of the school play, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Joseph (Andrew Stanton) is feeling the pressure.  But is he really sick or is it just nerves?  But even though Andrew seems a little listless, others continue to put maximum effort into ensuring that everything goes right on the right.

None more so than Tucker, whose artistic side is displayed after he customises a bike to serve as Joseph’s chariot.  But his well-intentioned efforts to ensure that everything is perfect means that he decides to skip Mr Keating’s maths class to finish off working on the bike – which naturally doesn’t go down very well with the intimidating teacher.

This is the first real chance we’ve had to see Mr Keating at work.  Robert Hartley is spot on at portraying the type of teacher that every school seemed to have – you just know there would never be any disruption in his class as he’d have no qualms in issuing detentions to any miscreants.  He does so to Tucker when he tracks him down and after the boy complains that this means he’ll miss his tea, Mr Keating remorselessly tells him that he’ll just have to miss his tea!

Aside from enjoying a lengthy acting career, from the early 1950’s to the early 1990’s, he also spent the latter part of his career, during the 1980’s and 1990’s, composing music for various television series (including all fourteen episodes of the Keith Barron vehicle Haggard).

If Andrew’s complaints of feeling sick and his flat-as-a-pancake singing in the final rehearsals aren’t enough to drive Mr Sutcliffe to despair, then there’s worse to come.  Jackie Heron and her friends, having been irritated at being put into detention by Miss Summers, decide to wreck the props and costumes for the play.  Tucker’s chariot is damaged and paint is thrown over the coat of many colours as well as the scenery.

It’s Tucker who discovers the devastation, closely followed by Mr Sutcliffe who instantly decides that Tucker must have been responsible.  Thankfully, Miss Summers also turns up and is able to convince Mr Sutcliffe that there’s no way that Tucker would have done this – he certainly wouldn’t have damaged his own bike, not after all the hard work he put into it.

James Wynn has some good comedy moments in this scene. They work especially well since Mr Sutcliffe is usually a rather laid-back person – but with everything collapsing in disaster around him, the increasing irritation he feels (only compounded when he sits down on Tucker’s chips!) rings the changes somewhat.

As might be expected, it all works out fine in the end – Tucker repairs the bike and he manages to find a replacement coat.  Although it comes as a surprise to his mother when she realises that Tucker’s taken one of her coats without asking.  But as so often with Peter Jenkins, she regards him more with indulgence than irritation.

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Twelve

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 9th February 1979

SAG continues to demonstrate (with placards bearing the catchy slogan “Uniform’s a drag – go with SAG”).

The noise irritates the mild-mannered Mr Sutcliffe, but Mr Llewellyn seems quite unconcerned, regarding it as “one of the problems of living with democracy, having to tolerate elements you don’t agree with.”  He asks for a delegation to air their grievances – which is led, of course, by the young militant Jessica Samuels.  We know by now exactly what Jess will say (and the Headmaster knows as well, hence his slightly mocking tone).

He makes the point that he’s not prepared to do anything until it can be proved that the majority of pupils are in favour of abolishing uniform – a concept which SAG never seem to have contemplated.  He offers to raise it at the next staff/pupil council meeting – where the proposal to abolish uniform is defeated by nine votes to two.  Coincidentally, Penny Lewis is gathering support for a referendum to accurately gauge everybody’s opinions (which would seem to be the obvious way to prove, once and for all, what the majority of pupils actually want). It’s therefore odd that neither SAG or Mr Llewellyn ever seem to consider the possibility of a referendum themselves.

Naturally, Jess and the others don’t take this latest setback at all well and decide to organise a sit-in, barricading themselves into the secretary’s office.  Maximum embarrassment is created for Mr Llewellyn when Jess calls the local paper – but he’s able to diffuse the situation by telling the reporter that it’s hardly a full-scale riot – just a handful of individuals.  When the SAG members sees the reporter has left without speaking to them, this is the final straw and they begin to wreck the office (much to the dismay of Trisha and Cathy).

After the heavy artillery (Mr Baxter) is brought in to restore order, the SAG leaders are expelled whilst Trisha and Cathy are suspended for seven days.  It brings to an end one of the most confrontational plot-threads that the series would ever attempt.  Off hand, it’s difficult to recall any other teacher/pupil conflicts on such a scale as this. Although Grange Hill would deal with many contentious issues in the decades to come, this sort of open disobedience would rarely be seen again.

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Eleven

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 6th February 1979

SAG are becoming increasingly militant.  The first flashpoint occurs over a dispute in the school canteen, but much to their dismay Mr Llewellyn accedes to their demands.  So they decide to target extra-curricular sport activities – which means that they’ll meet Mr Baxter head on …..

This episode is a fascinating time capsule of the period.  Industrial unrest was an everyday occurrence in late 1970’s Britain and here we see that Grange Hill isn’t immune.  SAG decide to organise picket-lines across the changing-rooms and do their best to stop their fellow pupils crossing them.  The rhetoric spouted by Jess and her followers has become increasingly heated.  Whereas in the earlier episodes it was possible to believe that they had a genuine desire to abolish school uniform on a point of principle, here it appears that they’re simply looking for any cause that’ll allow them to create the maximum amount of disruption.

Was this Phil Redmond having a none too subtle dig at the unions?  The speedy resolution of the canteen crisis seems to confirm this, as Jess seems very disappointed that Mr Llewellyn accepted that all their points were valid.  The problem centered around a table designated for those (such as Benny) who were receiving free school dinners.  The stigma this causes, which Doyle gleefully uses to pick a fight with Tucker and Benny, has been a bone of contention for some time.

There’s another example of (mild) bad language, which is nevertheless a surprise to hear.  But this pales into insignificance when Jess stands on the table, insisting that the Headmaster is brought to them immediately.  Others follow suit and all of the pupils make a lot of noise.  It’s not exactly a riot, but it’s still a scene that would have no doubt provided more ammunition for those who contended that Grange Hill was a bad influence.

When Mr Llewellyn arrives, Jess outlines their grievances.  “This is merely a demonstration to highlight the humiliation, the degradation and the embarrassment a lot of students have to suffer. Not only due to their family circumstances, but because they’re forced into a situation which stigmatizes the poor.”  It’s another dramatic moment which shows how the series had evolved from the fairly low-key first series.

Tucker is also able to wring from the Headmaster another concession – that the older pupils will no longer serve the younger ones with their meals.  He’s unhappy that some, like Booga Benson, have been short-changing them.  This is the first time that Booga (later to become Tucker’s nemesis) is mentioned but it’ll be some time before we actually see him in the flesh.

Mr Baxter later refers to the SAG committee as louts and there’s a telling confrontation between him and the SAG leaders on the playing fields.  They might be able to intimidate some of the other teachers, but there’s no doubt that Mr Baxter isn’t going to back down.  However, he does require the help of some of the older pupils (led by Gary Hargreaves) to ensure that the cricket team (heading off to play a match against Brookdale) are able to reach the school bus unmolested.

Several players are pressurised to step down, so Tucker, Alan and Justin step in.  This leads to some classic comedy moments between Tucker and Mr Baxter.  Tucker is keen as mustard – he wants to be the wicket-keeper, but Mr Baxter tells him to get out into the field instead.  And when it’s their turn to bat, he’s constantly trying to get onto the pitch, but Baxter tells him that he’ll only get a turn when he’s given up hope!

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Ten

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 2nd February 1979

The fall-out from Miss Summers’ resignation is still rumbling on. The staff, led by Mr Baxter, go on strike – which means that the children get an unexpected day off. This gives Mr Garfield a nice line where he bemoans that “nobody thinks about me. I never had this trouble with Mr Starling.” Most of Graham Ashley’s dialogue is matter-of-fact (he was never given the same comic material that, say, Timothy Bateson would later enjoy) so his deadpan delivery here is all the more memorable for its rarity.

Cathy and Madelin decide to go out somewhere. Cathy does offer Trisha an olive branch by asking if she wants to join them, but Trisha’s not interested. Madelin’s later comment that Trisha is a “stuck up bitch” is a little jarring – it’s a mild enough profanity (and pretty much every real school-child would have used far worse) but it’s still a surprise to hear it uttered in a BBC children’s series.

The pair head for the local shopping precinct. This is a lovely slice of late 1970’s Britain, complete with piped music, and we’ll see it again in series three (during the episode where Antoni Karamanopolis dies). Madelin decides that a bit of shop-lifting will pass the time and Cathy reluctantly agrees.

The first things that Madelin steals are a couple of apples (Cathy puts hers in the bin, which is a telling moment). They then take some empty record sleeves, to put on their bedroom walls. After this, it’s time for the big one – as they steal some clothes from the Clockwork Orange boutique (I wonder if this was a real shop or if the name was scripted? I hope it’s the former!)

As might be expected, they don’t get away with it – although if they had left when Cathy suggested, they might have done – for some reason Madelin decided to hang about, giving the shop assistants time to check that some of their stock was missing. A chase ensues and eventually the pair are cornered – but not before the sneaky Madelin has put the stolen top into Cathy’s bag and blamed her for the crime.

Many of the topics we see in the early series of Grange Hill will be done again in later years (some several times). Mainly this is because certain themes, such as shop-lifting, always remain relevant. And in the future I think the subject was handled a little better and with more depth than we see here.

Cathy is told at the end of the episode there will be no further action and Mr Mitchell advises her to settle her differences with Trisha. With Cathy’s delinquent streak only lasting two episodes it does feel rather rushed. When Grange Hill next tackled shop-lifting (about a decade or so later) the story was allowed more time to develop which meant that the ramifications for a character who had previously (like Cathy) led a blameless life carried greater weight.