Grange Hill. Series Twelve – Episode Three

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 10th January 1989

Trevor remains convinced that Vince has savant like powers (maybe the drink has addled what few wits remain in his head). He asks Vince to pick a horse running in one of the afternoon races. Will it romp home, thereby confirming what Trevor already thinks he knows, or will it fall at the first fence, meaning that this plotline will draw to a close? I predict the former ….

Quite a few characters are introduced with character traits which are quickly dropped after a year or two. It’s therefore interesting that five years in Cally still has a firm interest in horoscopes.

Mr Bronson’s obsession with Danny continues apace. This is made clear by the way he remains at the school gate just on the offchance he might turn up, something which doesn’t go unnoticed by both Miss Booth and Mrs McClusky. Is it healthy for a teacher of Mr Bronson’s seniority to have such a mania about one pupil? It seems not (Ant Jones is mentioned) but Mrs McClusky seems disinclined to raise the point with him.

Mauler’s latest act of cartoon villainy sees him insist that Gonch’s fledgling homework service sorts out his French work. I’ve probably said this before, but Gripper Stebson he ‘aint.

Still, at least he gets his comeuppance from Mr Viner, the structural engineer (yes, really). Mr Viner (Danny McCarthy) is on hand to inspect some of the damage in the school and his work intrigues Helen. But Miss Booth can only offer her work placements in childcare or secretarial work, which pales by comparison.

Trevor is desperate to find a television to see the horse race. The only one available is being used by a bunch of swotty kids (you can tell they’re swotty by the fact they’re wearing glasses – a not terribly subtle touch, but it does work). The most vocal of their number is Mandy Freemont (Melanie Hiscock) who makes her debut here.

Gonch, tagging along with Vince and Robbie, looks a little crestfallen at how upset Mandy is by their boorish intrusion. This sows a seed for later on in the season when she removes her glasses, lets down her hair and – gosh! – suddenly blossoms from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan ….

Tegs and Justine spend the afternoon arguing about whether they should turn Mark in or not.  Since the police already know where he is and move in anyway, it’s a moot point and also something of a missed dramatic opportunity. Mark’s story therefore draws to a fairly speedy close, with Detective Bonner having the final word – telling a disbelieving Tegs that his brother wasn’t quite the innocent victim of bullying he claimed to be.

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Grange Hill. Series Twelve – Episode Two

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 6th January 1989

This episode opens with another look at Teg’s grimy homelife. Bedclothes that look like they haven’t been washed for months (if ever) and barking dogs outside the house help to add to the general feeling of squalor. The question of Teg’s brother, Mark, continues to bubble away.

The conflict between Mr Bronson and Danny Kendall begins to hot up. Danny’s not in class – he’s out in the corridors putting up posters for the forthcoming Mosaic competition – and Mr Bronson, after stalking through the building, eventually runs him to ground. There’s a definite air of menace to Mr Bronson here (although this was punctured when he earlier ran into Mrs Stone and her class). Whenever Michael Sheard drops his voice to a whisper, it’s incredibly effective (much more so than Mr Bronson ranting at full throttle).

Ronnie’s sixteenth birthday party is fast approaching. Who will she invite? Well not Trevor (still acting in an incredibly boorish fashion) or Ziggy (still acting in an incredibly annoying fashion). Robbie, due to his relationship with Calley, has an automatic invite, although it’s amusing that the girls are more interested in using him as a bouncer. He seems happy enough though, so for once Robbie manages to get through a scene without shouting.

Chrissie and Susi plan to order some clothes from Susi’s mother’s mail order catalogue on approval (in order that they can wear them for a while and then send them back). This is a sort of ho-hum plotline which will carry on for a time.

Much more entertaining is the revelation that Vince has psychic powers. Well not really, but when he saves Georgina from serious injury (telling her not to walk down a corridor just seconds before the ceiling collapses) it appears to be so. In the previous episode Mrs McClusky and Mr Griffiths had discussed the state of the school – he contested it was falling down whilst she maintained it was only a little frayed around the edges.

It’s true that the corridors look to have been dirtied down – presumably deliberately in order to create this sort of run down impression. It’s only a small visual touch, but it helps to give the impression that money is tight.

Are Ziggy and Robbie stupid? Time and time again they’ve come off badly thanks to Gonch’s money making schemes but they never seem to learn. And once again they’re drawn, like moths to the flame, to Gonch once more. But now that Gonch is computer savvy, maybe everything will run smoothly ….

Nice to see an old computer chestnut getting an airing here – with just a single button click, Ziggy’s able to wipe all the data on Gonch’s computer.

When Justine discovers that Mark is holed up in Tegs’ house it binds her into their criminal world. And after Tegs and Justine leave the house they run into a policeman called Bonner (Roy Spencer). Bonner is blasé about asking Tegs to empty his pockets (since Tegs complies so rapidly it’s clearly a very common occurrence).

Tegs’ father makes a very brief appearance. He doesn’t return until series thirteen, which is something of a shame as he’s played by Alan Ford, an actor with considerable presence and an impressive track record.

After the police leave, Tegs and Justine discover Mark hiding behind the fireplace (despite the fact it’s a gas fire he’s covered in soot). This amuses them both, which provides us with the episode ending. It also helps to reiterate that Justine is now on the side of the law-breakers, not law-makers, which is interesting to see.

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Grange Hill. Series Twelve – Episode One

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 3rd January 1989

Series twelve opens with a sweeping shot tracking through a fairly bleak towerblock environment. The view then switches to an overhead shot. This is Clarke’s paper-round stamping ground (and one which fills him with a sense of despair – having to deliver papers to the top floor of a block of flats isn’t an enticing prospect).

Along the way poor Clarke finds himself berated by several unhappy customers, most notably Alec Wallis (a very familiar television face). He also has to tangle with an unfriendly dog (not the most thrilling of ways to kick off the new series, I have to say).

We’re then gradually reintroduced to the regulars via a series of vignettes. Justine isn’t enjoying breakfast television (“I hate Anne Diamond”) whilst Tegs is spark out in front of his. Meanwhile, Vince confides to Trevor and Ziggy that Grange Hill is just so predictable. “Some little kid’s gonna be in trouble ‘cos they’re wearing the wrong uniforms. Robbie and Calley will be on to each other like an old married couple. Gonch’ll have some new money making racket. Somebody’ll be pining after Georgina Hayes. Bronson will be gunning for Danny Kendall”.

This seems to be a sly – and not totally inaccurate – swipe at the way that the storylines in recent years have become a little predictable. And when we see a grumpy Calley and Robbie taking lumps out of each other, the first of Vince’s predictions have come true . I swear that Robbie gets angrier every time he appears ….

Trevor’s not turned into a more attractive character since last year. Especially since he’s taken to swigging from cans of lager first thing in the morning and lusting after Georgina. Quite why Trev thinks that Georgina would be interested in beery old him is anybody’s guess.

Another familiar theme from last year gets another outing here (Justine’s obsession with flouting the school regulations). Today she’s plastering on the make-up. This exasperates her older sister, Tracey (Penny-Belle Fowler), who’s been left in charge whilst their mother’s away. This absence isn’t expanded upon – it’s simply accepted as natural that parents will sometimes leave their children to fend for themselves.

Gonch is fulfilling his accepted role in Vince’s world by launching GHS (Gonch’s Homework Service). And now he’s entered the computer age (with a bedroom PC) there will be no stopping him. Buckle up, it’s probably going to be a bumpy ride.

Ziggy attempts to start Mr Bronson’s stalled car. He’s remarkably confident of success (which of course turns out to be misplaced). Mauler, ambling by, suggests a jump start. Mr Bronson, isolated in his car, seems a little vulnerable – although it seems to be that the boys only have his best interests at heart.

Teg’s older brother, Mark, was an oft-mentioned but never seen character last year (due to the fact he was banged up in prison). Now (played by Adam Ross) he makes a sudden appearance. Tegs is delighted to see him and equally delighted to learn that he’s escaped from the nick. Tegs and Mark clearly have a close relationship (Mark is appalled, but resigned, to learn that Tegs has been fending for himself whilst Tegs’ hero-worship of his elder sibling is plain to see).

Helen has one of the standout lines of this, or any other GH episode, describing their forthcoming GCSE’s as “General Collapse of Secondary Education”. But Helen, sporting a new haircuit, barely has time to expand on this theme to Ronnie and Fiona before Georgina comes running up to them – desperate to escape Trevor’s lumbering clutches. Their collective response (“ewwwwwwww”) speaks volumes.

One person who’s not acting in a totally predictable manner is Danny, who for once is in school nice and early. But he hasn’t turned over that much of a new leaf because whilst he’s got a good reason to be there (helping Mr MacKenzie) he simply can’t bring himself to submit to the questioning of Mrs McClusky and Mr Griffiths. So he leaves school yet again ….

The episode closes with a slow close-up on Mr Bronson, who’s in no doubt that Danny’s comeuppance is long overdue. This sets into motion one of S12’s key themes. “It is time that young man was brought into line”.

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The Adventure Game – 24th May 1980

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Series One, Show One.  Originally broadcast BBC1, 24th May 1980, 09:30 am.

Contestants

Elizabeth Estensen.  Estensen first came to prominence via Wily Russell’s Beatles musical John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert in the mid seventies.  A leading role in The Liver Birds, as Carol Boswell, would follow between 1975 and 1979.  Since 1999 she’s been a regular on Emmerdale.

Fred Harris.  A Play School stalwart between 1973 and 1988, Harris was also one of the Chokablokes in Chockablock, a regular on End of Part One (which had spun out of the Radio 4 series The Burkiss Way) and would become one of the BBC’s main IT faces during the 1980’s, presenting series such as Me and My Micro, Micro Live and Electric Avenue.

Mark Dugdale.  He’s got a red jumper and a beard.  Sorry, there’s not a great deal more biographical information I can share with you.

Argonds

Gandor (Christopher Leaver), Gnoard (Charmian Gradwell), Darong (Moria Stuart) and the Rangdo of Arg (Ian Messiter).

I know you shouldn’t really think about these things in too much detail, but it’s always puzzled me as to why Moria Stuart is credited as Darong but introduces herself as Moria Stuart.  Maybe it’s because some Argonds, when they take on human form, actually believe they’re the person they’ve “borrowed” their shape from.  Or perhaps it’s just a continuity error.  After all, Gandor does refer to Gnoard as Charmian at one point …

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This show gives us a rare opportunity to see what Christopher Leaver looks like before he puts on the white wig.  Would it have been clear at the time that this young chap was also the old butler?  Possibly not.  Again, thinking about this logically – if the Argonds can assume any shape, why does Gandor take on the form of a young man and then nip off to apply some make-up in order to make himself look older?  It surely would have made much more sense just to turn into an older chap to begin with.

The Games

We begin at the entrance hall.  Identifying the correct combination of colours and shapes will allow the contestants to pass from one side of the room to the other and this same combination will open the door to the next room.

There’s two very different ways of tackling this.  Methodical, logical thinking or step and hope.  They start well (Elizabeth is quick to spot that you can’t jump across two squares – something which Fred is slower to pick up on).  It’s interesting that after a few minutes we cut away to Gandor and Gnoard, busy setting up the puzzles for the next stage.  This cut handily covers the fact that when we return to the entrance hall they’re all in a different place (presumably this edit has removed a few minutes worth of faffing about).

Mark sounds like he knows what’s he’s talking about (muttering about geometric patterns) but eventually it seems that they get to the other side more by luck than judgement.  When faced with the door lock they’re somewhat baffled, so have to be rescued from this impasse by Gnoard, who skips across the board and opens the door in front of their eyes.  They simply have to repeat her door combination and they’re through, although Fred’s not happy.  “But why?” he says, as they enter – it’s not enough that the combination worked, he wants to know why it worked.  And he’s still chuntering about it a minute later (hopefully somebody set him straight off camera).

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Before the contestants enter the next room, Gandor and Gnoard explain some of the tricks and traps they will be encountering for the benefit of the viewers.  Everything in this room – a bolt, the clock, a cupboard, a corkscrew, etc – is left-handed.  And how do they unlock the door?  “Ping-pong balls!”  This involves a blower, and three people positioned in exactly the right place in order to bring the ping-pong ball to the top of the tube.  Variations on this puzzle would feature regularly during the first couple of series.

Fred’s quick to pick up on the fact that everything’s left-handed whilst one of my favourite unforeseen solutions to a problem comes when Elizabeth is able to reach down the tube and pick up the corkscrew.  It was supposed to be inaccessible, so clearly she has very thin arms!  Mark’s a bit quiet whilst Fred and Elizabeth are brainstorming whilst several sudden fade-to-blacks suggest that a fair amount of time where nothing much was happening has been excised.

Gandor, now looking older (although not as old as he’d appear in later shows – his look today is obviously something of a work in progress), returns to give them some blatant help.  Given that they’d worked out about the general left-handed nature of the room, it’s a little surprising they didn’t twig that the corkscrew had to be turned the opposite way from a normal one.

Elizabeth is the one to work out that they all have to stand at certain points in order to make the ping-pong ball rise.  But how can they grab it?  As soon as one of them moves the ball sinks down again.  Fred works out that they need a weight to simulate one of their positions and Elizabeth realises that it’s the weight from the clock they need, meaning that Mark again doesn’t contribute a great deal.

More fade to black moments again points to the fact that a considerable amount of editing had to be done in order to get something transmittable.  The varying durations of series one – this show lasts just under twenty seven minutes whilst the final show is a little over forty five – suggests that this might have been so.  No doubt all series one episodes could have filled a forty five minute slot, but if the contestants were slow at solving the puzzles then it wouldn’t have been much fun to watch.

The Vortex wouldn’t debut until series two, but the first series has a kind of forerunner – our trio have to cross back over the entrance hall floor.  If they remember how they got across in the first place then they’ve nothing to worry about.  If not, then they’re vaporised.  They work out that any green square or any triangle is safe.  Hurrah! Well done Mark, you came through in the end.

Overall, they was a pretty harmonious team – Mark may have been a little subdued but both Fred and Elizabeth pitched in with plenty of ideas and they all seemed to get on well.  Which, as we’ll see in later shows, didn’t always happen ….

 

Grange Hill – The Rise of Gripper

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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.

Jossy’s Giants – Series One and Two. Simply Media DVD review

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Sid Waddell (1940 – 2012) might be best remembered as the voice of darts (“the atmosphere is so tense, if Elvis walked in with a portion of chips, you could hear the vinegar sizzle on them”) but there were several other strings to his bow – Jossy’s Giants being one of them.

Graduating from St John’s College, Cambridge with a degree in modern history, Waddell worked in academic circles for a few years before joining Granada Television in 1966 (moving to Yorkshire Television two years later). He produced the news programme Calender as well as creating the well-remembered children’s serial The Flaxton Boys in addition to the cult classic The Indoor League (which is available on DVD for the terminally curious).

The growth of darts in the late seventies kept him busy, but by the middle of the following decade he was obviously keen to spread his wings, so Jossy’s Giants was born. Running for two series on CBBC during 1986 and 1987 (both of five episodes duration) Jossy’s Giants is centred around a boy’s football team. Led by the charismatic Joswell ‘Jossy’ Blair (Jim Barclay) they may be somewhat lowly ranked when he takes charge, but he has big plans for them.

The series one opener, Hungry for the Game, establishes the parameters of the series. Albert Hanson (Christopher Burgess) is the manager of the beleaguered Glipton Grasshoppers but he’s having trouble moulding them into a cohesive fighting unit. Losing has become too much of a habit and it seems that only a miracle will save them …

But wait, who’s this singing stranger limbering up on the touchline? Why it’s Jossy, who’s been watching the Grasshoppers for twenty minutes and now ambles over to give them the benefit of his advice. He’s a plain-talking man, not backwards in handing out brickbats, but maybe this is precisely what they need.

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We also get some backstory about Jossy. A promising youth player, during his first match for Newcastle United at St James Park he was tackled from behind and never played again. So the disappointment of his own curtailed playing career no doubt makes him keen to mould the next generation of hopefuls.

But what of his raw material? It doesn’t look promising. Goalkeeper Harvey McGuinn (Julian Walsh) seems to have an aversion to handling the ball (a slight problem) and would much rather go ice skating instead. Glenn Rix and Ian ‘Selly’ Sellick (Stuart McGuinness and Ian Shepherd) are the team’s two strikers – but they’re more memorable for their outlandish haircuts than their goal-scoring skills.

Ross Nelson (Mark Gillard) is the Grasshoppers flair player – but boy, does he know it. Best to say he’s a little conceited, whilst his ambitious bookmaker father, Bob (John Judd), is a complicating factor. Captain Ricky Sweet (Paul Kirkbright) tries to keep it all together whilst their number one fan – Tracey Gaunt (Julie Foy) – is always on hand with a touch of moral support or a magic sponge. You get the impression that she’d like to play for the team, but this seems unlikely. After all, she’s only a girl ….

It falls to Tracey – easily the most proactive of them all – to ask Jossy if he’d be interested in the job of manager. Some of the dialogue is a little eye-opening (when Tracey interrupts Jossy on his jog, she tells him that she’s been waiting for him – only for him to reply that she’s a little young for him). Hard to imagine that sort of implication, even if it’s only made in a subtle way, would be repeated today.

Tracey has a convincing argument for him though. They need a nasty and bossy manager, so Jossy seems ideal! This is a lovely comic moment, typical of Waddell’s style. Eventually Jossy’s worn down and so one change of name later (to the Glipton Giants) he begins to mould them in his image.

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Foul Play sees star player Ross defect to another team (he’s disgusted at not starting their latest five a side match). Of course, Ross’ new team ends up meeting the Giants in the five a side cup final. Can Jossy’s boys win their first trophy? A lovely turn from Tony Melody as the rival manager (he’s something of a martinet) and some lengthy football action (shot on VT and cut very rapidly) are two reasons why this one’s entertaining.

The Battle of St James’ has some delightful moments as Jossy – anxious to prevent the council from redeveloping their football pitch – pays a visit to an amorous female councillor, Glenda Fletcher (Jenny McCracken), who may just be able to help. Mind you, it seems unlikely that when he goes along to her house (for some wine, nibbles and Sade on the stereo) he’d have invited the whole team plus Tracey (and all dressed in balaclavas) to maintain a watching brief outside the window. Never mind, it’s the excuse for some lovely character comedy. Unsurprisingly, the always-sensible Tracey eventually saves the day.

The Promised Land sees Glenda and Tracey take on Jossy and the boys at netball (no prizes for guessing who comes out on top). Although when Glenda is elected vice-chairman of the Giants, her female solidarity with Tracey begins to crumble (“give a dictator an inch” mutters Tracey darkly). Later, Jossy and the lads receive a guided tour of St James’ Park from Bobby Charlton. As a non-actor he’s a little stilted, but it’s still a wonderful scene.

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A couple of familiar faces – Tony Aitken and Harry Towb – guest-star in the series one closer Final Demand. There’s a big match coming up, but Jossy’s gambling (a running thread throughout the series) comes to a head here. If Jossy agrees to throw the cup final, then his gambling debts will be written off. It’s another of those plot-lines that seems a little less than credible, but the performances carry the story along.

The rejigged theme tune at the start of series two indicates that girls will prove to be more of a distraction than they were during the first series. The opening episode, The Glipton Romeos, develops this, as Jossy discovers that all of his team have been bitten by a bug (of the love variety) and so have forsaken the beautiful game. Since Jossy’s only been gone two weeks, clearly the lads are all fast movers.

Mind you, if the concept of Jossy’s Giants as ladykillers is odd, then that’s nothing to the revelation that Jossy and Glenda have become engaged (at the end of series one they were barely speaking to each other!) The love bug means that Jossy has to recruit another team for a match on Saturday (otherwise they’ll lose their ground) and so with Tracey’s assistance rounds up a scratch team of girls ….

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Like series one, the second series has a celebrity football cameo. Bryan Robson, no less, who Jossy and the Giants meet before the recording of A Question of Sport. Robson, like Bobby Charlton, is a little wooden, but that’s all part of the fun. It’s also a lovely treat to see inside the Question of Sport studio (and the legendary David Coleman too).

The Italian Take-Away find the Giants tackling a crack Italian team (although the lads are more concerned about the way these smooth-talking foreigners are making eyes at their girls) whilst Home and Away finds Jossy still attempting to corral his distracted team back into shape. Will a trip to the seaside (with plenty of fresh air) do the trick? Or will they find other distractions beside the sea?

The final episode, A Perfect Match, sees Jossy stretched to the limit. There’s a big match on Saturday, but there’s also the little matter of his wedding to Glenda on the same day. What could possibly go wrong?

Most of the youngsters weren’t terribly experienced, acting-wise, and occasionally this shows (some of the performances are a little broad). But they also feel natural and some – especially Julie Foy – handle the material very well, demonstrating real comic flair. Jim Barclay’s Jossy is the glue that binds the series together, the very experienced Christopher Burgess is another plus on the acting front whilst Tony Melody, always a joy, returns for several entertaining appearances during the second series.

Although some of the plotlines are a little unrealistic, the sheer fizz of Sid Waddell’s scripts, the number of good one-liners and the interplay between the cast more than makes up for this. Jossy’s Giants is a comic delight and comes warmly recommended.

Jossy’s Giants is released by Simply Media on the 12th of March 2018, RRP £24.99, and can be ordered directly from Simply here.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Twenty

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 11th March 1988

Director Robert Gabriel opens this episode with an unusual shot choice. Matthew and his mother have a conversation in her car (about the upcoming custody battle) which is mainly framed in the rear-view mirror. The focus then shifts mid scene to observe what’s happening on the street before regaining focus on Matthew.

The last day of term inevitably means that people can let their hair down and so it’s in this spirit that Mr Bronson speaks to Mrs McClusky about Danny Kendall and hip-hop. The way that Mr Bronson enunciates the words “hip-hop” suggests that he’s only just learnt them.

Since Robbie, Ziggy and the others gained revenge over Mauler and his gang last time, it now means that Mauler is after counter revenge. Clearly this is the storyline that just keeps on giving. Cue yet another “comedy” chase. It’s Ziggy’s last day at Grange Hill. Although since he returns next year, this is actually bit of cheat. Although maybe the original plan was to write him out at this point?

The teachers play dress up again. Mrs McClusky takes her Little Bo Peep costume out of mothballs whilst Mr Bronson and Mr Griffiths are dressed as a couple of colonials, complete with pith helmets. Laura’s rather mortified that her mother has decided to go for the full cheerleader look.

The dramatic heart of the episode is provided by Mrs Pearson’s revelation that whilst she’s gained temporary custody of Matthew, her husband can still see him at the weekends provided a third party is present. This stipulation has upset him greatly and it raises the possibility that he may attempt to snatch Matthew from school. This is a plotline which we’ll have to wait and see whether it’s developed next year.

That we never actually saw the custody proceedings (Mrs Pearson later told Mrs Reagan what occurred) clearly helped to save a little money (no need to deck out a court with extras) but it does slightly diminish the drama of the story.

Overall, series eleven was an improvement on series ten although it still had its share of Harriet moments (Mauler McCaul was an especial lowlight). At this point in time, Grange Hill is, for me, caught in a transitional period – it would gain a new lease of life from the mid nineties up until the point when it upped sticks and moved to Liverpool, but that’s still a few years away. So at present, the series is slightly misfiring. There’s enough happening to still engage, but you have to be prepared to take the good with the bad.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Nineteen

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 8th March 1988

The episode begins with Ronnie and her parents at the police station, all anxiously waiting to hear what her fate will be. It’s the first time we’ve seen Mr Birtles (and he only appears once more, during series twelve). He’s played by Geoffrey Beevers, which helps to gladden my heart. Beevers is one of those actors who – although never the star – enriches any production he appears in. His credits are far too numerous to mention, but it’s a fair bet that if you’re watching a British television serial or series from the seventies onwards, he may very well pop up at some point.

The bleak institutional nature of the station helps to create a sense of tension. Director John Smith chooses to raise the camera high during the scene when Ronnie and her parents are walking down the corridor for their meeting. It’s an interesting move by Smith, who also directed the previous episode (there, he kept the camera low at the moment just before Helen and the others discovered what punishment they would receive). This birds eye view works just as well though – especially since Ronnie is positioned at the rear of the set and therefore seems somewhat diminished in size. Even the friendly smile of the policewoman escorting them can’t remove the faint feeling of dread.

Another very familiar actor – Ken Sharrock – plays the Inspector. The Inspector is remorseless in driving home to Ronnie just what a terrible crime pinching a jumper from Miss Selfridge is. He may be laying it on a bit thick, but the moral tone of this scene was obviously designed to operate as a PIF for those watching at home. If you stray from the straight and narrow then you too might find yourself at the police station, being lectured by a stern policeman.

The only odd thing about this plotline is that it sits alongside Tegs’ misadventures this year. Here, it’s hammered home that any crime is serious (after much deliberation, Ronnie is issued with a caution) whilst elsewhere we saw that Tegs regarded petty villainy as a perfectly normal part of life. Maybe this juxtaposition was intentional, but if so then it doesn’t quite work for me.

After Ronnie returns home (having faced the wrath of her father – he’s painted as a slightly ineffectual character, which means that possibly his only release is via angry outbursts) we then see a very unusual camera shot as Ronnie talks to Gonch on the phone. It’s a split screen effect, although since there’s not an actual split on the screen Gonch appears to be hovering in a ghost like fashion above her ….

Whilst some of the storylines this year (Mauler McCaul and the Grid Iron Crew, the interminable saga of the kit hire business) have been less than enthralling, Ronnie’s travails have been by far the most engaging. Tina Mahon took the material she was given and ran with it (a pity that post GH she appears, apart from a few credits, to have dropped out of acting).

The moral tone of the episode continues when we see Helen lectured by a doctor about the hazards of tattoos – specifically the danger of dirty and infected needles. Helen’s complete and utter revulsion about her tattoo (she’s distraught when she learns that laser removal is impossible and that a skin graft would leave a noticeable scar) is one of those moments which would probably puzzle a modern audience. Would the children of 1988 have shared Helen’s disgust?

Calley continues to obsess about her brace. And her obsession is now so severe that it causes her to completely forget that her best friend Ronnie had faced her day of destiny at the police station. Some friend. If Ronnie’s been gifted with a good storyline this year, then Calley hasn’t been so fortunate.

Will Grange Hill beat St Joes in the semi final? Hmm, not really bothered. The highlight of this scene is the three way conversation between Mr Bronson (who demonstrates a firm grasp of football tactics), Mr Griffiths (who reminisces about the time England won the World Cup as well as the Chinese meal he enjoyed with his good lady wife afterwards) and Mr Robson, who’s caught in the middle. Lovely stuff.

There’s a very rare mention of teacher’s strikes in the aftermath of GH’s semi final defeat (awww). Freddie is convinced that Mr Robson’s non-competitive system had torpedoed their chances of retaining the cup, although one of his teammates mentions that the numerous strikes (all of which have happened off screen) didn’t help. Freddie continues to chunter away – not even Louise’s comment that to be a good sport you have to be gracious in defeat seems to penetrate his ultra-competitive shell. I can’t confess to being too sorry that he’ll disappear after the next episode.

The on-going saga of Mauler’s comeuppance makes an unwelcome return here. This involves Robbie filling up a bin with water (which he naturally manages to mostly spill over himself). Ziggy and Robbie do manager to deliver this watery treat effectively though – which is the cue for yet more terrible overacting from Mauler and his crew.

Gonch and Ronnie arrange a blind date between Robbie and Calley, but they leave it to Trev to speak to Robbie. And of course, he tells Vince instead. The sight of Vince in his best suit with a bunch of wilted flowers attempting to woo a clearly unimpressed Calley is nicely done. But she’s kind-hearted enough not to bolt at the first opportunity, and so the pair set off for the cinema ….

Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Eighteen

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 4th March 1988

Mrs McClusky and Mrs Reagan have an early morning meeting with Mrs Pearson and Matthew’s social worker Mr Devenish (John Bowler) which serves as the signal that this storyline is drawing to a conclusion. I would have liked the scene to be a little longer – Mrs Pearson only has time to say that she doesn’t know how she managed to miss all the signs that Matthew was desperately unhappy (quite) before the episode moves on to other matters.

Next there’s a further example of Robbie’s extremely short fuse. He reacts angrily when Ziggy tells him that they decided not to ask Calley to join their babysitting venture (as the brace on her teeth might be a bit off-putting for potential clients). Possibly Ziggy intended it as a joke, but if so Robbie doesn’t see the funny side and yet again flies off the handle. If it was another character who was subject to violent mood swings then we might wonder what the reason was – but it seems we just have to accept that it’s Robbie’s way.

But he does demonstrate his softer side when he again asks Calley out, although she’s still fretting about the fact she has to wear a brace. Although Robbie arranges a date with her – a meeting outside the burger bar – will she have the nerve to show her face? As Robbie anxiously paces up and down on the pavement, it’s hard not to focus on the scene-stealing extra sitting inside ….

Speaking of slightly hysterical, Mrs Reagan’s crumbling since Simon won’t answer her calls. “I know he’s there listening. Why won’t he talk to me?” she sobs to Laura. Although this plotline earlier revolved around Laura’s feeling of estrangement (being pushed away by her mother’s new beau) by this point it’s hard to imagine that the child audience would have been terribly interested in the question of whether Simon and Mrs Reagan were right for each other.

It’s showdown time at the Staff Council, where Freddie and the others are battling to reverse Mr Robson’s policy of non-competitive sports. They have an unlikely ally in Mr Bronson who tells them that “to play the game with all ones spirit” is an admirable thing. But the way they roll their eyes during his impassioned monologue suggests that they see his interjection as more of a hindrance than a help. Mrs McClusky also seems to be of the same opinion ….

Mrs McClusky is able to take the wind out of their sails after she reveals that they didn’t withdraw from the District Cup after all. Oh well, that was a storyline which didn’t really go anywhere.

Given Ziggy’s disastrous attempts last time to recruit female babysitters, today Gonch decides to turn on the charm. Tracking down Calley, Georgina and Helen (who are all waiting outside Mrs McClusky’s office, anxious to know what she’s decided to do about their shoplifting spree) he launches into his spiel. “We’re looking for some girls who are available at nights”. That seems a rather adult spot of innuendo ….

Mrs McClusky escorts Calley, Georgina and Helen back to the store where they did most of their shoplifting. A low camera angle (in the scene where they approach the manager’s office) helps to create a feeling of apprehension – when we see Helen look up at the manager’s sign on the door this angle makes her seem smaller than she actually is. As has happened before (notably with Ronnie’s time at the police station) we then cut away and have to be content with Helen later telling a mildly uninterested Gonch all about it (she earlier agreed to join him on his babysitting job).

Simon makes a brief and final appearance towards the end of the episode – he and an attractive young woman are ahead of Mrs Reagan and Laura in the cinema queue. So Laura never had to break the news about Simon’s roving eye – her mother could now see that for herself. It’s a bit of a spluttering way to conclude a storyline which had been burbling away for most of the year.

It’s also slightly clumsy that after Simon happened to drop his wallet, it was Mrs Reagan (via Ronnie and Fiona) who discovered it. After she hands it back to him with a feeling of smug satisfaction, she’s finally able to banish him from her thoughts and enjoy some serious mother/daughter time instead. The status quo is restored.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Seventeen

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 1st March 1988

It seems like an awfully long time ago when Robbie first started to make googly eyes at Calley. He’s only now just beginning to think about the possibility of maybe asking her out (you clearly don’t want to rush these things). Luckily, man of the world Gonch is on hand to give him a few sage dating tips (although considering Gonch’s stuttering relationship with Ronnie, surely no sensible person would listen to him).

Poor Robbie. After eventually plucking up the courage to speak to Calley, she blanks him and wanders off. We’ll find out the reason why later.

Ronnie’s back at school. She encounters Mr Bronson in the playground who – unexpectedly – welcomes her back. He does it in his own inimitable fashion of course (initially appearing to be somewhat stern) before telling her to keep her “chin up”. A nice little character moment.

Ronnie later has a meeting with Mrs McClusky. Like Mr Bronson, she’s in a supportive mood. It’s interesting to ponder whether everybody would have been quite so understanding had it been, say Tegs, caught shoplifting. Clearly not, as Ronnie’s previously unblemished character seems to count for a great deal.

Eventually Calley, Georgina and Helen decide to come clean and confess their own shoplifting sins to Mrs McClusky. Best to say she’s not terribly pleased. I think the look she gives them could probably be described as withering. It might have made the three girls feel a little better by admitting that they had a part to play in Ronnie’s lurch to the dark side, but it now places Mrs McClusky in a difficult position – should she report them to the police? And if she does, how can it be proved that they actually have been shoplifting?

Laura and her mother have another spat. Since series eleven is drawing to a close, we’re clearly coming towards the end of the Simon storyline. It’s been one of GH‘s more leisurely stories – we haven’t seen Simon since he tried to kiss Julia at the end of episode twelve (and although he’s mentioned here, he doesn’t appear). His final appearance will be in the next episode, hopefully after stringing us along for all this time it’ll be a conclusion worth waiting for.

Another episode, another money making scheme from Gonch. Babysitting. Hmm, what could possibly go wrong? First, they need to find girlfriends (or failing that, just business associates). Gonch leaves this in Ziggy’s capable hands. Oh no …..

Ziggy’s in a somewhat annoying mood today. He spends most of the episode operating at full tactless level (such as when he asks Freddie if he could chuck some of his castoff girlfriends his way, whilst Laura is in earshot). But it’s possible that he’s met his match after he runs into Karen (Barbara Sinclair). This isn’t comedy at its subtlest – Karen, due to her larger frame, might not be everybody’s ideal dream girl (she’s definitely not Ziggy’s – every time he sees her he dashes in the other direction).

No prizes for guessing that eventually, after all the other options have been exhausted, Ziggy will be forced to ask her to join him for babysitting duties. Despite Gonch’s claim that babysitting is money for old rope, Ziggy (who was clearly born under a bad sign) finds himself at the mercy of his childish charges. When he tells them that he’s not going to read them a story, the girl asks him if he’s dyslexic. “No I’m from Liverpool” he retorts. Well it amused me.

Ziggy’s increasing irritation as the children run rings around him (debating which video – Rocky 4 or Rambo – would be the best to watch and constantly asking if Karen’s his girlfriend) is easily the best part of the episode. Eventually he cracks and tells them that if they go upstairs he’ll read them a story. “You’d better come up or else” is the girl’s parting shot, leaving Ziggy to sorrowfully reflect that he’s been reduced to fending off threats from a seven year old!

And even when he’s dealt with them, there’s still the man-eating, food-loving Karen to deal with. Her intentions are plain from the moment she starts inching closer to him on the sofa. But when she flounces off after one insult too many, Ziggy’s left alone and grows increasingly frantic – until Gonch turns up. If the house was a studio set then it’s a rather impressive one – built on two levels with a practical staircase and rooms on the first floor.

Whilst Ziggy’s suffering attacks on several fronts, everybody else – Freddie, Laura, Gonch, Robbie, Ronnie, Louise and (rather improbably) Danny – are holding a council of war at the local burger bar. Robbie complains when he gets the wrong burger. It’s noticeable that John Alford’s performance has become much more aggressive during the last year or so (by this point in the series, Robbie often seems on the point of apoplexy at the most trivial of things).

The plan to get Grange Hill back into the district cup begins here ….

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Sixteen

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 26th February 1988

Time has moved on since the events of the last episode. We never see Ronnie’s police interview or the reaction of her mother after she learns that her daughter has been arrested. Instead, the episode opens with Mrs Birtles and Ronnie both sitting in their living room – Ronnie is staring into space whilst Mrs Birtles is doing a spot of needlework (possibly it’s simply to take her mind off the horror of recent events).

Mrs Birtles isn’t positioned as a particularly strict or forbidding parent. Instead she regards her daughter more in sorrow than anger, an attitude which no doubt only helps to increase Ronnie’s sense of guilt and shame. Unlike Tegs, to whom criminality comes naturally, the Birtles are a nice, middle-class family who no doubt aren’t familiar with a scandal of this nature.

When Ronnie eventually does speak it’s in an unearthly monotone. Mrs Birtles appears to be more distraught than her daughter, fretting that Ronnie will have a black mark against her name for the rest of her life. And how will she get a job then? The contrast between the scenes here and Tegs’ free and easy attitude to the law is striking.

There’s also a fascinating moment of role reversal after Mrs Birtles breaks down in tears and Ronnie goes over to comfort her.

Calley is guilt striken to learn that she may have been responsible for Ronnie’s shoplifting misadventure. She’s keen to confess her own crimes, but Helen and Georgina would prefer to keep quiet ….

We haven’t seen Mrs Pearson for a while. She drops Matthew off at school and tells him that although things are difficult at the moment, they will get better. There’s an interesting story beat after she tells him that she’s sure he always has fun with his father on the weekends. The look on her face and her faint hesitancy implies that she knows all is far from well, but if that’s the case, why hasn’t she done anything about it?

Mr MacKenzie continues to be anxious about Matthew’s wellbeing, but his concern still hasn’t resulted in any positive action yet – although a meeting with the educational welfare officer has been arranged for the following week.

Justine’s hair is very red today. This is something which yet again catches Mrs McClusky’s eye, although it’s not too dramatic a change (had it been green, then fair enough). She continues to fret about the best way to help Tegs learn to read. Trisha schooled Simon in secret, but Justine doesn’t seem to have considered this – instead, she wants the school to help (not unreasonable).

Freddie and Laura begin their protest campaign against Mr Robson’s policy of non-competitive sports. The sit-down protest on the hockey field is chiefly memorable for the way it stuns the cheerful and relentlessly hearty games mistress. It doesn’t matter how many times she blows her whistle, they ‘ain’t shifting.

Finally the truth about Matthew’s abusive father comes to light. Mr MacKenzie, who had earlier expressed concern about the boy once again, is aware that during his craft lesson Matthew’s rather apathetic and listless. Given this though, it seems rather irresponsible for the teacher to let Matthew loose on a dangerous piece of equipment.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Fifteen

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 23rd February 1988

The kit-hire service may be dead and buried, but Ziggy and Robbie are never ones to rest on their laurels for too long. Their latest wheeze – security in the bike sheds – seems to be (at last) an easy and sure-fire money winner. Although you have to wonder why the children don’t have their own bike chains. But nothing’s ever straightforward as Mauler and his gang start to play with the bikes. So Robbie and Ziggy decide that, at long last, Mauler’s long overdue for a severe beating ….

Calley and Ronnie’s previously inseparable friendship continues to fracture. Calley has ben drawn towards Helen and Georgina (the bad girls) whilst Ronnie’s newfound interest in hip hop has seen her forge a new relationship with Fiona. Calley, Helen and Georgina ask Ronnie if she’d like to go “shopping” down the precinct (i.e. shoplifting) but it’s done in a slightly taunting and teasing way (no doubt they’re secure in the knowledge that the fundamentally decent Ronnie would never agree).

Ronnie’s miserable time continues after Gonch (her supposed boyfriend) and Fiona (her supposed friend) continue to make googly eyes at each other. But Gonch does have a decent suggestion as to how Ronnie could make a little money (to pay back her mother) – set up a stall in the precinct and sell some of her tapes. Interesting that Fiona keeps her eyes firmly on him during this scene, only looking at Ronnie after Gonch has finished speaking. Another sign of her infatuation?

The wave of thefts continue. A cabinet is shattered in the music room and all the recorders are stolen, leading to the cancellation of the Music Club. Crisis! Suspicion once again falls on Tegs, a boy with a bad reputation, but it seems too obvious that he’ll turn out to be the guilty one. If so, he’d surely have to leave the school – meaning that the time spent building up his character this year would have been wasted.

Speaking of characters, this episode is the first time that Liam (Steven Coe) emerges as a character, rather than just another face in the crowd. Given the small number of featured first-years, it’s not a bad idea to introduce some new blood – although it’s a pity that Coe’s delivery is rather wooden and lifeless.

Trevor may once have again lost his gang of hangers-on, but his taunting of Vince remains. Trev’s taken up weight-lifting (another of Mr Robson’s non-competitive sporting endeavours) and is doing pretty well. Poor Vince, continuing to follow him around like a puppy dog, would also like to have a go – but Trevor tell him that he’d never be able to life such weights, not in a million years. You probably don’t have to be a mind reader to work out what happens next – maximum humiliation for Vince …

Mr Griffiths is hot on the trail of the thieves – muttering darkly about “organised crime” to Mr Bronson. Their discussion takes place in the playground on a windy day – so was I the only one to marvel at the way that Mr Bronson’s wig stays firmly in place?

Tegs takes Justine round to his house (it’s best described as a tip). It’s rare that we ever see such a dishevelled house (even the more impoverished pupils, such as Benny, lived in fairly spick and span surroundings). Various sound effects – dogs barking, trains rumbling by – help to cement the sense of unease that’s palpable on Justine’s face.

Tegs finally admits to Justine that he can’t read. This is a plotline that’s been done before (Simon Shaw in S2) although Tegs has never seemed to have trouble in any of his lessons. This is a bit of a mystery – surely English and various other lessons would have been a little tricky for him? It might have been a decent storyline to develop – as it is, it’s only an incidental detail.

Ziggy’s rounded up a considerable posse to deal with Mauler. At the same time, Mr Griffiths is organising his troops with military precision (he’s still on the lookout for the thieves). This is rather wonderful – Mr Griffiths’ “troops” number precisely three – they look like a deputy caretaker, a general handyman and a cleaning woman. All three nod in silent assent as Mr Griffiths – swagger stick substitute in hand – details his plan to stake out the bike sheds. The arrival of Mr Bronson, who continues to regard Mr Griffith’s obsessions with an amused and jaundiced eye, is the icing on the cake.

An rare use of incidental music (rather High Noon-ish) is employed as Mauler and his gang prepare to face down Robbie, Ziggy and the others. The posturing of Mauler and Ziggy is a little tiresome, but the sight of Mr Bronson and Mr Griffiths – waiting like coiled springs and eager to pounce – amuses.

It’s a shame that the low-interest plotline of Mauler’s upcoming comeuppance is intercut with the more absorbing scenes of Ronnie’s fall from grace. Finally seduced by the trio of bad girls – Calley, Helen, Georgina – who tell her that shoplifting is an easy way to make money, she decides to give it a go. With disastrous consequences. All the warning signs are there (literally, as she passes a notice which states that “this store prosecutes shoplifters”) but she ignores them. So the outcome – Ronnie is apprehended by the manager after attempting to steal some clothes – is completely predictable. The sight of a tearful Ronnie being escorted out of the shop by two police officers whilst a group of onlookers (extras or simply members of the public?) is a powerful one though.

As is her arrival at the police station, where she ends up alone in an interview room. It seems more than a little unusual that a minor would be left unattended, but in dramatic terms it’s not a bad move since it allows her a moment of quiet reflection. As the camera closes in, the tears start to flow ….

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Fourteen

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 19th February 1988

Justine’s gained a couple of giggly friends, who help to arrange her hair in a kaleidoscope of colours (thanks to the judicious application of ribbons). Fair to say that the new crop of first years (despite only numbering six main speaking roles) are a fairly dysfunctional bunch – Justine’s a fashion rebel, Matthew’s cursed with the home life from hell and Tegs is an unrependant criminal. Throw in the slightly flaky Susi and Chrissy and it seems as if Clarke’s the only straightforward one amongst them (which possibly explains why he doesn’t last too long – nobody likes a normal person).

The only thing worse than Mr Bronson on the warpath is a jolly Mr Bronson. So the sight of an effusive Mr Bronson, humming a merry tune, is probably the last thing Matthew wants to see at this precise point – but see it he does. “Your face is a mask of tragedy” he helpfully tells the boy, which is just the sort of thing to raise his self esteem ….

Freddie continues to chunter about Mr Robson’s training methods whilst Susi keels over in a spectacular fashion after Mrs Reagan tells her to get changed for games. Justine’s unconventional hair results in a trip to Mrs McClusky’s office. Finally, Mrs McClusky is given a little something to do, expressing weary exasperation as to why Justine – not a normally disruptive girl – indulges in these feats of exhibitionism. I also like her outburst, after Justine suddenly decides to unpick her creation there and then. “Not here! This is my office, not a hairdressing salon, you’ll do it at home”.

Mr Robson drops a bombshell – he wants to withdraw Grange Hill from the District Cup – an act which is sure to irriate Freddie all the more. For a new character, Mr Robson’s had a decent crack of the whip so far this year. These early episodes of his are also a reminder of the more radical and aggressive teacher he used to be, before the pressures of command took precedence.

Mr Griffiths, like Mrs McClusky, has been a little underused of late. But his reminisces of his own school days, to a clearly uninterested Tegs and Justine, helps to redress the balance a little. “You had to roll down a sock, because you see in those days it wasn’t everybody who wore long trousers. And it wasn’t everybody who had socks either. That was it. You had to roll down your left sock, right down to the ankle, and that was a sign”. Wonderfully, they simply carry on their interrupted conversation after Mr Griffiths wanders away.

Tegs invites Justine to tea round his Aunties. It quickly becomes clear to the audience that he’s lying – it’s just a random house that he’s decided to burgle. Again, Justine is shown to be rather slow on the uptake – even after Tegs’ shifty explanations (he tells her that his Aunty has popped out but left the back door on the latch) she doesn’t twig. It’s only when Tegs’ “Aunty” comes down the path that the penny finally drops. A smashed back window serves as the final confirmation of his crime.

Some of the long-running plotlines remain in stasis – namely Matthew’s abusive homelife and Laura’s dilemma over her mother’s lecherous boyfriend. Elsewhere, there’s an interesting two-handed scene between Chrissy and Susi where they discuss training bras and periods. Period pains are something that the series has briefly touched upon in the past, but not quite as bluntly as we see here.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Thirteen

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Written by Kay Trainer. Tx 16th February 1988

Ronnie isn’t one of life’s natural conspirators. This is made plain after she discovers her mother anxiously looking for something. The money which Ronnie pilfered? No, a nearly overdue library book. Crisis past for now, although Ronnie’s still giving off anxiety and guilt in waves ….

Her isolation is restated minutes later, after she’s cast in the role of a silent observer – watching Gonch and Fiona walking by, gently flirting. It seems a little strange that Gonch – who’s barely exchanged a handful of words with Fiona all year – would decide to chat her up, but it serves the purpose of darkening Ronnie’s mood just a little more.

She explains her dilemma to Calley, who’s sympathetic, but unable to offer any practical advice. Calley’s got her own problems to contend with – the revelation that she’ll need to wear a brace depresses her enormously.

I’m delighted to hear that the strip hire business has been wound up. Hurrah! Another entrepunerial sideline is launched after Chrissy and Susi decide to sell badges with real fruit on them. Yes, really. This odd minor plotline does through up a few nice character moments with the teachers – Mr Bronson is less than sympathetic to hear of their debate as to whether the olive is a fruit or not (although he later pops into the library to secretly look it up!) and kindly Mr MacKenzie (now fully recovered from his hissy fit a while back) is gently amused when Susi declares that they should make him a badge with a leek on it. He suggests that a thistle might be more apt ….

Once again we see Matthew running like a hare from his father’s car. Despite this, he’s late to Mr MacKenzie’s registration (not entirely sure why as it’s not made clear what he’s been doing). Mr MacKenzie casts a slightly concerned glance his way whilst later, Miss Booth also picks up that things aren’t quite right. Although he’s been acting in an off-key manner for a while, it doesn’t seem to be something which the staff have picked up on until this point and it has to be said that they’re rather slow in doing anything about it.

The slow torture of Matthew’s life continues after we see him, extremely unwillingly, undress for gym. Several vicious looking welts on his back tell their own story (one which probably wouldn’t have come as a surprise to many, since it seemed a while back that the story was heading in this direction). Later we see him unable to get into his house (his father is out a meeting and he tells Clarke that he’s lost his key). As so often with Matthew, it’s possible that he’s not telling the whole truth. Has his father has denied him a key? The meeting part of the story might also not be true, unless the meeting was an alcoholic one ….

A staffroom scene allows us to take a look at some of the posters on the wall. Fair Pay for Teachers is an obvious one (remember this was the 1980’s, when teacher’s strikes were very common) but it’s slightly more eye-opening to see a CND poster. It’s not commented upon, but again it helps to anchor the series very firmly in a specific period.
Mrs McClusky hasn’t really featured for a while. She briefly pops her head round the staffroom door – only to have her ear bent by Mr Bronson – but just as quickly disappears. It’s a shame that Gwyneth Powell has been rather underused this year – there would have been plenty of dramatic mileage in setting Mrs McClusky and Mr Bronson at loggerheads over the best way to run the school (although maybe it was felt that this plotline was exhausted last year).

Helen’s tattoo woes continue. Now that her mother’s found out, it simply makes her all the more anxious to get rid of it (but using a scrubbing brush isn’t going to do the trick). She cuts a teary and forlorn figure, but luckily Miss Booth’s on hand to offer some common sense advice. It’s rare to see Helen quite so exposed – her normal image is strong and assured – but the tattoo seems to have stripped away her normal acerbic defences, leaving her vulnerable and childlike.

If Matthew’s storyline has suddenly picked up some traction, then so has the question of Simon. Louise spills the beans to Laura about Simon’s mauling of Julia, which leaves her with a dilemma. Should she tell her mother, and even if she did, would she be believed?

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Ghost in the Water – Simply Media DVD Review

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Tess (Judith Allchurch) and David (Ian Stevens) are set a school project which involves researching the history of Abigail Parkes. Abigail died in the mid nineteenth century, aged just eighteen, and her gravestone (inscribed “Innocent Of All Harm”) intrigues the pair of them. Tess’ interest in Abigail deepens as the story wears on – especially since Abigail seems to be calling from the grave for redemption ….

Broadcast on the 31st of December 1982, this works almost as a junior Ghost Story For Christmas (a popular BBC strand of ghostly tales which had run during the seventies). Not that Ghost in the Water is at all juvenile in tone – it may have been broadcast at twenty to five, but it could have easily have run in peak time.

Shot on 16mm film, it’s moodily directed by Renny Rye. Rye had cut his directing teeth on Rentaghost a few years earlier and would go on to helm The Box of Delights in 1984. It’s easy to see why film was chosen – as it offers a range of visual options (such as rapid intercutting) that wouldn’t have been so effective on videotape.

With a running time of only fifty minutes, Ghost on the Water has to hit the ground running, which explains why the opening scene (Tess and David lurking about the graveyard looking for Abigail’s tombstone) is intercut with flashbacks of the classroom discussion which sparked their investigation. Quite why Tess and David have to visit the graveyard late at night (and when it’s raining) isn’t made clear, but it helps to make the scene much more atmospheric ….

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A clever cut occurs after this scene, as we move to a spooky sepia shot of a horse and carriage careering down the path of a graveyard. It seems so in tone with the atmosphere already established that it comes as a shock to realise that Tess is now at home and watching an old horror movie on television! This movie might explain the strange dream she later had, but when the flashbacks become more and more regular (she seems to be present at the point when Abigail’s coffin is being laid to rest, for example) it’s plain that something very strange is occurring.

Although the cast was bolstered by some familiar senior actors (Paul Copley, Jane Freeman, Hilary Mason, Ysanne Churchman) the two main roles – Tess and David – were taken by novices. This presumably was an intentional move – it certainly helps to position them as real people (both Allchurch and Stevens are more naturalistic and unpolished than experienced stage-school trained actors would have been). Neither seem to have pursued acting careers afterwards, which makes their performances here especially interesting.

Allchurch has to carry most of the narrative. Her lack of acting experience is never a factor though, as – helped by Rye’s skilful shot choices – she’s allowed plenty of memorable moments. A few are a little eye opening though, considering this was broadcast so early in the day. The scene where Tess – lying in the bath – decides to re-enact the moment when Abigail drowned (by slowly submerging herself in her bathwater) is a disturbing one. And the follow-on to this scene – we see a back-view of a naked Tess standing up in the bath (albeit framed in such a way that her modesty is preserved) – isn’t one you’d imagine would be repeated today.

Although as touched upon, Tess and David are placed front and centre, there are good performances all the way down the cast list. Lynda Higginson (who like the principals was a novice actor) catches the eye as Tracy, a classmate of both Tess and David. She delights in teasing them about the considerable amount of time they’re spending in each other’s company.

Simply’s release looks to be a straight transfer of the 16mm master. There’s the usual intermittent signs of damage and dirt which you’d expect with material of this vintage, but overall it’s a pleasing viewing experience (the colours are quite bright and vibrant). With a running time of only fifty minutes, a little extra value is provided by a brief Blue Peter clip (a shame that it only runs for three minutes though).

Ghost in the Water may be short, but it’s always nice to see one-off plays like this exhumed from the archives. An intriguing mystery which drips with atmosphere, it’s plain to see why it made a lasting impression on so many at the time.

Ghost in the Water is released today with an RRP of £14.99 and can be ordered directly from Simply here.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Twelve

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Written by David Angus. Tx 12th February 1988

If Ronnie’s had a defining character trait since she first appeared back in 1985 then it probably would be her honesty. So the opening of this episode – she steals a ten pound note from behind her mother’s back – is the first sign that something’s awry with her. But no doubt she considers it was only “borrowed” and also in a good cause (expenses for the hip-hop competition).

What happens next is especially interesting. Ronnie, out in the local shopping precient, spies Calley, Helen and Georgina indulging in a little light shoplifting (lipsticks). Clearly blocking out her own pilfering, Ronnie is her usual moral self – she doesn’t directly accuse them, but it’s pretty obvious that everyone registers her disgust. How long have the others been shoplifting? It’s obviously not the first time. Calley must have become pally with the others offscreen as there’s not been a great deal of interaction between the three during the episodes to date. Whilst this seems to be just an incidental story detail, we’ll shortly see how it serves as the catalyst for Ronnie’s downfall.

Gonch, Robbie and Ziggy are back down the launderette. They seem to spend more time there than they do at school ….

Ziggy, attempting to get a free drink from the launderette drinks machine, gets squirted with boiling coffee for his pains. There are several points of interest here – not only is the drinks machine absolutely massive but the gleeful cackling from the old lady (played by Ruby Buchanan) after Ziggy gets splattered is very memorable. Subtle acting it isn’t. Ziggy then strips down to his boxer shorts, paying homage to a well known advert of the time.

Tensions at Chez Reagan remain high. Laura’s not exactly looking forward to an upcoming dinner party organised by her mother – as the loathsome Simon will be there – but the reappeance of a tanned Julia helps to cushion the blow somewhat.

Ronnie’s asked Gonch to arrange transport for the sound system, which will manipulated by Fiona’s cousin, the ebullient Wesley (Alan Cooke). This he does, although it probably wasn’t what they were expecting – a rag and bone man’s horse and cart! Were there still horses and carts on the streets of London during the late eighties? Slightly hard to believe, but it’s possible I guess.

Mrs Reagan’s party is in full swing and Simon makes an immediate beeline for Julia. He’s smoothness personified – expressing surprise that she’s not a teacher but is actually Laura’s former best friend.

The hip hop party is also swinging, albeit just a little bit louder. It’s probably not coincidental that the episode switches between the two – especially since we hear one of Mrs Reagan’s guests querying “what’s hip hop?” in their best high court judge’s voice. Luckily Simon’s on hand to explain to a bow-tied older gentleman that the Beastie Boys are hip hop people, sort of (everybody seems to have heard of them). Mrs Reagan wears an expression of delight as her beau once again demonstrates his knowledge of just about everything.

Later there’s some smoochy dancing in the (fairly small) living room. Spandau Ballet’s True (something of a golden oldie at this point) is their song of choice. We then jump back to the hip hop competition, where Fresh ‘n’ Fly finally have their chance to compete. They’re …. okay, but obviously not the best. Mind you, their weedy sound system might have had something to do with this.

Fresh ‘n’ Fly don’t win the competition, so there’s no prize money for them. How will Ronnie replace the ten pounds she pilfered from her mother?

And then we’re back again to the dinner party, where Simon’s decided that he’d rather like to kiss Julia (he corners her in the kitchen when no-one else is about). This is a final confirmation that he’s a rotter (to be honest, it would have been more of a shock had he turned out to be a decent chap after all). And then Julia disappears. This was her sole S11 appearance (and her final GH credit too) so clearly she featured here just to perform a single function – the reveal (to only the audience at this point) that Simon’s nothing more than a slippery snake.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Eleven

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 9th February 1988

Mr Pearson speaks! His parting words to Matthew aren’t particularly friendly though. “How many times have I told you? Don’t say ‘aint’. Just because you have to go to this dump of a school doesn’t mean you have to forget how to talk properly”. As with Mr MacKenzie’s diatribe regarding the paucity of funds during the last episode, this comment helps to reinforce the notion (not often touched upon during recent years) that Grange Hill is a far from an affluent or top-rated school.

Of course, if the Pearson family are well-off, as has been mentioned in the past, why isn’t Matthew going to a private school?

Mr Pearson’s comment also helps to restate the impression that he’s a distant and uncaring father. With Mrs Pearson and Matthew’s sister having disappeared to the country (Mrs Pearson would return, making occasional appearances for the next few years, but we’ve seen the last of the brattish Lucy) it’s not too surprising that Matthew’s wearing a troubled expression – especially if he’s now been forced to live with his father.

There’s a big hip hop competition coming up and Danny’s keen to partner Ronnie and Fiona. He’s decided that – despite his inexperience – he’d be a wizard on the decks. Fiona believes that Danny would be a liability though, so she and Ronnie are economical with the truth when Danny mentions it. This seems slightly unkind – given Danny’s recent withdrawn and angry nature, something like this would appear to be just the thing he needs to perk him up. Fiona’s decision that they need someone more professional (which Ronnie hesitatingly goes along with) marks her down as – at best – a very ambitious young women. Clearly she doesn’t want to enter the completion just for fun, she wants to win.

And still the saga of the strip hire rumbles on. Gonch is besieged by angry punters, which seems less than credible. It appears that nobody in the school ever remembers to bring their strips, so Gonch and the others face an ever increasing cycle of kit maintenance. Like Vince’s belief that Helen is desperately in love with him, suspention of disbelief is required here. Poor Gonch, having just got out of his neck brace, now receives a nasty off-screen beating from Big Tel. There’s blood everywhere (especially on the kit) which doesn’t make their business any easier ….

Tegs’ decision to attend the remedial reading class is an interesting wrinkle. Given his unconvential homelife it’s not surprising that he’s fallen behind with his studies. Tegs displays a pleasing sense of vulnerability during this scene, although he returns to his more usual persona after sensing that he’s being accused of being behind the recent spate of petty thefts.

Tensions between Calley and Ronnie continue to bubble away. Calley’s unhappy that she’s been lumbered with the kit washing (Ronnie’s spending all her time hip hopping). Calley’s complaints are the latest reason why the kit hire scheme is beginning to crumble – hopefully so, as I think it’s about time it was knocked on the head.

Gonch, Ziggy and Robbie share quite a long scene in the launderette. It’s noteworthy since it’s a one take, single camera effort . This explains why when George Christopher slightly stumbles over a few lines they’re kept in (if it was a normal scene then they’d be able to drop in an insert to cover this fumbled moment).

Freddie continues to mock the efforts of those participating in the access group – such as Vince playing badminton – at all times. It’s another boorish display from a character who doesn’t have many positive traits (unless narcissistically self-obsessed womanisers appeal). Laura and a number of extras also join in with the general jeering. Luckily Mr Robson’s on hand to ram his point of view home. “I’ve no doubt you find it very amusing, you lads, who’ve never had any trouble with sport. But it’s people like you, to whom games come easily, who make it hell for the people who find it hard”.

Even after Mr Robson concludes by telling him that his job is to ensure everybody in the school enjoys physical education, Freddie remains locked in his tunnel-vision outlook. This clearly irritates Laura – who at least has the good grace to accept that Mr Robson has a point.

As with the previous episode, Mr Bronson only makes a brief appearance, but it’s certainly memorable. When Ziggy, Robbie and a clearly unenthusiastic Gonch decide that the time has come to teach Mauler a lesson, I was all set for another interminable “comedy” chase. But luckily that wasn’t so. Instead, they all cannon into Mr Bronson, knocking him to the ground and dislodging his wig. Not only is it a rare chance to see Mr Bronson sans hairpiece, but any time that Mr Bronson’s dignity is ruffled it allows Michael Sheard to shine. The sight of Mr Bronson, his wig replaced somewhat haphazardly, desperately attempting to reassert his authority is a lovely one.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Ten

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 5th February 1988

Gonch, now sporting a neck brace, thanks to his previous encounter with Mauler, declares that something needs to be done about him. Ziggy agrees, leaving Robbie to shake his head at the impetuousness of them both. It’s a pity that we never actually see what happened to Gonch as Ronnie’s explanation – she found him trussed him up in Harriet’s old stable, complete with a sign saying donkey – sounds intriguing.

Why Mauler suddenly decided to attack Gonch (the two have barely, if ever, spoken) is another of those mysteries which I don’t think there’s an answer for. A case of sloppy storylining or was it designed to demonstrate that Mauler’s menace is totally random? The decision is yours.

Whilst Gonch thanks Ronnie for rescuing him (and also for not telling anyone else) this allows Robbie and Calley to enjoy a brief moment of intimacy. This slightly develops the possibility that they may become an item, although it’s still early days at present. Oh, and of course Ronnie couldn’t resist telling Calley about Gonch’s plight (she promptly told Robbie and then Ziggy found out) leading to maximum humiliation for GH’s top wheeler dealer.

Vince’s pursuit of Helen finds him running into Mauler. McCall’s not impressed with Vince’s American football top (deciding that Vince is setting up in opposition against him!). Vince is wearing the top at all times, as Trevor told him that Helen loves American football. I’ve got a feeling that Trev’s not been entirely honest with Vince ….

This is another of those slightly baffling incidental storylines. I’m not sure what’s harder to believe – the fact that Vince for a second believes that Helen (once she claps eyes on his shirt) will be overcome with passion or the notion that Mauler regards Vince as a rival. After a strong run of episodes (the two from Sarah Daniels were especially good) we seem to have hit something of a brick wall here.

The normal affable Mr MacKenzie is in a strop today. Too much petty pilfering has finally caused him to snap – although maybe the final straw came when he saw that Trevor’s pockets were stuffed with computer keys. Clearly he spends his computer studies period dismantling the keyboards! It’s been a while since the topic of limited resources and vandalism was raised (back in the early eighties it was a particularly fruitful source of drama for the series) so it’s not unpleasing to see it touched upon again.

The sudden arrival of Mr Bronson is an episode highlight. Spotting Danny Kendall being escorted by the still highly irritated Mr MacKenzie, Mr Bronson lightly skips down the corridor before bellowing “do what do we owe this honour?” to the slightly nonplussed boy. As Mr Bronson then leads Danny down away, it’s notable that the walls are looking particularly grubby. Unless I’ve previously been unobservant, I don’t think this has been a regular feature this year, so possibly – like Mr MacKenzie’s diatribe – it’s something unique to this episode. Another notable feature of their extended walk is the ambient sounds we hear as they pass various classes. Only a small touch, but it helps to create the impression that this is a living and breathing school.

Vince’s stupidity has now reached previously uncharted proportions. Despite the fact that Helen’s told him she loathes all sports (and pushed him in the fountain for good measure!) he still believes Trevor when he casually mentions that Helen’s waiting for him over by the sheds. Of course, she’s not there – but Mauler’s gang is. So Vince finds himself chained up in the bike sheds, minus his prized shirt ….

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Nine

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 2nd February 1988

The peace of Laura’s breakfast is disturbed by the arrival of Simon. This obviously doesn’t please her (no doubt he picked up on this by the subtle way she banged a dish down on the table). True, Simon is his usual boorish self – grabbing the newspaper off her without thinking to ask first – but you could also argue that Laura’s not prepared to meet him half way. This is a plotline that’s been in a holding pattern for a while – Mrs Reagan loves Simon whilst Laura loathes him – with no sign of advancement.

I’m surprised to see that Gonch, Ziggy and Robbie’s kit hire service is still up and running. A few episodes back it seemed to be knocked on the head after Mr Robson rumbled them (or was that possibly just the reminder service?). Ziggy finds himself at the mercy of some fifth years who aren’t at all happy with the level of service being provided. These scenes are chiefly interesting for the way that Ziggy’s suddenly become the fall guy and junior partner – Gonch and Robbie very much have the air of senior partners, leaving the hapless Ziggy to do all the donkey work.

Mr Robson’s latest wheeze sees him launch an access club – featuring the likes of Badminton, Table Tennis, Weightlifting and Five a Side Football. Freddie’s not pleased, as it’ll mean that football practice will have to be cut down. This allows Freddie to once again restate his contempt for non-competitive sports. Instead, he harks back to the good old days of Mr Baxter and penny under the mat.

Helen continues to obsess about her tattoo, convinced that it’s growing larger. I love the way that Georgina shows the minimum of concern about her friend’s plight – she’s much more interested in filing her nails! Jane is the latest to view the tattoo and her obviously feigned delight only helps to reinforce the notion that Helen’s made a big mistake. She then confides to Georgina that “I bet Paula Yates had never had this problem” (yes a touch ungrammatical).

Vince has never been the brightest, but as the years roll on he seems to be regressing backwards. How else could you explain the fact that he believes Trevor’s assertion that he’s not only seen Helen’s tattoo, but that the two are an item? If that’s difficult to believe, then the notion that Trev’s prepared to nobly stand aside in order that Vince can ask her out is just bizarre ….

Danny’s return (he’s been in Scotland for a check-up apparently) sees him haunting the art room whilst avoiding Mr Robson. He’s also on hand to give Fiona and Ronnie some musical advice as they continue to craft their hip hop magnum opus. Quite how or why Danny’s suddenly become an expert (or even someone whose opinion they value) is never quite made clear.

The saga of the strip hire rumbles on. Surprisingly for a Margret Simpson script (she was always one of GH‘s more distinctive writers) the boys hit on a master plan which operates along rather sexist lines – they’ve got all these dirty clothes that need washing, so why not invite Calley and Ronnie to become equal partners? They can do the washing (well, they’re girls after all) whilst the boys handle the rough stuff, such as tangling with the likes of Big Tel (David Parker).

The episode ends with a “comedy” chase. Big Tel’s less than delighted that he was given one of Mr Robson’s football shirts (the teacher noticed and called him a thief) so there’s the inevitable run-around as he attempts to extract a suitable revenge. It’s mainly of interest due to the fact it continues during the end credits whuch at least allows it to be snappily edited. And if you think that this is one “comedy” chase without Mauler then think again – as he and his Grid Iron crew pop up out of nowhere to carry Gonch off. Quite what they’re doing wandering about the streets still dressed in their American football gear is a mystery which I don’t think has an answer.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Eight

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Written by Sarah Daniels. Tx 29th January 1988

Mr Griffiths has had his eye on Tegs for some time and finally runs him to ground in the girl’s cloakroom. The moment when Mr Griffiths attempts to stop him escaping by holding onto his blazer – only for Tegs to slip out of it – is slightly clumsily done, as it’s plain that George A. Cooper is actually tugging it off him.

Tegs, escorted to Mrs McClusky’s office by Mr Griffiths, remains uncowed. He denies that he’s responsible for the recent spite of bike thefts – instead he offers the head his professional opinion about safety measures (locking stands and chains would be a good idea). Poor Mr Griffiths gets a roasting from Mrs McClusky after Tegs leaves the office. Mr Griffiths’ confident assertion that Tegs is the culprit is quickly shot down by Mrs McClusky, who tells him that they have absolutely no evidence against him. Mr Griffiths’ hangdog expression after being ticked off speaks volumes. His heroine-worship of Mrs McClusky has long been one of his defining traits, so to be in her bad books is a painful moment for him.

Sarah Daniels once again comes up with the goods for Michael Sheard. Mr Bronson, lurking for no good reason in Mrs McClusky’s outer office, happens to overhear the head telling Mr Griffiths that if she can’t deal with this spate of thefts then she should resign. The words “it’s time for me to resign” catches his attention and his facial expression after this apparent bombshell speaks volumes! Also good to see the ever-faithful, if mute, Janet back in her familiar position as Mrs McClusky’s secretary.

You may, or may not, be delighted to hear that Mauler’s reign of idiotic terror shows no sign of abating. Desperate as I am for any small crumb of comfort during these scenes, I have to say that there’s a very unusual camera angle (high above the set, looking directly down) during the moment when Mauler and his posse chase Clarke round and round the lockers. Top marks to director John Smith for attempting to liven up yet another “comedy” chase.

But better times are just around the corner as Mr Bronson, like an avenging angel, strides into the frame and declares that Mauler was the boy responsible for giving him the soaking. Quite how he’s worked this out is a slight mystery – he didn’t see him at the time – but no matter as it’s a chance for Michael Sheard to turn the intensity right up. “You are the boy responsible for my getting wet”. It’s a fairly innocuous line, but it’s all about Sheard’s line delivery – the way he emphasises each word with increasing force.

I also love the conclusion to the scene. Mr Bronson tells Mauler to “follow me” and the teacher strides off, only twigging after a few seconds that Mauler’s legged it in the opposite direction! It’s only a pleasure deferred though, as Mr Bronson then runs the unfortunate Mauler to ground during the next lesson. Sheard is once again on top form as Bronson tells the boy to explain to the class, in French, exactly what he did. Sheard milks every last moment out of lines such as “you pathetic, unteachable specimen”. And what exactly was Mauler’s French explanation? “Mr Bronson, in boy’s bedroom, with basket of water on the head”.

Tegs explains a little more to Justine about his philosophy of life. “I nicked two hundred quid in fifteen minutes once. You’d have to be a politician or a pop star to earn that much in quarter of an hour”.

It’s fascinating how public acceptance of tattoos has changed over the last thirty years. Ronnie (unsurprisingly, given her straight-laced persona) isn’t at all impressed with Helen’s tattoo, telling her that she’s got it for life and only a skin graft will remove it. Back in 1988, a tattoo seems to have been seen as a departure from the norm – Ronnie wonders if Helen’s gone a bit funny and Fiona agrees, commenting that it’s a bit mad.

Matthew’s travails continue. After behaving quite normally during his few brief scenes last episode, he’s back to his old, storytelling tales today. Paul Adams’ breathless listing of untruths and half-truths isn’t terribly convincing – although I’m not sure whether this was supposed to be as scripted or was simply due to Adams’ acting. For sure, it’s a difficult part to play – and reviewing Matthew’s initial storyline some thirty years on, it seems a pity that he wasn’t given the opportunity to settle into the school community for a while before attention was drawn to his fractured homelife. Had this been done, then it probably would have generated a more rounded character.

Matthew’s father once again is nothing but more than an intimidating profile. We never hear his reply to Matthew’s request that they give Clarke a lift, but Mr Pearson’s disgusted expression speaks volumes.

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