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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