Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Nine

Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 30th January 1990

The episode begins with Akik in full flight. POV shots and dramatic music are to the fore as he desperately races across the playground and down a flight of steps to the basement. His pursuers? The Timpson brothers of course, intent on creating mayhem.

The interesting twist with this scene is that it doesn’t go any further – no sooner have the Timpson duo started to put the frighteners on, than they’re shooed away by Raju (Carl Pizzie) who’s in the company of Natalie, Justine and Becky.

One of those GH pupils who suddenly appears from nowhere (and will vanish just as abruptly in a handful of episodes’ time) Raju is something of an entrepreneurial wide boy. The spirit of Pogo and Gonch lives on.

Pizzie’s performance is best described as average, although given his acting inexperience no doubt it wasn’t easy for him to have been flung into the deep end like this. Still, slightly annoying as Raju is, he pales into insignificance after we meet his older cousin Rikki (Dhirendra).

Raju sees there’s a profit to be made from the girls’ t-shirt printing process and puts them in contact with Rikki who can supply good quality clothes for a cheap price (no questions asked, naturally). Rikki’s character is deftly defined within a matter of seconds – blaring music from his van and the furry dice that dangle from his front mirror tell their own story.

This t-shirt plot has yet to get the pulse racing, although there are some good dramatic moments elsewhere today.  Highlight of the episode is Tegs’ interview with his social worker. It takes place in the social services office, which has an air of quiet desperation (reinforced when the camera tracks past several other unfortunates before locating the office where Tegs is).

Mr Hargreaves has announced the members of his Vigilance Committee – Ted and Trev are in, but several others aren’t. Some, like Robbie, couldn’t care less whilst Mauler quietly seethes at the way he’s been overlooked (a nicely played moment which helps to make up for some of Mauler’s more irritating “comedy” scenes of years gone by).

Ronnie and Calley are also annoyed at being overlooked, which is slightly more surprising – maybe they were looking forward to exercising a little authority? Mind you, given how many sixth-formers there must be in the school, it would stretch credibility to breaking point if they were all drawn from the eight or so speaking regulars in the series.

At long last there’s an article in the local paper about the pub fight. Since a number of days have gone by, I can only assume that news travels very slowly in that part of the world. Mike’s ever-so-slightly frantic, whilst Robbie doesn’t seem to twig at first what he’s on about. This handily allows Mike to explain to the audience exactly what happened. It’s a slightly clumsy scene, but back in the day when all the episodes of a series weren’t available at the touch of a button you had to sometimes bring latecomers up to speed.

A tired and listless Matthew is given a ticking off by Mrs Monroe. She believes he’s been staying up late at night watching movies. Although he doesn’t deny this, he doesn’t confirm it either – and since we know how wretched his home life currently is, it’s possible to draw a different conclusion from his current demeanor. It’s a slight mark against Mrs Monroe that she didn’t actually ask him what the problem was (even though what we know of him from past experience would suggest he’d lie or keep quiet anyway).

Natalie and Justine begin spray painting their t-shirts in their workshop (a room in the basement found for them by Rod). If the audience were slow on the uptake that the room (lacking windows) was badly ventilated, then the ominous incidental music is there to provide them with a blatant nudge in the right direction.

And wouldn’t you know it? Just as the girls begin to find the fumes overpowering, the Timpson brothers return and lock them in. The discovery of Natalie and Justine’s unconscious bodies provides the episode with its cliffhanger.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Eight

Written by David Angus. Tx 26th January 1990

Although a few other plots bubble along today, this is very much Ronnie’s episode – something that’s reinforced by the way it opens and closes with her (and on both occasions she’s in a tearful mood).

We begin with a camera pan around her bedroom. She’s lying in bed whilst the clock radio burbles out the jolly sounds of Radio 1 (a cover version of Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World). The choice of song is a nicely ironic one, as the viewer processes the fact that every inch of wall space is taken up with posters protesting at animal cruelty.

Coming downstairs to breakfast, she discovers a budgie in a cage. Her mother explains that they’re looking after it for a neighbour who’s had to go into hospital.  Ronnie instinctively goes to release it, but Mrs Birtles tells her not to – as the bird is happy in the cage. This moment of tension passes without Ronnie being able to articulate why she disagrees with this viewpoint, which in some ways is the episode’s theme – she wants to help all animals, but can’t find a way to do so.

Ronnie learns, via a chance meeting on the way to school with a couple of girls from St Mary’s, that they still dissect animals in their biology classes.  This reveal is done in a rather clumsy way – Calley happens to bump into a couple of St Mary’s girls she’s friendly with (although we’ve never seen them before) and the talk instantly turns to their biology lessons.

Grange Hill no longer uses animals in their classes, although they did in the past (series seven, for example). Possibly we’re missing a trick here – had Ronnie suddenly launched a crusade to stamp out this sort of thing in her own school it would have had more of a dramatic punch.

The scene we do have is still effective though. Ronnie storms over to St Mary’s, wanders through the corridors and finally finds the biology class  – whereupon she crashes in and hands out leaflets, to the bemusement of the pupils and the simmering anger of the teacher.

Few of the St Mary’s pupils seem that interested (although a few look slightly bashful). Possibly this because they don’t care or it might be that they don’t want to rock the boat – their grades mattering more to them than a handful of dissected animals.

This failure to connect only deepens Ronnie’s gloom and she goes off to wander up and down the high street, with seemingly every window (a butchers, a shop selling genuine leather handbags) causing her further pain.

In other news, we meet Mr Bentley (David Cann) for the first time.  Given the way he’s been talked about in the past, it’s no surprise that he’s totally single-minded where his son is concerned – treating Mike more like a machine than a human being. The affable Mr Robson (someone who’s never been that keen on ultra-competitive sports) is polite, but his real feelings are expressed by the various faces he pulls as Mr Bentley drones on and on.

There’s a chance to dig a little deeper into Neil Timpson’s character. Caught by Mrs Monroe with a video nasty (the rather tame looking Ninja Demon) she has a friendly chat with him in detention about his home life, which possibly helps to explain his poor attitude at school.

It’s once again noticeable how sidelined a figure Mrs McClusky has become. Once upon a time she would have been the one to argue about budgets and funding with the likes of Miss Booth and Mr MacKenzie, but these days she’s perfectly happy to delegate that sort of job to Mr Hargreaves. This is all well and good, but it does mean she rarely has the opportunity to tackle any dramatic scenes.

Having said that, today’s episode slightly bucks the trend as she provides Ronnie with a shoulder to cry on.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Seven

Written by Kay Trainer. Tx 23rd January 1990

Neil and Barry Timpson continue to provide a service of low-level irritation for their fellow pupils, something which they’ve been doing since the start of the year. Neither have yet to emerge as rounded characters (Neil never really would, as John Pickard jumped ship from GH to 2 point 4 children the following year).

Today they briefly sling a racial epithet Akik’s way, which infuriates Jacko (and to a lesser extent, Brian and Locko). These four are also rather underdeveloped at present, with Jacko (by dint of the fact he owns a troublesome dog and is always ridiculously cheerful) the most memorable at this point in the series.

Quite why Jacko should be so defensive of Akik is a slight mystery – presumably he’s just keen to get one over on the Timpson brothers and Akik has provided him with a good excuse. The selected method of revenge – chucking Mr Robson’s climbing net over them – isn’t one of those scenes to get the pulse racing, but it passes a few minutes fairly agreeably.

The best moment in the episode featuring Jacko, Brian and Locko occurs when Mrs Monroe spies them acting suspiciously. “Freeze like trees” she says – and they do …

Mr Griffiths is getting the hang of his dubiously acquired computer (thanks to Akik’s tutelage). Given the delighted way Mr Griffiths reacts to his new found tech skills, it seems rather sad that, unless he can come up with a plan, he’ll have to hand it over to Mr MacKenzie.

Elsewhere in the episode, already established plot-threads continue to bubble away. Mike and Robbie mention the fight yet again (and yet again they’re scouring the paper for news and coming up with nothing, which reassures them). Tegs and Justine have their latest difference of opinion – she’s convinced he’s spying on her (which he denies). Although later he does go and spy on her anyway. Matthew’s family fortunes continue to decline (it looks like they’ll be forced to sell their house).

Georgina tells the others that she’s seen Calley’s boyfriend (who she estimates to be forty!). Calley tells them that he’s only twenty four and that, yes, they are sleeping together. Ronnie pulls a disapproving face (similar to the one she pulled earlier in the episode when she spied meat being dished out in the canteen). Is Ronnie jealous or is she worried that Calley will end up being hurt by someone who’s simply using her? I’d say it was the latter.

Aichaa’s got some good news – her photo will be printed in the next issue of Just Seventeen, plus they’ve given her a cheque for £20. It’s fair to say that the stare Georgina gives her is decidedly on the icy side.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Six

Written by Kay Trainer. Tx 19th January 1990

Mike kicks off the episode sporting a very silly hat. He hasn’t lost his mind (well not completely) as this is his idea of a disguise. Mike is still fretting that they’ll be some comeback from the pub fight, so he’s keen to keep a low profile.

Of course, Georgina would have to come walking down the street just as he’s leaving the leisure centre with his tremendous tifter. What does he do? As befits a star athlete he runs away ….

Georgina, Calley and Ronnie meet up. Ronnie’s still fuming that Calley used her as an alibi to explain her all-night adventure (Ronnie is certainly a girl who knows how to hold a grudge). Bad feeling between the pair is still bubbling away then, although things calm down a little when the threesome go to look for some new cosmetics.

Although Ronnie’s been interested in animal rights since the start of series 13, it’s only today – when she’s given a leaflet about the testing of cosmetics on animals – that she appears to decide that this sort of thing is a very bad thing indeed. Calley half-heartedly agrees to boycott the offending shop, but Georgina sneakily still buys some of the make-up.

There’s something rather topical about the way Miss Booth despairs over her ever-shrinking art budget. Things are now so tight she’s been forced to re-use scraps of paper, which is hardly ideal.  The fact that Mr Hargreaves is able to fit out a new office with an up to date computer only sticks in her craw even more.  Clearly Mr Hargreaves is one of those people who believes the arts mean very little (presumably because they don’t turn a profit – or at least not one that he can quantify).

Mr Hargreaves’ old computer (a BBC B by the look of it) is snaffled by Mr Griffiths, who seems entranced with it. Taking it back to his office, he delightedly pushes a few buttons, although as yet he doesn’t seem to realise that it works better with a monitor ….

Mr Hargreaves’ crusade to stamp out unauthorised photo-copying continues. Both Mr Robson and Mrs Monroe are seen to have grabbed a few sneaky personal copies (although Ronnie and Calley are rather pushing things by running off 150 copies of anti-vivisection leaflets). Mr Hargreaves isn’t too pleased when he catches the guilty pair.

Ronnie and Calley join an animal rights demo outside the shop. Things get a little rowdy, especially after Ronnie daubs the shop window with red paint. I think she can count herself lucky that Mrs McClusky happened to be passing and was able to intercede with the police (although annoyingly we aren’t witness to that moment).

Mike and Georgina go on a date to the movies. Mike, a Western fan, is engrossed by the film whilst Georgina (looking round at the other couples getting rather friendly) sighs longingly. So Mike – a boy who’s slow on the uptake – doesn’t take up her blatant offer of a cuddle.

Later, when they head to the café for a coffee, Georgina spies Calley kissing a man. This closing scene confirms that Calley’s interested in men not boys, but it’s mainly interesting for the reactions of Mike and Georgina. He looks a little downcast whilst Georgina (who you might have expected to be shocked) responds with an enigmatic smile. She seems to be wondering why Mike isn’t kissing her in that way (or indeed, any way at all).

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Five

Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 16th January 1990

Some of the events from the previous episode are briefly touched upon. Robbie remains anxious about the pub fight (fretting that the man was badly injured) although Mike seems blithely unconcerned. Aichaa and Georgina are more than happy with their glamour photos while Ronnie is still seething at Calley (more than a little displeased at being used as an alibi to explain Calley’s all-night absence).

Mr Hankin takes the third-years down to the canal. As you might expect it’s a slightly chaotic trip, although the reassuring presence of Mr MacKenzie means that events don’t spiral out of control. Although Mr Hankin does receive a certain amount of teasing, there’s also frustration from the likes of Chrissy – who doesn’t understand exactly what they have to do and why, thanks to Mr Hankin’s rather vague utterances.

The trip also allows Tegs and Justine to have yet another argument, which leaves both of them frustrated. Later, they both pour out their troubles (Tegs to Matthew, Justine to Andy). This episode allows us to take the first proper look at Andy – who doesn’t impress. Not only does he come across as a jealous type (convinced that Justine and Tegs have a closer bond than mere friendship) he’s more than happy to leave Justine hanging when Trev breezes in with the offer of taking part in a card school.

Rod, of course, is running the card school – snugly ensconced in the caretaker’s office, with mugs of tea all round (although he won’t allow Mauler to smoke!).  Given that Mr Griffiths has previously been portrayed as a man who loves his office, it’s a little surprising that Rod feels so comfortable (although maybe Mr G, incensed at the presence of the younger man, has decided to work just a little harder – hence his more regular absences).

The lunchtime disco is in full swing, although they could do with getting some more up to date records (Always on my Mind by the Pet Shop Boys was heard drifting out of the door). And I was intrigued to see that the disco ran from 12.15 pm to 2.00 pm. That’s a very generous lunch hour, unless the school operates split meal breaks.

The key part of the second half of the episode revolves around Tegs and Matthew’s attempt to steal a photograph from Mr Griffiths’ office. Matthew is depressed about his home life, so Tegs decides that stealing the photo will cheer him up (hmmm).  We haven’t seen any criminal activity from Tegs for a while, so I did wonder if that character trait had been quietly written out, but today’s episode confirms otherwise.

Tegs has a touch of the Artful Dodger about him as he corrupts the innocent Matthew (Oliver). This whole plot doesn’t really go anywhere though – they drop the picture and break the frame, steal another frame from Mr Hargreaves’ office and return the picture with the new frame to Mr Griffiths’ office. Something of a waste of time then ….

The subplot of Mrs Monroe locked in the stationery cupboard did raise a smile though.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Four

Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 12th January 1990

Mr Hargeaves is still obsessing over the unauthorised photocopier use. Today he’s targeting Miss Booth – convinced that she knows more about the numerous animal rights posters dotted around the school than she’s letting on. She doesn’t of course, and his none-too-subtle probing only serves to irritate her all the more.

Mrs Monroe, present when he begins another round of questioning, warns her to “be careful, he’ll be taking your fingerprints next”.  Indeed, Mrs Monroe is the recipient of most of the best lines today – when the still trustingly innocent Mr Hankin tells her that he’s going to take a group of third years to the canal, she comments that “there’s one or two little heads in that year that I might be tempted to hold under the water a fraction too long”.

She also does terrible things to Mr Hankin’s tie – it’s wrapped around a dog’s neck and then dipped into custard – although she blithely tells him that it’ll perk up with a damp iron! Plus there’s the moment where she gives Mr Griffiths a brief restorative shoulder rub (a busy episode for her today then).

There’s a nice moment of continuity as Deirdre Costello makes her fourth and final appearance as Mrs Donnington (she was previously seen in both series eight and eleven). Her short scene kicks off another plot-thread in a rather off-hand way – Mrs Donnington casually complains that she was slightly worried when Calley stayed out all night. You might have expected there to be much more panic on Mrs Donnington’s behalf – so her resigned calmness suggests Calley is now a frequent absentee.

Calley’s excuse (she was spending the night with Ronnie) sounds rather feeble and when Robbie later spies her getting into a man’s car for a night out, all the pieces seem to be fitting together.

Georgina and Aichaa decide to enter a modelling competition and as luck would have it, Georgina knows a local photographer so high quality photos will be no problem. Ronnie looks on – content to observe but not participate – although she’s told that she could be a decent girl next door type. Flattering with faint praise there ….

Julie continues to be something of a wet lettuce, blubbing after forgetting her sports kit (she wails that she’ll be forced to do games in her underwear).  Becky and Alice offer verbal support (and Becky manages to find her a spare kit) but the message seems plain – Julie needs to toughen up or she’s not going to survive at Grange Hill.

The episode ends with a fight in a pub involving Robbie and Mike, which is another new plot-thread that will run and run. Mike, anxious not to get involved in any trouble, accidentally trips over an injured man but his action is interpreted as a hostile one. The whole scene is rather confusing, mainly because we’re only ever told about the injuries inflicted (it’s obvious why a children’s series would steer clear of graphic violence, but it does rather rob the moment of any impact).

The last scene – Robbie, having thrown a few punches during the melee, is approached outside the pub by a well-dressed man who compliments him on the way he handled himself – is a more ominous one though.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Three

Written by Chris Ellis. Tx 9th January 1990

Today’s episode opens with a race against time – Ronnie and Calley are using the school photocopier to run off more anti-vivisection posters, but Mr Hargreaves is getting ever closer to them ….

As the photocopier keeps ticking away agonisingly slowly, will they be able to escape before he catches them? Well yes. But he does find a warm photocopier, which sends him scurrying to the log to see who last used the machine. The total cost is probably just a drop in the ocean, but it’s plain that every penny counts for him.

I’m a bit baffled as to why the staff-room (where the photocopier is located) was unlocked. That just seems to be asking for trouble.

After a few years during which the teaching staff became fairly negligible characters, it’s interesting to observe that we’re entering an era where they become much more central again. Today that’s highlighted by an entertaining staff room meeting where Mr Hargreaves holds court to an air of general apathy.

Chief apathetic is Mrs Monroe, who masks her dislike of the man with an air of polite brutality. Mr Hargreaves has now emerged as a thrusting Thatcherite figure – eagerly espousing concepts such as economy and image, worrying about how Grange Hill is seen in the marketplace and attempting to find ways to provide good value for their consumers (i.e. the parents). He rounds off his speech with a rallying cry of “traditional values”.

Mrs Monroe later attempts to give him what he wants – a school song sung in Latin by R1 (her “empty-headed vessels” as she delightfully calls them). This leads to a nice beat of tension between the pair as he correctly assumes that she’s mocking him. Mr Hargreaves is a very different character from Mr Bronson then, but I’d say the change has done the series good.

Elsewhere, Mike and Georgina start to get a little closer, although this means that he misses his lunchtime training session (much to Robbie’s chagrin, who’s been working out on his own). Mr Hargreaves is displeased with Mike’s lack of application – as a star athlete he brings prestige to the school but without this skill he’s nothing.

Although Mr Hargreaves has been set up as a somewhat pompous and comic character (today he receives his nickname “Mad Max”) moments like this are illuminating. His single-minded drive to raise the profile of the school means that he has little interest in the pupils as people – only in what they can deliver for Grange Hill’s greater glory.

We also find out that Justine’s boyfriend is called Andy and that Rod is an extremely sharp type. Pretending to Trevor that he can’t play darts and then fleecing him in a money game isn’t very friendly.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Two

Written by Chris Ellis. Tx 5th January 1990

Many things have altered at Grange Hill over the years, but Mrs McClusky remains the one fixed point in a changing age. At the start of today’s episode she’s quite taken with young Rod – who’s been able to repair her chair in double quick time (she makes her delight plain by spinning around a few times!)

Mr Griffiths can’t help but harrumph at the speed at which his young deputy has been able to attend to certain jobs. This is anathema to Mr Griffiths, who prefers to mull everything rather slowly (preferably with a nice cup of tea). Rods’s ability to get things done in double-quick time leaves Mr Griffiths feeling rather threatened – so he seeks reassurance from Mrs McClusky.

But it’s Mr Hargreaves who sets his mind at rest in a lovely little scene where he outrageously plays on the caretaker’s vanity (telling him that young Rodney needs the guidance of an older, more experienced man). Give George A. Cooper the comic material and he’ll never let you down.

As for Mr Hargreaves, he comes into sharper comic focus today. The new Deputy Head is emerging as a cheerfully single-minded type – he’s someone quite prepared to ride roughshod over everyone else whilst remaining convinced that it’s all for their own benefit. Efficiency is his watchword – at one point he regrets that the pupils don’t have numbers (which suggests he sees them as work units, rather than people).

Tegs and Justine give Mr Hankin a rather rough time in his science class, although that’s more to do with their on-going issues than any particular dislike for him. Tegs continues to fume that Justine has the temerity to go out with someone (whilst at the same time refusing to accept that he’s at all romantically interested in her). Hmm ….

Mrs Monroe has no such problems controlling her class – she’s more than able to hold R1 in the palm of her hand. From her first scene onwards she’s presented as an inspirational and left-field sort of teacher – whatever else she is, Mrs Monroe is certainly a one-off.

Anna Quayle had quite the career (A Hard Day’s Night, The Avengers, Basil Brush and Brideshead Revisited, to name just a few of her credits) before pulling into the harbour of Grange Hill, which turned out to be her last major television role.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode One

Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 2nd January 1990

A new year, a new decade and a new producer (Albert Barber). All of which means that it’s easy to spot that the series has undergone a subtle revamp. There’s a new theme tune and opening titles for starters, which was a positive move – it’s good to see the series moving forward, rather than clinging onto the past with yet another regigged version of ‘Chicken Man’.

There’s also an influx of new characters – both pupils and teachers. Most make an appearance here, even if some (Mrs Monroe) don’t speak. Mr Hankin (Lee Cornes) has slightly more to work with – his debut scene (scrabbling on the floor for his textbooks, knocked over by an unruly pupil) is a deft shorthand move. He seems affable enough, but this moment marks him out as someone who will find class management a problem.

Mr Hargreaves (Kevin O’Shea), the new deputy head, seems to have no such problems on that score. Right from this first episode there seems plenty of scope to develop his character. Slightly surprising that O’Shea’s television career has been fairly limited (with only two regular roles – GH and The Gentle Touch).

The way Mr Hargreaves deflates Mr Griffiths’ affronted pomposity is very nicely played, as is his later encounter with Mauler. In time-honoured fashion, Mauler is changing the direction of the arrow on the blackboard, thereby attempting to confuse the first years. Luckily, Mr Hargreaves catches him and subjects the six-former to a lengthy and impassioned speech. Which impresses Mauler not one little bit ….

Mauler (unfortunately) doesn’t seem to have grown as a person since last year (ditto Trevor and Robbie – who are both as irritating as ever). Ted seems a little better adjusted though.

It’s always melancholy to witness the debut of actors (such as Jamie Lehane, playing Jacko) who have passed away. Although substantial plotlines in this first episode are conspicuous by their absence, Jacko’s misadventures with his pet dog (who’s roaming the school corridors, searching for his master) do provide some low-level comic relief.

Natalie Stevens (Julie Buckfield), is one of those characters who we are invited to believe has always been in the school (just out of shot for the last two years). Ditto René Zagger as Mike Bentley, although maybe he’s slightly more of a new arrival. Positioned as something of a heartthrob (and an athletics ace to boot) it’s plain he’s got his eye on Georgina.

Most contrived moment of the episode concerns Justine and Tegs. We see Justine waiting for someone – who else could it be but Tegs? That’s what we’ve been primed to expect (especially as when he appears, she smiles and moves towards him). But no … she walks on by (totally blanking him) and into the arms of another boy. Eek!

There’s plenty more plot-threads established – the loneliness of new-girl Julie Corrigan (Margo Selby), Aichaa’s (Veena Tulsiani) reluctance to hang around with her much younger brother Akik (Sundeep Suri), the arrival of shifty deputy caretaker Rod (Wayne Norman), Matthew’s straightened financial circumstances and Ronnie’s growing obsession with animal rights.

Phew! Hopefully now these have all been established they can be tackled in a less fragmentary way as the series continues. Time will tell.

Blue Peter Christmas makes

The bbc.co.uk/archive pages are always worth skimming through as they contain plenty of interesting clips. Today I think I’ll be entertaining myself with Blue Peter’s makes through the ages – from 1963 to 1999.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/blue_peter_christmas_makes/zf82jhv

The Demon Headmaster – Simply Media DVD Review

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Starting a new school is traumatic at the best of times, but Dinah Glass’ (Frances Amey) first day is worse than most. Most of her fellow pupils seem uncharacteristically docile whilst the Headmaster is a very strange man indeed ….

Created by Gillian Cross, the Demon Headmaster has featured in a series of (to date) seven novels published between 1982 and 2017. When Cross’ books were adapted for television in the mid nineties (there were three series in total) four of her novels were used. The six episodes of series one utilised the first two books – The Demon Headmaster (1982) and The Prime Minster’s Brain (1985) – each running for three instalments.

Dinah, an orphan, has arrived at her new foster home. Mrs Hunter (Tessa Peake-Jones) is warm and welcoming but her two young sons – Harvey (Thomas Szekeres) and Lloyd (Gunnar Cauthery) – are far less enthused. This isn’t because they don’t want a girl around the house, it’s more to do with the fact that they’re members of a small group (five in total) who have somehow managed to escape the Headmaster’s control and fear that Dinah will end up as a spy in their camp.

The central heroic protagonist of the series (subtly reinforced by the title sequence which depicts the other children on either side of the screen whilst Dinah – like the Headmaster – is placed in the centre of the frame) Dinah’s plight instantly captures the viewer’s attention, thanks to Frances Amey’s performance. As you might expect, the child cast are variable (some good, some not quite so) so it’s fortunate that the key role of Dinah went to a strong actor.

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There’s no doubt who commands the screen though. Terrence Hardiman looks to be having a whale of a time as the thoroughly evil Headmaster who isn’t content with just controlling one school. “The man who can keep order can rule the world”. Effortlessly menacing, it’s easy to understand how he managed to traumatise a generation of children ….

Dinah, an incredibly intelligent girl, looks to be ideal fodder for the Headmaster, but her strong will means that she manages to break free of his control after something of a struggle. Quite how Harvey, Lloyd and several of their friends (Ian, Mandy and Ingrid) have been able to resist is never made clear. Possibly the reverse is true with them – they simply weren’t intelligent enough?

There’s an interesting moment in the third episode of series one when we see the Headmaster commanding a group of brainwashed pupils to dispose of Dinah and the others. He tells them that what they can see in front of them are a number of straw dolls who are no longer needed and can be ripped apart. The overlay effect is a simple one, but it’s nevertheless a disturbing little scene.

Danny John-Jules has an entertaining guest appearance in these early episodes as Eddy Hair, an energetic performer who runs a television game show which is the first step on the Headmaster’s path to power. Although with its screaming children and oodles of gunk it seems like the last place he’d want to be ….

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After Dinah manages to scupper the Headmaster’s plans at the conclusion of the third episode, he disappears. The reason for this isn’t quite clear since Dinah and the other members of SPLAT were the only ones who knew about his plans for world domination.

The remainder of series one sees the Headmaster – shock horror – making a surprise return whilst Dinah finds herself in thrall to a highly addictive computer game, Octopus Dare. Since Dinah had already foiled one of his schemes, it seems a little odd to find her recruited for the next one – joining a group of other children with equally high computer skills in an attempt to tap into the Prime Minister’s computer (the first step in taking over the world). Although not as engaging as the first story, there are various satirical swipes – at the addictive qualities of computer games and the dangers of automation – which are nicely done.

The toy helicopter, which the Headmaster escapes in, is possibly not the most convincing effect ever though ….

After speeding away in his helicopter at the end of series one, we pick up next time with the Headmaster coming back down to earth at the Biogenetic Research Centre. Shortly afterwards Mr Hunter takes up a new job at the Centre – as their public relations officer – which means that Dinah, Harvey and Lloyd will soon be tangling once again with their arch nemesis.

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Having skipped the third novel (The Revenge of the Demon Headmaster) the adaptations continued with the fourth, The Demon Headmaster Strikes Again. Given that Dinah had now defeated him twice, clearly the Headmaster was a glutton for punishment (he, of course, was responsible for bringing “Little Miss Dinah Hunter” back within his grasp).

The setting – a sleepy village – suits the story down to the ground (other series, such as Doctor Who and The Avengers, also made fruitful use of this type of environment). Having previously controlled (virtually) an entire school, the Headmaster’s now setting his net a little wider as he starts to bring the whole village under his spell.

Some familiar television faces, such as Annette Badland, pop up whilst Katey Crawford Kastin makes a welcome return as Rose Carter. During the early episodes of series one she was the Headmaster’s most loyal prefect – times might have changed but her loyalty remains constant (at least to begin with).

This second run, with a single story spread across seven episodes, feels more substantial than the first series. It certainly boasts the Headmaster’s strangest plan yet – with the power of evolution at his fingertips, he creates a human/lizard hybrid. The human part is a clone of Dinah, meaning that our heroine is forced to come face to face with an implacable foe – Eve – who looks identical to her (apart from possessing one lizard hand and a very long tongue). That’s not something you see every day.

Although the Demon Headmaster was killed at the end of the second series, the attentive viewer will probably have realised by now that a minor inconvenience such as death wouldn’t be enough to stop his evil plans. And so in series three (adapted from The Demon Headmaster Takes Over) we discover that a clone of the Headmaster, created at the Biogenetic Research Centre, proves to be just as troublesome as the original ….

Nina Young, as Professor Claudia Rowe, is a strong addition to the regular cast as is Tony Osoba whilst Ed Bishop is amongst those making guest appearances. With the military called in to deal with the fallout at the Research Centre, there’s something of a Doctor Who/UNIT feel about the opening episode (indeed, at times The Demon Headmaster does have a rather late eighties Whoish feel).

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One of the themes of S3 – surveillance – feels just as topical today as it did back then. After Mr Smith (Osoba) is brought under the Headmaster’s control, he explains how the British government (whom he works for in a shadowy capacity) attempts to control and manipulate the population, both through the flow of information and through surveillance. For a children’s series, this is quite an adult theme.

The nascent internet is also a running thread as Hyperbrain – an artificial intelligence programme – proves to be vital to the Headmaster’s latest plan for world domination. The computer stuff may seem a little quaint today, but at the time no doubt it would have seemed cutting edge.

The Demon Headmaster might not have had a particularly large budget, but what it lacked in money it made up for in sheer imagination. Some of the effects don’t quite convince, but that’s not a problem – indeed, I love the fact that they weren’t afraid to think big.

All three series, nineteen episodes in total, are contained within this three disc set. Sadly there’s no special features (the 1997 CBBC Christmas Pantomime The Demon Headmaster Takes Over TV would have been an obvious thing to include). An interview with Terrance Hardiman would also have been nice, luckily there are a few scattered around the internet, such as this one.

Packed with plots which get ever more bonkers as the episodes click by, The Demon Headmaster is held together by the performances of Terrance Hardiman and Frances Amey. No matter how strange things get, both continue to play it completely straight – which helps to keep the show grounded in reality.

Given the paucity of science fiction/fantasy programmes on British television during the 1990’s, The Demon Headmaster is quite a noteworthy series. It stands up well today as good, pulpy fun and whilst this DVD will be a nostalgic treat for many, there’s no reason why the Demon Headmaster shouldn’t cast his spell over a new generation of children.

The Demon Headmaster is released by Simply Media on the 14th of May 2018, RRP £29.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

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Little Sir Nicholas – Simply Media DVD Review

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Following a terrible tragedy at sea, Sir Walter Tremaine, his wife and their four-year old son Nicholas are all feared lost. Six years later, Lady Tremaine (Rachel Gurney), still mourning the loss of her son and grandson, is now considering the question of inheritance (the Tremaine family are one of the wealthiest in the land).  To this end, she advertises for any relations of Edward John Tremaine to come forward.  The ambitious and grasping Joanna Tremaine (Bernice Stegers) is delighted when her young son Gerald (Jonathan Norris) is declared the nearest blood relative and is therefore chosen to inherit the family title, estates and fortune.

But no sooner have Gerald, his sister and his mother become accustomed to their new and privileged surroundings than the rug is pulled from under their feet as Little Sir Nicholas (Max Beazley) is discovered alive and well, living in obscurity in a French fishing village …..

Broadcast in six episodes on CBBC1 during January and February 1990, Little Sir Nicholas is an efficient adaptation of the novel by C.A. Jones, originally published in 1892.  It’s an all-film production, which is slightly surprising (it was still common for the cheaper alternative of videotape to be used at the time). But the filming adds a welcome extra gloss, so I’ve no complaints.

In the pre-credits sequence for episode one we witness the shipwreck which drowns Sir Walter and his wife. It’s impressively mounted, mixing model shots and a full-sized ship, which was presumably shot in the water tank at Ealing studios. An elaborate scene like this wouldn’t have come cheap, so it’s an early indication that Little Sir Nicholas has a very healthy budget.

A caption then tells us that events have moved on six years – we see Lady Tremaine speaking to Mr Apted about the possibilities of finding an heir. Rachel Gurney will, of course, always be best remembered for playing the refined Lady Marjorie Bellamy in Upstairs Downstairs.  Her television credits were rather scarce after leaving UpDown in 1973, and Little Sir Nicholas (her penultimate screen role prior to her death in 2001) was one of her most substantial roles post 1973.

Barry Jackson has a nice cameo as the kind-hearted shoemaker Mr Nolan, who points out the newspaper advertisement which leads to Gerald’s new-found fortune. It’s telling how both Gerald and his mother immediately dismiss him from their life as soon as they move upwards (neither seem inclined to settle their debt with him either). It’s left to Gerald’s kind-hearted sister, Margaret (Louisa Milwood-Haigh), to thank Mr Nolan for all he’s done for them and ensure he isn’t out of pocket. Margaret is the conscience of the family and stands as a sharp counterpoint to her more selfish mother and brother.

The second episode concerns itself with the twelve-year-old Sir Gerald adapting to his new life as a baronet in Cornwall. Gerald and his mother continue to act in a thoughtless manner (we can maybe excuse Gerald because of his age, but it takes a lot longer before we understand what motivates his mother). Mrs Tremaine is rude to Lady Tremaine and dismissive to the dignified family retainer Robinson (the always immaculate Jack Watson). Gerald and Margaret meet William Randall (Christopher Villiers), a friend of the family and a portrait painter (his painting of the four-year old Sir Nicholas hangs in the Tremaine’s hall). It’s rather hard to swallow that shortly after this meeting, Randall, on a painting trip to Britanny, identifies a young French lad as the missing Sir Nicholas.  But such a stunning coincidence has to be accepted in order to bring Nicholas back into the story.

In the third episode, Sir Nicholas returns to Cornwall to claim his inheritance, but finds the environment to be extremely unwelcoming. Although Randall has the best intentions in returning Nicholas to England, it’s a heart-breaking moment when he has to leave his adopted mother and sister behind. There’s a nice bit of banter between the maid Dulcie (Cathy Shipton) and Bootle (Philip Whitchurch) who’s come hot-foot with a telegram for Lady Tremaine with the news that Nicholas is alive. Since he decides to wait for a reply, he’s clearly read the telegram beforehand!  After she’s received the amazing news, Lady Tremaine doesn’t throw Gerald, Margaret and their mother onto the streets – instead she’s more than generous, settling substantial sums of money on all of them and insisting they continue to live in the big house with Nicholas. Needless to say, Mrs Tremaine isn’t satisfied with this ….

Episode four features the wonderful James Ellis as the old sea-dog Mr Penfold. He’s made an impressive toy boat which he intends to give to Nicholas. This irritates Gerald who wants the boat himself. It’s true that Gerald loves the sea whilst Nicholas fears it, but given that he watched his parents drown that’s quite understandable. Gerald calls him a coward, but luckily Margaret is on hand to show Nicholas unconditional love and understanding. The Christmas celebrations see Robinson entertain the household with stirring tales of exploits on the sea (another fine scene for Jack Watson).

Nicholas’ wretched life continues in the fifth episode as his pet pony Peterkin, one of his few friends, vanishes. Gerald, still smarting at the way Nicholas is always first in line, rides Peterkin away and hides him. And when Margaret leaves for boarding school, poor Nicholas feels even more isolated.

The sixth and final episode sees Mrs Tremaine’s hatred of Nicholas boil over. Nicholas and the now-reunited Peterkin have run away, although rather conventially Mrs Tremaine is able to easily track him down. But instead of taking him home, her scornful taunts drive him away again. Lady Tremaine is forced to accept that due to her mild disappointment with Nicholas, she was happy to leave him in the care of a woman who clearly despised him. Lady Tremaine and Mrs Tremaine face each other in a dramatic scene. Mrs Tremaine admits that she’s ill-treated Nicholas, but it was out of a fear that she’d have to return to London, penniless. “I am what poverty made me. I couldn’t be poor again.”

The story concludes in a dramatic fashion as Gerald and a local boy called Joe are stranded on a rock in the middle of the sea. Nicholas is forced to confront his fear of the sea as (rather unbelievably) he’s the only one who can row a boat out to save them. Mr Penfold rather succinctly sums it all up. “Well I’ll be jiggered.”

This may have been a children’s serial, but there’s no shortage of quality acting talent on display.  Any devotee of archive television will have no trouble in recognising the likes of Rachel Gurney, Christopher Villiers, Jack Watson, James Ellis, Barry Jackson and Noel Johnson.  Julian Fellowes doubles as an actor and co-adaptor, turning up as Mr Apted in three episodes. It’s true that some of the child actors – not just Jonathan Norris and Max Beazley but the minor players as well – are a little stilted at times, but that’s not uncommon with period dramas of this type. But the oldest of the juvenile actors, Louisa Milwood-Haigh, is very assured as the compassionate Margaret.

Little Sir Nicholas is an impressively mounted, well-acted serial which deals with universal themes such as greed, loneliness and childhood jealousies.  Unseen since a repeat run in 1992, this may be an obscure production, but it’s also an engaging, heart-warming and thoroughly rewarding one.

Little Sir Nicholas is released by Simply Media on the 10th of October 2016.  RRP £19.99.