Grange Hill. Series Twelve – Episode Twelve

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Written by David Angus. Tx 10th February 1989

Georgina receives a disturbing phone call – a heavy breather. Who can it be? Trev’s been pestering her all year, making him fhe most likely suspect, but Helen decides that Ziggy is the guilty party. Nope, don’t understand that. I’m undecided whether we’re seriously supposed to think that Ziggy might be a phone pest or whether this is just another slightly misfiring plot point.

Helen’s all dolled up as she’s off to start her work experience. The affable Mr Aldridge (Jack Galloway) gives her a whistle-stop tour of the engineering plant. She takes in the drawing office, the accounts department and the C.A.D. (computer aided design) room before finally ending up on the works floor.

There’s a vague hint of sexism along the way. A computer chap gives her a wink (steady on fella, she’s underage) whilst we’re also set up to expect some shop-floor dissent from her fellow workers next time. However, I’ve the feeling that Helen will easily wipe the floor with the bolshy lad who thinks that women and heavy machinery shouldn’t mix ….

Susi finally confesses to her mother about her catalogue borrowing habits, which is good news as it means we can draw this storyline to a conclusion. You have to feel a little sorry for Lynne Radford (Susi). Her two years on the show were drawing to an close and this was her most substantial contribution.

Possibly it was her decision to drop out after series twelve or maybe the production team felt Susi was unlikely to develop much further. With both Justine and Chrissy already established as strong characters, it’s easy to imagine that Susi would have been pushed even more to the sidelines next year.

Calley continues to be something of a lone voice in support of Mr Bronson. She makes the very reasonable point that Danny was no saint (and quickly dismisses Fiona’s rather feeble defence that Danny only acted like he did because of his illness).

A slight plot contrivance later finds Calley and Mr Bronson alone in the classroom. She attempts to breech the awkward silence, but her well meaning comment of “we don’t all hate you” possibly wasn’t the most tactful remark ever! This encounter, whether indirectly or directly, does seem to spark Mr Bronson back into life though.

Later, he decides that he will attend the Isle of Wight field trip after all (which was in jeopardy after he decided to pull out).  The way he doesn’t react when Mrs McClusky mentions that she’s thinking of allowing the pupils to bring their motorbikes into school is also interesting.

Mandy has devised a plan, which Mrs McClusky is considering, re the bikes. Ronnie seems less than impressed when she finds out though (but I think we can chalk this down to the fact that Mandy and Gonch are increasingly becoming an item). Does Ronnie still pine for Gonch? It seems hard to credit, but this is Grange Hill – where strange things happen every day.

Speaking of strange things, we learn who’s been hiding out in the school. It’s Tegs of course, and now he has Justine for company. But this storyline suddenly becomes a little less predictable when the camera reveals that there’s someone else left in school besides the two of them. It can’t be Mr Griffiths, as we’ve already seen him leave, so who is it?

Hopefully it won’t be the Grange Hill ghost.

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Grange Hill – Series Nine and Ten to be released on DVD by Eureka Entertainment (19/10/20)

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The 19th of October will see Eureka Entertainment releasing series nine and ten of Grange Hill on DVD. There’s plenty to chew over during these two series – from Zammo’s heroin addiction to Harriet the Donkey. I’ve written about series nine here and series ten here, As the release date gets a little closer hopefully I’ll be able to revisit this era of the programme both here on the blog and over on my Twitter feed.

Below is an extract from the press release.

Series 9

New pupils Eric ‘Ziggy’ Greaves, Danny Kendall, Georgina Hayes & Ant Jones are amongst the fresh faces piling through the Grange Hill gates & Zammo makes some bad decisions when he should ‘Just Say No’.  Zammo’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic & It’s Roland who eventually discovers the shocking truth. The thorny subject of smoking is tackled with new student Danny Kendall taking every opportunity for a crafty cigarette. This leads pupils to set up an anti-smoking campaign, which also targets the teachers!!  In other news the ever entrepreneurial Gonch serves up his latest money-making scheme, anyone for a slice of toast?

Series 10

Imelda Davis continues her campaign of carnage & bullying, creating difficulties for pupils & teachers alike. It’s a tough year for Danny Kendall as he battles Cancer. Roland starts up a School Fund to help pay for his treatment.   A sixth form barge trip is certainly eventful as Gonch, Ziggy, Rob & Trevor first manage to crash the boat, then send it floating off on its own with stowaway (& former Grange Hill pupil) Ant Jones inside. The school gets its own Radio station, Zammo & Jackie get Engaged; & what will happen to Harriett the Donkey…?

DVD EXTRA Feature: 1985 Christmas Special Episode (First aired 27th December 1985)

The School Christmas Fayre preparations are underway. Roland faces Christmas alone & Calley can’t decide which of her parents to spend the festive season with.

At the Fayre Zammo & Banksie’s “shaky hand” machine proves popular, as does the wet sponge stall (especially with Mr Baxter as the target!!). Gonch & Hollo unwittingly unleash pandemonium when they unlock a storeroom & a Donkey runs out. Merry Christmas everyone!!

 DVD Boxed Set Details

  • Release date 19th October 2020
  • BBFC : 12
  • RRP: £34.99
  • Series 9 x 4 Discs
  • Series 10 x 4 Discs
  • Series 9 -24 Episodes
  • Series 10 – 24 Episodes
  • Running time Series 9: – 579.41
  • Running time Series 10: – 576.47
  • Christmas Special: 29.10 (TX 27/12/85)
  • Series 9 & 10 Broadcast 1st April 1986/6th January 1987
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

 

Grange Hill. Series Twelve – Episode Ten

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 3rd February 1989

So Danny Kendall joins the list of the Grange Hill fallen.

Antoni Karamanopolis was the first pupil to bite the dust, all the way back in 1980. His sad demise (falling from a great height after a dare went wrong) barely raised a ripple of interest or sorrow amongst his classmates. Poor Antoni.  But at least his death did serve a moral story purpose – hammering home the risks about accepting foolish dares.

You can’t say the same about Jeremy Irvine’s swimming pool demise in 1984 though, which seemed to have been written as pure sensationalism. The adult soaps do it all the time (a death is good for ratings) although it’s difficult to imagine GH received much of a boost.

What’s even odder is that originally Jonah was the one supposed to die (actor Lee Sparke declined to return when he learnt that Jonah’s time was up). Killing off a regular for no good reason is difficult to fathom – especially as the partnership of Jonah and Zammo worked so well (Jonah’s replacement – Kevin – never clicked in quite the same way).

Five years on and Danny Kendall was the third pupil to perish. This is something of a watershed moment as he was the first long-running character (present since 1986) to depart feet first.  Although given that Danny would have left school shortly, it’s possible he was something of a sacrificial pawn. Although his death casts a shadow over the whole school, it’s Mr Bronson who especially suffers.

This was Michael Sheard’s fifth and final year with the series. Whilst I don’t know for sure, it seems likely that this storyline – Danny’s death, Mr Bronson’s fall and eventual rather surprising rebirth – was created in order to give Sheard something especially meaty to get his teeth into. It makes sense – Michael Sheard was an excellent actor, so you may as well make full use of him.

By now, most people seem to be aware of the sad news – although Mauler and Ted are still in the dark. That’s a little hard to swallow, considering that they were hot on the heels of Ziggy, Robbie and Gonch at the end of the previous episode. Are we supposed to assume they just slunk away? A little tighter script-editing was probably called for here.

Life goes on though, as does the rumbling saga of Susi and the clothes from her mother’s catalogue (alas). Along with Clarke’s missing bike, it’s vying as the least involving plotline of the year.

A brief assembly sees Mrs McClusky confirm the news about Danny. Miss Booth is in tears whilst Mr Bronson remains stony-faced. Afterwards he attempts to regain order the only way he knows how – by bellowing at the pupils not to hang around the corridor – but it’s the wrong move at the wrong time.  The way Miss Booth silently walks past him after his outburst makes this clear – as does the way he falteringly attempts but fails to speak to her.

Most of the fifth formers are in a reflective mood. All apart from Trev, who decides that he’s won the sweepstake (he put on a bet for next year which, he reasons, is as close to never as possible).

Mr Bronson doesn’t react well to the news of a memorial service for Danny. “I do not think that a delinquent pupil should be given the same treatment as that reserved for sound and cooperative members of the school community”.  That doesn’t go down well with Mrs McClusky …

Later she’s able to tell Mr Bronson that Danny died of natural causes and therefore no further investigation will occur. Once again, there’s a real tinge of icy distaste on her part (it’s a nicely played scene from both of them).

Having schemed for a while in order to get close to Mandy (although all his plans tended to end in disaster), a plainly distressed Gonch now finds she’s the perfect shoulder to cry on. Mandy makes a nice bit of toast too (albeit slightly burnt) and has a good suggestion – use the sweepstake money to buy a memorial tree for Danny.

The tree planting scene was a tricky one to pull off as it could easily have teetered over the edge into maudlin sentimentality. This doesn’t happen and the final shot of the episode – a slow crane pullback of the planting – is effective. Especially since the credits are allowed to run silently apart from some ambient noise (the toiling of what I assume to be a church bell).

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Grange Hill. Series Twelve – Episode Nine

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 31st January 1989

Vince appears for the first time since episode five. You’d have thought he would have been present when Trev’s world came crashing down (thanks to Vince’s less than precise horse prediction) but for some reason he’s been held back until now. No matter, the plotline will still play out the same – Vince doing his best to hide with Ziggy relishing describing exactly how Trev will tear him limb from limb ….

Danny’s continuing absence is still a hot topic. Although his attendance record has always been patchy, it’s the fact that Mr Bronson’s car disappeared at the same time as Danny that strikes a discordant note. Gonch – in order to prevent Trev from noticing Vince cowering under a desk – mentions that he’s starting a sweepstake about when Danny will return. This off-hand remark soon snowballs into a real venture – Gonch can never resist the opportunity to make a bit of money.

Mauler and Ted debate the best way to get the keys to Ronnie’s moped.  Since they’re both very definite anti-social types, it’s slightly odd to see them with shiny briefcases.  In the past, only swotty types – like Justin Bennett – tended to carry them.

Helen’s been given the opportunity of work experience at a local garage. It’s not what she wants to do, but it’s better than working in an office.  Only just though. There’s a faint air that she’s breached a male dominated area, although this point isn’t hammered home (a muttered “women” after Helen admits she doesn’t know a head gasket from a spark-plug is enough to make the point).

Mauler and Ted put the frighteners on Gonch, intent on nabbing half of the sweepstake money. Or maybe their real plan was to pinch the keys from Ronnie’s bag. If so, then they’ve done very well and proceed to have a fine old time with the moped, much to Ronnie’s horror.

The episode concludes with Robbie, Ziggy and Gonch being pursued by Trevor, Mauler and Ted. Trev’s the first to drop out (he’s built for comfort not speed) but Mauler and Ted have more speed endurance. It’s a frantic chase through a grimy inner-city milieu, which comes to an abrupt stop when Ziggy discovers Danny’s lifeless body in the back of Mr Bronson’s car ….

Cue ominous music over the first part of the closing credits before the more jaunty ‘Chicken Man’ returns.

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Grange Hill. Series Twelve – Episode Eight

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Written by Chris Ellis. Tx 27th January 1989

Robbie’s grumbling about the stake money he paid to Trevor for the horse that didn’t win – he wants it back (Mauler is also keen to recover his funds). This suggests that the concept of betting isn’t particularly understood round Grange Hill way. Since nobody forced them to make the bets, for once I’ve a smidgen of sympathy for Trev.

Mr Bronson’s on his bike (nice cap, sir). He attracts the derision of Ziggy, Calley and Robbie (and just about everyone else) en route to school. But one person who remains totally oblivious to his mode of transport is Ronnie, which is a little unfortunate as she, riding her new moped, has a slight collision with him.

The fact she doesn’t have any recollection of breezing past him does rather suggest that she’s going to be a menace on the roads. So I have to sympathise with Mr Bronson on this, although we’re plainly meant to be on Ronnie’s side.

I get the feeling Mr Bronson isn’t in a very good mood today. The next person to feel his wrath is Mr Griffiths, who politely tells him that bicycles aren’t allowed in the school. This cuts no ice with Mr B who bellows at him to move aside. There’s a nice bit of comic business from George A. Cooper in this scene –  the way he recoils ever so slightly when he’s verbally attacked is a decent touch.

When telling Mr Robson about the way Mr Bronson sabotaged Danny’s job prospects, Mrs McClusky is very subdued and emotional.  Whether this was played as scripted or Gwyneth Powell made an acting choice, I’m not sure. It’s rather odd either way though – especially since at present nothing is known about Danny’s whereabouts.

Matthew and Clarke continue the hunt for Clarke’s missing bike. Now they have flags and lights to signal to each other over great distances. Ho hum. Every day I pine a little more for the days of missing clarinets ….

Mr Bronson has bad news for Helen. Her work experience at the engineers is off, instead he’s got her a placement at an insurance brokers. The action quickly moves away from this though, as Mr Bronson hears the roar of a moped engine and angrily sets off in pursuit.

Ronnie, earlier forced to park her moped outside, has now brought her damaged bike into school in order to make running repairs, with the affable Mr Mackenzie on hand to proffer some useful suggestions.

Mr Bronson doesn’t spot his fellow teacher when he comes blazing into the workshop though. Oh, and you have to say that Mr Bronson must have very acute hearing to pick out the faint roar of an engine from his office (since it’s quite a distance from the workshop). Mr B and Mr Mac have a brief but highly entertaining slanging match, which only strengthens my suspicion that Mr Bronson is teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

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Grange Hill. Series Twelve – Episode Seven

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Written by Chris Ellis. Tx 24th January 1989

Outside of Grange Hill, Chris Ellis’ cv is somewhat slight, but he (I’m assuming he’s a he, although I’m happy to be corrected) was rather chucked in at the deep end when starting work on the series. He began by writing the last two episodes of series ten, followed by the opening two from series eleven. Ellis also contributed just two episodes this year, but his ones – seven and eight – are key. After a faltering start, this is where the drama really begins to ramp up.

We begin in a slightly subdued way though. Suzi is becoming extremely agitated about the clothes she’s received on trial from her mother’s catalogue whilst Tegs continues to live in extreme squalor, something which concerns his new social worker. Tegs is encouraged to clean up his act (and his body and his shirts) by Justine, who gives him some top cleaning tips. Although he balks at her offer to come into the bathroom and scrub his back!

Trevor’s put a bundle of his and other people’s money on Lucky Shark (the horsey picked out by Vince). In one of the most predictable story outcomes ever, it fails to win.

Mrs McClusky gets the chance to demonstrate her skills as an organiser after she directs the traffic down both sides of a particularly gloomy corridor. The school is still in something of a state of disrepair, which makes safe navigation a tad tricky. As touched upon before, it’s unusual to see Grange Hill looking quite so shabby – although this isn’t a major plot point.

It’s simply an excuse to demonstrate a couple of things – first that Mrs McClusky can still bellow with the best of them and secondly that Mr Bronson is far from pleased about Danny’s new school contract. The fact that he chooses this congested spot to argue the toss with her speaks volumes about him.

He quickly runs into Danny and airs his grievances. “School is not a restaurant where you can pick and choose from the menu”.  The problem is that Mr Bronson now appears to be totally powerless where Danny is concerned. Mind you, maybe Mr Bronson had a point when he earlier told Mrs McClusky that as deputy head he should have been consulted. Was this an oversight on her part, or did she simply not bother because she knew Danny wouldn’t get a fair hearing from him?

Mr Bronson has his revenge though – by warning Danny’s potential employers about the sort of person he is (or who Mr Bronson thinks he is). Cue a scene where both Mr Bronson and Danny berate each other at maximum volume. Given that Mr Bronson has been set to simmer for a number of episodes, his explosion is especially noteworthy.

This would make a reasonable but not terribly original episode ending. The fact that Danny appears to have stolen Mr Bronson’s car adds a little extra spice, but at present it’s still not clear how this part of the story will conclude ….

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Grange Hill. Series Twelve – Episode Six

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Written by Kay Trainor. Tx 20th January 1989

Gonch is keen to use the computer before school. Ziggy is a lot less keen, but Gonch exercises his powers of persuasion and Ziggy meekly agrees, even though he hasn’t had his breakfast (this is slightly hard to believe, but no matter). Also in school early is superswot Mandy – which is the cue for some outrageous physical comedy from George Christopher. Ziggy attempts to peek at her notes (all in a good cause though, beefing up GHS – Gonch’s Homework Service) before being rumbled and beating a hasty and undignified retreat.

Gonch, Ziggy and Robbie discuss GHS’ current travails. Robbie’s contribution is to explode angrily (no change there then) whilst Gonch has his eye on the main prize – Mandy Freemont. If only he can woo her, then her intellect will be on tap to enrich their faltering business venture. His plan is a subtle one – plonk down a cheap copy of Les Miserables on the desk and wait for her to spot that he’s a kindred spirit. How can it fail?

Mr MacKenzie gets his first decent chunk of dialogue for a good few episodes (chatting with Danny about the swimming pool competition). He then spots Gonch’s Les Mis at exactly the same time as Mandy does. Curses!

Helen still wants to be an engineer, but her lack of correct options is a problem. It will also be difficult to make her way in a profession that’s still very male dominated, but it looks likely that Helen has enough drive to make a go of it. Trev is in full mocking mode when he finds out, physically giving her a hard time and casting aspersions about her sexuality (wearing braces and interested in engineering? He’s convinced she’s turning into a man).

The hunt for Clarke’s bike is on. Long term viewers will have to decide for themselves whether this is a more thrilling storyline than the search for Belinda’s lost clarinet. Personally I don’t think there’s much to choose between them.

Today they spot it from the top of a towerblock but when they get downstairs the bike has gone.  We’re not quite in Harriet the Donkey territory yet, but it’s getting close.

It’s a been a while since we’ve had a staffroom scene. Miss Booth is still attempting to get support for her self defence class, but has one major problem – Mrs McClusky wants it done on a voluntary basis which is against union rules.  It’s interesting that Grange Hill didn’t do more with the theme of union unrest (anyone who went to school in Britain during the mid to late eighties will no doubt recall that strikes were common) but presumably it was either felt to be a topic too tricky for teatime or simply something that the kids wouldn’t find interesting.

It’s girls versus boys in the roller hockey. The whole class is an expert on skates, apart from Ziggy (which is the excuse for some more pratfalls from Mr Greaves). That fact that everybody possesses excellent rollerblade skills feels unlikely to me, unless there’s been a lot of off-screen practice.

Les Diapositives de Bretagne is tonight’s attraction at the local Community Centre. Ziggy and Robbie spot Mandy outside and tell her that Gonch is a big fan, so a Mandy/Gonch date is quickly arranged. It’s not a band though – instead Gonch has to sit through a terrible ordeal. Mr Bronson and his holiday slides from Brittany ….

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Grange Hill. Series Twelve – Episode Five

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Written by Kay Trainor. Tx 17th January 1989

Mauler McCall, along with his willing gang of stooges, is behaving in time-honoured GH bully fashion – extracting money with menaces (a ten pence levy for anyone using the bike sheds).  Clarke and Matthew are two of his potential victims, but have managed to escape his clutches. For now ….

It’ll be interesting to see how these two characters develop this year. Matthew had a good chunk of screentime in S11, but it was all centered around a plotline that appears to have been resolved. Clarke has yet to emerge as a character in his own right – so far he’s served as little more than a line feed for his friend.

Mr Bronson’s eyesight is very keen. At some distance he’s able to spot Justine was wearing outrageous earrings. Ah well, I suppose this proves that he’s not totally obsessed with Danny – he still has time to give others a hard time as well.

It’s noticeable that the friction between Mrs McClusky and Mr Bronson has been downplayed recently. Compare this to 1986 when they were entertainingly at each others throats for multiple episodes. Maybe it was felt that the teacher’s interactions and relationships should take a back seat for a while? That’s certainly something which ebbs and flows over the course of the series. By the mid to late nineties it was back with a vengeance (Mr Robson’s love-life, for example …)

Calley and Robbie are arguing again. You may not be surprised to learn that Robbie’s acting like an alpha male just for a change.

The latest face off between Danny and Mr Bronson is intriguing. Danny has the chance of a work experience placement with Mr Tilley (Niven Boyd) but doesn’t turn up for the meeting. He can’t be located anywhere in the school (he’s working on the mosaic in the swimming pool).

But Mr Bronson obviously knew this, as after he sees Mr Tilley off he heads straight for the pool. So he could have instructed someone to fetch Danny but seems to have decided that since he had skipped registration and lessons he didn’t deserve any favours. So Danny’s placement chance has evaporated – something which will obviously do nothing to help his tottering relationship with Mr Bronson. Although we don’t witness the fallout in this episode, surprisingly enough.

Last time when Vince picked a winning horse for Trev, Trev didn’t put any money on it. This time he’s going to put a bundle on Vince’s next choice. I really don’t think you have to be a mind-reader to work out what’s going to happen next.

Miss Booth is keen to organise self defence classes for the pupils. I like the way she attempts to make her point by putting both her hands around Mrs McClusky’s throat! A rare moment of levity for Gwyneth Powell.

Clarke continues to be terrorised by a (rather friendly looking, it must be said) Alsatian on his paper round. Matthew – riding Clarke’s bike – attempts to draw him off but crashes the bike. That’s a moment low on excitement and the end of episode cliffhanger – Clarke’s bike has been stolen! – isn’t much better.

But I’m prepared to hang on in there and hope that more engaging fare is just round the corner.

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Grange Hill. Series Twelve – Episode Four

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 13th January 1989

Calley, Ronnie and Fiona are busy planning Ronnie’s sixteenth birthday party. Fiona, the brazen hussy, has no compunction about approaching a group of (gasp!) older boys and offering them an invite – cue much girlish giggling ….

The girls have decided to throw two parties – an ‘A’ party (where all the cool kids will hang out) and an earlier ‘B’ party (where they can leave all the deadbeats and no-hopers). It’s a reasonable idea but is obviously doomed to failure. As if it wasn’t, the episode would no doubt lack a little spark.

Calley is suffering from divided loyalties. Robbie has an invite to the ‘A’ party (his belligerent and obnoxious nature means he’ll be perfect in the role of bouncer) but Ronnie and Fiona aren’t keen for Gonch and Ziggy to tag along. Calley knows that this will upset Robbie but the girls are adamant.  So Calley finds herself slightly excluded – with Fiona usurping her position as Ronnie’s best friend, as she did last year.

Ted and Robbie have a face-off about whether Calley is thick or not. Another episode, another mini-explosion from Robbie. Luckily Gonch is on hand to calm him down and explain that you have to keep a cool head in business.

Mr Griffiths doesn’t take kindly to being told to “shove off” by Danny, which is a fairly mild insult to cause the caretaker to react so strongly.  Mind you, given Grange Hill could never use the sort of language real-life pupils would spout every day, possibly the viewer is supposed to use their imagination and replace “shove” with something a little stronger.

Cue Mr Bronson stalking the corridors for his prey. He finally runs Danny to ground in Mr Robson’s registration class. Whilst a Mr Bronson rant and rave is always good fun there’s nothing more effective and menacing than when Michael Sheard dials it right down to icy calm.

We’re denied a big confrontation scene though as Danny is quickly passed from Mr Bronson to Mrs McClusky. Mrs McClusky attempts to bring Danny into line by dangling the carrot of work experience with a design firm in front of him. Given his general apathetic persona I think that’s a very generous offer. Will there eventually be a happy ending to the Danny story? Ah, best not to hold out too much hope on that score.

There then follows a fade to black as we move to Calley’s ‘B’ party. Geoffrey Beevers makes his second and final appearance as the somewhat hapless Mr Donnington. He doesn’t have a great deal to do but adds a touch of class nonetheless.

Boozy old Trev attempts to woo Georgina in the only way he knows how (this involves a fair amount of dancefloor groping). Thankfully Georgina’s ordeal doesn’t last long as Trev has to step outside for a pitstop and a few more glugs of alcohol. But he manages to make it back inside just in time to destroy Calley’s birthday cake. Throw in an appearance by Mauler and it’s pretty much the perfect evening.

This explains why the girls decide enough is enough and slink off quietly (cancelling the ‘A’ party). The gallant Gonch walks Georgina home and offers her the chance to go to a UB40 gig. She’s not keen (on UB40 anyway) but maybe this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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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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Top of the Pops – 1974 Christmas Special

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Following on from the Glam-tastic treats of Christmas 1973, the 1974 TOTP Special does feel a little pale in comparison. Still, let’s press on ….

Tony Blackburn and Jimmy Savile are on presenting duties (which of course means that the chances of this one ever receiving another television airing are slim to zero).

Ignoring as best we can the spectre of Savile, first up are Mud with Lonely This Christmas.  Sincerity oozes out of Les’ every pore as he recounts this sad, sad tale. Not quite the jolly start to the programme you might have expected, and this early feeling of mild gloom is only enhanced by the fact that Mud are performing to an empty studio.

Tony chats to the Rubettes (well he asks them one question) before introducing the Osmonds on VT. Then it’s Sweet Sensation and Sad Sweet Dreamer which is quite jolly – and those purple suits are very impressive.  Still no sign of the studio audience, so maybe this was one of those strike-bound years where things had to be done in a rush.

Pan’s People dance to You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me by The New Seekers. PP always favoured very literal song interpretations, so it probably won’t surprise you to learn that they’re all sporting red noses like very sad clowns. The whole sequence has to be seen to be believed – dignity at all times, girls ….

Thing are looking up, both on the Christmas and also on the music front.  Cheeky little David Essex, surrounded by tinsely Christmas trees, treats us to Gonna Make You A Star. This gets the thumbs up from me.

Paper Lace with Billy Don’t Be A Hero shuffle on next. This tragic story (war is hell and it’s best to never volunteer for anything) has always been one of those seventies novelty songs that I’ve never been able to forget (whether this is good or bad I’m not sure).  Possibly there were live vocals on this performance or maybe they were miming to a re-record.  Either way it helps to make it a little more interesting.

The Three Degrees, performing on a set with plenty of tinsel, give us When Will I See You Again? Like the rest of the show it’s far from cutting edge, but perfectly pleasant and undemanding – ideal Christmas afternoon fare in fact.

Throughout the show, Messrs Blackburn and Savile hobnob with the musical acts, asking them inane questions or (as with David Essex) forcing them to read Christmas cracker jokes. This does manage to raise a titter from the crew though – I guess it’s the way you tell them.

Everything I Own by Ken Boothe is another somewhat soporific hit, but the pace picks up about 75% with Waterloo by ABBA. It’s early days so their clothes don’t look ridiculous, but the song remains a cracking one.

After that bouncy interlude, we once again slow down the pace to a crawl with Charles Aznavour and She. Plonked in front of the same artificial Christmas trees as David Essex, Mr Charles certainly gives the song his all. A great favourite of grannies everywhere no doubt.

A double dose of Pan’s People today. They’re back to jig about to a Barry White song, You’re the First, the Last, My Everything. It’s a classy little dance, they keep their clothes on and everything.

We close with Slade and Merry Christmas Everybody. Like everyone else, Noddy and the boys don’t have an audience to perform to, but at least they amble off the stage towards the end of the song and join all the other acts who are still hanging about the studio. This does mean that a little bit of atmosphere is generated.

Not a classic Christmas year then, but not totally devoid of interest. I wonder what gifts 1975 will bring?

Hancock – The Lift

As is well known, Sid James – as requested by Tony Hancock – played no part in Hancock’s final BBC series penned by Galton and Simpson.  In some of the other episodes – The Bedsitter or The Radio Ham, say – it’s clear that Galton and Simpson were writing material which moved away in certain respects from their previously established formula.

It’s easier to imagine Sid taking part in The Lift though (no doubt he would have taken it in turns with Tony to antagonise all of their fellow lift passengers). So Sid’s absence does have the side effect of making Tony seem more irritating than usual – with no confidant to take the strain, he’s the sole antagonist today.

Many of Tony’s familiar character traits are present and correct. Such as his fumbling attempt to chat up the pretty young secretary (Jose Read) and his seething indignation when he has to watch her being sweet-talked by Jack Watling (the smooth BBC producer).

The Hancock character tended to berate those he believed were below him on the social scale (such as Hugh Lloyd’s liftman) and defer to certain people above him.  Not all – the Air Marshall  (John Le Mesurier) is treated with a level of contempt that Tony doesn’t even bother to conceal.  The Vicar (Noel Howlett) is another matter altogether (witness Tony’s chumminess and delight that the Vicar’s first Epilogue went well).

Both Hancock’s Half Hour and Hancock were always so well cast. Not only regulars like Hugh Lloyd and John Le Mesurier, but also the one-off performers like Charles Lloyd Pack and Colin Gordon (who both feature in this one).

They all help to generate a combustible mix of personalities, who are all nicely stoked up when the lift gets stuck between floors. Tony – of course – decides that he should take charge.  His first suggestion – that everybody jumps up and down – is logical, but it has a disappointing lack of success.

So they’re caught in a stalemate situation, which generates some wartime memories for Tony. “It’s just like the old days. Laying on the bottom, still, silent. Nobody daring to move. Jerry destroyers dashing about upstairs, trying to find us sitting there, sweating, waiting, joined together in a common bond of mutual peril”.

This moment is punctured by the Vicar, who recalled that Tony earlier stated he was in the Army! No matter, Tony – with the agility of a born fantasist – quickly rallies, weaving a tale about the Heavy Water plants in Norway (“very tricky stuff. A cup full of that in your font, blow the roof off it would”).

I do love Tony’s attempt to keep everybody entertained by playing Charades. Of course all of his mimes are guessed in double quick time by his nemesis, the producer (“it was simple”).

The twist at the end – having been rescued, Tony and the liftman become trapped once again – doesn’t quite work, but overall there’s very little fat on this one. Not quite the best that the final series had to offer, but that’s only because the competition was very fierce.

Pinter at the BBC – Landscape (4th February 1983)

 

Written for BBC radio in 1968 and performed on stage a year later, Landscape is a one-act play with decidedly Beckett-like overtones. A couple – Duff (Colin Blakely) and Beth (Dorothy Tutin) – sit at opposite ends of a long table, each indulging in lengthy monologues (they are either unable or unwilling to register the other’s conversation).

Duff does at least acknowledge that Beth is there, whereas she seems totally unaware of his presence. There is no plot as such, Beth recounts a story about a previous romantic interlude (possibly with Duff, possibly with somebody else) whilst Duff concerns himself with more practical matters.

The Lord Chamberlain’s office, back in 1967, found itself unimpressed with Landscape. “The nearer to Beckett, the more portentous Pinter gets. This is a long one-act play without any plot or development … a lot of useless information about the treatment of beer … And of course, there have to be the ornamental indecencies”.

The passage of time is illustrated by the diminishing light. At the start it’s a fairly bright day, but by the end of the play the pair are in virtual darkness. This lack of light generates a feeling of oppression and enclosure (director Kenneth Ives reinforces the mood at this point by focussing on close-ups of either Tutin or Blakely rather than cutting away to wide shots of the pair).

Dorothy Tutin remains wonderfully dialled-down and reflective throughout whilst Colin Blakely is given the chance for some expressive fireworks in the last few minutes. The way that Beth never for a moment acknowledges Duff’s histrionics (she simply continues with her tender tale) is a compelling moment.

Regularly punctuated by John Williams’ guitar interludes (the music was composed by Carl Davis) Landscape exercises a subtle, but strong, grip.

Pinter at the BBC – The Hothouse (27th March 1982)

Written in 1958, between The Birthday Party and The Caretaker, The Hothouse was then put aside by Pinter for more than twenty years. It wasn’t until 1979 that he picked it up again – it was staged in 1980 at the Hampstead Theatre and transferred to television two years later.

The most striking thing about the play at first glance is just how funny it is. Pinter’s other works aren’t always devoid of humour, but for long stretches The Hothouse plays like a farce (albeit one with a very dark heart).

The setting – a nameless Government run rest home which (it’s strongly implied) uses any means necessary to “cure” those unfortunates who’ve found themselves within its walls – is a sombre one. The dehumanising nature of the place is reinforced when it’s revealed that the patients are never referred to by their names – only numbers.

The momentary spasm of disquiet this generates is then negated when Roote (Derek Newark) launches into a lengthy argument with his second-in command, Gibbs (James Grant), about whether 6457 is alive or dead. This is an early example of Roote’s inability to grasp the simplest of arguments and as Derek Newark attacks the lines with gusto there’s little you can do but sit back and enjoy the ride.

Featuring seven speaking parts (five major, two minor) it’s the character of Roote who dominates throughout. Newark was always one of those actors who could be guaranteed to add a certain something to any production, but I can’t recall a better performance from him than this one. Raising the roof on more than one occasion, Newark delivers a sparkling comic turn. Roote presents himself as an expert of virtually any topic, but the reality appears to always contradict this (mind you, it’s possible that he’s more perceptive than his outwardly blimpish persona might suggest).

Although the plot is a good deal more straightforward than many of Pinter’s other plays, there are still points which are open to interpretation. Roote is shocked to learn that 6459 has given birth (and also that the majority of the staff had – at one time or another – taken advantage of her) but there’s strong evidence to suggest that he’s actually the father. And we never learn exactly who organised the revolution which – offscreen – slaughtered all but one of the senior staff towards the end of the play.

As a character, Roote will only work if he has equally strong personalities to bounce off. James Grant deadpans throughout as Gibbs, his passive and methodical nature contrasting nicely with Roote’s hysterical outbursts. Robert East (Lush) is a totally different character type from Gibbs (Lush is outspoken and arrogant) but again he’s another who interacts delightfully with Roote. In possibly the play’s funniest scene, an incensed Roote throws several glasses of whisky into Lush’s face before Lush decides it might be more sensible to hide the glass until he’s delivered his latest contentious comment.

Given the era it was written in, it’s possibly not surprising that The Hothouse only features one female character, Miss Cutts (Angela Pleasence) and also that she somewhat skirts the environs of the piece. The lover of both Roote and Gibbs, she may be somewhat indistinctly defined but Pleasence is able to bring her into sharp focus.

Roger Davidson as the hapless Lamb, also has limited screentime but leaves a lingering impression. The least experienced of the senior staff, Lush finds himself wired up with electrodes and tortured by Gibbs and Miss Cutts (Gibbs is looking for someone to take the blame for 6459’s pregnancy and the ingenious Lamb fits the bill nicely).

His name seems apt, since he really is a lamb to the slaughter (before, during and after his ordeal he doesn’t really seem to understand what’s happening). His blithe co-operation, even when being tortured, is played for laughs, but is undercut by the pain he suffers when the electricity is turned on. With the patients remaining off-screen throughout, this scene gives us an inkling about what could be occurring throughout the building.

Deftly juggling light and dark themes, The Hothouse doesn’t feel like a relic of more than sixty years ago. Indeed, maybe it’s even more relevant today than it was back then.

Pinter at the BBC – BFI DVD Review

This is an incredibly welcome release, as it brings together a very healthy chunk of Harold Pinter’s BBC output (none of which has been commercially available before). Indeed, Pinter’s television work on DVD has, until now, been rather sparse (a few isolated offerings from Network – the Armchair Theatre production of A Night Out and the Laurence Olivier Presents staging of The Collection – have been the highlights so far).

Disc One

Leo McKern in Tea Party

Tea Party (25th May 1966). 76 minutes

Tea Party was commissioned for a prestigious Eurovision project, entitled The Largest Theatre In The World, which saw the play performed in thirteen separate counties over the course of a single week (some took a subtitled version of the BBC original whilst others staged their own adaptation).

It’s a layered and uncompromising piece, with Leo McKern mesmerising as a self-made businessman who begins to lose his sense of reason (and also his sight). Has he been destabilised by inviting his brother-in-law Willy (Charles Gray) into his business or has his infatuation with his new secretary, Wendy (Vivien Merchant), pushed him over the edge? Do his two young sons from his first marriage really harbour evil intentions towards him or does his new wife, Diana (Jennifer Wright), possesses secrets of her own?

So there are plenty of questions, but as so often with Pinter the answers are less forthcoming. The final scene is extraordinary. Disson (McKern) – his eyes firmly bandaged – sits immobile in the middle of a party held in his honour. Although Disson plainly can’t see, we’re privy to his thoughts (he imagines a three way intimate exchange between his wife, brother-in-law and secretary) as he slowly regresses into a catatonic state.

All of the principals offer polished performances, with Merchant – Pinter’s first wife – especially eye-catching. Given the subject matter and the already rocky relationship she was enjoying with Pinter, it’s fascinating to ponder just what she made of the material. Tea Party is fluidly directed by Charles Jarrott and given that the cameras of this era were bulky and not terribly manoeuvrable, some of his shot choices are quite notable.

It’s a shame that the telerecording isn’t of the highest quality (a new 2K transfer was struck for this release, but given the issues with the original recording the benefit of this was probably minimal). A pity, but at least the worst of the print damage occurs early on.

The Basement (20th February 1967). 54 minutes

Harold Pinter contributed three plays to the Theatre 625 strand in 1967. For some reason the third of these plays appears on the first disc whilst the first two are featured on the second. That’s slightly odd, but since all three aren’t linked in any way it doesn’t matter which order they’re watched in.

We’re in absolutely classic Pinter territory here as Law (Derek Godfrey) discovers his cosy basement flat has been invaded by an old friend, Stott (Pinter) and Stott’s young and mainly silent girlfriend Jane (Kika Markham). Initially pleased to see Stott, Law is less enthused – at first – about Jane ….

The arrival of an outsider into a settled domestic setting is a dramatic device that Pinter would use time and again, but The Basement – the only one of his three Theatre 625 plays to be an original work – is notable since it plays with the artifice and techniques of television.

Even more so than Tea Party, the line between reality and fantasy becomes increasingly blurred as the play continues. Some scenes (such as when Law and Stott, both stripped to the waist, fight each other with broken bottles) seem obviously fantastical, but what of the others? Time certainly seems to move in a disjointed fashion (one moment it’s winter, the next summer) whilst the final scene posits the possibility that everything we’ve seen has been a fantasy.

Pinter is menacing and monosyllabic as Stott but not as monosyllabic as Markham’s Jane, who is passive throughout whilst Godfrey has most of the dialogue and seems to be the most decipherable character of the three. A tight three-hander, The Basement has aged well.

Special Feature

Writers in Conversation – Harold Pinter. A 1984 interview with Pinter, running for 47 minutes.

Disc Two

Hazel Hughes and Maurice Denham in A Slight Ache

A Slight Ache (6th February 1967). 58 minutes

Another three-handed play which also pivots on the arrival of an disruptive outsider, A Slight Ache boasts remarkable turns from both Maurice Denham and Hazel Hughes. Husband and wife – Edward and Flora – they seem reasonably content in their country cottage, but when they invite a nameless and mute matchseller (Gordon Richardson) into their home everything changes.

Denham’s fussy, pernickety Edward is slowly destroyed by the matchseller’s ominous silence whilst Flora finds that her long-dormant sexuality has been reignited by his presence. Some contemporary reviewers found this a little hard to swallow, but realism isn’t the chief component of this play. The matchseller simply serves as a catalyst for Edward and Flora to indulge in several powerful monologues.

Despite its radio origins, A Slight Ache has a much more of a theatrical feel than The Basement. Barry Newbery’s sets (especially the lush garden) are a highlight of the production.

A Night Out (13th February 1967). 60 minutes

It’s interesting to be able to compare and contrast this production of A Night Out to the 1960 Armchair Theatre presentation. Honours are pretty much even, with Tony Selby here proving to be equally effective as the repressed mummy’s boy as Tom Bell was back in 1960.

Anna Wing, as the mother in question, makes for an imposing harridan – although wisely she doesn’t overplay her domineering nature. Albert (Selby) is all she has left, but she ensures that her psychological games comprise honeyed words and pitiful entreaties rather than abuse.

Albert’s humiliation at an office party eventually leads him to a prostitute (Avril Elgar). That she, in her own way, is just as controlling as his own mother unleashes his ugly side. All the pent-up emotions he can’t express at home are unloaded on this poor unfortunate.

Well-cast throughout (John Castle and Peter Pratt catch the eye) A Night Out is the most straightforward of the three Pinter Theatre 625 productions, but is no less fascinating.

Disc Three  

Henry Woolf in Monologue

Monologue (13th April 1973). 20 minutes

We’re now in colour for the fifth play in the Pinter set. At just twenty minutes it’s one of the shortest and only features a single actor – Henry Woolf, but it still packs plenty of content into its brief running time though.  An unnamed man (Woolf) addresses an empty chair, which is standing in for his absent friend.  Or does he believe that his friend is actually sitting there? Or is his friend simply a figment of his imagination?

As so often, several readings can be made, each one equally valid.  The story which unfolds – male friendship disrupted by the arrival of a female – echoes back to the likes of The Basement and is skilfully delivered by Woolf.  One of Pinter’s oldest friends (the pair enjoyed a relationship for more than fifty years) Woolf doesn’t really put a foot wrong (he later reprised this piece at the National in 2002).

This might be a Pinter in miniature, but is certainly deserving of attention.  Something of a neglected piece (there’s no listing on IMDB for example) hopefully this DVD release will shine a little more light on it.

Old Times (22nd October 1975). 75 minutes

Old Times has a very theatrical feel.  This form of television staging would eventually fall out of fashion – for some it was simply electronic theatre (a bad thing apparently).  But it’s always been a style that I’ve enjoyed – when there’s no location filming or clever camera angles, the piece has to stand or fall on the quality of the writing and acting.  

It’s another triangle story – married couple Deeley (Barry Foster) and Kate (Anna Cropper) find their status quo disturbed by the arrival of Kate’s old schoolfriend Anna (Mary Miller).  With Kate remaining passive for most of the play she becomes an object that both Deeley and Anna seek to claim as their own.

Several theories have been propounded to explain the meaning of the play. When Anthony Hopkins tackled the role of Deeley in 1984 he asked Pinter for some pointers. The playwright’s advice? “I don’t know, just do it”.  

Anna’s presence at the start of the play (standing at the back of the living room in darkness and immobile) is a early indictor that the production isn’t striving for realism.  She shouldn’t be there – the dialogue between Deeley and Kate makes it clear she’s yet to arrive – so her presence ensures that a tone of oddness and disconnection is set.  Foster and Cropper duel very effectively (a lengthy scene where Deeley and Anna discuss the best ways to dry a dripping wet Kate is just one highlight).

Puzzling in places (has everything we’ve witnessed simply been Deeley’s imaginings?) Old Times is nevertheless so densely scripted as to make it a rewarding one to rewatch.

Landscape (4th February 1983). 45 minutes

Landscape is a two-hander shared between husband and wife Duff (Colin Blakely) and Beth (Dorothy Tutin).  Both indulge in separate monologues which never connect to the other person’s conversation.  Beth in fact never acknowledges Duff’s presence, although he does appear to know that she’s there (or at least that someone is).

The Lord Chamberlain’s office, back in 1967, found itself unimpressed with Landscape. “The nearer to Beckett, the more portentous Pinter gets. This is a long one-act play without any plot or development … a lot of useless information about the treatment of beer … And of course, there have to be the ornamental indecencies”.

A little harsh maybe. Landscape is plotless but leaves a lingering impression. The music, composed by Carl Davis and played by John Williams, helps with this.

Special Feature

Pinter’s People – four animated short films (each around five minutes) from 1969.  A pity that a fifth – Last To Go – couldn’t be included for rights reasons, but the ones we do have are interesting little curios (Richard Briers, Kathleen Harrison, Vivien Merchant and Dandy Nichols provide the voices, so there’s no shortage of talent there).

Disc Four

Derek Newark in The Hothouse

The Hothouse (27th March 1982). 112 minutes.

Watching these plays in sequence, what’s especially striking about The Hothouse is just how funny it is.  There have been moments of levity in some of the previous plays, but the farcical tone seen here is something quite different.  Originally written in the late fifties and then shelved for twenty years, The Hothouse is set in a government rest home which, it’s strongly implied, uses any methods necessary to “cure” its unfortunate patients (who we can take to be political dissidents).

Although a dark undertone is always present (indeed, the play concludes with the offscreen deaths of all but one of the senior staff) there’s also a playful use of dialogue and even the odd slapstick moment.  Derek Newark as Roote, the hopelessly out of his depth manager, steamrollers his way through scene after scene quite wonderfully.

A man constantly losing a running battle to keep his anger in check, Roote seems incapable of understanding even the simplest of things. Although he may not be quite as dense as he appears (his culpability in the death of one patient and the pregnancy of another is certainly open to interpretation).

With a strong supporting cast, The Hothouse was certainly the most surprising of the main features.

Mountain Language (11th December 1988). 21 minutes.

A one-act play which was first performed at the National Theatre in late 1988, it swiftly transferred to television just a few months later with Michael Gambon and Miranda Richardson reprising their stage roles. One of Pinter’s more political pieces, Gambon and Richardson (along with Julian Wadham and Eileen Atkins) all offer nuanced performances.

Gambdon and Wadham are soldiers, facing down a group of prisoners who include Richardson and Atkins. Language, so often key in Pinter’s works, is once again pushed to the forefront.

“Your language is forbidden. It is dead. No one is allowed to speak your language. Your language no longer exists. Any questions?”

Mountain Language is another prime example of the way Pinter could make an impact in a very short space of time.

Disc Five

Colin Blakely, Kenneth Cranham and Harold Pinter in The Birthday Party

The Birthday Party (21st June 1987). 107 minutes.

Written in 1957, when Pinter was touring in a production of Doctor In The House, The Birthday Party was Pinter’s first full length play.  Revived thirty years later for this Theatre Night production, it’s plain that time hadn’t diminished its impact.

Kenneth Cranham is mesmerising as Stanley, a man haunted by vague ghosts from his past.  Treated with stifling maternal love by his landlady Meg (Joan Plowright), the arrival of two mysterious strangers – Goldberg (Pinter) and McCann (Colin Blakely) – marks the beginning of a nightmarish twenty four hours.  Also featuring Julie Walters and Robert Lang, The Birthday Party baffled many critics back in the late fifties – the reason why Goldberg and McCann have decided to target Stanley and the others is just one puzzle – but in retrospect it’s fascinating to see how key Pinter themes, such as the reliability of memory, were already firmly in place.

Special Features

Face To Face: Harold Pinter. Sir Jeremy Isaacs is the out of vision interviewer since – as per the style of all the programmes in this series – the camera remains firmly fixed on Pinter throughout.  Some decent ground is covered across the forty minutes of this 1997 interview.

Harold Pinter: Guardian Interview. Audio only, 73 minutes. This is selectable as an additional audio track on The Birthday Party, even though it doesn’t directly refer to that play (or run for its whole length). 

It might only be January, but this looks set to be one of the archive television releases of the year. Highly recommended.

Pinter at the BBC is released by the BFI on the 28th of January 2019.  

Harold Pinter, 1997

Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror. Episode Six – Prisoners of Conciergerie

 

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The final episode of The Reign of Terror is somewhat disconnected from the rest of the serial. There’s a couple of possibilities to consider – either Dennis Spooner ran out of plot and had to bolt this epilogue on or maybe it was felt that after five episodes of capture/escape/capture there should be an ending that looked ahead to France’s future.

Lemaitre reveals that he’s the English spy, James Stirling. Or at least he says he is – it’s rather remarkable that everybody takes this statement at face value without asking for any sort of proof. After the moral complexities of the previous episode it’s a little unimpressive – what better way could there be for an agent of the Revolution to infiltrate the rebels than by claiming he’s one of them? But thankfully Stirling is who he claims to be and quickly ropes Ian and Barbara into assisting him with a dangerous mission.

This is another strange development – out of all the people that he could have been chosen, why pick Ian and Barbara? But these scenes – the pair go undercover at a tavern to spy on a meeting between Paul Barrass and Napoleon Bonaparte – do help to give the story a wider scope (even if they’re historically very dubious). Still, we get to see Barbara as a serving wench, so it’s not all bad.

Robespierre’s final appearance is brief. He’s shot in the jaw (off-screen) and later finds himself incarcerated at the Conciergerie, where the jailer gleefully receives him. The turncoat nature of the jailer – he’s now happy to share in the derision heaped on Robespierre, whereas an hour earlier he had been his most loyal servant – stands in sharp contrast to the unswerving viewpoints held by the likes of Jules and Leon.

Even if this episode closes the story with something of a whimper rather than a bang, the final scene, set in the TARDIS, is interesting as it offers another restatement of the belief that Earth’s history is unalterable.

IAN: Supposing we had written Napoleon a letter, telling him, you know, some of the things that were going to happen to him.
SUSAN: It wouldn’t have made any difference, Ian. He’d have forgotten it, or lost it, or thought it was written by a maniac.
BARBARA: I suppose if we’d tried to kill him with a gun, the bullet would have missed him.
DOCTOR: Well, it’s hardly fair to speculate, is it? No, I’m afraid you belittle things. Our lives are important, at least to us. But as we see, so we learn.

It’s easy to believe that this scene was the handiwork of David Whitaker, as Dennis Spooner would soon gleefully prove that history could very easily be changed. In retrospect it’s clear to see why this was untenable – the concept that history (or at least, Earth history) was fixed whilst the future (or at least, the future as seen from a 1960’s Earth perspective) could be altered at will was a rather bizarre one.

Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror. Episode Four – The Tyrant of France

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In 1990 I acquired pirate copies of the four existing episodes of The Reign of Terror on VHS and happily watched them for many years. Back then I didn’t have a great deal of interest in the  audios of the missing episodes. This was understandable in one way as I was keener to track down copies of all the episodes that did still exist (meaning that the audios were a much lower priority).

It wasn’t until the remastered soundtracks started to appear on CD that I began to plug the gaps (later on these missing episodes would be enhanced by various recons – both official and unofficial). With some stories, like The Invasion, I never felt that I’d missed too much by not having audios of the missing episodes back in the 1990’s, but it wasn’t until I had the chance to listen to the audios of episodes four and five of The Reign of Terror that I finally realised what I’d been missing all those years.

These two episodes contain the dramatic heart of the story. The first three episodes contain a great deal of interest, but in many ways they’re simply designed to get us to this point (episode six is a coda which has very little connection to the rest of the story).

The Doctor’s meeting with Robespierre (Keith Anderson) is a fascinating one. Robespierre isn’t presented as a cackling villain, but rather as a weary administrator who – whilst authorising carnage on a grand scale – is convinced that he’s doing it for the greater good. This is a much more interesting portrait than had he simply been shown as a stock, “evil”, character. Beware the man who knows he’s right.

ROBESPIERRE: I could, and I shall, do great things for France. For too long the Nobility have kept our people to heel. And now finally, my world is at power, what happens? My colleagues, my trusted friends, plot for power.
THE DOCTOR: Do they? Or is it just their wish to keep their heads, hmm?
ROBESPIERRE: Danton planned to restore the monarchy. I had the proof, I knew! I had to dispose of him. And the Girondins. Even now, convention members are at work, plotting my downfall. But I will triumph, even if I have to execute every last one of them! Death, always death. Do you think I want this carnage? Three hundred and forty two executions in nine days in Paris alone. What a memory I shall leave behind if this thing lasts.

Elsewhere, the spark that seems to exist between Barbara and Leon deepens a little (this pays off in spectacular fashion next time) and Ian finds himself reunited with Barbara and Susan, although in the capture/escape/capture nature of this serial it’s not for long as the girls once again find themselves back in the prison (and once again under the unforgiving eye of the jailer). Ian continues his hunt for the English spy called James Webster whilst Lemaitre has definite proof that the Doctor is an impostor. But still he doesn’t act on this information.

There’s at least three different ways to enjoy episodes four and five – the audios, the DVD animations or the Loose Cannon recons. I tend to favour the Loose Cannon recons, as the animations are rather too hyperactive for my tastes. It seems that the animation company, Planet 55, learnt a great deal from this commission as their later efforts (The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase) were much, much better.

Play For Today – The Imitation Game. Simply Media DVD Review

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The year is 1940. Having previously worked at a wireless listening station dealing with coded Enigma transmissions, Cathy Raine (Harriet Walter) arrives at Bletchley Park – the home of the Enigma machine and the nerve centre of Britain’s code-breaking efforts.

Disappointingly, she finds her duties are very mundane – making coffee and cleaning – but there are compensations. She becomes friendly with a Cambridge mathematics don called John Turner (Nicholas Le Prevost) and the pair go to bed.  But their love-making ends badly with Turner blaming Cathy for the debacle.  Shortly afterwards, Cathy is discovered in Turner’s room reading top secret documents and this act leads to her imprisonment ….

Originally broadcast on the 24th of April 1980, there’s a very modern feel to this Play for Today. Cathy is determined to break free from her stifling home life and domineering father (Bernard Gallagher).  Most girls have “done their bit” by going to work in the local munitions factory, but Cathy has set her sights a little higher and so joins the ATS.

During her initial training she befriends Mary (Brenda Blethyn – making her television debut) and the pair become close.  That they and the other ATS girls are encroaching into male territory is demonstrated after the pair dare to pop down to the local pub by themselves for a drink. This invasion of a male dominated province doesn’t go down well and the landlord’s attempt to move them on ends in an ugly scuffle.  Following a severe reprimand she’s moved to Bletchley Park – an ignominious reason for her transfer.

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If Cathy was – apart from Mary – isolated before, then this feeling only increases when she takes up her duties at Bletchley.  So it’s possibly not surprising that she responds so eagerly to the handful of kind words flung her way by Turner.  Based loosely on Alan Turning, Turner is unable to perform when the pair go to bed and he quickly decides that she’s the guilty party.  “You wanted to humiliate me and you’ve succeeded. You hated your own job and you’re jealous of me for mine”.

Ian McEwan had originally wanted to write a play about Alan Turing and the Enigma machine but found information on both was rather scarce, so instead he turned his attention to life at Bletchley Park. Despite the fact that women formed around 75% of the workforce, he learnt that they were very underrepresented in key positions (although research undertaken during the last few decades has somewhat revised this viewpoint).

Cathy’s downfall begins at the listening station after she becomes frustrated that she doesn’t understand why the coded messages she’s working on are important. “All of the women know nothing, some of the men know everything”.  Although it’s easy in one way to understand her point of view, does she “need to know” in order to do her job? She doesn’t, but it’s her desire to see the bigger picture which eventually leads her to Turner’s Enigma notes.

The Imitation Game was only Harriet Walter’s second television credit, but she belied this lack of screen experience with a beautifully judged performance (Cathy’s closing monologue is a particular highlight).  A fair few familiar faces make appearances, some more fleeting than others. Patricia Routledge is perfectly cast as a hearty ATS officer whilst Geoffrey Chater, always at home when tackling authority figures, plays to type as the interrogating Colonel.

Bernard Gallagher is terrifically unbending as a martinet father who clearly wouldn’t be averse to a German invasion (at one point Cathy ironically suggests he should put on his black shirt). Simon Chandler is also very good value as the supremely irritating Tony, Cathy’s long-term boyfriend, who’s more than a little put out to learn that she’s decided to join the army (regarding the ATS as something of a den of iniquity).

Running for 92 minutes, The Imitation Game was one of a number of interesting Play For Today‘s directed by Richard Eyre during the late seventies and early eighties (hopefully over time they might all make it onto DVD). Thanks to Harriet Walter’s vulnerable but steely performance as Cathy (along with the strong supporting cast) this is an absorbing play.

The Imitation Game is released by Simply Media on the 1st of October 2018, RRP £9.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here.