Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Eleven

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 6th February 1979

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Ten

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 2nd February 1979

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Nine

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 30th January 1979

Almost as quickly as Cathy’s father turns up, he leaves again. As a character he’s not remotely important (we only hear him utter a handful of words) and he simply serves as a trigger to push Cathy into a series of delinquent misadventures.

The first sign of the trouble to come is when Cathy and Trisha fall out. And the even worse news is that Cathy finds a new friend straight away in Madelin Tanner. It’s pretty clear from the start that Madelin’s a bad lot – she encourages Cathy to bunk off from sports in order to go for a smoke in a secluded part of the school. There they meet Jackie Heron and her friend, but it isn’t long before their peace is shattered by the arrival of Mr Garfield.

Although they make a run for it, Mr Garfield and his colleague manage to run them down. I love the way Mr Garfield’s colleague brandishes a broom in their general direction – almost like he’s herding sheep!

This is only the start of Cathy’s naughty behaviour though and the bad feeling between Trisha and Cathy finally comes to a head during their art class. A brief fight between the pair of them breaks out and when Miss Summers intervenes, she accidentally strikes Cathy. Madelin is quick to insist that she hit Cathy deliberately and Cathy goes along with her.

The meeting in Mr Llewellyn’s office, with Cathy, Madelin and Miss Summers is rather instructive. Mr Llewellyn displays the same rather inflexible nature that’s already caused a certain amount of friction amongst the staff.  Refusing to discuss the matter with her in private leaves Miss Summers no alternative but to hand in her resignation.

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Eight

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Written by Alan Janes. Tx 26th January 1979

This episode sees Cathy Hargreaves move centre-stage for the first time. Up until now we’ve learnt very little about her, apart from the fact that her father died when she was a baby.

The news that a man has been spotted following several Brookdale girls sparks concern and the school is visited by a policeman who is keen to stress some basic safety tips. The reaction of the pupils to this news (they’re very unruly and Mr Llewellyn struggles to quell them) is quite interesting. It’s the first time we’ve really seen the kids behave badly en-masse – and with the SAG protests about school uniform still bubbling away it’s a taste of things to come.

Trisha and Cathy are busy collecting signatures for the petition to abolish school uniform. Trisha’s sister Carol refuses to sign, telling her younger sister (probably quite rightly) that “you’d be out here, whatever the issue. You just like stirring it.”

Later, the two girls are sent to post a parcel and after Trisha leaves to go home, Cathy is followed by a man (who was also seen hanging around the school at the start of the episode). There’s an obvious inference, but the reality is somewhat different – the man is Cathy’s father. It takes a while before this is revealed though, so the sequence of Cathy’s growing realisation that somebody’s following her is rather disturbing.

The obvious fall-out when Cathy realises that her dead father isn’t dead after all will be seen in the upcoming episodes – as Trisha and Cathy fall out and Cathy hooks up with a nasty piece of work called Madelin Tanner (Lesley Woods).

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Seven

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 23rd January 1979

The next day, Benny continues to fret about Simon’s safety. Tucker’s not concerned though – they went back into the school and he wasn’t there, so he must have got out alright. Tucker being Tucker, of course, can’t help himself by telling the concerned Benny that if they did discover a charred corpse they’d be able to identify it from the dental records!

It turns out that Simon’s fine, although the fire damage is quite costly and money has to be taken from the funds raised by the recent jumble sale.

His inability to read is eventually revealed when he confesses this fact to Trisha. As previously mentioned, it does stretch credibility to breaking point that he’s survived so far into the first year without his problem being recognised.  We saw in the previous episode how he was able to get out of reading by feigning sickness – are we supposed to think that he’s been doing the same thing all the year?! Trisha, of course, loves a lame duck and takes it upon herself to teach him (telling the boy he needs to address her as Miss Yates and give her an apple!)

Simon tells her why he’s kept his problems with reading a secret – he doesn’t want to have to leave Grange Hill and be placed in a “special school”. Dyslexia really became a recognised condition in the 1980’s – prior to that, as Simon says, people who couldn’t read were usually labelled “thick or stupid.” It’s another early example of the series’ public-service ethos – undoubtedly some of the audience would have identified with Simon’s problems and Mr Sutcliffe’s sympathetic reaction would have helped to reassure them.

Having said that, it’s slightly concerning that Simon will, after all, have to transfer elsewhere – with all the stigma that attending a special school entails. This may have been seen as quite reasonable back in the late 1970’s, but it does strike a slightly discordant note today.

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Six

 

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 19th January 1979

Simon’s rather upset to be dropped from the school football team by Mr Baxter. He’s not able to give a reason why he missed a recent practice session – there was a notice put up, said Baxter, couldn’t he read? As Simon reacts angrily to this (plus the other hints we’ve had in earlier episodes) we can surmise this is uncomfortably close to the truth.

Tucker decides to cheer him up by initiating him into his gang, the Tremblers (this is obviously something that Tucker’s created on the spur of the moment). In order to become a member, Tucker tells him he has to climb up to the top of the school tower. Simon says he”ll do it, provided he sees the others do it first. All goes well until Mr Garfield discovers them and, not realising that Benny had already reached the top of the tower, locks him in.

Mr Garfield (Graham Ashley) was the first in Grange Hill’s long line of put-upon caretakers, and many of them followed the Garfield archetype (bad-tempered and irritable). Sadly, Ashley died in 1979 at the age of only 52 – with his final appearances as Mr Garfield airing the year after his death, in 1980. He had a very solid acting career with plenty of guest-spots in popular series (such as Porridge, Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Colditz and The Avengers) and was a regular in Dixon of Dock Green, although most of his episodes were wiped. Another notable credit was as Gold Five in the first Star Wars movie.

More excuses from Simon in Mr Sutcliffe’s English class – he says he can’t read as he feels sick. This break from lessons allows Simon to release Benny from the tower, but he pretends to Tucker that he couldn’t – ensuring that the others decide to return to the school in the evening to free him.

Simon’s practical joke (involving a skeleton and a candelabra!) backfires spectacularly when it accidentally causes a fire. The “flipping ‘ecks” are liberally sprinkled about as Tucker, Alan and Benny “leg it” but they don’t realise that Simon hasn’t followed them. He’s tripped over a cable and knocked himself out – leaving us on a decent cliff-hanger as the other three worry that he might be in some danger.

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Five

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 16th January 1979

The staff/pupil council was a popular theme during the early series of Grange Hill, but after series five it rarely surfaced again. This is a little surprising, since it offered a rare opportunity for all members of the school community to have a say (even if, of course, the teachers tended to win the day most of the time – much to the pupil’s chagrin).

The thorny topic of school uniform, a running thread through series two, is brought up here. There are some, such as third-former Jess (Sara Sugarman), who are strongly opposed to uniforms – later in the episode she mutters that they might as well just brand them all and be done with it. Sugarman’s performance is so deadly earnest that it does raise a smile – for some reason the issue of school uniform seems to obsess her intensely.

Penny Lewis, as the new first year rep, has less contentious topics on her mind. She wants the school to create a bookshop, whilst the other first years want a tuck shop instead. Poor Penny – when she asks for a show of hands to support her proposal for a bookshop, none are raised, but everybody supports the idea of a tuckshop.

Her mother later suggests an obvious solution – why not have a combined tuck and bookshop. And it’s instructive to hear her pass off the idea next day in school as her own! She’s a sneaky one, is that Penny Lewis.

The school council meeting also gives us a chance to see Michael Doyle’s father, the very important (at least in his own mind) Councillor Doyle. Like his son, he’s not the nicest of chaps – Doyle Snr is pompous and officious and seems keen to block any suggestions made by the pupils. His character is in sharp contrast to Mr Llewellyn, who is prepared to listen to suggestions (and is much more approachable than his successor, Mrs McClusky would ever be).

Elsewhere, this is one of the first episodes where the trio of Tucker, Benny and Alan is clearly established. Alan was a very peripheral character in the first series, but we’ll see him become a much more central figure over the next few years. And by the time of series four he’s supplanted Benny as Tucker’s best friend (especially when Benny fades away from view in the second half of the series).

In this episode they get into trouble for taking to the school jumble sale a chaise-long they thought was left for the binman. The owner of the antique shop (or junk shop, as Tucker more accurately called it) wasn’t best pleased – but it seems that an honest mistake was made, so once the boys lug it back to the shop all was forgiven.

It’s an eye-opener to hear that the clothes sold at the jumble sale were going for five pence each. I know this was 1979, but that seems like a bargain even then! It’s even more impressive when it’s revealed that the jumble sale made £435.00. How many items at five pence a time must they have sold to make that amount of money?!

Another lovely Tucker moment occurs when he shamefacedly realises he’s sold Mrs Bennett’s rather expensive coat for five pence! Although he did honestly think it was part of the jumble, so we can’t blame him for that.