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 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 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 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 Twelve

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 9th February 1979

SAG continues to demonstrate (with placards bearing the catchy slogan “Uniform’s a drag – go with SAG”).

The noise irritates the mild-mannered Mr Sutcliffe, but Mr Llewellyn seems quite unconcerned, regarding it as “one of the problems of living with democracy, having to tolerate elements you don’t agree with.”  He asks for a delegation to air their grievances – which is led, of course, by the young militant Jessica Samuels.  We know by now exactly what Jess will say (and the Headmaster knows as well, hence his slightly mocking tone).

He makes the point that he’s not prepared to do anything until it can be proved that the majority of pupils are in favour of abolishing uniform – a concept which SAG never seem to have contemplated.  He offers to raise it at the next staff/pupil council meeting – where the proposal to abolish uniform is defeated by nine votes to two.  Coincidentally, Penny Lewis is gathering support for a referendum to accurately gauge everybody’s opinions (which would seem to be the obvious way to prove, once and for all, what the majority of pupils actually want). It’s therefore odd that neither SAG or Mr Llewellyn ever seem to consider the possibility of a referendum themselves.

Naturally, Jess and the others don’t take this latest setback at all well and decide to organise a sit-in, barricading themselves into the secretary’s office.  Maximum embarrassment is created for Mr Llewellyn when Jess calls the local paper – but he’s able to diffuse the situation by telling the reporter that it’s hardly a full-scale riot – just a handful of individuals.  When the SAG members sees the reporter has left without speaking to them, this is the final straw and they begin to wreck the office (much to the dismay of Trisha and Cathy).

After the heavy artillery (Mr Baxter) is brought in to restore order, the SAG leaders are expelled whilst Trisha and Cathy are suspended for seven days.  It brings to an end one of the most confrontational plot-threads that the series would ever attempt.  Off hand, it’s difficult to recall any other teacher/pupil conflicts on such a scale as this. Although Grange Hill would deal with many contentious issues in the decades to come, this sort of open disobedience would rarely be seen again.

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Thirteen

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 13th February 1979

It’s the day of the school play, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Joseph (Andrew Stanton) is feeling the pressure.  But is he really sick or is it just nerves?  But even though Andrew seems a little listless, others continue to put maximum effort into ensuring that everything goes right on the right.

None more so than Tucker, whose artistic side is displayed after he customises a bike to serve as Joseph’s chariot.  But his well-intentioned efforts to ensure that everything is perfect means that he decides to skip Mr Keating’s maths class to finish off working on the bike – which naturally doesn’t go down very well with the intimidating teacher.

This is the first real chance we’ve had to see Mr Keating at work.  Robert Hartley is spot on at portraying the type of teacher that every school seemed to have – you just know there would never be any disruption in his class as he’d have no qualms in issuing detentions to any miscreants.  He does so to Tucker when he tracks him down and after the boy complains that this means he’ll miss his tea, Mr Keating remorselessly tells him that he’ll just have to miss his tea!

Aside from enjoying a lengthy acting career, from the early 1950’s to the early 1990’s, he also spent the latter part of his career, during the 1980’s and 1990’s, composing music for various television series (including all fourteen episodes of the Keith Barron vehicle Haggard).

If Andrew’s complaints of feeling sick and his flat-as-a-pancake singing in the final rehearsals aren’t enough to drive Mr Sutcliffe to despair, then there’s worse to come.  Jackie Heron and her friends, having been irritated at being put into detention by Miss Summers, decide to wreck the props and costumes for the play.  Tucker’s chariot is damaged and paint is thrown over the coat of many colours as well as the scenery.

It’s Tucker who discovers the devastation, closely followed by Mr Sutcliffe who instantly decides that Tucker must have been responsible.  Thankfully, Miss Summers also turns up and is able to convince Mr Sutcliffe that there’s no way that Tucker would have done this – he certainly wouldn’t have damaged his own bike, not after all the hard work he put into it.

James Wynn has some good comedy moments in this scene. They work especially well since Mr Sutcliffe is usually a rather laid-back person – but with everything collapsing in disaster around him, the increasing irritation he feels (only compounded when he sits down on Tucker’s chips!) rings the changes somewhat.

As might be expected, it all works out fine in the end – Tucker repairs the bike and he manages to find a replacement coat.  Although it comes as a surprise to his mother when she realises that Tucker’s taken one of her coats without asking.  But as so often with Peter Jenkins, she regards him more with indulgence than irritation.

Grange Hill. Series Two – Episode Fourteen

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 16th February 1979

Following SAG’s recent disruptions of school-life, Mr Llewellyn has instigated various procedures which he hopes will tighten up the pupils behaviour.  These include a zero-tolerance policy on late arrivals – which means that Mr Baxter is present at the front gate, making a gleeful note of every latecomer!

This is bad news for Tucker, who turns up some twenty-five minutes late.  Partly this is because he’s missed the bus, but it’s also because he was waylaid by three Brookdale boys on the way to school.  The running battles between the Grange Hill pupils and the Brookies would be a recurring theme during the next few years and even when the schools were merged in series eight the arguments and fights would rumble on for a time.

Tucker, Benny, Alan and Hughes are at their most boisterous in this episode.  A spot of fighting during lunch time is spotted by a teacher who decides they can drop a letter off at the secretary’s office since they’ve clearly not got anything better to do.  Tucker decides that if they do they won’t have time to go to the chippy, so Benny pops the letter into his blazer pocket to deliver later (the fact they don’t deliver the letter straight away seems set up to be important, but it later turns out to have no bearing on the plot).

They’re just as uncontrollable when they get to the chippy.  Tucker declares that he won’t have the chop-suey as he’s convinced that cats and dogs are put into it.  Instead, he decides he’ll have something that you can be sure is fine – a sausage (even though Hughes tells him that it’s made up of sawdust!).  Tucker’s slitty-eyed impersonation of the Chinese owner of the shop (highly politically incorrect of course) proves to be the final straw and all of them are forced to leg it.

More battles with the Brookies on the way back to school result in them taking Benny’s blazer.  This means that Tucker, Alan and Benny have to infiltrate the enemy territory of Brookdale in order to retrieve it.  As they pace the unfamiliar school corridors, there’s a rare use of incidental music to heighten the tension.  Since music wasn’t something the series used at this time it’s a little jarring to hear it in these scenes – but it does help to enhance this largely dialogue free section of the episode.

This episode is rather a throwback to the rough-and-tumble Tucker of series one, but since there hasn’t been a decent Tucker-centric episode for a while it’s a welcome one.