Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Eighteen

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 27th February 1981

Claire challenges Duane to a bike race, although it’s quite noticeable she starts before he’s ready!  Despite this, he manages to catch up and they finish in pretty much a dead heat.  But Pogo infuriates her when he tells her that Duane won – he wasn’t watching, but he knows he did because boys are better than girls.

This is just one of a number of incidents which convinces Mr Sutcliffe that the annual end-of-term pupils versus teachers contest would be more interesting if it was organised across male/female lines.  This doesn’t go down well with Mrs McClusky, who tells him they should be discouraging sexual inequality not breeding it.  For once though she doesn’t get her own way as Mr Sutcliffe easily bests her in the argument.  So we can score one to the male sex!

In some ways this episode marks the end of an era.  There would be a Christmas Special later in the year with the class of 1978, but they would feature very intermittently during series five (there’s only a single series five episode where Tucker and co are anything but peripheral characters).

Back for only the second time during series four is Benny.  He doesn’t do much, although he does have an interesting line in politically incorrect jokes.  “What’s the quickest way to get out blackheads? Smash a window in Bradford.”

The males versus females contest is divided into three parts – a quiz, a sporting event and a practical one.  I love the way that Matthew has to whisper the answer to a tough maths question to the teacher!  Thanks to that spot of cheating, the boys win the quiz round.

The girls win the netball match, much to the dismay of Mr Baxter, which leaves the practical contest.  The boys are baking a cake and the girls are making a trowel.  Both of their efforts are disastrous, but they each have a perfect cake/trowel ready – which they swop when Mr Sutcliffe/Miss Mooney aren’t looking.  The reactions of the two teachers at the unveiling (“That isn’t our cake. That isn’t our trowel”) is lovely and there’s a nice sense of irony that the boys and girls really are equal (since both equally cheated!)

With the practical contest a draw, that means also that the whole contrast was a draw as well.  This was clearly the only way that things could have ended, otherwise there would have been ructions!  It’s an amusing way to end a consistently strong run of episodes.  When Grange Hill returned for its fifth series, it would have a new producer, a new intake of first-years and a slighter tougher feel as Gripper begins to take control.

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Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Seventeen

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Written by Alan Janes. Tx 24th February 1981

This episode is the first time that Gripper moves centre-stage and it gives us a taste of what to expect from him in the years to come.

Pogo’s latest money-making wheeze is a homework service (for which he naturally makes a handy profit).  He shares the work with Duane and also tries to rope in Matthew Cartwright (Nicholas Pandolfi) to help.  Matthew’s having none of it though and I do get the feeling this is because he senses Pogo’s scheme is doomed to failure.  There’s something so incredibly earnest about Pandolfi’s performance which makes it rather entertaining – never a central character, he’ll nevertheless pop up regularly during series five.

Gripper’s keen to avail himself of Pogo’s service and it’ll come as no surprise to learn that he doesn’t expect to pay.  Pogo weighs up the pros and cons of doing Gripper’s homework for free, worrying that if he does then he’ll have to do it for the next five years!  In the end he decides to do it all wrong and adds some ink-blots and scribbling out for extra effect.  You have to wonder if Pogo has a death-wish as it’s obvious what’s going to happen – but although he begins to have second thoughts there’s no time to change it.

Miss Mooney, always one of Grange Hill’s most mild-mannered teachers, is appalled at Gripper’s homework and tells the uncomprehending boy that he’s in a lot of trouble.  After the bell goes we see Pogo hot foot it out of the classroom and although he’s built very much more for comfort than speed, he does manage to cover the ground at an impressive rate.

But Gripper does catch up with him eventually and the pair manage to wreck the common room, breaking several windows before Mr Hopwood separates them.  It’s no surprise that Mrs McClusky is appalled, since she’s been waging a campaign on vandalism and hooliganism all term and this action simply strengthens her resolve to reintroduce school uniform.

It’s interesting that it was made optional back in series two following a school referendum.  The autocratic Mrs McClusky never seems to consider that the pupil’s opinions are important – the governors agree that reintroduction would be a good idea and the PTA are also in favour, so that means that school uniform is back.

Trisha pops up at the end to harangue Pogo.  If he hadn’t had the fight with Gripper then Mrs McClusky wouldn’t have had the pretext to push her proposal past the PTA.  Although as uniform remains optional for the fourth, fifth and sixth years (and Trisha’s coming to the end of the third year) it’s difficult to see exactly why she should be so upset.  Unless she just enjoys a good moan!

But it’s Gripper’s actions that linger.  Although he’s suspended until the end of term, it’s clear that he’ll be back and there’s never a moment in this episode when he exhibits even the slightest tinge of remorse.  And by the time we move to series five (and he’s entered the third year) he’ll be much, much worse …..

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Sixteen

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 20th February 1981

The subject of options is discussed for the first time. There are some (such as Tucker) who complain that they’ll still have to do subjects they dislike, like English and Maths whilst others (Pamela, for instance) have everything mapped out as they’ve already planned their route to University.  We also hear that some pupils consider all options to be a waste of time as they’ll be no jobs for them when they do leave school.

This will be a regular theme that occurs every few years, as options are discussed with each new class in turn, and many of the points that are raised here will occur again and again – although that doesn’t make them any less valid.

An interesting moment occurs when Trisha learns she’s not able to do technical drawing, mainly it’s classed as a boy’s subject.  It hardly needs to be said that if you ever tell Trisha she can’t do something it only makes her more determined to do it anyway.

She has a meeting with Mrs McClusky who tells her that there’s only a limited number of spaces available for technical drawing and it’s already oversubscribed.  She then informs Trisha it’s more likely that a woman will give up her career to bring up a family.  It’s hard to imagine this is a view that Phil Redmond would have endorsed, but it probably would be an accurate picture of the education system at that time – as females could often be classed as subordinate to males.

Although Trisha’s not best pleased, it’s possible to understand Mrs McClusky’s point of view.  The school only has limited resources and whatever way they choose to use them somebody is bound to lose out.

But another of Mrs McClusky’s decisions has drawn more general disfavour – her decision to expel Cathy, Gerry and Ruth.  All three are shocked by this and it does seem a very harsh punishment for skipping class on one afternoon.  It is interesting though that Mrs McClusky tells them that her decision could be overturned if they appeal to the school governors.  I can’t think of many occasions in the future where Mrs McClusky finds herself answerable to others (except when she’s relegated to deputy head in a few years time).

But as it turns out, Cathy’s mother is able to persuade her that it would be better to cane the girl than expel her.  It’s something that Mrs McClusky is reluctant to do, but Mr Keating is more in favour since he considers it will serve to discourage others from breaking the rules.

And poor Tucker’s hopes of a date with Pamela seem to be dashed forever when he overhears her telling Susi that she’d rather go out with Penny Lewis’ pony!

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Fifteen

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Written by Alan Janes. Tx 17th February 1981

If there’s a theme to this episode it’s how existing friendships are put under strain as new relationships develop.  Alan and Susi are now very much an item – which is an irritation for Tucker who finds himself rather isolated.  It also annoys Alan who becomes tired that Tucker’s hanging around when he wants to spend time with Susi.

Alan and Susi head off for the lunchtime judo club and are surprised to see two new recruits – Tucker and Doyle.  Doyle’s made an appearance to save himself from a detention whilst Tucker, of course, is only there because Alan is.

Both Tucker and Doyle are teamed up with experienced hands – Alan partners Doyle whilst Susi takes on Tucker.  Both the newcomers are blithely confident – with Tucker stating out loud that it doesn’t seem a fair contest.  Susi agrees, telling him that she’ll go easy!

As might be expected, both Tucker and Doyle find themselves on the floor several times (“come here often?” asks Tucker as the pair are thrown down yet again).  But whilst Tucker isn’t perturbed about being bested by Susi (instead he’s interested in more lessons) Doyle is very keen to exact revenge on Alan.

A scuffle outside finds Doyle and Robbo in possession of Alan’s judo kit, which they sell for a small profit to Junky Meade.  It does somewhat stretch credibility that not only does Alan not realise he’s lost it but that Tucker (completely innocently) later buys it.  Still it does give them a chance to partner up again as they exact their revenge on Doyle.

Another friendship that’s drifting apart is Trisha and Cathy’s.  Trisha remains an active campaigner for better conditions in the school – with her latest mission being to persuade Mr Thompson that if the pupils take food into the common rooms they won’t leave any mess for him to clean up.  Unexpectedly he completely wrongfoots her by being very agreeable to the idea – telling her that since she politely asked his opinion he has no qualms (and that he enjoys a nice sandwich himself!).  It’s a rare moment for Timothy Bateson to show a more human side to Mr Thompson.

As for Cathy, she’s still heavily involved in the pop group – along with Gerry, Ruth and the others.  She’s got them a paying gig, but they’ll need to bunk off school in order to get there in time.  Cathy hits on the bright idea of telling Miss Peterson that her grandmother’s died, which is fine until the teacher talks to Cathy’s brother Gary.  When he tells her that their grandmother died six years ago you know that Cathy is in a heap of trouble.

Rewatching series four, it’s quite noticeable that not many episodes have a film/studio mix – instead there’s a number of all-film episodes (as with episode fourteen) and the rest are studio based (like this one).  It’s quite an interesting production choice which doesn’t occur very often in the future (except for those episodes away from the school which were all location based anyway).

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Fourteen

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Written by Alan Janes. Tx 13th February 1981

Whilst most of this episode has a light-hearted feel, at the end there’s a much darker and disturbing tone.

The bulk of the running time is concerned with Alan and Susi’s relationship.  Or lack of it.  Tucker’s seized with a burning desire to find out if they really are a couple, so he has one of his brainwaves.  He writes a letter to Susi and signs it from Alan, suggesting a date.  He tells Alan that he and Tommy will meet up with him later at the same place.  Tommy and Tucker then stake-out the meeting place, waiting to see if Susi will make the rendezvous with the oblivious Alan.

The letter from “Alan” is certainly very florid, much to the amusement of Pamela.  “Every-time I see you my heart throbs.”  But Pamela also admits she’s a little jealous, as she’s never been asked out – and wonders if it has anything to do with the fact she spends so much time around horses.  If only she knew that Tucker’s aching to arrange a date with her – although it’s possible she may react with horror to that news!

In the end, Susi didn’t go because her mother found the letter and forbade her.  Maggie Riley (as Mrs McMahon) was one of Grange Hill‘s most formidable and snobbish mothers and her later run-in with Tony Barton (playing Mr Humphries) is a sheer joy.  Mrs McMahon is completely bested by Mr Humphries in a short, but sweet, scene.

Another running thread through the episode is the difficulty the pupils find in catching a bus home.  The lack of buses leads indirectly to a running battle between Tucker and co and some Brookdale kids.  Also making an appearance during this scene is Graham Cole (later to play Tony Stamp in The Bill).  Back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s he was making a living as an extra/walk-on (he pops up many times in Doctor Who during this period).

If most of the episode has a comic feel then the emphasis shifts dramatically at the end.  The problem with the buses causes two younger pupils, William (Stephen Cobbett) and Benny’s brother Michael (Mark Bishop) to walk home across the common.  They’ve been warned not to do this, and the reason becomes plain when William is attacked by a strange man (played by Jay Neill).

Although Grange Hill was a children’s series and couldn’t be particularly explicit, it’s still a powerful moment.  The man asks both the children to help him search for his lost dog, but this is just a ruse to isolate them.  As the two boys move apart he drags William into the bushes and a brief struggle ensues.  Luckily Tucker was passing by and William didn’t suffer anything worse than a few cuts and bruises.  This is another memorable, almost PIF (public information film) like moment, as it graphically demonstrates why children should never talk to strangers.

And it’s all the more effective because it happens so unexpectedly.  Another all-film episode, this one is efficiently directed by Colin Cant.

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Thirteen

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 10th February 1981

After being a regular character during series two and three, Mark Edie (who played Andrew Stanton) had a much lower profile during series four with only a handful of appearances.  This might have been his own choice, since for some actors real-life pressures like exams have to take precedence.  But whilst his series four episodes are limited he’s given a central role in this one.

It also neatly links back to events witnessed earlie on the run, when we saw that Andrew’s sister Karen was visibly upset.  The relationship between Andrew and Karen’s parents had been established as a rocky one right from the time Andrew was introduced – and now it’s finally imploded.  His father has left home, taking Karen with him and it’s Mrs Stanton’s inability to tell her son the truth which pushes him over the edge.

Failed marriages are now such a staple of television drama that they tend to be accepted as the norm, but that wouldn’t have quite been the case back in 1980.  Although we don’t often see both parents of many of the pupils (there is, presumably, a Mr Jenkins and a Mrs Humphries but they remain firmly off-screen) it can be assumed that pretty much all the children live in two-parent families. A one-parent family is therefore unusual (although as the series progresses through the eighties and nineties they’ll become much more common).

Andrew’s choice of oblivion is alcohol – which hasn’t really been touched upon in the series.  It’s a shame that he wasn’t a regular during this year as developing his addiction to alcohol over the course of a number of episodes would have been very effective.  As it is, he suddenly becomes a drinker and then just as suddenly stops.

His inebriated state is a problem for Tucker, Alan, Tommy and Justin.  Tommy’s happy to leave him, but Tucker knows the trouble Andrew would be in if he was found, so decides they have to help.  There then follows a series of frantic scenes as the four of them attempt to hide Andrew’s unconscious body in various parts of the school – resorting to such wheezes as placing him on a trolley and wheeling him around!

Eventually Mrs McClusky apprehends Tucker, but when she learns of the reason why they’ve all been skipping classes she’s inclined to be lenient (a rare example of compassion from her).

Two other points of interest.  Firstly, Alan pops along to the smokers room (a store-cupboard) and seems on the point of accepting a cigarette.  So much for his claim that he’d never smoke again in the previous episode.  And Tucker’s growing interest in Pamela Cartwright runs through the episode, but the normally confident Tucker is completely tongue-tied when it comes to asking her out!

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Twelve

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Written by Alan Janes. Tx 6th February 1981

This is a classic Tucker episode.  Tommy is upset that he’s missed his chance to go with the others on the school trip to France, but Tucker has a brainwave – why doesn’t he stowaway?!

Tommy’s slightly apprehensive but Tucker is blithely confident.  When he’s asked about passports he tells Tommy that since they joined the Common Market they’ve done away with them.  It doesn’t take a mind-reader to work out that Tucker, Alan and Tommy are heading for trouble – and this is all established in the opening minutes.

Mr Baxter and Miss Lexington have the unenviable task of keeping order.  This ramps up the comedy a little more, since Michael Cronin is, as always, excellent as the deadpan authoritarian whilst Allyson Rees provides a strong counterpoint as a more relaxed and easy-going character (Grange Hill’s version of the bad cop/good cop).

The middle part of the episode takes place on the cross-channel ferry and is memorable for two reasons.  The first is Trisha and Cathy’s encounter with two French boys.  The girls don’t appear to know any French (which is odd, since you’d assume a trip to France would have been part of their French education) and the boys don’t know any English – making communication rather difficult.

However, one boy takes a shine to Trisha and attempts to demonstrate his affections in a language that’s universal.  Trisha is having none of it though.  “Here, leave off.  Bit handy int they?”  A notable thing about these scenes is that Lyndy Brill is looking very tanned.  Maybe she’d just come back from a long holiday (unless she was an early adopter of fake tanning).

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Secondly, it sees Alan finally decide to kick his smoking habit, after a discussion with the coach driver Mr Ellis (Eric Mason) in the ferry lounge.  He gives the boy several reasons why smoking isn’t a good idea.  “One, it takes your money and two, it gives you lung cancer.”  Shortly afterwards we see Alan leaning over the side of the ferry, being sick.  Was this a mixture of his alcohol and cigarettes or did Mr Ellis’ words strike home?  Either way, he throws his fags overboard and declares that he’s finished with smoking.  It’s another one of Grange Hill‘s obvious moral lessons, but it was allowed to develop over a long period of time so is quite effective.

Once they reach French soil the problems start – the customs officer finds Tommy and since he’s not got a passport they won’t let him through.  This means one of the teachers has to escort him home and that forces the whole trip to be cancelled (it wouldn’t be practical for just one teacher to supervise the whole class).

Tucker is naturally sent to Coventry (or even further!) but something is salvaged when Miss Lexington wonders if the holiday firm they booked with would be able to offer them alternative accommodation in Britain.  Luckily they do, so the bus sets off for a week in Bournemouth.  Not quite France, but it’s better than nothing.

A rare non-school episode from series four, it’s rather a good one and since we didn’t venture very far into France it was probably quite cost-effective as well.