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 began 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.

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Eleven

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Written by Alan Janes. Tx 3rd February 1981

There’s something rather endearing about the low-level villainy of Michael Doyle.  He did issue a few racial taunts to Benny during series one but that was pretty much his worst deed.  Otherwise it’s all pretty low-key stuff – stealing Penny Lewis’ project or, as in this episode, pinching light-bulbs so he can make a small profit by selling them to Junky Meade (Harry Webster).

Doyle doesn’t just take the bulbs though – he leaves a faulty one in its place, which causes no end of confusion for Mr Thompson as he tries to work out exactly why so many light-bulbs are failing.  Timothy Bateson is once again remarkably entertaining as Mr Thompson and what’s even better is that in this episode he has an assistant to vent his frustrations to.  Norman (Leslie Hull) is young and gormless and obviously irritates the older Thompson.  Hull has a nice sense of comic timing and it’s a pity he didn’t return in the future.

There are two other highlights in the episode – the first is Cathy singing Queen Bee.  Originally recorded by Barbra Streisand in 1976, it’s certainly a good showcase for Lyndy Brill’s vocal abilities.  Had this been a few years later then it’s highly likely a tie-in record would have been released (ala the Grange Hill album or, shudder, those EastEnders singles) but there was nothing here, alas.

Perhaps the most eye-opening moment is Mr Hopwood’s confrontation with Alan.  Alan’s smoking habit has been a running theme for a while and when Mr Hopwood catches him, his displeasure is plain to see (he gives Alan a clip on the top of the head, knocking him over).

It’s remarkable that this assault is simply accepted by both parties and not taken any further – particularly since Mr Hicks was dismissed for doing something similar in an earlier episode.  But then Mr Hopwood is positioned as a good and positive character and Alan’s smoking is “wrong” so it’s clear to understand the moral tone that the episode takes.

Even more jaw-dropping is that Alan turns up for school the next day sporting a black eye.  This was given to him by his father after Mr Hopwood told him about his son’s smoking habit.  This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen a pupil physically abused by their parent (Duane was given a black eye in series three after his bike was stolen).

There’s never even a hint that Mr Humphries might have been in the wrong for hitting his child – Alan shouldn’t have been smoking and therefore has been taught a lesson he won’t forget.  It’s a fascinating look at a vanished age.

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Ten

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 30th January 1981

What’s notable about this era of Grange Hill is that the pupils always seem to be campaigning about something.  School uniform was an ongoing issue during series two, the outdoor centre was key to series three and already in series four we’ve had campaigns for common rooms, saving the school magazine and also protests about the cost of the new sports kit.

I wonder if this simply was a sign of the times (late seventies and early eighties Britain certainly had a militant atmosphere – there always seemed to be plenty of strikes and industrial disputes) or whether it’s due to the influence of series creator Phil Redmond.  As the eighties wore on and Redmond’s influence lessened it’s notable that pupil militancy does seem to reduce – so maybe its safe to assume he was the driving force behind these plotlines.

Either way, this is yet another episode which is dominated by unhappy pupils – in this one its school dinners that they find it hard to stomach (as it were).  No doubt this would have struck some chords with the viewers at home since school dinners of this era could be a grim affair.

There’s something of a feel of deja vu as Trisha again teams up with Susi and Pamela (both viewed as the enemy by Cathy) to try and harness support for their proposals.  But an increasingly irritated Cathy decides to restart the banned SAG (student’s action group) in order to achieve change by force rather than reason.

Although the series was often criticised for having an anti-establishment atmosphere, there’s a very clear sense that order will prevail here.  Cathy’s abortive attempt to harness support with SAG is quickly snuffed out (indeed, it would have been interesting to develop this thread over a couple of episodes) whilst the efforts of Trisha, Susi and Pamela are given tacit approval by Mrs McClusky.

Although she characteristically isn’t terribly pleased that they went ahead and distributed a questionnaire to staff and pupils without asking her permission!

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Nine

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 27th January 1981

The rumour that school uniform might be brought back is naturally not viewed with much enthusiasm by the pupils.  Trisha, as one of the prime-movers in ensuring it was made optional is particularly perturbed.  Amongst the first-years it’s also discussed, but here it’s used more as an excuse for Pogo to bait Richard Marks.

Marks, like Benny Green before him, comes from an impoverished background and would therefore struggle to afford to buy a school uniform.  There’s something rather disquieting about watching Pogo bait Richard, partly due to Pogo’s unflattering nickname for him (“Pongo”) but also for the reactions of the other members of the class – who are all happy to laugh along with Pogo at the unfortunate Richard.

But this is a scene where Miss Mooney shows a little steel.  Up until now she’s been portrayed as rather a scatter-brained and ineffectual teacher, but after Richard leaves the room (she asks him to take the register to Mr Keating) she rounds on the remainder of the class.  “Well I must say I’m appalled at what I’ve just heard.  I can think of nothing more small-minded than getting on to a boy or a girl because they come from a poor home.”  And she reserves most of her ire for Pogo.  “What a spoilt, smug little boy you are Douglas Patterson.  Have you ever stopped to think for a moment what it must be like to come from a home less privileged than your own?”

Cathy’s continual lateness and lack of attentiveness has become something of a talking point among both her friends and the staff.  Lyndy Brill is rather good in these scenes – she manages to give Cathy just the right amount of insolent disdain, even when she’s talking to her favourite teacher Mr Sutcliffe.

But whilst Cathy exhibits little interest in any school affairs, her best friend Trisha is the complete opposite.  She becomes the third year school council rep and persuades Justin to take the vacant boys position (which has remained empty since Michael Doyle’s dismissal at the end of series three).  And as the next school council meeting has a motion tabled by Mrs McClusky to reintroduce school uniform it’s possibly just as well that Trisha was present.  Mrs McClusky’s irritation at not being able to immediately have her own way is quite evident and she’s then further dismayed when everybody votes to use several empty classrooms as common rooms.

The mystery of Cathy’s lateness is explained – along with Gerry, Ruth and a couple of boys they’ve restarted their group and so spend all their available spare time rehearsing.  Miss Peterson offers to see if she can find somewhere for them to rehearse during the lunchtime – and that way Cathy might be able to concentrate on her lessons.

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Eight

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Written by Alan Janes.  Tx 27th January 1981

Danny Taylor (Peter Hopwood) is a Grange Hill archetype – the money-making entrepreneur.  He doesn’t reappear after this episode though, which makes me wonder if he was drafted in as a late replacement for Pogo – who’s already shown an interest in get-rich schemes (which fail dismally, of course).

Danny’s wheeze is to organise a lottery, but he falls foul of Gripper who has his eyes on the main prize.  The most interesting part of this section of the episode are the opening moments – Stewpot calls round for Danny and is waved into the house by Danny’s father (who is obviously something of a wheeler-dealer himself).  Danny has inherited his father’s drive to make money and this is viewed with irritation by Stewpot.  He reckons that within a few years Danny will be sitting behind a desk and making money from other people’s efforts.  Stewpot tells him that come the revolution things will be very different!

When Gripper’s not attempting to rig the lottery (although it’s interesting that his plan is somewhat elaborate – in years to come he’d just have taken the money) he’s running foul of Mr Baxter on the football pitch.  After Gripper harshly tackles Matthew Cartwright, Mr Baxter makes it plain that he won’t tolerate any repetition.  And if it did happen again, Gripper would be the one on the ground and Mr Baxter would be standing above him, putting the boot in.  Nowadays any threat of violence from a teacher to a pupil would be viewed as an empty one – but 1981 was a different era and Gripper takes Mr Baxter’s words seriously.

Karen Stanton (Carey Born) makes her only series four appearance.  She cuts a very woebegone figure as she confides to Claire that all is not well at home – thus sowing the seeds for a later episode featuring Karen’s brother, Andrew.

Miss Lexington continues to be an object of fascination for many of Grange Hill’s pupils.  Duane’s puppy love is quite evident (he’s always popping up and asking to carry her bags) but there’s other examples as well.  Two older pupils use their time in Miss Lexington’s computer club to program a rough approximation of the female form with the words “Sexy Lexi” next to it.  But when Miss Lexington sees it she simply gives them an indulgent smile and moves on.  Is she something of a tease or simply unaware of the effect she has on certain people?  However you want to interpret her character there’s no doubt that Allyson Rees’ wide-eyed performance is terribly appealing.

Miss Lexington’s later run-in with Mrs McClusky is a highlight of the episode.  What makes their clash so intriguing is the fact that they’re such different character types – Miss Lexington is relaxed and carefree whilst Mrs McClusky is strict and unyielding.  The headmistress views the scruffy appearance of Miss Lexington’s class with extreme disfavour and she tells the younger teacher that their planned trip to the Silicon Chip factory is cancelled.  Mrs McClusky is simply not prepared to let such an untidily dressed bunch of pupils represent the school.

This is the first step in Mrs McClusky’s desire to bring back school uniform.  That obviously wouldn’t go down well with the pupils, but on the evidence of these early series four episodes it’s plain that Mrs Clusky is someone who is always determined to get her own way …..

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Seven

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Written by Alan Janes. Tx 20th January 1981

The themes of this episode fit neatly into the topic of staff/pupil consultation which has been bubbling away for a few episodes.

The pupils are appaled to be told they have to buy new sports kit from Hayes Green Sports. It’s quickly established that they aren’t the cheapest of shops and since they’re the only ones supplying the new kit it does seem obvious that they’re making a profit at the pupil’s expense. Susi quickly writes an article about this for the school magazine, only to be told shortly afterwards by Mrs McClusky that the magazine will have to close due to lack of funds.

Is there a connection? It could be, or possibly it’s because Mrs McClusky simply doesn’t like the thought of the pupils having any voice at all. In this respect, she’s a far cry from the open Mr Llewellyn as she seems very keen to stifle any debate – her word seems to be law.

But it only has the opposite effect and the usual suspects now have another couple of causes to fight for. Not only common rooms, but saving the school magazine and also investigating whether the new sports kit is being offered at a rip-off price.

Susi and the magazine’s editor Rosie (Nicola Wright) ask Mrs McClusky is they can continue the magazine if they could find a way to make it self financing. She can’t do anything but agree – so if her plan was to shut down the magazine in order to stifle dissent then she’s been circumvented. We don’t know for sure, since Mrs McClusky doesn’t have anybody here that she confides her thoughts and feelings to, so it’s up to the viewer to make their own mind up.

Although there is a scene where she asks Mr Sutcliffe if he wouldn’t mind attending the save the magazine meeting – and he rather brusquely refuses, telling Miss Mooney that he’s not prepared to do Mrs McClusky’s spying for her.

Alan and Susi rope in Mr Humphries to find out what the wholesale prices for the sports kit are. He learns that Hayes Green Sports are making over 100% profit – and he tells them that he’ll bring this up at the next PTA meeting. His obvious anger (and mutterings of rank exploitation) leave us in no doubt that more affordable sports kits will soon be available.

It’s not something that shows the Headmistress in a very good light, but it’s hard to credit that she would have colluded with Hayes Green Sports to artificially raise the price just so they could make a healthy profit. But the notion that she simply didn’t care about the cost of the kit doesn’t ring true either.

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Six

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Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 16th January 1981

Another wave of vandalism causes the school dance to be cancelled. Tucker knows who was responsible – Booga Benson and Gilbo – but also knows what will happen to him if he speaks out. He tells Mr Sutcliffe that he’ll get his legs busted.

Another all-film episode, it’s a memorable installment – not least for the Tucker/Booga confrontation. Up until now Booga’s been little more than a menacing background character – who seems to mainly have existed to provide a reason to lock the younger pupils out of the school during break and lunchtimes.

He now moves into the centre of the action and starts by destroying Tucker’s magazine cover entry. Given all the hard work he put into it this is a bitter blow – although he’s able to produce another, almost identical version, very quickly – even if he has to bunk off school to do it. Of course he does win the first prize (ten pounds) and impresses Mrs McClusky by telling her that he’s going to buy some premium bonds with it.

Afterwards, he goes back to helping Mr Sutcliffe set up the hall for the dance, but it all seems to be in vain once everything is cancelled. We then see him struggle with his conscience as he makes his way along to Mrs McClusky’s office – he just has to give her a name and the dance will be back on. But the consequences to him could be fatal.

He does the right thing and the evening is a great success – not least for the impressive vocal stylings of Mr Sutcliffe, Cathy, Gerry and Ruth. Everything seems to be fine as Tucker, Alan, Benny, Tommy, Susi and Pamela leave the hall at the end of the night.

But the sudden and unexpected appearance of Booga wipes the smile from everybody’s faces. There then follows a frantic chase through the school, culminating in both Booga and Gilbo giving the unfortunate Tucker a good kicking.

Another notable aspect of the episode is that it marks a rare series four appearance by Terry Sue Patt as Benny.  I don’t know whether his sporadic involvement was his own choice or it happened because he was now judged to be surplus to requirements. Either way it’s a shame that someone who was a focal character for the original run just seems to fade away quite abruptly.

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Five

grange hill s04e05

Written by Sandy Welch. Tx 13th January 1981

Trisha and Cathy are still irritated at not being allowed into the school until the fifth and sixth-formers let them in. One obnoxious older pupil (played by Peter McNamara) is especially officious, although Trisha takes her revenge by aiming a swift kick at his shins as she walks past him!

The plan of action, headed by Trisha and Susi, continues to rumble on – as they attempt to organise a fact-finding mission to establish whether everybody is in favour of common rooms. It’s not easy going though and Susi begins to have doubts about the effectiveness of what they’re doing.

This then leads into a very interesting two-handed scene between Tucker and Susi. Since they’re diametrically opposed characters it’s rare that they’ve ever shared any scenes together. What’s even more noteworthy is that Tucker is supportive towards her. He tells her he has no doubts about his abilities (he’s in the library working on his design for the cover of the school magazine) and urges her to have more confidence as well. Had any of the other pupils been present it’s unlikely he would have been so forthcoming, so this offers a nice insight into the more thoughtful side of Peter Jenkins.

Of course, when the others are around Tucker can’t help himself by bragging that his design is bound to win the competition. Such obvious boasting naturally irritates Doyle and together with his two new henchmen – Robo (Neil Rogers) and Macker (Alan Gibson) – he plans to do something unpleasant to Tucker’s design. This is signposted so clearly that it’s a little surprising when it doesn’t happen – and a further wrong-footing move happens in the next episode (somebody does destroy it, but it’s not Doyle).

There’s a small, but significant, character moment when Doyle senses that the others are reluctant to help – he reminds them that he’s paying them so he expects their full co-operation. Is Doyle such an awful person that he can’t even find a single friend without a monetary inducement? It’s just a throwaway touch, but it’s quite illuminating.

We also get a taste of the song that Cathy, Ruth (Paula Harris) and Gerry (Karen Saunders) will be performing in the next episode.

Re-watching this episode, something which stands out is that both Miss Mooney and Susi McMahon are present but neither utter a single word. It does seem strange to have two regulars in the studio but for them both to remain mute – so maybe scenes for several episodes were shot on the same studio day? That would make some sort of sense.

In many ways this episode is merely setting the ground for the next one – which will conclude a number of plotlines (notably it’ll see the final confrontation between Booga and Tucker).

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Four

grange hill s04e04

Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 9th January 1981

This is a memorable episode for several reasons. Firstly, it introduces us to Gripper Stebson (Mark Savage). His character is made plain from his very first appearance – we see him indulging in a spot of shoplifting from the local newsagents whilst Pogo, Duane and Stewpot (Mark Burdis) look on. He later confronts the three of them and tells them in no uncertain terms to keep quiet – all of Gripper’s trademark menace is already well displayed.

But it won’t be until series five (when Gripper and the others move into the third year) that he’ll really develop into the monster who’ll dominate the series for a couple of years. Like all bullies he’s at his most effective when picking on those younger than him, so he’s somewhat impotent during series four (since he’s only a first-year and the other first-years outnumber him).

The computer teacher Miss Lexington (Allyson Rees) makes the first of her six appearances (four during the fourth series and one apiece in both series five and six). It’s easy to see why she quickly acquired the nickname of “Sexy Lexi”.

But the heart of the episode revolves around the sadistic games master Mr Hicks (Paul Jerricho). After a swimming lesson in which Stewpot, Duane and Pogo lark about, Mr Hicks confronts Stewpot and the boy cuts his head after Mr Hicks shoves him.

This scene, like the rest of the episode, is shot on film and there’s no doubt that the all-film nature is very much to the benefit of the drama (it allows for better timing on close-ups and reactions shots than would be possible in a multi-camera studio TV setup). There’s a lovely sense of tension after the incident – the pupils are appalled and Mr Hicks clearly realises he’s gone too far, but his authority and intimidating presence mean that they can’t directly challenge him.

But the full story comes out when Stewpot talks to his mother (played by Helen Cotterill) and she goes to the school to demand answers. This is an intriguing scene – Mr Hicks is confronted by Mrs Stewart, Stewpot and Duane but he’s easily able to browbeat both Stewpot and Duane into changing their story. Mrs McClusky and Mr Baxter are also present and seem quite happy to accept both the boy’s retraction and Mr Hicks’ comment that Stewpot “slipped on the wet floor” at face value.

But since Mr Hicks’ treatment of Stewpot isn’t an isolated case – we later see him (off-screen) slipper a pupil and there’s plenty of other anecdotal evidence of his misdemeanours – it’s a worrying thought that his reign of terror has been ongoing for some time with nobody picking it up.

Eventually, both the protestations of Miss Lexington and comments from some of the other pupils are enough to make Mr Baxter keep a close eye on Mr Hicks. And when he sees him push another boy, Mr Baxter springs into action. He calls Mr Hicks from the gym and punches him to the ground, with the ironic comment of “slipped on the wet floor, did you?”

Hicks is dismissed, whilst both Mrs McClusky and Mr Baxter offer Mrs Stewart their sincere apologies. She’s happy to consider the matter closed – but it’s plain from Mr Baxter’s final words (“skin of our teeth”) and Mrs McClusky’s expression that they both realise the fall-out that they and the school would have suffered had Mrs Stewart decided to take the matter further.

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Three

grange hill s04e03

Written by Sandy Welch.  Tx 6th January 1981

Episode three gives us our first chance this series to catch up with the first years. As has happened before, and will happen again and again in the future, various characters have dropped out and new ones have been drafted in to replace them with no explanations about these various departures and arrivals.

Tracy Edwards and Karen Stanton have vanished (although Karen must presumably still be somewhere in the school since she pops up briefly in a later episode). They’ve been replaced by the somewhat identikit characters of Claire Scott (Paula Ann Bland) and Suzanne Ross (Susan Tully).

Claire, like Tracy, is an old friend of Duane (it’s easy to believe her scripts were originally written for Tracy) whilst Suzanne at present exists mainly to line-feed Claire and join in the general banter, mainly about how fat Pogo is!  It’s difficult to imagine that Suzanne would later become a key figure in the series (during series five to seven) as she’s a very minor character during series four’s run.

But there are some new arrivals in Miss Mooney’s class who are commented on. Julia Farley (Sarah Attwood) is a second year pupil who has been forced to drop down a year due to her poor results. She’s a potentially intriguing character, but sadly only has a major speaking role in this one episode.  Her Grange Hill appearances were Sarah Attwood’s only television or film credits.

Another fairly short-lived pupil is Richard Marks (David Doyle). He’s a pupil who was created to serve a single function – he comes from a poor background and is teased by the others because of this – and once that storyline has concluded there’s nothing else left for him to do.

Most of the episode revolves around a forthcoming school medical and the concerns of some of the pupils. Alan’s worried it’ll reveal his smoking habit whilst the younger girls have other issues. It’s interesting to see how the topic of period pains is delicately handled – the reason for their pains are never spelled out, but it’s still covered quite well.  Claire becomes the audience identification figure – she’s concerned about what’s happening but doesn’t feel she can talk to anyone about it. Eventually she speaks to Susi who’s able to answer her questions and calm her fears.

Pogo manages to lighten the mood after he overhears a girl telling Miss Peterson she’s unable to do games because of the time of the month. He decides that this is a wonderful excuse and tries it with Mr Sutcliffe, with notably less success!

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Two

grange hill s04e02

Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 2nd January 1981

The continuing vandalism has meant that more and more restrictions are being placed on the pupils. This doesn’t please Trisha, who teams up with Pamela, Susi and Justin to work out a way to change things – much to Cathy’s disgust.

Since Andrew Stanton is absent for some reason, the character of Christopher (Paul Ellison) seems to have been created to perform exactly the same function – to be Justin’s friend and feed some lines to him. After appearing in three of the early episodes he returns later on for the French trip episode (although he has little to do in that one).  It’s another example of someone who just appears out of nowhere but has apparently always been there.

Booga and Tucker continue to clash, whilst Trisha and Cathy’s friendship is put under more strain due to their differing interests (a storyline that will develop for a while).

There’s a nice run-in between Thomson and Tucker, which occurs when Thomson incorrectly believes that Tucker’s been writing on the wall. Bateson continues to wring every comic drop out of the character that he can (such as calling Tucker “Jasper” for no particular reason!)

Their confrontation becomes slightly physical when they both get involved in a shoving match, although Tucker claims that Thomson hit him first. But it’s no surprise that authority wins out and Tucker is forced to scrub down the wall. This whole incident makes Tucker more than keen to join the campaign of school rights (whereas he’d previously been less than keen on the idea).

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode One

grange hill s04e01

Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 30th December 1980

There’s a bleak feel to this opening episode. A wave of vandalism over the holidays has meant the school is looking even more dilapidated than usual. The money isn’t available to make all the repairs straightaway, so some windows remain boarded up – creating an oppressive atmosphere.

This is one of the immediate problems to be faced by the new head, Mrs McClusky (Gwyneth Powell) and the new caretaker, Mr Thomson (Timothy Bateson).

The McClusky years start here. Due to her longevity, Gwyneth Powell would become by far Grange Hill’s most recognisable head-teacher. Is it too fanciful to say there’s more than a touch of Mrs Thatcher about her? Certainly both women would remain dominant in their respective empires during the remainder of the 1980’s ….

Mr Thomson didn’t last as long, but I think he’s probably my favourite caretaker. Pompous and pernickety, he’s played to absolute comic perfection by Timothy Bateson who is always such a joy to watch.

It eventually becomes clear that the vandalism is being carried out by Booga Benson (David Lynch), an unstable fifth-former. The fact that he’s older than Tucker and co means that our heroes can’t tackle him direct – which is an interesting development. Previously Tucker has tangled with the likes of Doyle, but as they were of a similar age it was an equal clash. Booga is another matter altogether and every time he runs into Tucker he gains the upper hand.

It’s remarkable that Booga only appears in a few episodes, since he casts a long shadow over the series (maybe featuring in spin-off novels such as Grange Hill For Sale by Robert Leeson helped to create the impression he was a more regular character) .

But he certainly makes the most of his handful of episodes and is by far the nastiest person we’ve seen in the series to date – anytime he’s on screen there’s an uncomfortable sense that he’s barely managing to keep his instability in check . Although he’ll be eclipsed later on by Gripper (who makes his début in series four, although only as a background character with little to do) it’s an excellent performance by Lynch

Elsewhere, Cathy and Trisha (along with Gerry and Ruth) form a group, with the aim of performing with Mr Sutcliffe at the forthcoming school dance. But as we’ll see, Trisha’s heart isn’t in it.