Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode One

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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.

Grange Hill. Series Four – Episode Two

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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 Three

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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 Four

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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 Five

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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 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 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.