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 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 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 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 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 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 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.