Grange Hill. Series Five – Episode Eighteen

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Written by Alan Janes.  Tx 5th March 1982

The end of term exams offers Pogo a sure-fire way to make some money.  Which unsurprisingly ends in total disaster.

Pogo’s always looking for a way to buck the system.  In one exam we see him with possible answers written on his shirt cuffs, but he knows that the only way to achieve fool-proof results is to know the questions in advance.  His prayers seem to have been answered when he stumbles on some exam papers in an unlocked cabinet.  Along with Stewpot they sell the answers at ten pence a time, written on the inside of chewing gum paper (sweets are allowed in the exams so this is an ideal way not to attract attention).

If the punchline isn’t hard to guess (Pogo had found the previous years exam papers and therefore all his hard work was for nothing) it doesn’t diminish the comedy, as everybody looks increasingly puzzled as to why the answers supplied by Pogo bear no relation to the questions!

A more dramatic beat is provided when Claire comes under increasing pressure from her mother to do well in all the exams.  Although these end of term exams aren’t terribly important in the general scheme of things, to Mrs Scott they are.  Grange Hill would understandably recycle plots down the years, mainly because they were still relevant to each new generation of children tuning in.  So Mrs Scott bears a strong resemblance to Mrs MacMahon, as both failed to see that whilst the pressure of the exams was bad enough, the additional pressure they were heaping on their children only served to make matters worse.  And Claire’s bedroom, where she spends her time miserably attempting to drum some facts into her head, simply screams early eighties – there’s a poster of Adam Ant on the wall, whilst Duran Duran and the Human League play on the radio.

Elsewhere, the relationship between Mr Sutcliffe and Miss Mooney seems to be finally off.  Mr Sutcliffe clearly had commitment issues as he was much more interested in going to see a film than looking for a flat.  I’m assuming that it was already known that James Wynn wouldn’t be returning for series six (although many characters – both pupils and staff – tended to get written out in a much more unceremonious fashion.  Usually by the audience being told they’d left at the start of the first episode of the next series).

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the episode is the way that all the class comes together at the end to confront Gripper.  One of the mysteries of the series to date is why this hasn’t happened very often before – it’s true that Gripper’s an intimidating figure, but weight of numbers would be able to defeat him.  There’s a nice camera pan from Gripper’s viewpoint as he observes the ring of faces surrounding him.

It’s an interesting point on which to close what has been a strong and consistent series.  Gripper will be back next year, but his targets will have changed and it’ll herald a run of episodes that rank with the best that Grange Hill ever produced.

Grange Hill. Series Five – Episode Seventeen

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Written by Alan Janes. Tx 2nd March 1982

Roland’s out of his coma, although he won’t be back at school for some time.  Mrs McClusky suggests to N1 that they send him some get well cards (it’s possibly telling that none of them have thought to do this before).  It’s decided to make one large card and Annette (the best at art) is asked to do it.  Annette, still the class strop, isn’t keen but eventually Fay manages to persuade her.  It’s Annette who first voices the opinion that Roland might have stepped out into the path of the car on purpose and her disdain for him is made clear.

But then Annette doesn’t seem to like anybody very much.  When Belinda announces that she’s leaving, Annette pulls a lovely face when Fay announces they should buy her a going-away present.  Fay collects money from Zammo and Jonah for the present which Jonah promptly gets back when he tells her that he’s also collecting money for a present – for Roland.  And although it started as simply a way to get their money back, Zammo decides it’s a good idea.  “Roly’s really took a lot of stick from us in the past, and this’ll make up for it, this will.”

When Gripper pinches the money they’ve collected (telling them that Roland owes it to him anyway) Zammo and Jonah have a problem.  How can they buy a present with no money?  Together they cook up a wheeze – Zammo’s mother gets boxes of broken biscuits from the place where she works.  Nobody would buy them, but if they swop one of these boxes with a good box from the school tuck-shop then they can flog the good box and the school will send the broken box back for a replacement.  It’s the perfect victimless crime.  What could possibly go wrong?

Alan Janes’ script recycles a story element from Jane Hollowood’s Minto bars episode.  Just as Roland’s deception with the Minto wrappers was discovered thanks to the code on the box, so a similar thing happens here.  The biscuit box has a code which leads back to Mrs McGuire (Jenny Twigge) and she’s not best pleased.  “Don’t you stare at me all innocent boy, or I’ll smack you so hard you’ll come round next Christmas.”

After Mrs McGuire takes the money they got from Junky Meade (a nice bit of continuity to mention him) that leaves the boys back at square one.  So they have to resort to pinching whatever they can from the kitchen.  “You bought him a lemon and half a packet of biscuits?” asks Annette unbelievingly!

Grange Hill. Series Five – Episode Sixteen

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 26th February 1982

It’s the day of the school revue and tempers are becoming more and more frayed.  There’s a very decent turn out though, which is a little surprising as at the start of the episode we’re told that very few tickets have been sold.  This is due to the fact that Pogo’s been given the sole rights to sell the tickets and he’s put his own mark up on the price.

Tucker and Alan take over the ticket sales and in a very short time they manage to ensure that the event is a sell out.  They achieve this by offering a bottle of champagne to one lucky ticket holder, although it’s not really champagne and only cost two pounds – which probably gives a fair indication of its quality.  I love the scene in the off licence as the man behind the counter (John Tordoff) looks at the pair of them dead-pan as they proudly plonk down the money – in mostly pennies and halfpennies.  He fastidiously removes a piece of fluff from the pile, before Tucker and Alan cheerly saunter off.

Tucker’s certainly changed from the tearaway we saw in series one.  His desire to ensure that the school revue is a success is his only motivation and he certainly goes to some effort to achieve this.  Most amusingly, he wangles Pogo a role in the revue (in exchange for the tickets).  Pogo’s far from impressed though, he has to dance with girls and complains non-stop that he’s unable to lift Claire – claiming she’s too heavy!

In order for the episode to work you have to believe that Mrs McClusky has no idea what the content of the revue will be.  This is hard to accept, especially since previously there were fears voiced that she’d attempt to censor the production.  But if you can swallow this then there’s a great deal of pleasure to be derived from her discomfort as the evening wears on (for extra comedy value she’s sitting next to a vicar).

The opening number has a mild bit of raunch, thanks to Precious, Suzanne and Claire (the camera drops down several times to their tight, jeans-clad bottoms) as Mrs McClusky’s smile becomes ever more fixed.  Next, Hopwood, Sutcliffe and Baxter are all ridiculed by Trisha (they’re depicted as stuffed dogs).  The first two take it in good heart, but it’s characteristic that Mr Baxter remains firmly unamused.

Cathy’s impression of Margaret Thatcher seems to be a riff on the Prime Minster’s comment that a return to Victorian values would be a good thing, except it seems that the first time Mrs Thatcher mentioned it was a year later, in 1983.  Grange Hill‘s ahead of the game then.  And broad though this section is – with gruel flying around – it does have a barbed political point to make.

It’s nice to see Tucker, Alan, Trisha and Cathy for the final time at Grange Hill, but the most unexpected appearance is that of Penny Lewis.  Last seen at the end of series three, she was then replaced by the suspiciously similar character of Pamela Cartwright for the fourth series.  And it’s probably apt that the last few minutes are Tucker’s (he launches into a song in praise of Mr McGuffy) as he was the hub of the series during the first four years – if you mention the “Tucker era” then most people will know what you mean.

Grange Hill. Series Five – Episode Fifteen

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Written by Alan Janes. Tx 23rd February 1982

Roland’s counselling with the education psychologist Miss O’Keefe continues.  You do get the sense that she’s beginning to despair a little, as the boy is lethargic and uncommunicative.  Miss O’Keefe is convinced that Roland would be much happier if he made friends and lost weight.  That many of his problems are caused by Gripper’s bullying seems to be something that hasn’t been picked up by the school.

But it’s reasonable to assume that if he had friends then he wouldn’t feel so isolated when Gripper comes calling.  At least one person (Janet) wants to be his friend, but he’s vehemently opposed to this, as he tells Miss O’Keefe.  Roland regards Janet as a busybody, always fussing and asking questions.  He denies that he doesn’t want to be friends because she’s a girl (and the colour of her skin doesn’t seem to be an issue either) so maybe it’s because she’s simply raising points about his behaviour that he’d sooner not answer?  In some ways Roland is a perfect victim – although we can argue that the system lets him down he also definitely contributes to his own downfall.

His misery increases after he walks through some scenery at the school revue rehearsals and Mr McGuffy, likening him to a baby elephant, tells him to leave.  His participation in the revue – even if it was only tapping a tambourine in an off-key manner – had helped to bolster his self-esteem, so his abrupt removal is obviously a blow.  That Gripper then appears, crueler than ever, is just another nail in the coffin.

With Denny and a couple of silent schoolgirls in tow, Gripper forces Roland to show them his belly.  Gripper then tells the girls that Roland’s so fat he doesn’t have to walk home, he can roll and proceeds to demonstrate this by rolling him down the corridor.  The non-speaking female extras look a little perturbed by this, but it’s Denny who tells Gripper that Roland’s had enough.  Had all four of them delighted in Roland’s humiliation the scene would have seemed far too bleak – so this helps to soften the impact a little, as well as demonstrating that Gripper (like Booga Benson before him) is an unpredictable loose-cannon who sometimes goes further than his henchman ever would.

We once again see Roland’s rather wretched home life.  In the Browning family the television is king – all the family take their meals in front of it, which has the effect of deadening their conversations.  So Roland finds it hard to catch his parents’ attention as they always seem more interested in the goggle box.  He’s a boy who doesn’t seem to want for material things – he’s clearly well fed and is supplied with a decent amount of pocket money – but even at home he has no-one he can really talk to.  His parents listen to him, but only when they can bear to tear themselves away from the tv.

The following day, Roland doesn’t have the seventy pence that Gripper’s demanded.  Gripper, holding court in the toilets, decides to punish Roland by writing that he visits a shrink on his form-room blackboard (it’s a running gag that Gripper’s not academically bright – confirmed by his poor spelling).  This taunt finally makes the younger boy snap and he aims a volley of blows at Gripper.  But Roland, despite his weight, is no fighter and Gripper regards the attack with contempt, soaking up the meagre punishment before turning the tables.  Although the wobbling sinks – an obvious sign that this was a studio set – are a little distracting, it doesn’t really detract from the power of the scene.  Gripper doesn’t hit Roland very hard – a few slaps on the face – but it’s the humiliation (being forced to the ground as well as his fear that his secret will be revealed to his classmates) that’s the key moment.

Annette’s the keenest to find out if it’s the truth but it’s notable that the others don’t make that big of a deal about it.  Fay’s curious, but that’s all, and Jonah tries to stop Annette’s questioning.  It’s a sign that the taunting Roland received from his classmates has diminished and if they’re not all exactly friends then there’s some form of acceptance.  Although it’s true that both Annette and Jimmy crack gags at his expense later on and for Roland this seems to be the final straw.

So does he deliberately walk in front of the car?  Earlier in the episode his father told him that the only way he’d be able to take time off school was if he was seriously ill.  A car accident certainly qualifies, but there was another close shave before this one and it was clear then that Roland was simply not paying attention when crossing the road.  It’s hardly a surprise that we don’t see the accident – finding a stutman to double for Roland would have been tricky – so that leaves the moment open to interpretation.  But I’ve always been slightly baffled as to why the boy is lying behind the car.  That would imply that it completely ran over him, which doesn’t seem likely.

Closing on a freeze-frame of Mrs Browning’s shocked face, it’s a dramatic ending – slightly negated by the shocking pink colour used for the end credits and the jaunty theme music instantly crashing in.

Grange Hill. Series Five – Episode Fourteen

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 19th February 1982

There were few taboo subjects which Grange Hill didn’t tackle during its thirty year run.  Inappropriate relations between staff and pupils was no doubt one of the trickiest – bearing in mind that a certain section of GH‘s audience would have been preteen – but it still did so on several occasions.

Later, we’d see the likes of Mr King and Fay enjoy a close out-of school relationship (although presumably a non-sexual  one – I don’t think the series was ever prepared to go down that route).  In this episode, although it’s clear from the outset that Mr Hopwood is simply the unwitting victim of Claire’s diary wish-fulfilment it’s still dramatically satisfying, since it clearly demonstrates how a teacher’s unblemished career could be destroyed by nothing more than gossip and innuendo.

It’s the first time this year that Paula Ann Bland has been at the centre of the story.  During series four, Claire was much more prominent (partly because Suzanne was so pallidly written).  With Susan Tully coming more to the fore during series five, Bland had to wait a little longer for a starring role.  It was worth waiting for though as she’s excellent as the dreamy Claire, who seems to have overdosed on magazines like Jackie.  Since she lacks a real boyfriend (Duane seemed positioned for this role during the previous series, but it never happened) she’s latched onto the next best thing – her form tutor.

Claire’s secret diary, in which she paints herself as the heroine of the story (with Mr Hopwood as her dashing white knight) is packed with some wonderful gushing prose. “He came up close to me and drew me to him. His sweater prickled against my face. He lifted my chin and kissed me very gently. ‘Darling Claire’ he said. ‘I’ve been in love with you for so long.'”

Years before he gained notoriety as the evil Richard Hillman in Coronation Street, Brian Capron was undoubtedly best known for his four year stint in Grange Hill.  Although Mr Hopwood could be strict (and wasn’t averse to the odd physical confrontation with pupils – such as when he discovered Alan smoking) he was generally an easy-going and well-liked teacher.  Which makes his problems in this episode even more dramatic.

It’s obvious from the first scene that Claire has developed an unhealthy interest in him. He’s aware of it, but is unsure what to do for the best. It’s also generated debate amongst her classmates which results in them teasing her (Suzanne characteristically sticks up for her).

Whilst her diary remains her secret, it’s harmless enough. But once her mother finds it, things take a more serious turn. The diary seems to document Mr Hopwood’s seduction of the girl and it’s so convincing that it fools a number of people for a short while. Claire’s caught in a dilemma – she doesn’t want to see Mr Hopwood falsely accused, but neither does she want to admit that it’s just the product of her overheated imagination.

Mr Scott (Malcolm Terris) is certainly taken in and storms to the school to confront the man he believes has seduced his daughter. Terris, a television and film regular since the 1960’s, is intimidating in his sole appearance as Claire’s father. Bristling with indignation (“how many other little girls have you been corrupting?”) you certainly get the feeling he’s capable of inflicting serious damage!

All’s well that ends well, as Mrs McClusky is quickly able to deduce that Claire’s diary is a work of fiction. But Mr Hopwood still has to endure the sniggering and finger-pointing from some of the pupils (although since everything’s wrapped up neatly by the end of the episode this is never developed as fully as it could have been).

But it’s still another strong, stand-alone episode from Margaret Simpson, one of Grange Hill‘s most prolific scriptwriters.

Grange Hill. Series Five – Episode Thirteen

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 16th February 1982

This episode focuses on Suzanne’s increasing disenchantment with both Grange Hill and life in general.  Early on we see her (along with two other girls) rehearsing a sketch for the school revue.  It’s a satire on the need to wear school uniform and features a very thinly disguised caricature of Mrs McClusky.  Such barbed criticism of the head seems unlikely to make the final show, as the girls are convinced that Mrs McClusky will insist on its removal.  Mr McGuffy seems totally unaware that she’d be concerned (to him, free speech is something to be taken for granted).

That he could be at Grange Hill this long and have not realised that Mrs McClusky runs the place in an autocratic and dictatorial fashion speaks volumes for his unworldliness.  Her management style is once again made quite clear at the school council meeting where she rides roughshod over all the points raised by the pupils.  Suzanne, as an observer, is far from impressed.  “I just don’t see the flipping point of it. You rabbit on and at the end of it she gets her own way.”

Suzanne’s bad-girl ways are first demonstrated when she pinches some pens from the local corner shop.  Goody-goody Claire tells her she’ll pay for them and the moment is rather flatly played – Suzanne really should be angrier at being taken back to the shop, instead she’s too compliant and it doesn’t feel right.

A sign of the times is the ubiquitous Space Invaders machine in the local cafe (although by this time you’d have thought it would have been superseded by the likes of Galaxians).  But it still holds a deep fascination for many – especially Gripper – who’s reputed to be something of an expert.  Is this the reason why he extorts money from so many unfortunates?  He admits that much of it does go into the machine, so the impression is that Gripper just enjoys bullying people and the money he gets off them is of little interest.

Suzanne attempts to break into this male dominated world, but her efforts on the Space Invaders machine are met with derision.  Together with Christine (Linda East) they hatch a plan to get more money to practice – by extorting it from Roland (they tell him they’re collecting for Gripper).  Christine would return during series six and seven, although she’d later be a more conventional character (here she’s an obvious delinquent).  And it’s Christine who is the prime-mover in extracting money with menaces from Roland, Suzanne does have the good grace to look slightly apprehensive and doubtful.

When Gripper learns that she’s been collecting money that’s rightfully his, he gives her a slap.  It’s not a graphic moment but it’s still slightly shocking (although Gripper probably does much worse to many other unfortunates off-camera).  The episode ends with Suzanne bemoaning her life as a girl.  Everything upsets her, not least period pains.  “I can’t bear the thought of having that having that curse every four weeks for the next thirty years”  Some of the other dialogue is equally bleak – Suzanne tells Claire that her mother takes “loads of pills” (presumably antidepressants?) and one of the ways that Claire manages to snap Suzanne out of her depression is to tell her that if she’s chucked out of Grange Hill she’ll end up in a dead-end job, just like her mother.  We briefly see Mrs Ross when she attends the Parent/Teacher evening.  She’s presented as a nervous, pallid character who not only seems unable to control her daughter but is also obviously no role-model for her.

An all-film episode, the real school locations help to give Margaret Simpson’s script even more of a depressive feel.  There’s something about the crumbling and institutionalised look of the interiors that fits the despairing tone of this installment very well.

Grange Hill. Series Five – Episode Twelve

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Written by Jane Hollowood.  Tx 12th February 1982

N1 pay a visit to Chessington Zoo and it’ll come as no surprise to learn that there’s various hi-jinks along the way, although Mr Sutcliffe and Miss Mooney remain oblivious to most of them.

As it’s a location shoot, it’s all on film (GH wouldn’t switch to VT for outside recording until 1986).  Probably the most notable thing about the episode is that, according to Lee Macdonald, it was the first thing they recorded.  It’s easy to spot that it’s early on, since Zammo sports his very severe haircut which gradually grew out as the series progressed.  Presumably they’d always intended to hold the episode back until the second half of the series, although this continuity problem does make it stick out a bit.

Roland’s the butt of most people’s jokes – he’s too fat to fit through the turnstile and is later likened to a hippopotamus.  He does have one ally though – Janet.  Although as will happen time and time again he doesn’t welcome her attention.  She’s very blunt, telling him that if he didn’t eat so much then he wouldn’t be so unhappy, which is probably the reason why he’s so unresponsive to her. It might be the truth, but as Janet has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer her good intentions don’t have the results she hopes.  Roland ends up in a wretched state, sobbing to Mr Sutcliffe.

Whilst Roland’s having a miserable time, Jonah and Zammo are enjoying themselves by having running battles with a rival school.  This culminates when the other boys throw Jonah’s schoolbag into the sealion enclosure and he unwisely decides to go and get it back.  It’s all going so well, until one of the zoo keepers spots him and he ends up in the water!  He then has to spend the rest of the afternoon attempting to dry off whilst avoiding the keeper.  And just to show that a good gag is always worth repeating, we once again see two boys (in this case Zammo and Jonah) squeeze into a toilet cubicle and pretend to be one.  See the series three shopping precinct episode for another example of this.

Apart from Gavin Campbell as Mr Stuart, the overbearing teacher from the other school, the main guests are the animals themselves.  Some of the shots presumably came about by sheer good luck – for example, as the children rush over to see the hippo it obligingly opened its mouth wide.

Annette catches the eye of  a boy from the rival school, Carotts (David Jewell).  He has red hair, unsurprisingly.  She’s something of a minx, promising to write but then giving him a false name and address!  We also learn that she wants to be a trapeze artist when she grows up (or anything that’s not conventional).

Miss Mooney and Mr Sutcliffe’s on/off relationship seems slightly more off than on, although both Fay and Annette are fascinated to know when they’re going to get married.  She tells them that no date’s been set and as will become clear in the next series it never will.

Running at just under thirty minutes, this is a long episode (although nominally each one ran for twenty five minutes, it could vary between twenty and thirty).  It’s good stuff though and after a few mainly studio-bound installments it’s nice to get out into the open again.