Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Eighteen

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 4th March 1983

This is an all-film school-based episode (something which was quite common during previous series but not so during this year).  The main theme is how Mrs McClusky is able to manipulate events to her best advantage.

She’s already decided to reinstate Mr McGuffy, but that presents a slight problem – since the staff are well aware of the impending demo by the pupils to demand his return.  Mr Smart, rather delightfully, is the only teacher brave enough to query whether she’s been at all influenced by their protests.  As ever, Gwyneth Powell gives Mrs McClusky a wonderful mixture of sweetness and steel as she tells him that no, she always makes her own mind up.

Mr Smart is in a scene-stealing mood.  As Miss Mooney and Mrs McClusky discuss how gifted Jonah is, and whether he’s planning to sacrifice academic achievement in order to maintain his popularity, Mr Smart looms in the background, making tea and not speaking a word – although the eye is irresistibly drawn to him!

Jonah’s not terribly popular at the moment though.  He’s disinclined to get involved with the demo at first, but then changes his mind as he decides to create an impressive banner.  But his ambition outstrips his ability and despite all the previous comments about his brilliance, he doesn’t seem to notice that he’s not left enough space to get all the letters in.  This alienates him from the others even more, but he makes amends by opening the locked school doors, which enables the protestors to occupy the assembly hall.

And that’s his last contribution to the series.  Also bowing out in this episode are Miss Mooney and Mr Hopwood and, like Jonah, they just fade away with no acknowledgement made that they won’t be returning.  A slight pity, as both Lucinda Gane and Brian Capron had been notable presences over a number of years, but it’s not the first or last time that staff and pupils at Grange Hill just vanish with no ceremony.

The return of Mr McGuffy is a gloriously awkward moment.  As the impressively large body of pupils chant for his return, they then eerily fall silent as he does appear and slowly makes his way to the front.  Claire, Suzanne and the others are appalled to discover that he was reinstated the previous day, so they feel they’ve made all this effort for nothing.  The irony that they’re not even slightly pleased to see him (despite the banners and chanting) is picked up by him – and there’s also a real sense that they used Mr McGuffy simply as the figurehead for all their frustrations about the school.  If Mr McGuffy had been reinstated due to their pressure they would have been delighted, but since the decision was taken out of their hands it only serves to reinforce how impotent and powerless they are.

Mrs McClusky does offer the olive branch of possibly allowing the pupils to take more of a role in future decision making, but – like her manipulation of the flexi-time referendum – you can be sure she’ll always end up on top.

And with the long-range reveal of Pogo’s girlfriend (an unnamed pupil from St Mary’s) series six draws to a close.  Always a favourite series of mine, it still impresses, more than thirty years on.

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Seventeen

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 1st March 1983

It’s the day of the referendum.  Jonah decides to guarantee that the result is positive by doctoring a number of voting slips.  Elsewhere, Stewpot and Duane initiate the Pogo Patterson Girlfriend Sweepstake.  They plan to sell twenty tickets at 50 pence each, meaning that the winner stands to collect five pounds (whilst Stewpot and Duane are also guaranteed a fiver).  The only problem is that they don’t know her identity and Pogo isn’t telling ……

This episode sees some interesting character development for Jonah.  On the one hand, he’s still the same reckless boy we already know from numerous previous scrapes – attempting to spoil the exam papers was foolish in the extreme (as Mrs McClusky says, it was obvious that the same hand had written on all the papers).  This action suggests that his intelligence isn’t the greatest, but later we see him breeze through his exams in record time.  In the next episode it’s confirmed that he could be a first class student if he only concentrated, but his desire to lark about has set him back.  Had Lee Sparke returned for series seven then this theme could have been developed further (would he have become estranged from Zammo as they moved into different streams?)

This wasn’t to be though, as the programme makers had intended to kill him off at the start of the next series.  It would have been the first time that a regular central character had died (Antoni Karamanopolis had tumbled to his death during series three, but he was someone who only existed on the periphery of events).  It seemed that a sudden death didn’t appeal to either Sparke or his parents, so Jonah didn’t return – causing a hasty rewrite, which we’ll discuss when we get to the episodes in question.

Fay continues to be defined by her love of sport.  She’s therefore similar to Benny in that respect – for him it was football, for her it’s hockey.  She’s delighted to have made the District Team and is rather impatient with the complaints of the others (which she sees as petty).  Diane’s still concerned about her spots (although they appear much fainter here – the script implies they’re as bad as ever, so it must be just a poor case of make up) and Annette’s worried that she may have to wear a brace for a year or two.  Fay’s heartless nature is neatly paid off at the end of the episode, allowing Diane the chance to adopt a mocking attitude for a change.

The Pogo sweepstake is great fun, although Stewpot and Duane are under pressure from the others to reveal the correct name.  If they don’t, then they’ll have to give back all the money they’ve earned.  And they’ve only got one episode left to find out!

Claire, Suzanne and Christine arrange another edition of the underground magazine to insist on Mr McGuffy’s reinstatement.  Slightly surprisingly it’s Claire who’s the prime mover, whilst the nominally more radical Suzanne and Christine are initially hesitant.

Christine’s also involved in the most memorable part of the episode.  Mr Hopwood, in Mr McGuffy’s absence, has to take his English lesson.  He and N4 debate the importance of exams.  It isn’t the first time that we’ve heard pupils take a rather pessimistic view of exams – why bother, when there’s no jobs out there?  Mr Hopwood concedes that times are hard, but it’s still better to have qualifications than not.  Christine then tells him about her cousin, who along with forty four other people applied for a job as a shelf-stacker.  And she has a University degree.  There’s nothing to be said that can counter this, so the scene ends on a close up of Mr Hopwood’s face.  This, and the rally in the next episode, are echos of GH‘s more radical past.

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Sixteen

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Written by Jane Hollowood. Tx 25th February 1983

Roland’s (pretend) sprained ankle means that, to his great delight, he’s unable to take part in any more activities with the others.  Instead he’s set another task – to bake some Welsh bread, cover it with Welsh jam and butter, eat it on a Welsh hillside and then compose a poem.  Mr Price stumbles across the dozing boy, who’s baked a very decent loaf of bread but hasn’t got very far with the poem.  Maybe, Mr Price says, that’s because he’s used New Zealand butter!  It’s another nice scene for Roland and it does suggest that the trip has been a positive experience for him.

Diane also eventually enjoys herself, as she tackles the canoeing with gusto and she’s also on hand to spot that Zammo’s in difficulty and raises the alarm.  This is another example, though, of how lax the supervision is.  Simon spends his time nattering to one of the other children about a hole in their canoe, totally oblivious to the fact that Zammo’s floundering about in a capsised canoe.

But it’s a well-directed sequence by an uncredited Kenny McBain (who also directed the previous episode).  Since McBain was also the producer he didn’t receive a directors credit – a not uncommon thing to happen on BBC credits at the time.  With the camera placed close to the stricken Zammo, there’s a real sense of how dangerous and unforgiving even a fairly shallow piece of water can be.

It also has to be observed that Miss Mooney filled out a wetsuit very well, to the obvious amusement of Mr Baxter!  This was to be Lucinda Gane’s penultimate episode as Miss Mooney.  After GH she’d pop up in a few more series (notably as a regular in Mapp & Lucia) before dying at the far too early age of 55 in 2005.

The others are sampling the delights of abseiling from a great height – although Mr Baxter is far from keen.  It’s another nice comedy moment for Mr Baxter who knows he can’t back down – the loss of face would be more than he could bear – but his genuine terror is also quite apparent.  In the end he plucks up his nerve, goes for it and is clearly relived when he’s back on terra firma.  A nice touch is when Janet asks him if he was scared.  He tells her he wasn’t scared, he was terrified.

The disco in Mr Price’s barn allows Miss Mooney and Mr Baxter to show the young ‘uns how it’s done as they strut their stuff to Wot by Captain Sensible.  It’s a memorable end to the episode as the music and dancing plays out over the closing credits.

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Fifteen

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Written by Jane Hollowood.  Tx 22nd February 1983

N2, along with Miss Mooney and Mr Baxter, are in Wales, at the Rhowniar Outward Bound Camp.  It’s no surprise that Mr Baxter is present – his character was always good value on school trips (the doomed French Trip during series four immediately springs to mind).

It’s clear within the opening minutes that Roland is going to give him more than a few headaches during the week.  Everybody else has been sensible enough to pack their belongings in a suitcase, but Roland being Roland decides that plastic bags will suffice.  Needless to say, once Mr Baxter removes them from the back of the coach they split open, exasperating the teacher.

Miss Mooney and Mr Baxter are introduced to Simon (Leo Doe), Doug (John Ratcliff) and Anne (Matyelok Gibbs) who will steer the children and teachers through the week’s programme.  They favour informality – first names only, for example – although neither of the two teachers seem delighted with this, since it means the kids will be able to call them Teri and Geoff.

The two children who will clearly struggle the most during the week are Roland and Diane.  Roland, because of his weight, finds certain tasks (such as clambering over a wall) to be an insurmountable problem, whilst Diane, due to her physical slightness, is placed at a disadvantage whatever she attempts.

Roland doesn’t seem to care though.  When Doug leads the others down a very narrow opening to explore a dirty tunnel (which surely Roland could have never fitted through) the boy simply remains above ground and tags behind the others when they re-emerge.  This scene does highlight that the instructors aren’t terribly observant (something which we’ll return to in the next episode).  Doug doesn’t notice that Roland isn’t amongst his party as they set off – you’d have expected he’d have done a quick head count to ensure that everybody was present and correct.  For all he knew, the boy could have been trapped underground!

Another odd moment occurs later in the episode.  Roland is sent back by Mr Baxter to change into proper mountaineering boots.  Fair enough, but the next time we see him he’s changed into trainers and a jumper (before this, he had on a crash-helmet and waterproofs).  The script seems to imply that he’s got lost on his way back to the outward bound camp, but his change of clothes makes no sense of this.  But if he had made his way back, changed, and was heading back to Mr Baxter this makes no sense either, as now he’s wearing totally the wrong clothes for mountaineering.

No matter, since isolating Roland from the others was simply a way to make him meet Mr Price (Mostyn Evans).  Mr Price is a local farmer and is able to reassure Roland that he was in no danger from a field full of bulls (they were cows).  He’s able to teach the boy some words of Welsh, tell him about the type of cows he had a close encounter with, and generally give the town-based Roland an insight into life in the Welsh countryside.  It’s a nice part of the episode, developed further next time, which shows that although Roland may not be able to join in with many of the outward bound activities, he’s still able to gain something from the trip.

No such luck so far for Diane though, who continues to cut an isolated and tragic figure.  Although most of the girls – even the tactless Annette – are friendly, there’s still the odd one (like Sarah) who continues to treat her as something of a pariah.

Later, we see that Miss Mooney looks rather fetching in dungarees as she pours out her recent romantic heartbreak to one of the outward bound tutors.  She’s clearly hoping for some solace, although Mr Baxter (Michael Cronin once again in good comic form) seems less than sympathetic as he harrumphs from his corner of the room.

The episode ends in time-honoured comic fashion as the boys rig a trap in their dorm which empties a bucket of water over Mr Baxter’s head.  Although in the ensuing merriment Roland falls off the bunk bed, spraining his ankle.  Not the most high-octane cliffhanger then …..

 

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Fourteen

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 18th February 1983

We’ve reached episode fourteen and it’s the first time this year we’ve seen Mr Baxter on videotape.  Hurrah!  Michael Cronin’s only two previous appearances this year were brief film inserts, so it’s long overdue that we should have an episode where he makes a more substantial contribution.

The first scene is between Mr Baxter and Randir.  In Mr Baxter’s world, if you’re good at sports then you’re good, full stop.  Randir’s prowess on the football field has long been established and his decision to carry on playing during a vital school match even though he was carrying an injury (later discovered to be a fractured wrist) clearly meets with Mr Baxter’s unspoken approval.

The return of Gripper begins the endgame of his storyline which has dominated the series since the first episode of episode five.  It had to come to an end – indeed, it seems a little unrealistic that he’d not been expelled before – and Barry Purchese was charged with making his exit as memorable as possible.

Before that happens, there’s some other business to attend to – not least Mrs McClusky’s decision to suspend Mr McGuffy.  It’s a gloriously played comic scene between Gwyneth Powell and Fraser Cains.  When Mr McGuffy protests at Mrs McClusky’s criticism of his conduct and dress, she snaps back that “I haven’t called you here for a debate, Mr McGuffy!” as months of long held exasperation clearly bubble to the surface.

A good demonstration of Mrs McClusky’s skills as a politician is provided when she initiates a referendum into the question of flexi-time.  Mr Hopwood is more than a little surprised, but when she tells him that the referendum will only decide whether to refer the matter to the board of governors, things become clearer.  The governors will dismiss it out of hand, but Mrs McClusky will have been seen to have done something to address the situation, even if it was ultimately futile.  As I said, a skilled politician.

Gripper’s persecution of Randir is an early flashpoint.  Along with his increased mob, he’s cornered the boy in the toilets and their fun is only brought to an end when Mr Baxter storms in.  “Not back in the school five minutes and you’re spewing out your poison.”  When Gripper calls Mr Baxter a paki-lover the teacher reacts with fury, thrusting Gripper’s head into the sink and threatening to wash his mouth out with soap.  It’s a moment that crackles with electricity, although you have to say that Mr Baxter was lucky to escape a charge of assault.

If Mr Baxter is furious with Gripper, then he’s even angrier with his mob.  “As for you bunch of slimy no-goods, you’re worse than he is. He’s rotten, but you lot … you just feed off him like a bunch of maggots.”  When Georgie makes a dismissive sound, Mr Baxter steams over, grabs him by his shirt and points a finger in his face.  The look of fear in the eyes of one of the boys in the background helps to sell the intensity of the scene.

Now that Gripper’s got his own firm he reopens for business.  First is on his list is Pogo – Gripper decides that an exchange of notes (a pound note for the note he’s acquired from Pogo’s girlfriend) is fair.  Yes, Pogo has a girlfriend!  Considering that in the previous episode he was railing against girls in his usual way, this is a little surprising.  Finding out her identity will be a small running thread that’ll continue until the end of series six as Stewpot and Duane (now friends again) continue to be intrigued by his mystery girl.

Mr McGuffy’s suspension means that Mr Baxter is drafted into covering his English lesson, much to the amusement of the fourth-formers.  Precious is convinced that once he sees what they’re studying that’ll be the end of the lesson.  But Mr Baxter isn’t quite the uncultured man he might appear to be.  “Elizabethan verse romances? Oh yes, this is the stuff of literature this is. Drayton, Marlowe, Shakespeare, my word. Wasted on you bunch of philistines of course.”  Another lovely scene which demonstrates just how much Michael Cronin has been missed this year.

Aside from demanding money with menaces again, Gripper’s also got other scores to settle.  One of them is with Claire, thanks to the article on him that she wrote for the underground school magazine.  His choice of revenge – a dirty mop thrust into her face – is suitably unpleasant and provides the episode with yet another dramatic moment.  Stewpot’s naturally incensed and is all for rushing out and dealing with Gripper there and then, but Duane manages to talk him around.  Instead, they team up with Glenroy, who’s already teamed up with Randir.  Rather like the opening episode of series six, it shows how opposing factions in the school can be united because of their hatred of Gripper.

Once again, the mayhem is cut short by the timely arrival of Mr Baxter.  “No, I’m sorry lads. I can’t allow it. Not vigilante groups. Doesn’t matter how justified you may feel. But we let you all down though, haven’t we? There’s no excuse, not really. That evil toe-rag should never have been allowed back on school premises, but he was. And in the space of one morning he’s attacked people because of their colour, because of their sex.  I also hear you’re back to demanding money with menaces, Stebson.  What an utter and complete charmer you are lad.”

As the picture freeze-frames on a shot of Gripper walking to Mrs McClusky’s office to face expulsion (with the cheers of the others ringing in the background) it’s an apporiate way for his time at Grange Hill to end.  Gripper would later make a few one-off apperances, but his absence would leave something of a void.  GH would create many more bullies over the course of the next few decades, but some of them struggled to escape from the long shadow cast by Mark Savage’s intimidating performance.

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Thirteen

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 15th February 1983

Claire and Stewpot, still serving their suspension, meet clandestinely in the local Spar.  This scene appeals for several reasons, not only for the fun in spotting long-vanished products on the shelves but also for Stewpot’s impressively striped jacket!  Both have been forbidden from meeting each other and it’s plain that Stewpot’s father blames Claire just as much as Claire’s mother blames Stewpot.

So when Mrs Scott and Mr Stewart both independently head up to Grange Hill to try and convince Mrs McClusky to change her mind, it might be assume that sparks will fly.  Mr Hopwood certainly thinks so and he gently berates Mr McGuffy for showing Mrs Scott into Mrs McClusky’s office.  Mr McGuffy was unaware that Mr Scott was already there, but seems convinced that Mr Hopwood deliberately engineered the situation in order to create discord.  We’ve previously seen (during Suzanne’s very brief infatuation with Mr McGuffy) that there’s been some needle between them, and this boils over now as they indulge in a blazing row.

The arrival of Mrs McClusky puts an end to it and they both slink away, somewhat abashed.  I do like the later scene where Mrs McClusky informs Mr Keating of the argument.  After learning the identity of both teachers involved in the fracas, he unbelievingly says “Mr Hopwood?”  Clearly he has no problem in believing that Mr McGuffy could be involved in such a disturbance, despite the fact that we’ve rarely seen him raise his voice.  Poor Mr McGuffy’s card is already marked though, as Mrs McClusky is convinced he’s behind the underground school magazine.

The meeting between Mrs Scott and Mr Stewart is a fascinating one.  They both start off in a very defensive manner, blaming the other child for the suspension.  But over a cup of tea in the canteen they revise their positions.  Mrs Scott, in her few brief appearances, has tended to be pictured as something of a hectoring fusspot (very much along the lines of Mrs McMahon).  However this scene allows her character to be painted a little more roundly – she’s aware that Claire’s growing up, but is regretful that this means their previously close mother/daughter bond has frayed.  Mr Stewart has a similar story, he tells her that Christopher rarely speaks to him, as his son considers him to be old and out of touch.

But even though they combine forces to confront Mrs McClusky it has no effect – the headmistress is adamant that Claire and Stewpot must serve out their period of suspension.  When she’s alone with Mr Keating, she does admit that she probably was too hasty in suspending them – but she can’t be seen to back down or reverse her position because that would be seen as weakness.  This is another highly characteristic Mrs McClusky moment.

If most of the racial tension we’ve seen so far this year has been firmly white versus black, then the confrontation between Randir and Glenroy is a reminder (previously briefly touched upon) that other tensions exist.  Glenroy isn’t impressed with Randir.  “Sikhs, acting all superior and stirring up bad feelings.”  But Woody is on hand to try and pour oil on troubled waters, telling them both that this sort of discord is precisely what Gripper wants.

With Gripper away, Denny cuts a forlorn figure.  This episode gave Julian Griffiths the chance to have more than his normal few lines – the role of Gripper’s henchman always ensured that he tended to spend his time lurking in the background.  Denny’s at his most human here and it seems, at times, as if he wants to try and repair some of the damage he’s previously caused.  Can we believe him when he tells Mr McGuffy that Gripper used to bully him as much as anyone else?

It’s no surprise though that his classmates treat him with a mixture of scorn and contempt, which means that he derives an obvious relish at the end of the episode when he tells them that Gripper’s coming back the next day.  Prior to this he had seemed keen to help Claire, Suzanne and Christine in their attempts to print another issue of the school magazine – this one focussing on Gripper – but the hapless Denny had the misfortune to run straight into Mrs McClusky, while clutching the paper.

In order to save his own skin, Denny implied that Mr McGuffy was involved in the magazine.  As we’ve seen, this wasn’t true – he knew about it, but was always careful not to ask for any particulars.  No surprise that Mrs McClusky isn’t bothered by the slender evidence – Mr McGuffy has long been a thorn in her side and this gives her just the excuse she needs to deal with him.

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Twelve

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 11th February 1983

Gripper and his henchmen (with the exception of Denny) are once again tracked down by Randir, Woody and their friends and a massive fight ensues.  Even before it starts you get the sense – because it’s shot on film – that this is going to be a notable set-piece sequence and so it turns out to be.  Bodies are flung about the cloakroom with wild abandon – into lockers and against coatstands and it takes the combined efforts of Mr Keating, Mr Hopwood and Mr Baxter to bring some sort of order to proceedings.

Yes, Mr Baxter makes a brief appearance.  This is quite notable because it’s now episode twelve and his last (also brief) appearance was in episode two.  I’m not sure why he’s hardly featured in this series to date, but I’ve certainly been suffering from Baxter withdrawal symptoms.

Mr Keating’s at his imperious best – telling them that everyone in the room will be expelled.  Claire and Stewpot escape any punishment though, they were in the cloakroom but were only innocent bystanders.

What’s interesting is the way that the punishment changes once everyone reaches Mrs McClusky’s office.  It’s never stated on-screen, but presumably it must be her decision not to expel them – instead they’re all served with a two-week suspension.  It would have been nice to have a little bit of dialogue between her and Mr Keating, with each arguing their corner.

Although Mrs McClusky has now been presented with clear evidence that Gripper’s been carrying out a wave of racially motivated bullying she doesn’t decide to single him out for any special punishment.  This is odd.  She’s visited by Woody’s mother who’s upset that her son will be missing two weeks of school.  As she says, he’s never been in any sort of trouble before – and surely the fact that a number of children with previously unblemished records decided to hit back at Gripper would suggest that they were goaded into action?

Anne Kristen is once again on fine form as Miss Clark.  She steps in to prevent Gripper and Georgie from bullying Janet and her friend and later is appalled to find Stewpot and Claire locked in an embrace in the book cupboard.  “We were only necking” mutters Stewpot, but it cuts no ice with Miss Clark who tells them that this is a school, not the back row of the Roxy!  I really wish they’d made her a regular character.

Another lovely performance comes from Gillian Hanna as Miss Gossage.  Miss Gossage is a teacher who’s best described as “not all there”.  She seem to spend most of the lesson time asleep and then (according to Suzanne) always slopes off before the bell goes. As we see her dazedly walking down the corridor, humming Some Enchanted Evening, it’s plain that she’s the last person you’d pick to diffuse a racially motivated fight (Miss Clark, on the other hand, would no doubt steam right in).  Luckily for Miss Gossage, she spies Mr Hopwood and is able to pass this job onto him.

The publication of the underground magazine goes down like a lead balloon with Mrs McClusky.  Her dismissal of Flexi-Time is reasonable, as the practical problems are great, but it’s her comment on bullying which is very telling.  “I have specifically vetoed this sort of criticism of the staff and their handling of the racial situation.”  So she knows there’s a problem, and that probably more could have been done, but rather than address any failings head on she decides that the suppression of negative comments is the best course of action.

Her decision to suspend Claire and Stewpot for their embrace is a clear sign that she’s rattled.  But she also wants to track down the ringleaders responsible for the magazine.  And she’s convinced that they must have had help from the staff ….