Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode One

grange hill s06e01

Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 4th January 1983

The first episode opens with a directorial flourish from Carol Wilks – a remarkably high panning shot which slowly tracks along rows and rows of houses. The camera then zooms into a selected house as we see Randir Singh (Kakir Singh) setting off for school.

That Randir is being positioned, even this early on, as something of an outsider is suggested by the fact that he’s carrying a satchel (generally only swots like Justin tend to have them) although it could have been provided so that Mr Smart can later crack a sort of Shakespearian joke at his expense.

As Randir walks down the street (and also as Jonah makes his way to Zammo’s flat) there’s an interesting use of non-diegetic sound – we hear a radio playing with Mike Read spinning a series of discs seemingly designed to sap the spirits of all those children returning to school for the new term.

If anybody ever picks up Grange Hill for DVD release (unlikely I know) then it’s a fair bet that one of the tracks, Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, would be snipped out, although at least it does play out over a scene where there’s no dialogue, so a substitution would be fairly straightforward.

The early part of the episode reintroduces us to the main characters. It’s our first sight of Roland since he fell under a car late in series five and, no surprise, he’s still far from willing to go to school. That no progress has been made, even after all his meetings with the educational psychologist, is made clear after he complains that he’s got stomach pains. Mrs Browning (one of Jo Kendal’s final appearances, as she’ll be later written out – leaving Roland and his father to fend for themselves) tells him that’s a pity as she’ll have to throw his breakfast away. Unsurprisingly he then perks up and suggests he could manage something. It’s a gag in one way, but it’s also quite a sad and depressing moment.

There’s a new teacher in town, Mr Smart (Simon Haywood). His name is a none too subtle joke, Smart by name, smart by nature. To begin with, he’s a tidy and precise martinet – a stickler for discipline (his undisguished shock at Mr McGuffy’s appearance and attitude is plain to see). But whilst he may be something of a two dimensional figure this year, over time he develops and by series eight he’s a much more relaxed, humorous and approachable figure. But no doubt this was in part due to Mr Bronson’s debut in series eight, necessitating Mr Smart’s realignment as a more sympathetic character.

Jonah starts off in a very annoying fashion and Zammo’s very dense. The laboured gag that Jonah was allowed into a shop that banned Grange Hill pupils because he’d sown on a Rodney Bennett badge was painfully obvious to everyone. Everyone that is except Zammo who doesn’t notice what’s  right in front of his eyes. It’s  also the first mention of Jonah’s Rodney Bennett cousin Jeremy (Vincent Mathews) who’ll return a few times, most notably during series seven.

Gripper’s up to his usual tricks of demanding money with menaces and is delighted to welcome his old customer Roland back. That Roland is more integrated into the school community seems obvious after the others rally round to try and make him look a little more presentable after Gripper’s done his worst (Jonah offering to sew his blazer buttons back on, for example).

Gripper’s interest in Claire (which fills her with disgust) is given its first airing, but the most notable part of this episode is how everybody bands together to finally bring an end to Gripper’s extortion racket. Logically it had to happen – given that his persecution of Roland and the others seems to be common knowledge it would have stretched credibility to breaking point if he’d simply picked up where he’d left off.

But as we’ll see, it’s the arrival of new boy Randir that suggests a new course of action to him.

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Two

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 7th January 1983

There’s a disturbing flashback to the saga of Belinda’s missing clarinet with the tale of Fay’s missing hockey stick.  With Belinda now safely back in Canada, a new character, Julie Marchant (Julie York), is introduced in order to provide some discord to the Fay/Annette relationship.

As before, we see that Annette is extremely wary of anybody who attempts to establish a friendship with Fay. To Annette, Fay is her friend and she seems very disinclined to share her.  The reasons for Annette’s insecurities remain undeveloped at present and won’t really be touched upon in any depth until the following year (after it’s revealed that her home life is far from stable).

Several new characters make their debut.  Diane Cooney (Julie-Ann Steel) has severe acne and quickly becomes a figure of ridicule for the two meanest girls in the class, Mandy (Anita Savage) and Sarah (Joanne Bell).

Poor supervision of sports lessons has been a constant at Grange Hill since series one, and it continues here as Miss Saunders (Jennie Stoller) leaves her gym class under the not-very-watchful eye of Mandy and Sarah.  That Miss Saunders would chose those two girls, rather than, say, Fay, is a little hard to swallow – especially since Fay’s all-around sports ability is quite plain (even if it earns resentment, rather than appreciation,  from some of those around her – especially Annette).

Mandy and Sarah deliberately throw Diane off the vaulting horse and proceed to kick her whilst she’s on the floor –  and all the while Miss Saunders is oblivious to what’s going on.  After Fay confronts them in the changing rooms, Annette uses their argument as a cover to hide Fay’s hockey stick.  Since she’s upset about Julie’s friendship with Fay, hiding the hockey stick allows her to discredit Julie and (after she plans to later “miraculously” discover it) she no doubt believes it will strengthen her friendship with Fay. Things don’t quite go to plan though, as Mandy and Sarah discover Annette’s secret and it’s up to Julie to save the day.

This episode is also notable as it features Zammo and Jonah’s first attempt to infiltrate Rodney Bennett.  But Jonah’s plan to spend the afternoon at Rodney Bennett (don’t ask why) runs aground after Mr Baxter spots them.  But the boys are nothing if not persistent, so we’ll return to this storyline at a later date.

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Three

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Written by Jane Hollowood. Tx 11th January 1983

This episode opens with Randir and his family sitting around the breakfast table. The relationship between Randir and his father is one of mild conflict – especially since Randir’s father is portrayed as somewhat conflicted. On the one hand he wants his son to succeed at Grange Hill and make full use of the opportunities available, but when Randir mentions that he wants to attend the football trials on the weekend this doesn’t go down well. Somewhat stereotypically, the Singhs own a shop, and Randir is expected to work there at the weekend. So although his father wants him to do well at school (and therefore integrate into the local community) this is something that can only go so far (business must come first).

Although Mr Hopwood notes that Randir hasn’t made much of an effort to get to know his classmates, he’s far from the sort of isolated, victim character that Roland was. If Randir is self-contained, he’s also confident and this is one of the reasons why he catches Gripper’s attention (the fact that Claire speaks to him is another).

Even though Randir is outnumbered two to one (Gripper’s shadow, Denny, is still about) there’s no sense that Randir is at all cowed or frightened by Gripper’s approach. They’re pretty much the same, height and wright wise, so it wouldn’t be easy to pick a winner in a fair fight (although Gripper’s not likely to fight fair!). This begs the question as to why Gripper targets him, as before he’s always gone for easier and younger prey. We’ve seen that the others have shut down Gripper’s extortion scheme, so a spot of racial bullying is clearly a decent alternative, but in story terms this is slightly problematic.

As the rest of the school had eventually decided to stand up to Gripper and tell him that his bullying was no longer acceptable, why did they allow him to get away with a new wave of racially motivated bullying? It seems to be (although it’s only later lightly touched upon) there’s a general distrust between the different races (so if a black kid was being bullied a white kid wouldn’t necessarily go to help). There have been obvious exceptions to this – Benny, for example – but then Benny wasn’t a character defined by the colour of his skin or his religion, whilst Randir most certainly is.

Gripper’s acquired a new henchman in addition to Denny, Georgie (Sam Smart), and the three of them decide to unwrap Randir’s turban. This then sees a number of coincidences – Claire and Suzanne are passing at precisely that moment and Gripper decides to turn his attention onto Claire (pinning the girl against the wall and asking for a kiss). The next coincidence is that Stewpot and Duane were also close at hand and Stewpot goes rushing in, fists flailing. The fight isn’t pretty, but it’s entertaining. It’s also notable that Duane hangs back and had to be pushed forward to get involved. The upshot is that Claire and Stewpot are thrown together (there’s a certain noble look of suffering in his eyes as he lies down on a bench as Claire tends his bloody face!) and they’ll shortly become an item.

We end back where we began, with Randir and his family at home.  Randir sees his turban and his religion as factors which mark him out as different and therefore a target for people like Gripper.  His father, whilst accepting that racial abuse is a part of parcel of life, tells him that he’s a Sikh and therefore he can’t deny his culture – otherwise he’d lack any sort of identity.  The tension between a wish to conform and a desire to retain existing cultural links is an interesting one, although as his family don’t reappear after this episode it doesn’t really get developed.

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Four

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Written by Jane Hollowood. Tx 14th January 1983

Duane’s far from happy that Stewpot, in his own halting way, is attempting to ask Claire out.  Quite why this is, since Duane’s never asked her out himself, is a bit of a mystery. Duane and Claire have been friends since the first year (and it always seemed likely they would end up together) but since Duane’s not made a move by now you have to assume that he’s not interested.  Either that, or he’s a very, very slow operator.

Stewpot attempts to clear the air at breaktime. It’s always struck me as a strange detail that Duane’s reading Practical Camper whilst waiting in the tuckshop queue.  I don’t know why, it’s just a slightly unexpected magazine for him to have!

This storyline is another example of how Duane (who was a longer established character than Stewpot) has gradually been marginalised.  It seems that the rough-and-tumble Stewpot was more interesting to write for than the conventional Duane and by series seven we’ll see that Duane is even more surplus to requirements – with Stewpot and Pogo forming a decent double act, there’s no role left for Duane to play.

Gripper’s gang has grown by a few more and they continue to target Randir.  He’s rescued by Woody Woods (Tony MacPherson) who suggests he hangs around with him and his friends.  Since Woody and the others are black, there’s a clear division being made across racial lines – although it’s still yet to be openly stated that Gripper’s picking on people because of the colour of their skin.

This happens later, as Pogo asks Randir to use his scarf to make a turban.  It’s a moment of rapprochement between different cultures, which is quickly stamped on by Gripper – who tells Pogo that things aren’t going to be pleasant at Grange Hill for any foreigners soon.

Mrs McClusky seems to be aware that staff shortages are making playground bullying more of a possibility, but rather than target the bullies she elects to reduce the pupil’s breaktimes.  Mr Hopwood voices his concern that by doing this they’re not attacking the problem, only dealing with the symptoms, so it’s a strange decision.

Suzanne’s been in a strop since episode one, ever since she learnt that she wouldn’t be able to take the options she wanted.  Her split skirt doesn’t meet with Mrs McClusky’s approval either, meaning that Susan Tully’s default expression so far this year has been “disgruntled”.

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Five

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 Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 18th January 1983

The opening scene sees Zammo at the breakfast table, reading a copy of the Sun, and with a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes prominently in the frame.  If it wasn’t for the fact that we know the BBC doesn’t go in for that sort of thing, I’d swear it was blatant product placement! Jonah’s still keen on spending the afternoon at Rodney Bennett whilst Zammo isn’t, although he’s eventually persuaded.  It doesn’t take a genius to guess that this isn’t going to work out well ….

Gripper and Denny tangle with Roland for the first time since episode one.  Despite the fact they’ve been warned off this type of bullying, no doubt they feel confident that Roland will keep quiet.  But there’s also a newer, more insidious tone to Gripper’s abuse of the younger boy, as he tells Roland that he may look white but he’s actually black inside.  The running gag that Gripper is intellectually lacking is maintained when Denny, agreeing with Gripper as usual, tells him that Roland must have a pigment problem.  Needless to say, Gripper has no idea what he’s talking about.

After Diane feels faint during sports, this leads Jonah to wonder exactly why girls are always feeling faint.  Zammo tells him it’s to do with the time of the month, but doesn’t elaborate too much (although he does let drop the nugget of information that it’s all to do with the Moon!)

Later, Zammo and Jonah meet up with Jeremy and some other boys from Rodney Bennett as the plan to infiltrate the school begins in earnest.  One of the them is unmistakably John Drummond, who would turn up two years later as another character, Trevor Cleaver.  This obviously means that he must have been blessed with fresh-faced looks, since he could also pass for a first year a couple of years later in 1985.  A slight can of worms concerns Jeremy himself.  We’re told in an earlier episode that he’s only a first year, but in 1984 he seems to have jumped ahead somewhat as he transfers to Grange Hill and joins Zammo in the third year.  But it has to remembered that the inclusion of Jeremy in 1984 was something of a last minute decision – as we’ll no doubt discuss when we reach those episodes.

Zammo and Jonah’s misadventures at Rodney Bennett certainly benefit from being shot on film, as does the fact we see them enter the school after everyone else has already gone to class.  This makes the pair of them seem very small and instantly makes the school an even more foreboding place.  The sound of a hectoring teacher’s voice from off-screen (sounding all the world like he could have been auditioning for Pink Floyd’s The Wall) is another obvious sign that this is a far less welcoming place than Grange Hill.

The sight of Stanley Lebor as a harsh teacher is something of a highlight.  Although probably best known as the meek and mild Howard Hughes from the classic Richard Briers sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles, prior to this Lebor had tended to play more intmindating figures (as he does here).  Lebor’s teacher has no compunction in grabbing the two boys by their ears or banging their heads together to make a point!  And a familiar film trick, used from the very first episode onwards, is also brought into play – the camera is positioned low down and angled upwards, making the adult seem even taller than he already is.

Also, Fay’s increasing interest in sports causes more friction between her and Annette whilst Diane is the recipient of some mild bullying from Roland.  That Roland, who’s suffered at the hands of bullies more than most, should start to lash out at the girl is, in one way, quite understandable.  Anybody who draws attention away from himself is clearly welcome, but that he also lashed out at the girl immediately after being bullied by Gripper indicates how the bullying of one person can have a knock on effect, as we see them then take their frustrations out on someone else.


Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Six

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 21st January 1983

N2 have headed off to St Albans on a field trip, so that means we’re on film for the whole episode.  The class are under the dutiful eye of Miss Mooney, Mr Smart and Mr Butterworth (Michael Graham Cox).  Graham Cox has one of those instantly recognisable faces, although I wasn’t too sure exactly where I knew him from.  But a quick skim through his credits (his television debut was in An Age of Kings in 1960, not a bad first series to appear in) shows that he turned up in plenty of notable series – Public Eye, Arthur of the Britons, Poldark, Secret Army, a regular in The Gentle Touch during 1984, etc.

Mr Butterworth is one of those classic one-shot GH teachers.  He’s passionate about his subject (history) and is friendly, approachable and clearly written as something of an inspirational figure.  A pity then that this is his only appearance.  And for balance we have Mr Smart, who spends his time hitting various pupils on the head with his newspaper and telling them to open their eyes!

Fay’s hockey commitments means that she’s absent, although in story terms this is a good thing since it means that Annette has to spend time with Julie and Diane.  We’ve already seen that Annette barely tolerates Julie (although given that Fay’s not here they do seem to get on better).  But Annette has even less time for Diane and she and Julie leave the other girl to her own devices.  They’ve been expressly told that they need to stay together in groups and the abandonment of Diane is only the first wrong move that they make …..

Annette’s headstrong (or pig-headed if you like) nature means that she’s convinced she knows the quickest way to the Roman theatre, despite Diane (who’s been to St Albans before) telling her she’s heading in the wrong direction.  She won’t listen though and soon the two girls meet up again with Brian (Harvey Hillyer) and Kevin (Martin Murphy).  Earlier in the day the two boys (presumably in their late teens) had stolen Julie’s crisps, but now (apparently all contrite) they offer to give them a lift to the theatre.

Their appearance and rather creepy dialogue (not to mention the shabby nature of their car!) all scream that Annette and Julie would be mad to accept, but of course they do.  Since Brian and Kevin are so clearly signposted as wrong-‘uns from their first appearance, it may have been a little more interesting to have made them seem more “normal” and non-threatening to begin with – which would have made the sudden realisation that they were dangerous all the more striking.  But no matter, it’s still a chilling moment as the girls realise that they’re not heading towards the theatre after all (instead they’re pulling off the road into the wood).

Possibly this is another reason why Fay wasn’t included in this episode, as you know for sure that she’d be far too sensible to get into a car with strange men. Thankfully nothing happens, but it’s spelled out quite clearly to them (and of course the young audience at home) that they were very lucky.

For a spot of light relief, Zammo and Jonah manage to find St Albans’ seedy underbelly whilst Roland gains a great deal of useful information for his school project, by doing nothing more than sitting in a café, eating, and recording the reminisces of days gone by from his fellow customers.

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Seven

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 25th January 1983

The love triangle with Stewpot, Claire and gooseberry Duane is still lingering on.  This mainly consists of Duane giving Stewpot filthy looks whilst Claire isn’t terribly pleased with him either.  His decision to write Claire’s name on his hand has made their relationship very public (although to be honest I doubt it was that great a secret anyway).

Woody’s mild interest in Precious does seem to indicate that love’s currently very much in the air at GH.  Tony McPherson’s six episodes as Woody Woods was his only screen credit, which is more than a little surprising since – even with his limited screentime – he seems to have a natural presence.

Woody’s two friends, Steven (Mark Monero) and Glenroy (Stephen Woodcock), have sharply contrasting personalities.  Steven, like Woody, is relaxed and friendly whilst Glenroy is physically intimidating and more than a little bolshy.  Steven remained a peripheral character during his handful of appearances whilst Glenroy would develop quite nicely during the next series and a half, with Woodcock showing a deft line in comedy. And both Monero and Woodcock – like so many others – would later graduate to EastEnders.

Gripper and Denny tell their latest recruit, Georgie, that they don’t plan to stick around school. As the pair leave, there’s a cut to the next scene just as Georgie starts to move (meaning that it’s not clear if Georgie decided to truant with them or went to lessons instead). Given that the episode was nowhere near the 25 minute mark it’s a little surprising they didn’t let the scene play out for a few seconds more, so it would have been clear what Georgie’s decision was. Otherwise the whole scene doesn’t seem to have any purpose.

Anne Kristen makes an immediate impression as the intimidating Geography teacher Miss Clark, possibly it’s her harsh Scottish accent? Although born in Glasgow, Kristen didn’t always use her natural accent (for example, when she was a regular in Casualty, possibly her most familiar television role). Miss Clark’s another of those briefly-seen teachers who would have been a decent regular.

Gripper’s stepping up his racial bullying as we see him force both Duane and Pogo to swear an oath to the British people. To Gripper this is logical, since he considers they are the Master Race, but what exactly does he think this will achieve? It’s plain that Duane and Pogo only gave the oath under duress (as Duane later confirms to a shocked Stewpot). Is Gripper really so deluded to believe that the two boys are now firmly on his side? As later touched upon, tbe irony is that many people (such as Precious) are just as British as Gripper, although he – like many other racists down the years – isn’t able to grasp this concept.

Susanne’s still (unsurprisingly) unhappy and plans to run away from home. Claire’s appalled when she finds out and immediately enlists Stewpot’s help. I love the way that Mark Burdiss rolls his eyes in a long-suffering way, no doubt Suzanne’s not high on his list of priorities! Mr Hopwood later tells her that he’ll try to do something about her options, which seems to do the trick, for now at least.

Gripper’s confrontation with Stewpot and Claire is an edgy moment. Mark Savage (Gripper) has rarely been more intimidating as he attempts to make Stewpot swear the oath of allegiance. Characteristically he refuses, so a scuffle breaks out – which is cut short by the timely arrival of Mr Hopwood. He’s aware of the disturbing rumours surrounding Gripper, but with no tangible evidence he’s powerless.

Another key scene occurs towards the end of the episode, as Gripper pushes Precious too far and he’s forced to beat a hasty retreat. A dramatic moment which is well-played by Dulice Leicier.