Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Eight

grange hill s06e08

Written by David Angus. Tx 28th January 1983

Although this is a studio-bound episode, a generous application of water still manages to give the strong impression that it’s pouring with rain outside, as we see the likes of Fay, Annette, Julie, Jonah and Zammo all arrive looking decidely damp.

Neither Mrs McClusky or Mr McGuffy have been used a great deal this year, so it’s nice to see them both and even better that they share a short scene together. It once again demonstrates the gulf between their approaches to discipline – Mrs McClusky is pondering exactly what measures she should take to punish those who truant on a regular basis, whilst Mr McGuffy gently suggests that if they do nothing then the situation mght resolve itself. Quite how this would work is never made clear, so for once it seems that Mrs McClusky is in the right.

I love N2’s English lesson with Mr McGuffy. He announces that they’re going to study one of the greatest poems in the English language (to barely surpressed groans) and the stifled yawns we later see are a good indication that they’re not enjoying themselves. Mr McGuffy may be an inspirational teacher, but this isn’t one of his finest hours.

There’s another example of the chain effect of bullying. Annette taunts Roland, so he in turn taunts Diane. Fay tells him to leave her alone and he responds that he will if Annette does likewise. But Annette doesn’t let up, which makes Roland decide to take the afternoon off. Janet, who always seems to be lurking about, has some words of wisdom which go unheeded. “Running away won’t do any good, whatever it was will still be here when you come back.”

This scene also demonstrates just how scruffy and run-down the corridors look. Possibly the sets have been gradually dirtied down, if so it’s a clever visual way of signifying that money at Grange Hill continues to be tight and the budget for decorating must be minimal.

Mrs McClusky, together with Miss Mooney, Mr Browning, Roland and Annette, manages to get to the bottom of N2’s bullying triangle. Quite why she’s not taken any action against Gripper’s much more insidious racial bullying is harder to understand though.

June Page makes a couple of brief appearances as Miss Hunt. One of Page’s earliest television appearances was as Chrissie in the rather fine Dixon of Dock Green episode Seven for a Secret, Never to be Told and she’d later pop up in numerous other series, such as Doctor Who.

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Nine

grange hill s06e09-01

Written by Paula Milne. Tx 1st February 1983

Open Day is fast approaching, which means that the pupils all have to come up with an interesting project.  The most elaborate comes courtesy of Jonah and Zammo, who devise a computer programme intended to make them a healthy profit.

Once upon a time this would have been Pogo’s domain, but at present he doesn’t seem interested in money making schemes, so the two younger boys clearly see a gap in the market.  Their lack of computer knowledge means that have to lean heavily on the expertise of Miss Lexington.  Allyson Rees last appeared as the fragrant Miss Lexington at the end of series four, so her brief reappearance here was unexpected (but very welcome).  Although Miss Lexington seems a trusting soul, there’s also the suggestion that she doesn’t believe for a minute that the boys will donate any profit they make to charity.

No surprises that the race computer programme is doomed to failure.  The idea is sound enough – somebody runs around the school, their time is recorded and the computer then calculates how long it would take the next person to run the same course (using their age, height, weight, etc as a handicap).  Alas, Zammo  is chosen as the control runner but doesn’t complete the course (instead he sits down and chomps through an apple).  The upshot is that his estimated timings are far too generous, meaning that everybody wins and they have to hand over twenty pence each time.  So Jonah utters what was, for Grange Hill, fairly strong language (“you lazy git”) and in the interests of damage limitation they enlist Roland to block the later runners, thereby reducing their losses somewhat!

Gripper’s project on the history of weaponry doesn’t meet with Mr Hopwood’s approval, so he sets him a task in woodwork instead.  He presents the boy with a block of wood and tells him he can carve whatever he likes (provided it doesn’t resemble a weapon).  Mr Hopwood is pleased with Gripper’s progress and tells him that he could be the hit of open day.  Hmm, really?  Gripper’s masterpiece is an oblong block of wood with a hole in it.  I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like and that’s not really it.

Although it could be that Paula Milne was attempting to show that, for once, Gripper made a genuine effort to do something constructive – only to find it was ignored.  Everybody seems much more interested in Glenroy’s project on Rastafarian culture (complete with booming music) which no doubt irked the racist Gripper even more.  Earlier, there’s a lovely scene between Glenroy and Mrs McClusky in which she asks him to explain his project.  Gwyneth Powell doesn’t say much, but her expression of polite interest speaks volumes.

It’s slightly odd that Suzanne’s still fretting about her Options, since Mr Hopwood sorted that out in an earlier episode.  But here it’s still not been done, although after yet another entreaty he promises to move her to Media Studies.  No doubt he hopes that this will cause a cease-fire in Suzanne’s anti-establishment campaign (she turns up to school in an eye-catching blue-mini skirt complete with blue tights) but it’s only a momentary respite.  Once Suzanne learns that she’s only got onto the Media Studies course because someone else was there by accident she goes ballistic and she ends the episode with her strop factor turned up to eleven.

grange hill s06e09-02

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Ten

grange hill s06e10

Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 4th February 1983

Mr Knowles (Eric Jury) isn’t a teacher who’s able to exercise any sort of control over his pupils and N2 are merciless in exploiting his weaknesses.  Annette loves to mock his Brummie accent for example and she, together with Julie and Fay, decide to spend their lunchtime stalking him.

With Annette and Julie fluttering their eyes and declaring their love for him (even if it’s only in jest) it’s something of an eye-opening storyline.  All three girls delight in copying his bandy-legged walk and follow him to the local Spar, where he does a little shopping.  Yes, this isn’t an episode that’s brimming with edge of the seat action.  Poor Mr Knowles has no choice but to put up with their ribbing, although it’s highly characteristic that Fay is the first to tire of these games and later leaves Annette and Julie to carry on without her.

Mr Knowles seems like an archetypical one-shot character, since the episode has a very clear arc.  He starts off as pretty useless, is later shown to have some positive traits and by the end the kids are much better behaved (although they only mend their ways because they see that a School Inspector is sitting in on his class).  But his one-on-one chat with Julie at the bus-stop does demonstrate that he’s able to be an effective communicator when the rest of the class aren’t around, but the question is whether he’ll ever be able to bring those skills into the classroom.  And although it appears we’ve seen the last of him, he later does go on to appear as a semi-regular during series seven and by then this question has been answered somewhat.

One of the the reasons why Mr Knowles goes up considerably in Jonah’s estimation is because he supports the boy’s proposal for Flexi-Time.  This is a barking mad suggestion which you know that Mrs McClusky will take great delight in dismissing out of hand during the school council meeting.  And she does, although she’s icily polite when Mr Knowles pipes up in favour of it.

It may have some positive points, but the negatives (Jonah wants to make optional subjects which the school is legally bound to teach) seem fairly insurmountable.  But Mrs McClusky’s instant dismissal of the suggestion isn’t surprising, but it will no doubt only serve to create resentment.  Other head-teachers (like the progressive Mr Llewellyn) would have probably been more open to the suggestion, but Mrs McClusky (like her real-world counterpart Mrs Thatcher) was rarely interested in anybody else’s opinions and preferred to steam-roller her way through the school agenda.

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Eleven

grange hill s06e11

Written by David Angus. Tx 8th February 1983

There’s two things which are odd about the start of this episode – we see Suzanne in school uniform and she’s also developed a crush on Mr McGuffy.  When we last saw Suzanne, at the end of episode nine, she was raging at how Mr Hopwood had “betrayed” her and her take on school uniform was best described as imaginative!

Something’s clearly happened which has made her decide to toe the line, at least where uniform’s concerned, but we never find out what it is.  Her hero-worship of Mr McGuffy (rather like Claire’s infatuation with Mr Hopwood in series five) is something else that’s just happened, with no prior warning.  She lends him a Toyah LP, which he promises to give a spin.  Her interest in him hasn’t escaped Mr Hopwood’s notice, who attempts to give his colleague some friendly advice about inappropriate relations.

Mr McGuffy’s having none of it though – he’s convinced that Suzanne has no feelings for him and even if she did he’d be able to rebuff her. There’s a nice spark between the two teachers and their whispered conversation in the staff room is also notable for the over-acting extra in the background.  Although she’s reading a newspaper, she’s also clearly ear-wigging and can’t help raising her eyebrows and staring at them as the story unfolds.

Mr Keating’s in fine form as he sadly examines the shocking state of Pogo’s exercise book.  The boy tells him that it fell in the bath as he was completing his homework (a transparent excuse to get out of homework no doubt) but Mr Keating is having none of it, telling Pogo that he has difficulty in believing that he takes regular baths!

This particular plot line (Pogo later sees a money-making venture in obtaining new exercise books from the cupboard in order to sell them) doesn’t really go anywhere, as it’s only designed so that Suzanne can obtain a large amount of paper from the same source.  She wants the paper to start an underground magazine – this idea was put into her head by Christine, her first notable contribution to series six.

So although Suzanne may outwardly now be conforming, she’s still railing against the numerous injustices inflicted on the pupils by Mrs McClusky.  Mr McGuffy is sympathetic and tells her and Claire that he can give their magazine his moral support, but as a teacher he can’t do any more.  As we’ll see, this conversation will later prove to have serious consequences ….

Gripper’s still causing aggro.  There’s a tussle with Pogo which is noteworthy because Pogo (normally a fairly placid character) throws the first punch, but most of Gripper’s bullying is still racially motivated.  There’s a definite feeling that things are coming to a head, especially since Randir and his friends are becoming more militant.  They give Gripper and Denny a good going-over, but it’s plain that this isn’t the end of the story.  Suzanne spots an obvious first article – the ongoing racial tensions in the school – as the lead story in their magazine.  Three guesses how that will go down with Mrs McClusky.

 

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Twelve

grange hill s06e12

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 ….

 

Grange Hill. Series Six – Episode Thirteen

grange hill s06e13

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 Fourteen

grange hill s06e14

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.