Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 18th February 1985
The opening episode of series eight sees a mass influx of new characters, possibly a “new broom” policy instigated by producer Ben Rea (who had just taken over from Kenny McBain). This is the first time that a fresh crop of first years had been seen since 1982, so they were a little overdue, but – thanks to the closure of Rodney Bennett and Brookdale – we also see the fourth form strengthened with an influx of refugees from those two schools (many still clinging to old, tribal loyalties) whilst several long-running teachers also make their debut.
Most of the pupils from N1 are familiar archetypes – Calley Donnington (Simone Hyams) and Ronnie Birtles (Tina Mahon) aren’t too dissimilar from Trisha/Cathy or Fay/Annette whilst Gonch Gardner (John Holmes) and Hollo Holloway (Bradley Shepherd) could be another Pogo/Stewpot partnership, especially Gonch who’ll develop, just like Pogo, into the ultimate free marketer. And the role of the class bully, formally filled by the likes of Doyle, is taken here by the initially imposing Trevor Cleaver (John Drummond). But Barry Purchese also shakes things up a little. Calley, from her first scene, is just a little odd and offbeat, carrying to school something mysterious in a box which she plans to return to the pet shop later.
Few of N1 seem to have known each other prior to the first day, so friendships (Calley/Ronnie and Gonch/Hollo) are swiftly forged. But after Hollo, riding his brother’s bike, knocks into Gonch and the passing Mr Smart seems (rather unfairly) to put all the blame onto Gonch’s shoulders, friendship seems unlikely. Despite being pint-sized, Hollo is itching for a scrap and plans to settle this score with Gonch after school (but their enmity is short-lived as they soon form an efficient double-act).
Trevor’s bullying is swiftly undercut. He may impress the squeaky-voiced Robbie Wright (John Alford) but it doesn’t take long before Trevor is cut down to size. For the remainder of his time on the show he’ll remain an occasionally aggressive character, but more often than not he’s played for laughs – Trevor’s certainly no Gripper that’s for sure.
As for the sixth form, there’s now only three old pupils remaining – Stewpot, Claire and Precious. We briefly see Stewpot and Claire in passing, but rather like the fifth-formers back in 1982 they don’t really have storylines of their own any more – instead they exist to interact with the younger pupils.
Visually the series looks a little different, thanks to using two different schools. The old Grange Hill site now houses the form rooms for the fourth, fifth and sixth forms whilst the former Rodney Bennett school is the home for the first, second and third years. Since Brookdale has been “left to rot” it rather begs the question as to how three schools worth of pupils can now be crammed into just two schools – especially since the classes in Grange Hill always seemed to be full ….
An old story staple reappears here – two teachers squabbling over one classroom. It’s an interesting wrinkle that we’d previously seen Mr Smart and Mr Knowles at loggerheads (with Mr Smart the aggressor) whereas here Mr Bronson is the one who’s happy to exercise his full range of arrogance whilst Mr Smart is placed in a subservient role.
Another interesting visual touch is seen in the opening few seconds as we see a board which states that Mrs McClusky has been demoted to deputy head, Mr Humphries is now the headmaster. There was potential for decent character conflict between the two, but alas Mr Humphries rather ends up like Mr Lllewellyn – a character who’s always just out of shot or in an important meeting and can’t be disturbed.
Jackie’s in the same class as Zammo, which makes them happy, but she’s less impressed to see some of her former Brookdale classmates, especially the loutish Banksie (Tim Polley). For a touch of contrast there’s also the well-spoken ex-Rodney Bennett type Julian Fairbrother (Douglas Chamberlain) who tells the others about their new form-tutor, the intimidating Mr Bronson (Michael Sheard).
Several new teachers are introduced here, but it’s clear that Mr Bronson (“you, boy!”) is the one with the most potential for conflict and drama. Upon entering the class he looks for someone to browbeat and the unlucky recipient is Zammo. This is the start of a repeated pattern, we’ll see that he enjoys victimising people over an extended period of time (unlucky later subjects include Ant Jones and Danny Kendall). Sheard’s wonderful from his first scene and he’s able to brighten many an episode over the next five years.
The long-running Miss Booth (Karen Ford) also appears for the first time, but Miss Washington (Caroline Gruber) was a one series character only, a pity since Gruber is really rather lovely ….
There’s a lot to pack in with just twenty four minutes to play with, but series eight hits the ground running.