Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Eight

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 13th March 1985

Episode eight opens in an unconventional way, as we see Robbie stepping away from the boy’s urinal!  It’s not unusual to feature scenes in the toilets, but offhand I can’t think of many times when we actually see people doing the business, as it were

The scene introduces us to Gonch’s groping grab as well as moving forward his truanting plans (Hollo provides him with a stack of dental appointment cards – all they have to do is fill them out and they’ve a perfect excuse for being off school premises).

But what really interests me is how shabby and dilapidated the toilets are.  There’s a whacking great piece of graffiti (“wham” – presumably somebody was a fan) which helps to make it look like the sort of place you really wouldn’t linger in.  This isn’t reflected in the dialogue though, it’s simply taken as quite natural that it’s run down.  We also saw this in the previous episode – one of the classrooms looked in quite a state, with nasty stains on the wall.

But if the children don’t appear concerned about the appearance of the school, it appears that others do, as two builders (played by Ben Thomas and Frank Jarvis) turn up to try and repair some of the damage.  Jarvis in particular had an impressive list of credits – turning up in a score of popular television series (The Saint, Z Cars, Adam Adamant Lives!, Manhunt, Budgie, Softly Softly:Task Force, Callan, The Brothers, Dixon of Dock Green, Warshp, Target, The Professionals, etc).  He also appeared in three different Doctor Who stories, although given that his final two were Underworld and The Power of Kroll, you can’t help but feel he rather drew the short straw ….

Ronnie’s hair has once again changed to “unconventional”, but this is a minor matter to begin with as Calley, having spent the night with her real mother, is in something of a state.  Ronnie asks Miss Washington to speak to her, and just before the teacher leaves the classroom she asks her form to mark themselves in the register.  This is an incredibly odd request (presumably a sign of Miss Washington’s inexperience) leading to an inevitably boisterous free-for-all.

Who should be passing at precisely this time?  Why Mrs McClusky of course and she’s far from pleased.  “I think this is the first time in all my experience I have ever heard of a teacher asking any class to mark themselves in.”  And when Ronnie reappears, Mrs McClusky is staggered at her unconventional appearance.  As previously touched upon, GH characters often tended to display echoes of those who had gone before them and Ronnie here has more than a touch of Trisha Yates about her.  Both frequently railed against the conformity of school uniform, so Mrs McClusky’s comments could equally have easily been directed at Trisha.

Gonch and Hollo plan to “liberate” some of the school’s building materials to help Mr Light, whilst Miss Washington’s purse goes missing from the staffroom (surely Gonch’s groping grab couldn’t have been responsible?).  And Patsy Palmer, an unspeaking extra, continues to steal a number of scenes as she prominently places herself in the frame …

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Nine

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 18th March 1985

Gonch’s latest money-making scheme is a video club, run during the lunchtimes with tapes “borrowed” from the shop where Vince’s dad works.  We briefly get a glimpse of the film they’re watching and it’s noticeable that the picture quality is authentically bad (loads of interference) which was often par for the course with tapes from video rental shops.  Although the picture here is so bad I would have been inclined to ask for my money back ….

There’s several snags with this arrangement – Vince can’t borrow the tapes for more than a day without his dad becoming suspicious and the lunch break is too short for the entire film to be seen, meaning they constantly have to fast-forward to the end, missing out most of the best bits.  Never mind though, as the ever-resourceful Gonch has yet another idea – use the media studies room to copy their own tapes, which they can then sell!

Given the wave of thefts still sweeping the school, it really stretches credibility to breaking point to learn that the key to the media studies room is kept on the doorframe.  Since there’s televisions and video-recorders aplenty inside you’d have assumed that a little extra security would have been taken in order to keep the equipment safe.  It’s easy to see why this was done in plot-terms though – Gonch and the others need to gain access to the room and can’t have been seen to steal the key – but it still feels a tad contrived.

The builders discover that Gonch and Hollo liberated some of their building supplies in order to help Mr Light.  Remarkably, they don’t seem terribly put out by this and are happy to do the repairs on Mr Light’s house for virtually nothing, although Gonch does promise to supply them with some good films on VHS.

Zammo, Mandy and Sarah observe a first-year girl being forced into a car against her will.  The girl is Calley and the woman is Angela, her real mother.  At first glance, this appears to be the latest instalment in Calley’s tale, but the focus quickly switches to the three fourth formers.  We never really find out exactly what happened at the car – it’s plain that Calley didn’t want to go with Angela and (presumably) her husband, but she later denies this.  Angela only has a few lines of dialogue, which means that this sequence is much more about providing an excuse for Zammo, Mandy and Sarah to be inside the school at lunchtime.  And this is the last we see of Angela, meaning that this plot-line rather splutters to a stop in a less than dramatic fashion.

Zammo, Mandy and Sarah run into Mr Bronson, who immediately decides they’re responsible for the theft of yet another of Mr Smart’s squash racquets.  All three, along with Mr Bronson and Mr Smart, head off to see Mrs McClusky, which leads into an interesting scene.  Zammo is voluble in his defence, stating that Mr Bronson has had it in for him since the day they met.  Mrs McClusky swiftly closes him down and asks the three of them to wait outside.  After they leave, it’s plain that she is far from convinced of their guilt, which somewhat wounds Mr Bronson.  That Mrs McClusky repeats Zammo’s doubts only after he’s left is something we’ve seen before – in front of pupils or parents she’ll always keep a united front with the staff, but behind closed doors it’s sometimes very different.

Having said all that, as Calley was nowhere to be seen when Zammo, Mandy, Sarah and Mr Bronson went to look for her, Mrs Clusky states that they’ll all still be in serious trouble unless she comes forward to collaborate their story.  How this can be I’m not quite sure, since there’s no evidence at all to link them to this, or any other, theft.  It helps to ramp up the tension – will Calley step forward to clear their name? – but it’s another moment which doesn’t quite work.

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Ten

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Gonch and Hollo’s newest rubbish-dump acquisition is a plastic mannequin which they dress in school uniform and take to school.  Unfortunately they drop him in the middle of an oncoming car when struggling to cross the busy road outside the school gates.

Since we can see a Lollipop leaning against the wall, it rather begs the question as to why there isn’t a Lollipop man or woman on duty.  It’s mentioned that the teachers are currently assigned to road duty, with Mr  Bronson taking his turn today.  Alas, we don’t see him wielding the Lollipop, which is a shame.

Fay is increasingly infatuated with the laid-back Jean-Paul, much to Julian’s irritation.  All of Fay’s previously held principles (such as a horror of cosmetics being tested on animals) seem to be slipping way, demonstrated best when she much prefers Jean-Paul’s present – perfume – to Julian’s – a rabbit.

Zammo and Jackie’s on-off-on-off relationship now seems to be back on, which leads to further tensions with Banksie.  The school production of West Side Story comes to a crashing halt when they learn that copyright problems mean that they won’t be able to continue.  A pity they didn’t check beforehand really …

No matter, the show must go on, even if it’s a different show from the one they’d originally planned.

Mr Smart continues his quest to tempt Miss Washington out for an evening of squash, but once again he’s foiled – this time because she’s too busy with the school play.  Poor Mr Smart, he seems to have plenty of luck, all of it bad.

Gonch and Hollo liberate Henry, although taking it to Mr Baxter’s lesson probably wasn’t the wisest move. Michael Cronin, as ever, is on fine-form as Mr Baxter comes face to face with Henry.

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Eleven

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Written by Rosemary Mason. Tx 25th March 1985 

Mr Smart explains to E1 about the new timetables and homework arrangements.  Natasha (Patsy Palmer) has possibly her first line in the series, which sees her succinctly sum everything up.  “Bit of a fag, innit?”

It’s a system that seems to be deliberately confusing, so it’s possibly not surprising that Mr Smart mistakenly heads off for the upper school, convinced that’s where he should be.  It’s just a slight problem that it was Miss Washington who persuaded him to do so and when Mr McCartney points out that she was mistaken (mere seconds after Mr Smart has exited the staff room in a hurry) neither decide to rush out and stop him.  So you can’t really blame him for being a little miffed with Miss Washington later ….

There’s a fairly rare glimpse of the upper school corridors, which look incredibly dirty and run down.  But Mr Smart doesn’t haunt them for long as Mrs McClusky soon sends him back down to the lower school.  We haven’t had the old “two classes of pupils try to fit in one room” routine for a little while, so it was clearly overdue an airing.

This gives us a rare opportunity to see virtually all of E1 and N4 together at the same time (normally they tend to have their own episodes with minimal crossovers).  E1 might already be present in the room, but Banksie doesn’t believe that possession is nine tenths of the law.  Instead, he contends that since they’re older, they must prevail.  He makes this point forcibly to Miss Washington, which only serves to highlight the flaws in his character.

The stand-up row between Miss Washington and Mr Smart is good fun, as is Gonch’s plan to bug the staff room.  He’s convinced this will enable them to identify the thieves once and for all (presumably he doesn’t consider that they might be able to rob in silence).  Once again, security at Grange Hill is shown to be lax in the extreme as the staff room door isn’t locked, enabling Gonch to able to enter and secure a Walkman (hired off Vince for the princely sum of fifty pence per week) under the coffee table.  With the tape switched to record, what can possibly go wrong?  Mr Baxter making his way to the staff room is a bit of a problem, but Hollo, on guard duty, is able to distract him quite neatly.

The first fruits of their bugging is another episode highlight.  Gonch mentions “Grange Hill Watergate”, although quite how many children would have picked up on this reference is debatable.  One for the older members of the family watching I guess.  They manage to hear Mr Smart asking Miss Washington if she’d like to go out with him for a meal (he’s clearly recovered his equanimity), although this tender moment is cut short after Mr Baxter barges in and complains that once again they’ve finished off all the coffee!

Given that the longest cassette tape available would have been a C120, the most they could hope to record would be just an hour, so it’s not surprising that this is the only useful(?) part of the recording.  Clearly if they’re going to catch the thieves red-handed they’re going to have to be very, very lucky ….

Relationships, both real and fictional are key to this episode.  Annette and Fay are both shown to have less than ideal boyfriends, although it’s interesting to see that they react in different ways to being left on the sidelines (something which is mirrored later during rehearsals for the school play).  Annette is quite happy to hang around, watching Stewpot play football (to his obvious irritation) whilst Fay (once Jean-Paul joins in with the same game) is much less tolerant and heads off home alone.

Elsewhere in the episode, Mr Baxter pops up to remind Fay, and the audience, that her previously impressive sporting career is suffering.  And is Jean-Paul worth it?  He has inevitable Gallic charm, but apart from that he’s portrayed as rather feckless.  And all the time Julian stands on the sidelines, pining.  Mmm, maybe all will come right in the end.

The school play, centered around conflict between the mods and rockers in the 1960’s, takes shape.  Given what we’ve already seen, it can’t be a coincidence that both Mr Smart and some of the pupils aren’t terribly impressed that the plot is rather male-dominant (reducing the females to little more than appendages, standing on the sidelines).   Jackie, pencilled in to play the object of both Zammo and Banksie’s affection (perfect casting!) admits that having two boys fighting over her leaves her cold.

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Twelve

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Written by Frances Galleymore.  Tx 27th March 1985

So Claire and Stewpot’s on-off-on-off, etc relationship now seems to be on again.  I’m somewhat sorry that we didn’t see the scene where she agreed to have him back, as that would have been fun to watch.  Has anything changed?  Well Stewpot’s still making excuses when Claire attempts to arrange an evening out (this time he claims he has to help his father decorate the bathroom) so maybe not.  Surely he can’t still be juggling two girls, and both of them incredibly stroppy as well ….

I do feel a little sorry for Paula Ann Bland during this run of episodes, as Claire doesn’t really have anything to do except express disapproval at Stewpot, so she spends her time as a rather shrewish character with little light or shade.

But this does give us a lovely scene as Annette crashes into Stewpot, Claire and Precious and blithely arranges a date with him.  Claire’s response?  “Stewpot, you’d better not have chosen that tarty little fourth-year with the raggedy hair before me. ‘Cause if you have and you do see her on Friday night then you won’t be seeing me again.”  This gives Mark Burdis another chance to give us his best hangdog expression (something he’s had to do an awful lot this year).

The on-off-on-off relationship between Zammo and Jackie is now once more lurching into the off position, thanks to Zammo’s jealous and controlling nature.  Banksie invites Jackie to join him, Loop, Fay and Jean-Paul on a visit to the old Brookdale school.  She wasn’t sure, but after Zammo told her not to, it’s not hard to imagine the outcome ….

They decide to bunk off, which means that Fay spends the time in a highly stressed manner.  She may not quite be the goody-goody now she’s hooked up with the louche Jean-Paul, but she still knows right from wrong.

It’s odd that none of them seem to consider the possibility that there may still be a caretaker on site (if there wasn’t, why would there be a television set and a kettle?).  Of course there is (played by the wonderful Derek Deadman) which means there’s a short comic chase.  “Blast! Flipping kids!”

 

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Thirteen

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Written by Frances Galleymore.  Tx 1st April 1985

Possibly inspired by Mr Baxter’s previous complaints that the others keep on finishing off the coffee without replacing it, the staff room is now the proud recipient of an imposing new vending machine.  Mr Smart and Miss Washington aren’t impressed though, she comments that it just makes a terrible groaning noise and doesn’t deliver, leading him to respond that it sounds like the school in general.  Mrs McClusky, of course, just happens to wander into the staff room at that precise moment ….

Caroline Gruber has another opportunity to demonstrate Miss Washington’s doe-eyed appeal after Mrs McClusky expresses her opinion that some of the first years (especially the ones in Miss Washington’s charge) are pushing the school uniform rules to the limit.  It’s plain that Mrs McClusky believes that the younger teacher isn’t setting them a good example, but politeness – and Mrs McClusky is sweetness personified during this scene – dictates that she doesn’t openly come out and say so.

There’s some later nice staff-room interplay (Mr Bronson complaining about the level of smoke and continuing to bemoan the fact that others have taken his seat) but the episode revolves around two main areas – Eric’s accident and the babysitting misadventures at the McCartneys.

Those with fairly long memories might recall that Eric, previously revealed to be partially deaf, featured in an earlier series eight episode.  The poor boy is now the recipient of Janet’s interest (who seems to have finally decided that Roland – constantly speaking French – is now totally absorbed with Fabienne) but she wasn’t there at the moment when Eric stepped out into the road and was knocked over.

I’m not sure whether Eric’s deafness is supposed to be a factor here – but this doesn’t make much sense if so, surely he’d have looked left and right to check the road was clear before crossing?  Possibly he was simply chosen because whilst not a main cast member (whose absence would be problematic) he was still someone with a higher profile than a non-speaking extra – and therefore his accident would carry a little more impact.

If that was the case, they could have used Diane.  Although she has a couple of lines in this episode, they only highlight just how underused she’s been throughout series eight (whereas during 83/84 she’d featured quite prominently).  It seemed that once her spots faded away so did any thoughts about developing her character, so she’ll not return in 1986.

One point of interest is the way that Mrs McClusky appears on the scene mere seconds after the accident.  How did she get from the school to the road outside so quickly?  Was she waiting in the playground for such an accident to happen?!

Real-life school politics of the mid eighties do get a brief mention when the fourth-formers are left to their own devices, thanks to a cover strike.  British schools were hit by waves of industrial action during this period, as teachers regularly worked to rule and refused to cover their colleague’s lessons.  Phil Redmond would have no doubt made capital out of this, but here it’s very much an incidental point – at this point in the show’s history, staff-room squabbles are more over coffee and chairs than politics ….

There’s an air of deceit running through this episode.  Fay agrees to babysit for Mr and Mrs McCartney and Julian offers to walk her home.  Fay, still not keen on the worthy-but-dull Julian, tells him that the babysitting’s been cancelled, so that Jean-Paul can go instead.  And with Annette and Stewpot also there, everything’s set for a cosy evening.  Which of course doesn’t go to plan.

If Fay lies to Julian, then Stewpot continues to lie to Annette.  Just as Claire’s been somewhat reduced in character during series eight, then poor Stewpot has also received the rough end of the scripting stick.  By continually stringing both Claire and Annette along – lacking the courage to choose between them – he’s portrayed as buffoonish at best and an insensitive idiot at worst.  Even here, he can’t bring himself to tell Annette that it’s over, but since he’s clearly not enjoying himself, why not?

Jean-Paul burns a hole in the McCartney’s carpet with his cigarette, providing us with yet another example of his flawed character.  His plan – chuck a scatter cushion over the offending mark and walk slowly away – also highlights that he never stops to think about the consequences of his actions.  This moment was no doubt one of several created in order to prepare the ground for episode fourteen.

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Fourteen

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 3rd April 1985

There’s something a little odd going at the start of this episode.  Fay is agonising over how to tell Julian that she no longer wants to go out with him, but since they’ve never had that sort of relationship this doesn’t make any sense.  Julian’s got other things on his mind though – his beloved dog, Bumper, is nearing the end of his life, but Julian remains in denial, convinced that he’s going to get better.

Banksie’s latest plan for some quality time with Jackie involves taking his brother’s stock car for a spin, with Jean-Paul and Sarah tagging along.  Banksie might tell the others that his brother, Phil (John Blundell) is totally fine with this, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that when Phil does make an appearance he’s going to be less than impressed.

Blundell (who had previously appeared in both the tv version and film of Scum) is menacing as Phil, probably because he doesn’t get angry.  His self-control, mildly telling his younger brother that it might be a good idea to flag down the car (Jean-Paul driving, Sarah sitting beside him) sooner rather than later, carries with it a certain chill as we can sense the inherent threat of violence behind his calm words.  This is put into action when he starts to give Banksie a few slaps and Jackie backs away in fear.

The next day Banksie turns up to school with a battered face, courtesy of his brother.  As with the familial beatings issued to pupils during the first few series, this isn’t dwelled upon – except in an obliquely approving way.  Since Banksie was in the wrong he deserved such a beating (which is certainly Zammo’s conclusion).

As for Jean-Paul and Sarah, he might have been a good driver but his luck finally runs out and he turns the car over (a nicely mounted stunt).  He walks away without a scratch but Sarah is hospitalised with a broken arm and facial bruising.  Sarah’s last moment in the episode – which also turned out to be Joanne Bell’s final scene in Grange Hill – is a powerful one, as she silently turns her ravaged face away from Jean-Paul who, finally shocked into a semblance of responsibility (or possibly he’s simply worried about the reception he’ll receive back home from his strict parents) visits her in hospital.

With Mr Humphries mysteriously absent once again, it falls to Mrs McClusky to host the parents meeting with Mr Wright, Mrs Wilks and Mrs Banks.  Mrs Banks was obviously played by a non-speaking extra though, so has nothing to say!  Mrs Wilks is much more voluble, although Mrs McClusky isn’t inclined to agree with her view that Sarah was totally innocent, so Jackie, Banksie and Sarah are all suspended indefinitely.

With Mrs McClusky now effectively back as the head, it does make you wonder why they decided to demote her to deputy if they weren’t going to follow through with any decent storylines on this topic.  It wasn’t the first and won’t be the last time that the head is an off-screen character, but at least here it’s not long until the matter is resolved.

With Banksie and Jackie suspended, that leaves an opening in the school play and Fay and Julian are drafted in at short notice.  It means they’ll have to work closely together, but now that the exciting, but reckless, Jean-Paul has returned to France, Fay regards the steady and reliable Julian more warmly.

Although since Julian doesn’t return in 1986, we’re not too far away from Fay’s next – and most catastrophic – choice of boyfriend …..