Grange Hill – 1985 Christmas Special

grange hill 85 xmas special

Written by Phil Redmond.  Tx 27th December 1985

Broadcast a couple of weeks before the start of series nine, the 1985 Christmas Special performed a duel function. It not only served as a coda for certain storylines from series eight (the return of Calley’s real mother, Roland’s estrangement from Fabienne) but it also looked ahead to the forthcoming run by introducing several new characters.

Rather annoyingly, when the first seventeen series of GH were repeated during the 1990’s this episode (like the 1980 Christmas Special before it) was omitted, meaning we were denied the introduction of Imelda Davis (Fleur Taylor). Mind you, that also meant we didn’t see the arrival of Harriet the Donkey, so it wasn’t all bad ….

Since Gripper’s fall from grace in series six, the position of school bully has been vacant. Jimmy McLaren was too lightweight to be considered a real bully during series seven whilst series eight didn’t even have a token bully figure (although Gripper’s sister, Emma, seemed ready made to fulfil that function). So the time was certainly right for Imelda to make her mark. Ruth Carraway debuts as Helen Kelly, at this point Imelda’s right-hand woman.

The series had also lacked a regular caretaker figure since Mr Thomspon disappeared at the end of series five, so the arrival of George A. Cooper as Mr Griffiths was long overdue. Having an actor of Cooper’s quality and experience was very welcome, since it saved Mr Griffiths from being just the two-dimensional grumpy figure he could so easily have otherwise been. Mr Griffiths stayed with the series for a good while (leaving at the end of series fifteen) which gave plenty of time for various facets of his character to be explored. Yes, he could be the traditional irate caretaker, shaking his fist at those pesky kids, but at times he was also treated as a character in his own right.

Claire and Stewpot bowed out, as did Gripper (who makes a surprise fleeting return, slight recompense for his audio-only appearance during series eight). Another character appearing for the last time was Simon Haywood as Mr Smart. Since this episode was made as part of the series nine production block (confirmed by the fact that incoming producer Ronald Smedley, rather than S8’s Ben Rea, was credited) it seems odd that he was contracted for this one-off appearance, especially since it only amounted to a single, short scene.

What’s really notable about this one is that it was Phil Redmond’s first script for the series since the 1981 Christmas Special. Does his presence mean a return to the harder-hitting issues-led episodes from the early years? Not really. The fact he introduces Harriet the Donkey is a good indication of the episode’s general tone.

We’ll come back to Harriet when she returns as a regular in S10, as she could be said to be the point at which GH jumped the shark – or at the very least it was when the series appeared to lose a little impetus. When many people think of GH it’s the first nine years that probably stand out – from Tucker’s first appearance to Zammo’s downfall. This is more than a little unfair on the next twenty years of the show which had plenty to offer, but there’s no denying that from 1987 onwards the series’ profile dipped.

A befits a Christmas episode, it’s fairly light-hearted fare with the rampaging Harriet taking centre stage.  Left at the school for some unknown reason by its previous owner, Harriet runs amok in a rather unconvincing fashion.  Gonch and Hollo are the fall guys who discover Harriet and then attempt to round her up when she disappears.  You would assume that a donkey would be a fairly slow-moving animal, so suspension of disbelief is required during the scenes where they keep on finding and losing her in quick sucession.

Possibly the best example can be seen when our two hapless heroes spot Harriet at the end of the corridor.  Harriet takes a right turn, they dash after her a few seconds later, but the donkey’s disappeared.  How?!  Harriet then seems to display supernatural powers by re-entering on the left hand side.  Quite how she managed this is probably something it’s best not to dwell on.

Remaining in grumpy nit-picking mode, when Gonch and Hollo accidentally run into Ronnie we’re witness to one of the most unconvincing collisions ever – as all three gently lower themselves to the floor …..

But on the positive side, Redmond knew how to write for Mr Baxter.  If you’re a fan of Michael Cronin then it’s worth braving the donkey-related antics for a good dose of Mr Baxter at his sarcastic best.  Gonch and Hollo are at the receiving end of his withering put-downs as Mr Baxter always seems to appear just at the point when they’re doing something they shouldn’t.  Mr Bronson – chuntering about Christian values – also fares well with a couple of nice scenes.

Dramatically, it’s Roland who receives the meatiest storyline.  There’s a real sense of bleakness at the start as his father – now plying his trade as a long-distance lorry driver – tells his son that they’ll have to delay their Christmas until the 27th (he’s away on a job until then).  It’s difficult to blame Mr Browning for this – as a single-parent he has to put money on the table (and it’s not as if Roland isn’t provided with an alternative Christmas Day arrangement, via a neighbour).  Although Roland (maybe Redmond here was harking back to the boy’s earlier characterisation) isn’t too happy, since he’s convinced he’ll only receive small portions.

So he decides that a trip to Paris (to visit Fabienne no doubt) would be in order.  Logic would tell him this is doomed to failure – witness his ill-fated attempt to stow away with the French exchange students at the end of S8 – and luckily for him his vague scheme never gets any further than attempting – and failing – to win top prize at one of the Christmas Fare games.  The ever-present Janet, falling into her usual role as an interrogator of Rottweiler-like tenacity, continues to badger him until he admits that his dad won’t be home for Christmas.

The warm-hearted Janet then invites him to share Christmas with her family and surprisingly he agrees.  Does this mean that after all these years Roland has finally seen the goodness in Janet?  Hmm, I don’t think so.  It seems to be more along the lines that he realises her family goes in for a full Christmas with all the trimmings.  So Roland’s thinking with his stomach rather than his heart or his head.

That this isn’t quite the normal type of episode is capped off by the ending which sees the whole cast turn to camera and wish the viewers a Merry Christmas.  William Hartnell couldn’t have done it better …..

Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode One

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 7th January 1986

If the Christmas Special, in part, harked back to the past (featuring last hurrahs for some old favourites) then the first episode of series nine was an exercise in looking forward.  This is partly symbolised by an unattractive piece of modern art – aptly titled “New Horizons” – but it’s mostly to do with the various arrivals and departures, courtesy of new producer Ronald Smedley.

The merger between Grange Hill, Rodney Bennett and Brookdale (which had been a running thread during series eight) is now quietly forgotten.  This means that several characters (Banksie’s mate Loop and Julian Fairbrother) were probably deemed surplus to requirements although Banksie and Jackie – now assimilated as Grange Hill types – still had roles to play.

School uniforms, which had previously been abolished for the upper years, are quietly reintroduced.  Nobody ever seems to comment on this which is a little odd (I’m sure Trisha, back in the old days, wouldn’t have taken this decision lying down!).  The dramatic possibilities of Mrs McClusky continuing to chafe at only being the Deputy Head are quickly nullified when it’s revealed that the Headmaster, Mr Humphries, has died in a car accident.  In time-honoured soap style this happens off screen (a quick and easy way to write a redundant character out).

But at least Mr Humphries merited a mention.  Poor Loop and Julian Fairbrother are amongst those who join the long list of the Grange Hill vanished (characters who disappear and are never mentioned again).  Annette’s absence is deemed worthy of comment (she had been in the series for five years though) when it’s revealed that she’s now living in Milton Keynes.  A fate worse than death it’s implied.

With the episode count increased from eighteen to twenty four, some new blood was obviously required.  Deep breath ….

Georgina Hayes (Samantha Lewis) is revealed to be the third member of Imelda’s gang.  Georgina – like Helen – is positioned as someone who could be a good person if only she was able to escape from Imelda’s orbit.  All three have been at the school for the last year (obviously always off-camera during series eight) but one genuine new arrival this episode is Ziggy Greaves (George Wilson).

Ziggy loves spiders (hence his nickname, although I daresay that most of the target audience – like Robbie – wouldn’t have heard of the David Bowie album which gave him his moniker).  With a broad scouse accent, Ziggy is clearly an exotic and unusual creature.  This ensures he ruffles a few feathers (crossing swords with Imelda and a frog whilst Trevor chunters away quietly that the newcomer is taking liberties).  In time Ziggy will team up with third-wheel Robbie, thereby generating a new partnership to sit alongside that of Gonch/Hollo.  Their friendship is tentatively begun here, although since there’s so many new arrivals and plotlines to set up it doesn’t go much further than a quick hello.

It’s not been uncommon for new characters to suddenly appear with everybody pretending they’ve been there for years (Kevin during series seven for example) but this episode goes one better as we see a whole form suddenly materialise out of nowhere.  Laura Regan (Fiona Mogridge), Julia Glover (Sara McGlasson), Louise Webb (Alison McLaughlin), Ant Jones (Ricky Simmonds) and Danny Kendall (Jonathan Lambeth) are a bunch of third years no doubt less than delighted to learn that Mr Bronson is their new form tutor.

Laura and Julia both have influential parents (the games mistress and a school governor respectively).  Louise isn’t given any lines here whilst Danny is shown to be completely disconnected – happy to flout school rules with seemingly not a care in the world.  We’ve seen anti-authority figures before, but Danny is something different.

Ant doesn’t hit it off with Mr Bronson.  Last year Zammo was his whipping boy and it seems that Ant will perform that same function this term.  Once again we see a battle of wills between master and pupil, with both believing that they’re in the right.  Ant had a good excuse for being late for Mr Bronson’s tutorial – a meeting with Mr Baxter – but Mr Bronson isn’t prepared to listen.  Mr Baxter later confronts his fellow teacher and is less than cordial.  “Insisting you’re right when you’re wrong won’t get you respect, it’ll get you resentment”.

On the teaching front, Mrs Reagan (Lucinda Curtis), Miss Partridge (Karen Lewis), Mr Kennedy (Jeffrey Kissoon) and Mr King (David Straun) all make their debuts.  Miss Partridge hardly has the chance to open her mouth in assembly before a frog causes chaos (quite why the unnamed extra reacted with such terror at the frog – placidly sitting inside a crisp bag – is a slight mystery, but we can blame the script).  Mr King fares a little better.  His inexperience is shown (bringing the wrong register to the classroom) although his form group – E2 – don’t make capital out of this.  He may be young, but he’s capable and good humoured and right from the start it’s plain that he has the respect of the pupils.  His replacement next year won’t fare nearly so well ….

With so much going on, there’s still time to set up a few important plotthreads which will simmer away for a while.  The relationship between Zammo and Jackie is a key one (it’s shown to have fractured, with them spitting venom at each other).  Zammo’s also shown to be a little distracted, although the reasons for this aren’t elaborated on.  Banksie’s brave but doomed attempt to grow a moustache amuses Fay, Julie and Jackie no end.  Kevin’s tickled too – he mimics Banskie with a Sieg Heil salute – a little touch which you probably wouldn’t see today.

Possibly introducing the new arrivals of the course of a few episodes would have been more sensible, but although this first episode doesn’t stop to pause for breath, by the end Grange Hill‘s New Horizons have been firmly laid out.

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Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Two

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 10th January 1986

Zammo’s descent into heroin addiction would become the defining theme of series nine (and possibly of the entire thirty one year run).  But dramatically there’s a few missed opportunities along the way.  It’s very noticeable that we never see the reaction of key characters – especially Jackie – when they learn the news for the first time.  Roland’s chosen to be the one who discovers his secret, but again there’s no scene where he discusses this news with the others.

You’d also have expected that his increasingly erratic behaviour would have been commented on by his classmates but after the next episode we aren’t really privy again to many classroom scenes with the fifth formers.  Possibly this was an intentional move though – from now on Zammo’s an isolated character and rarely interacts with his former friends.

Although it’s still early days with this plotline there’s clearly something up with Zammo.  He’s short of money (already in debt to Kevin) and attempts to cheat in the great moustache weighing competition.  Mr Kennedy – aware that Banksie is feeling self-conscious about his moustache – offers to shave off his own facial hair as well.  Banksie’s will be weighed and the class will then be able to use that figure as a control in order to estimate the weight of Mr Kennedy’s moustache.  There’s a twenty five pence entry fee and if anybody guesses the weight correctly they win six pounds, if not the money goes towards the school fund.

It’s an interesting wrinkle that Banksie is the one who discovers Zammo’s cheating ways.  He manages to ensure that Zammo doesn’t profit, but he also doesn’t reveal Zammo’s secret to the others.  Was this because he intended to hold this piece of information back, all the better for using it to manipulate and embarrass Zammo at a later date, or has Banksie turned over something of a new leaf?  He does later tell Mr Kennedy that it’s better that the money goes towards the school, although given that we’d only recently seen him and Trevor attempting to cheat at one of the games during the Christmas Special, this holier-than-thou attitude is slightly hard to swallow.

Mr Kennedy’s affability and ability to connect with the pupils is clearly demonstrated here.  He’s an inspirational teacher and therefore couldn’t be further removed from the bitter and twisted Mr Bronson.  There’s a lengthy staff-room scene at the start of this episode in which Mr Bronson, quietly spitting venom, caustically comments on Mrs McClusky’s choice for acting deputy head.  Mr Baxter? A sports teacher? It’s obvious that he saw himself in the role (or more possibly as the head itself) but instead has to sit on the sidelines, quietly fuming.

As for Mr Baxter himself, he’s the recipient of a fine scene where he firstly berates the second years for their poor quality gym kits and then conscripts the unwilling Gonch, Hollo and Robbie into the newly reformed Grange Hill swimming team.  As ever, Michael Cronin is a joy.

1986 was the last hurrah for the old Grange Hill school.  Shortly to be closed for good following an asbestos scare, it’s in a remarkably run down and dingy state.  This ties into the conversation between Mr Kennedy and the fifth formers (who bemoan the fact that it’s impossible to do projects since the school library has so few books – hence their small fund-raising effort).  The way that Grange Hill has always struggled with funding has been a subtle running theme for a number of years and given the turmoil in the real world during the mid eighties (teacher strikes were at their height) it’s not surprising that it’s touched upon again here.

My recollection is that although it was stated that a character would become addicted to heroin, their identity wasn’t known, meaning that that Danny Kendal seemed to be the obvious choice.  Despite his diminutive size he was unafraid to take anybody on (older pupils, teachers) and there’s further early evidence of his erratic behaviour here as he runs amok with a wrench.  But it would have been obvious – too obvious no doubt – to make him the one and the dramatic potential of turning a previously likeable character like Zammo around was clearly too tempting to avoid.

Imelda’s reign of terror continues.  This week it’s shoving fibreglass down the backs of unfortunate first years.  Everybody around at the time – including Gonch, Hollo and Robbie – find this to be a huge joke, although they aren’t present when the painful lacerations are revealed.  This allows us to understand that they maybe weren’t as heartless as they first appeared, although Calley and Ronnie have sharply differing opinions about Imelda’s part in this.  Calley believes that Imelda also couldn’t have known what damage it causes whilst Ronnie isn’t so sure.  Next time we’ll discover the answer to this question.

Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Three

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Written by David Angus. Tx 14th January 1986

The episode opens with Kevin, Fay and Julie chewing the lunchtime fat with Mr Kennedy and Mr Baxter.  A sticking plaster on Mr Bronson’s neck (Kevin believes it’s a love-bite) is a hot topic of conversation.  I love this bit of banter as well as the way that Mr Bronson self-consciously touches the plaster when Mr Kennedy and Mr Baxter sidles past his table.

It’s noticeable that Zammo’s conspicuous by his absence during this merry-making.  Later we see him eating alone before Jackie joins him.  Zammo’s distracted state is once again in evidence – he doesn’t want to go along with Jackie to the lunchtime disco (can’t really blame him for that as it’s not exactly a hip and happening scene) or indeed do anything else with her.  She still wants them to be an item (despite their sniping in the first episode) but Zammo’s non-committal.  That he sold a present she gave him (a calculator) was either a thoughtless gesture or another indication that something’s seriously wrong.  Jackie’s teary state and Zammo’s inability to comfort her suggests the latter.

The wonderful George A. Cooper is on fine form as he takes it upon himself to keep an eye out for the miscreants who are using part of the school as a smoking den.  Mr Griffiths proudly tells Mrs Reagan that during his army days he was known as “the chameleon. That’s what, no lie”.

Last time it wasn’t clear whether Imelda knew how damaging the fibreglass was.  Here we’re left in no doubt on this score – Mr King spells out that it’s nasty stuff – but she still presses ahead to use it in her plan to gain revenge on Ziggy.  This serves as an indication that she’s not merely naughty, but possesses a strong malicious streak.  It’s just a slight pity that her attack on Ziggy was rather little bungled (he starts screaming before she pushes the fibreglass down his back – presumably a second take was out of the question).

Fire! It’s worrying to see that some teachers don’t respond instantly when the fire alarm sounds.  Mr MacKenzie is a little reluctant (it’s obviously another false alarm) but quickly bows to the inevitable.  Mr Bronson eventually also has to accede, although he does so with an ill grace that’s quite in character.  But there’s smoke billowing out of the building so it must be the real thing.

It was clearly something of a big-budget day as not only do we see a substantial number of schoolchildren (at least a hundred) milling in the playground but there’s also a couple of fire engines thrown in for good measure.  Always a pleasure to see the late Peter Childs, here as a fireman, even if it’s only for a few moments.  The playground scenes also serve as our last opportunity to see the old Grange Hill school in all its Victorian glory (once asbestos is discovered it’s closed for good).

Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Four

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Written by David Angus. Tx 17th January 1986

Big sister Jackie and younger brother Robbie are walking to school.  Jackie is complaining that she has to do numerous household chores whilst Robbie gets off scot free.  Robbie doesn’t see anything wrong with this (after all, she is a girl).  Following this moment of pure sexism (sure to raise the hackles of a certain section of the audience) the attention turns to Robbie’s new earring.  He’s only just had his ear pierced and is more than a little sensitive about letting his friends see it – hence he removes it just before encountering Trevor and Vince.  Melissa Wilks pulls a lovely face here to signify Jackie’s disdain at Robbie’s chicken-heartedness!  As might be expected, the others tease him mercilessly.  All except Trevor who – surprisingly – is supportive.

The characters of Laura and Julia are developed a little more.  Laura, as befits a pupil who has a parent for a teacher, sees herself as something of an outcast although this is possibly only something which exists in her imagination.  Julia is a warm-hearted and friendly type of person, best demonstrated when she attempts to engage Mr Bronson in conversation.  This is a lovely scene.  Mr Bronson, still sporting a large sticking plaster on his neck, is on playground duty and possibly because he’s outside of his natural environment – the classroom – and also talking directly to the girls is surprisingly vulnerable.  He finally admits that his injury was caused by a parrot.  This nugget of information amuses them but Mr Bronson insists that “they can be quite vicious you know. It was a very painful experience”.

If he’s almost human here, then elsewhere he’s his normal, abrasive self.  And once again it’s Ant who’s on the receiving end of his anger.  There’s a painful inevitability in the fact that Mr Baxter turns out to be the reason why Ant doesn’t reach Mr Bronson’s tutorial group on time.  And it’s just as inevitable that Ant, smouldering away, will once again bow to Mr Bronson’s authority with a very ill grace.

Ricky Simmonds had clearly been cast as this year’s GH heartthrob – a rebel without a cause, destined to set female hearts fluttering.  So far this year he and Georgina have already exchanged smiles whilst Ronnie has been gazing wistfully in his direction for a while, although there’s no indication that he even knows who she is.  This is demonstrated when both Ronnie and Georgina head independently to the lunchtime disco and – remarkable coincidence this – happen to stand close together.  Ant ambles towards them, Ronnie nearly faints with excitement but Ant make a beeline for Georgina.  Poor Ronnie.

Apart from these various character interactions, the main thrust of the episode is the way that the one remaining school building is pushed to breaking point.  With capacity for 800 pupils, how can they cram 1,500 in?  The answer, in part, is by installing numerous classes into the gym, although this open-plan and noisy environment is far from ideal – as might be expected Mr Bronson is far from pleased with this solution.  Later he advocates taking industrial action (Mrs McClusky rolls her eyes at this).  It’s a reasonable suggestion, but maybe Mrs McClusky has an alternative plan up her sleeve.

Louise is granted a few more lines as plans for a party at her house are mooted.  Laura and Julia are both keen, although Julia frets that she’ll have to lie about it to her father.  Julia’s father, Mr Glover, has yet to make an appearance but his character type – stern, disapproving – has already been deftly set up here.

Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Five

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 21st January 1986

The cramped, multi-class environment of the gym continues to be a stressful experience for teachers and pupils alike.  Mr Bronson stalks around from class to class, saying nothing but clearly far from pleased (signified by the way he taps his pencil in a frustrated manner).  He spends several minutes standing silently by Miss Partridge’s class and it’s instructive that although he observes that Danny is the one who’s being awkward, Mr Bronson’s ire is directed at Ant.

Miss Partridge is eventually able to convince him that Ant was blameless but it’s intriguing that Mr Bronson is clearly shown to victimise Ant without any evidence.  The way that Mr Bronson targets certain pupils is something of a running thread during his time at the school (Zammo, Ant and – later – Danny).

But if Mr Bronson’s intervention was partly due to his disdain for Ant, then Miss Partridge is convinced that it also had something to do with the fact that she’s a woman (“I wouldn’t mind but he didn’t interfere with Peter King’s class”).  Mrs Reagan sympathises.  Mr Glover, a school governor, blocked her application to become head of sport, although quite how he could do this isn’t clear.

Now that Mr Baxter is a suit (deputy head) he finds himself a target as few of his colleagues are happy with the current state of affairs.  He weakly wonders whatever happened to the Dunkirk spirit, although that doesn’t seem to go down terribly well (Mrs Regan’s whispered “men” signifies what she thinks, although this isn’t really an argument that can be divided across male/female lines).

There’s a slight lapse in continuity here.  Last episode we were told that the old Brookdale building couldn’t be reopened because it had been extensively vandalised but this week we learn that it’s half way to becoming a multi-story car park.  Presumably a similar fate has befallen Rodney Bennett, as nobody ever mentions using that school on a temporary basis.

We haven’t seen Zammo since episode three.  There we learnt that he’d sold a present given to him by Jackie, now he’s on the verge of selling his pride and joy – his bike – to Kevin.  He’s clearly on a downward path – when Jackie speaks to him he’s hesitant and can’t look her in the eye – but it’s still not clear what his problem is.  Jackie is still prepared to stand by him and is happy to give him all the money she has in her post office savings account – twenty five pounds.  He’s grateful and promises to pay her back, although it seems unlikely.  It’s noticeable that they only feature very briefly across the twenty five minutes.  This may turn out to be the dominant plotline of series nine but it’s being set up in a very sparing manner.

Trevor is convinced that Julia Glover fancies him.  No, really.  This is even more unlikely than an Ant/Ronnie team up, but it sets us up for the inevitable comic reversal later.  Trevor has a brilliant plan to get a little on-one-on time with the woman of his dreams, he and Vince will rock up to Cheryl’s party, complete with a bottle of cider (lovely touch that) and blag their way in by claiming to be guests of a non-existent friend who’s already inside.  What could possibly go wrong?

This scene between Trevor and Vince is a delight.  It’s very much in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy where one – Laurel/Vince – is stupid and the other – Hardy/Trevor – is even stupider but thinks he’s cleverer.  Trevor’s promise to tutor Vince in the art of female seduction is a mouth-watering one (“watch me at the party, watch a master at work”) as is the way Trevor casually straightens his tie in a knowing manner.

With a little help from Paul Young on the stereo, the party at Louise’s is soon jumping although older sister Cheryl (Amma Asante) disapproves.  Asante must be one of Grange Hill‘s most distinguished former pupils as she’s gone on to enjoy an award-winning career as a director.  Belle (2004) and A Way of Life (2013) have both picked up numerous awards.

Luckily Kevin’s acting as a bouncer, so Trevor and Vince have to skulk off home and sadly we’re denied the opportunity to see Trev’s skills as a lothario at first hand.  Pity!  Kevin later acidly sums them up as “Meat Cleaver and Planet of the Apes”.  Harsh but fair.  Ant is more successful in gaining admittance, although given his comment (“I’m the drummer with Duran Duran, but I’m incognito tonight”) I feel that Kevin was well within his rights to give him a slap anyway.

Unable to catch Ant’s eye, Julia finds solace with alcohol instead.  It’s plain that this isn’t going to end well and so it proves with Mrs Regan forced to pick up the pieces.

Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Six

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Written by Margaret Simpson.  Tx 24 January 1986

Gonch has been a little quiet this year (although given the influx of new characters that’s possibly not too surprising).  But after a fallow period he comes roaring back to life here with yet another brilliant scheme – a sandwich-making business.  And Gonch being Gonch he starts off by selling shop-bought sandwiches at a profit.  Truly he is Pogo Patterson reincarnated.

But as we’ve seen so often, the life of the businessman is littered with pitfalls.  He has to find premises to maintain his sandwich production and it’s not surprising that his mother bristles at the way her kitchen has been turned into a café. So where now?

Gonch’s sandwich plan is a sound one – with no tuckshop and the canteen full to breaking point there’s a clear opening to make a little money. We drop into the canteen to see a green young teacher left at the mercy of the rather feral pupils (custard smeared on the tables and the likes of Imelda refusing to clear their table doesn’t help). The rest of the pupils also rush out – all but Laura and Julia, the goody-goodys! Tamsin Heatley, later to appear as Bella in The Tweenies, plays the very put-upon teacher.

Whilst it’s understandable that series nine is mainly remembered for Zammo’s heroin addiction, other interesting plotlines were also developed.  Possibly in any other year the relationship between Fay and Mr King would have generated more publicity, but with the blanket Just Say No campaign dominating the airwaves it’s understandable that Grange Hill’s first attempt to depict a suspect relationship between a teacher and a pupil seemed to pass by unremarked.

It’s gently teased out to begin with as we see Fay confide to Julie that she thinks Mr King is really nice (although she immediately denies that she fancies him).  Fay’s been here before of course, although her crush (if that’s what it was) on Miss Gordon back in series seven was handled in a understandably oblique manner. It’ll be a short while before this story develops, but the seed has definitely been sown.

It’s been a few years since the school magazine storyline has reared its head, but it makes a comeback here – with Calley keen to create a school fanzine.  Essentially this would be a school magazine, so the distinction between the two isn’t too clear – except there’s no doubt that she wouldn’t be inclined to run the content past the staff first.  Is this going to end well?  Hmm, I wonder.

Imelda has words with Georgina after Georgina’s relationship with Ant becomes public knowledge.  Quite what a nice girl like Georgina is doing hanging out with a nasty piece of work like Imelda is a bit of a mystery.  You can assume that she decided it was safer to be a part of Imelda’s gang rather than stay on the outside, but one drawback of S9 is the way that a number of new characters tend to rush through various plotlines.

When Denny appeared to turn his back on Gripper in S6 it carried a certain resonance as we’d seen him act as Gripper’s right hand man all the way through S5.  Georgina’s shifting allegiance doesn’t carry the same weight as we’ve only seen her in a handful of episodes.

It’s interesting that both Helen and Georgina are different – and nicer – people away from Imelda’s influence (although Helen’s still shown to be quite spiteful). They both cheer on Ant during the swimming gala (he, of course, wins his race. Mr Perfect, he is). Ant’s victory is the only highlight though, which irritates Mr Baxter no end.

Jackie’s suspicions about Zammo grow. He’s not only spent all the money she lent him but he’s gone ahead and sold his bike to Kevin anyway (she lent him the money so that he wouldn’t have to do this – or so she thought). Once again, Zammo can’t look her in the eye and this – together with his hesistant delivery – is a further sign there’s something up.

If he’s this disconnected most of the time then it’s hard to see how it could go unremarked during lesson time (unless Grange Hill’s teachers are spectacularly unobservant). But as yet, apart from Jackie it seems that nobody’s noticed there’s anything amiss with the boy.

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Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Seven

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Written by Frances Galleymore.  Tx 28th September 1986

Julia contnues to moon over Ant whilst Georgina continues to avoid Imelda.

Mr Bronson’s not a happy chappy (the overcrowded staff room is just one of many irritations). Some of the non-speaking extras are also dischuffed – banging down empty coffee containers in a petulant manner – but Mr Bronson is the one who voices the discontent many feel.

A solution to their problems has been found – portacabins.  But when they don’t turn up on time Mr Bronson isn’t terribly pleased (to put it mildly).  That he chooses Mr Baxter to be the recipient of his anger is understandable since he’s not foolish enough to tackle Mrs McClusky head on – so the pair once again lock horns in an entertaining fashion. As ever, Mr Bronson favours the direct approach, bluntly accusing Mr Baxter of using his position as deputy head to ensure that the sports department gets the best of everything whilst the rest of the staff suffer.

You don’t need to be a mind reader to work out that he’s entirely wrong (Mr Baxter has funded extra-curricular activities, like the swimming team, out of his own pocket). This is another clear sign of Mr Bronson’s character defects – if you’re going to accuse a colleague of misconduct it’s best to have clear evidence. Alas, he never seems to learn this basic rule.

Danny is the recipient of some decent dialogue which goes a little way to explaining exactly what makes him tick. Enjoying a smoke in the chemistry lab, he’s unabashed when discovered by Julia and Laura and goes on to explain his worldview. “That’s what it’s all about in an institution, breaking down independence, everyone joins in doing it”. Imelda, like Gripper before her, is the more obvious example of an uncontrollable pupil but Danny’s a little different as he flies under the radar most of the time. That he’s vocal about keeping his identity and not letting the system crush him might suggest that a close family member has recently seen the inside of a prison.

That old chestnut – two teachers squabbling over who should be in a certain classroom – gets another airing here. Mr Bronson is in possession and is disinclined to give it up in favour of Mr King. Mr Bronson crows about his victory somewhat after a passing Mrs McClusky suggests that Mr King could use part of the canteen, but his celebration is shortlived after Mrs McClusky (in her deceptively sweet way) makes it plain that maturity and tact are key to solving problems like this. Ouch!

Georgina is worried that she’ll be a target for Imelda, but Ant – continuing to play the alpha male – tells her not to worry, he’s got her back.  Bless!  If you haven’t guessed what happens next then you’ve possibly not been paying attention – Ant’s nemesis Mr Bronson once again appears at the most inopportune moment to harangue the boy – leaving Ant frustrated and Georgina forced to join forces with Imelda once more ….

Given that Mr Bronson is still smarting from the oblique rebuke he’s just received from Mrs McClusky, the arrival of Ant – seven minutes late – isn’t going to improve his temper one little bit. Ant has his familiar excuse (Mr Baxter) which serves as the trigger to send Mr B into meltdown. Michael Sheard hits the heights here (imagine this dialogue delivered by Sheard at full-throttle). “Aaaaaah, Mr Baxter! That explains everything. Every time you are late it is Mr Baxter’s fault. Why?”

Further delights are to be found after Mr Bronson tells Ant that they will settle this with Mr Baxter once and for all immediately after school. Ant, who has arranged to meet Georgina, tells him he’s not free. Sheard once again comes up trumps. “Not free? Change your social diary”. Wonderful stuff.

Ant is discovered to have been a little economical with the truth (Mr Baxter might have been the reason why he missed registration, but he still could have made Mr Bronson’s lesson on time) which means that the boy faces a double-pronged attack from both teachers who temporarily forget their own differences to turn on him.

Mr Kennedy’s letter writing lessons continue. Ziggy tells him that he plans to write to the Duke of Edinburgh. Remember this, it’ll become important later ….

Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Eight

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Written by Frances Galleymore.  Tx 31st January 1986

The mark of a decent bully is how effective they are at extorting money from others.  Gripper was, of course, a past master at this – but so far Imelda has lagged behind somewhat.  So this episode gives her the chance to catch up as she decides that a piece of Gonch’s toast business would be very welcome.

Gonch is having none of this though, which makes him – and more especially his trousers – a target for Imelda and the others.  Have I mentioned that Imelda’s gang is nicknamed the Terrahawks?  That’s one up on Gripper who never had a name for his gang.

There’s possibly an article to be written about the number of times boys are relieved of their trousers in Grange Hill (although this isn’t the time or place you may be thankful to learn).  Imelda only wanted the money in Gonch’s pockets, so why she couldn’t have just reached in his pockets is a slight mystery.

No matter though as it’s an opportunity to show the usually self-reliant Gonch under pressure.  He can stand up to most people – the way he bats off the approach of Trevor and Vince (also keen to get a slice – sorry – of the toast action) is a treat – but Imelda’s a special case.

Ziggy’s also engaging in his own battles with Imelda.  Unfortunately Mr Griffiths is in the wrong place at the wrong time and becomes collateral damage (a bucket of paint on the head).  Mr Griffiths blames the innocent Ziggy for this, so there’s plenty of fist shaking and chases around the school as Frances Galleymore takes the opportunity to ramp up the comedy.  Ziggy and Robbie’s attempt to breach the girl’s changing room – all in the course of justice, naturally – is another entertaining scene. It’s also notable as the first real time they join forces – from now on the pair will pretty much be inseparable.

Prior to Imelda’s involvement, Gonch and Hollo’s toast business had been thriving although they had to deal with the odd consumer complaint (“There’s an earwig in my butter!”) Gonch attempts to pour oil on troubled waters by telling Jane that it was only a small one.

Georgina and Helen share another quiet scene. Georgina’s desire to break away from Imelda’s influence becomes ever more apparent whilst Helen continues to tread a fine line between the pair of them. Another oft-stated theme is repeated here – Georgina is keen to settle down and pass her exams, a statement which Helen reacts to incredulously. What’s the point in working when there won’t be any jobs for them after they leave school?

Mr Bronson’s cruel streak is very much in evidence.  A recent letter-writing initiative saw Roland write to Fabienne and – after he’s perused it – Mr Bronson asks the boy to read the letter out in class.  It’s somewhat personal in nature and the fact that Mr Bronson knew this but still asked Roland to proceed is a telling moment.

This is a rare visit to N5’s class. It’s not commented upon, but Zammo is very conspicuous by his absence ….

Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Nine

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Written by Sarah Daniels.  Tx 4th February 1986

The overcrowding becomes chronic as Mr Kennedy is forced to conduct a drama lesson with G3 on the stairs. Most enter into the spirit of things although Laura isn’t pleased about the way having to squat on the stairs is dirtying her uniform whilst Danny just isn’t pleased. He makes it plain that he’d sooner be anywhere else but here – pretending to be a passenger aboard a spacecraft just isn’t his forte.

Ziggy and Robbie’s plan to gain revenge on Imelda continues.  They conjur up a noxious, sticky brew and are all set to deliver the killer blow.  I wonder what happens next?  Oh yes, Mr Griffiths just happens once again to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up being the unwilling recipient of their hard work.  There’s an undeniable predictability about this, but a touch of knockabout farce is always welcome plus it helps to balance out the more serious themes elsewhere.

A fair amount of this episode takes place outside the school grounds. Therefore we’re presented with ample local colour as Ant and Georgina walk past the canal (with towerblocks in the distance) and elsewhere Jackie stalks Zammo down the local high street. The early series of GH had a strong inner-city feel, which has tended to fade away more recently, so these scenes help to reconnect the characters to their environment.

Mrs Reagan is convinced that all is not well with Louise’s family and asks Laura and Julia to investigate. Laura’s initially reluctant to act as a spy, but soon enters into the spirit of things.

But it’s Zammo and his problems which are dominating.  This episode gives Doug (Paul Vincent) his first dialogue – a few episodes back Jackie had spotted him and Zammo in the distance.  Just by looking at him we can tell that Doug’s bad news – and if any further evidence was needed, the way that he and Zammo rifle through Mrs McGuire’s belongings, looking for anything decent they can sell, should confirm our suspicions.

Doug finds slim pickings, but a cut glass decanter makes his eyes light up (Barry Manilow records less so). The flat scene was recorded on location rather than in the studio which means that like the previous location scenes it helps to firmly ground this episode in mid eighties London.

Mrs McGuire makes the first of her handful of series nine appearances next time.  It’s slightly odd that she’s been held back until this point as you’d have assumed there would have been a certain amount of dramatic mileage to be gained from her interactions with Zammo.  Maybe the intention was not to foreground precisely what Zammo’s problem was too soon, but it does feel slightly odd.

Zammo’s increasing isolation from his friends and family makes sense, but it’s notable that – Jackie apart – we’ve not seen anybody express concern about him.  Apart from the dramatic possibilities missed, this maybe sends out the wrong message – friends and family should be the ones primed to spot danger signs and then attempt to help. Maybe the message here is that had Zammo’s friends been more active the situation wouldn’t have spiraled out of control.

This was the first GH episode written by Sarah Daniels.  Daniels (b. 1957) came to prominence as a playwright in the early 1980’s and by the time that decade was over had penned a series of challenging plays, all of which had a strong feminist streak.  Critic Carole Woddis once called her “the only radical lesbian feminist to have made it into the mainstream”.

The same year that she debuted on Grange Hill, her play Neaptide was running at the National Theatre.  Neaptide has recently been performed again at the National as a rehearsed reading (it launched the National’s short Queer Theatre season).  It’s interesting to ponder whether the school setting of the play informed any of her work on GH.

Grange Hill wouldn’t seem at first glance to be the obvious television programme for her, but clearly she found working on the series to be stimulating, since she would go on to write sixty six episodes between 1986 and 2007.  This impressive unbroken run, stretching from series nine to series thirty (although for some reason she didn’t return for the series’ thirty first and final series), is easily her most substantial television contribution (elsewhere she penned a handful of episodes for EastEnders and Medics).

Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Ten

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Written by Sarah Daniels. Tx 7th February 1986

The temporary classrooms finally arrive – this spells trouble for Mr Bronson’s car which, if he doesn’t move it, is likely to be turned into a pile of scrap metal.  Mr Baxter is understandably not terribly concerned (believing that it would probably be worth more to him as scrap!) but eventually deigns to send the ever-helpful Janet up to the staffroom to warn him.

There’s obvious comic potential in the sight of Mr Bronson running to the aid of his car, which is heightened when it’s revealed that the crane driver is – wait for it – a woman (played by Holly De Jong).  Calley and Ronnie, watching from an upstairs window, debate the merits of female crane drivers (Ronnie wonders how on earth a woman could have possibility got such a job).  The reactions from the older male teachers are equally as nonplussed.  Mr Baxter blurts out “you’re a woman” to her.  She replies that yes she is, and wonders if he teaches biology!

Mr Griffiths’ hero worship of Mrs McClusky is always a joy to behold.  Here, she tells him that it’ll be some time before they can go back to the old school, so the temporary classrooms will be around for a while.  He’s not delighted at the news (“oh my god”) but the look of pleasure and pride on his face when she tells him that he’s the first person she’s told about this – ahead of all the staff – is worth the price of admission alone.  Puffing out his chest and standing straight like a soldier, he assures her that his staff will give the school their 100% co-operation.  If only everybody could be as easily manipulated as Mr Griffiths …..

Ziggy and Robbie continue their never-ending quest to gain revenge on Imelda.  This week it’s water balloons.  I don’t really need to tell you that this ends in total catastrophe for them, do I?  In other news, Robbie’s had a haircut.  Not the most thrilling nugget of information I know, but when watching the series back-to-back things like this stand out.

Speaking of Ziggy, he’s had a reply back from the Duke of Edinburgh.  Since he’s absent, Gonch asks if he can pop round to his flat to deliver the letter.  That sounds remarkably helpful, so you probably won’t be shocked to learn that Gonch plans to substitute the rather bland and non-committal reply with something much more creative – which will lead Ziggy to believe that the Duke will shortly be visiting Grange Hill and will be pleased to receive as many chalk ends from Ziggy as can be collected.

Will Ziggy fall for such an obvious falsehood?  Course he will!  To further their devilish plans, Gonch and Hollo visit a local newsagents to run off some blank headed paper with the Duke of Edinburgh’s crest, which will enable them to write their own letter.  The shop is a lovely time capsule of the period – complete with mouth-watering jars of sweets behind the counter (although they were surely an anachronism even back then) – and a friendly shopkeeper (played by the very recognisable Brenda Cowling) happy to help the two lads (she believes they’re working on the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme).

A slight sliver of reality is introduced when they bluff her that the Duke is interested in the travails of inner-city life.  She sympathizes with this and tells them that running a shop in an area like this is no joke, due to the amount of shoplifting that goes on.   It wouldn’t have been a surprise to see them take advantage of such a kindly woman and indeed Hollo does stuff some chocolate bars into his pocket when she isn’t looking, but Gonch (“how would you like it if she was your Nan?”) makes him put them back.  He has his standards then.

There’s a lovely visual gag as the pair exit the shop and run back to school.  They pass a church which displays an ominous sign (be sure your sin will find you out).  And since the sign handily tells us that it’s Leavesden Road Baptist Church, a quick skim through Google Maps will find the same location today.  When I’ve got the time it might be interesting to try and pinpoint some of the other GH locations from this era.

Zammo’s devious plan to convince his mother that he hasn’t sold her decanter (instead he broke it in an accident) is played out here.  Part one requires pinching a glass beaker from a lab assistant (played by Tom Keller).  Whilst we know that Zammo isn’t the most together of people these days, this is odd.  For one thing, the smashed beaker wouldn’t resemble in any way the smashed decanter and for another, it’s difficult to see how dropping the decanter a couple of feet would have caused it to break (surely for something that sturdily built it would have to have fallen from a great height).

It’s therefore more than a little interesting that Mrs McGuire seems to swallow this unbelievable story so readily.  True, she does wonder where the stopper is (Zammo, thinking quickly, tells her that he’s sold it) but otherwise Zammo’s plan seems to have worked.  Or has it?  There’s several different ways this scene can be interpreted – either Mrs McGuire does believe her son’s story or she can’t yet bring herself to confront his lies and evasions.

The disappearance of her bike (presumably stolen and sold by Zammo like everything else) is another of those moments where it’s left dangling as to whether she believes his protests of innocence or not.  What’s noticeable about this scene is that Zammo seems more together and lies more fluently than he recently has been able to do to Jackie (he also looks his mother in the eye, something he hasn’t been able to do with Jackie).  There are several possibilities to explain this – either he feels more guilty when he lies to Jackie or he’s recently been drugged up and is therefore temporarily back in control.  Nothing’s ever explicitly stated, so the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions.

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Grange Hill – Series Ten, Episode Eleven

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Written by John Godber. Tx 11th February 1986

Ziggy and Robbie are diligently collecting every scrap of chalk they can find, convinced that a grateful Duke of Edinburgh will be delighted with their efforts.  I love the way that most of the teachers – Mr King, Mr Kennedy – also swallow this story hook, line and sinker but suspicious old Mr Baxter proves much harder to convince.  It’s a small character beat, but it demonsrates that Mr Baxter has been round the block several times and doesn’t take anything on trust.

Calley’s school fanzine (or the school magazine as it now seems to be) has Mrs McClusky’s blessing, although she obviously wants some form of editorial control to be wielded by the staff.   This isn’t the sort of news that Calley, Ronnie, Laura, Fay and Julie want to hear, but Mrs McClusky – skilled politician that she is – seems to have gotten her way.  These days Mrs McClusky seems to be a more relaxed individual than the control freak of the early 1980’s, although possibly she’s just the same – it’s just that the ratio between velvet glove and iron fist has changed.  So whilst she may appear to be more conciliatory there’s still the same drive to ensure that she always gets her own way.

A little time seems to have passed since the recording of the previous episode (maybe there was a mid-season break?) as several pupils, notably Helen are now sporting new hairstyles.  But whilst Helen might look slightly different, she’s still Imelda’s yes-woman (Georgina remains Imelda’s maybe-woman).  Imelda’s latest wheeze is demanding money with maximum menaces – twenty pence from every first year and once they’ve paid up the edge of their timetable is clipped (confirming that they’ve paid).

This seems like a sensible plan, although there’s a few obvious flaws, not least the fact that some resourceful first-years clip their own timetables, thereby fooling the older girls.  This lack of forward planning, as well as Imelda’s own recklessness, spells the end for her as her scheme is rumbled and she’s suspended.  This gives the others a temporary respite, but she’ll be back …..

She did take a little catching though, as Mr Baxter and Mr Griffiths found out.  Still, once Mr Griffiths had a firm hold of her, Mr Baxter’s anger was enough to quieten her down.  This is another good episode for Michael Cronin – as we also see Mr Baxter share a few nice scenes with Ant and display disbelief that the Duke of Edinburgh would ever consider visiting a place like Grange Hill.

Georgina is distraught. Now that Imelda’s been caught she knows she will be next to face the wrath of Mrs McClusky.  What will her parents say?  Ant attempts to console her (this involves holding her close) but one again the fates are against him as Mr Bronson happens to walk by.  “In case you have forgotten, this is a school Mr Jones, not a harem!”

The viewer hardly has time to draw breath from this beautifully delivered line from Michael Sheard before the action ramps up several notches.  Mr Bronson pulls Ant from the bench where he and Georgina are sitting and eyeballs him – Ant then roughly pushes him away, causing Mr Bronson to fall over (naturally, his first action when he hits the ground is to check that his wig is still in place!)

What’s fascinating about this moment is that Ant claims that he never touched him when it’s plainly obvious that he shoved the teacher quite violently.  Ant may like to play the victim but the facts don’t always equate with this (as has been seen before).  Mr Bronson’s not best pleased as you might expect.  “You’ve done it now, Jones.  Assault, that’s what this is. Assault”.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Mrs McClusky’s faithful, but non-speaking secretary, Janet. She has one of her finest moments here as Mr Bronson frog-marches Ant and Georgina into Mrs Clusky’s office and stammers that Ant assaulted him.  Although it’s when he divulges that Ant and Georgina were kissing that Janet pulls a wonderful face.  Lovely stuff!

Ant is given an ultimatum.  If he apologies to Mr Bronson then the matter will be considered closed.  But the headstrong Ant can’t bring himself to do so ……

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Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Twelve

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 14th February 1986

It’s a filthy wet day outside, which possibly might explain why Grange Hill is graced with Danny’s presence for the whole day.  That’s not to say he keeps out of trouble though – an early skirmish with Mrs Reagan means that he’s sent to Mr Baxter’s office.

This is an episode which really examines what makes Danny tick.  His self-contained nature and reluctance to engage have been seen before – although it’s now suggested that he’s tried the patience of just about every teacher in the school.  Danny just wants to be left alone, which is obviously never going to happen.  He might be an (unwilling) member of the school but doesn’t accept that any of the school rules should apply to him.

We’ve not really seen him encounter Mr Bronson before.  In the future Mr Bronson and Danny will share some dramatic storylines, but here the teacher is almost genial (or as genial as Mr Bronson ever gets).  Knowing that Danny is likely to stray if left unattended, Mr Bronson takes charge of him and escorts him to Mr Baxter’s office (“you have a tendency to veer off course, don’t you Kendall? Like a defective supermarket trolley”).

Mr Baxter’s heart to heart with the boy is again played out against the backdrop of rain lashing against the windows.  This helps to create a sense of claustrophobia as the teacher then leaves Danny alone to ponder his future, although Danny believes he hasn’t got one – at Grange Hill at least – since he’s already been marked down as a troublemaker.  Although there still might be hope for others.

Given that he’s rarely interacted with either his fellow pupils or the teachers on a friendly basis, it’s slightly surprising that he speaks to Laura on behalf of Georgina (Georgina wants Laura to have a word with her mother about Ant’s feud with Mr Bronson).  True, Danny doesn’t say anything when Georgina asks him, but he does do it – even though he later tells Ant that he should apologise to Mr Bronson.  He doesn’t have to mean it, he only has to say the words …..

One of the problems with creating a character like Danny, who appeared out of nowhere during series nine as a third year, is that his previous school life is a complete blank.   There’s the first hint that he might just have an interest in a school activity – he speaks to Miss Booth about the competition to create a new school logo – but this suggests that he’s spent several years displaying no artistic talent whatsoever.  Given that he later seems to live in the art room, this is a little hard to believe.

Nominations for the staff/pupil editorial committee are made.  Laura is desperate to be elected (and is) whilst Gonch (unwillingly) as well as Calley and Fay (willingly) are also voted on.  Fay then suggests they have a male member of staff to compliment Miss Booth and Miss Partridge.  She suggests Mr King (does Julie slightly roll her eyes at this?).  It’s been a few episodes since Fay expressed her feelings for Mr King (she really likes him but doesn’t, repeat doesn’t, fancy him).  Hmm, this is plainly set up as an accident waiting to happen.

There’s been a nice touch of continuity this year as we’ve seen several teachers with colds.  First it was Miss Partridge and now it’s Mr Bronson.  It’s hardly a major plot point, but it’s noticeable nonetheless.  This episode is also noteworthy for the brevity of Mrs McClusky’s appearance – she pops up in the first scene, exchanges a few words with Mrs Reagan, and then vanishes.  Hopefully Gwyneth Powell recorded scenes for some other episodes on the same day, otherwise it seems a bit of a waste to drag her out just for thirty seconds.

Mr Bronson and Mr Baxter break the bad news to Ziggy that the Duke of Edinburgh isn’t coming to Grange Hill.  Well, Mr Baxter breaks the bad news (Mr Bronson isn’t too sympathetic).  I love the way that Mr Baxter points out that Ziggy’s letter is an obvious forgery, making the reasonable suggestion that the Duke would know how to spell Edinburgh!  Gardener and Holloway clearly haven’t been paying attention during their English lessons …..

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Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Thirteen

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Written by Margaret Simpson.  Tx 18th February 1986

It’s half term, which is the cue for two episodes worth of out of school antics.  Ziggy and Robbie’s misadventures on the streets of London runs across this episode only whilst the travails of Roland/Zammo and Laura/Julia are spread across both.

Robbie elects to show Ziggy the sights, but since they don’t have any money the boys are forced to be creative.  For some reason (maybe budget related) there wasn’t a school trip this year, so these two episodes function as our main opportunity to see a handful of characters outside of the school environment.  That Margaret Simpson concentrates on only six regulars (although Louise also makes a brief appearance) helps to ensure that all the characters are afforded a decent amount of character development.

Robbie and Ziggy do a spot of ducking and diving (blagging their way onto a Thames pleasure boat for example) which gives their meanderings a slightly nihilistic feel.   It isn’t overstated, since they remain optimistic and cheerful, but there’s a vague sense that they’re dead-end kids with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  Later, when they run out of money the pair are forced to jump the barriers at the Tube station (and dodge the inevitably angry ticket collector).

But whilst both may be a little naughty at times they also still retain their child-like view of the world.  Ziggy’s belief that the Duke of Edinburgh had an intense interest in chalk, for example, or here – as Robbie elects to take Ziggy to a church where some years ago he saw bodies lying in an open crypt.  Unsurprisingly it’s a massive waste of time (the church has been turned into flats and the poor occupant they buzz is naturally perplexed by their request to see the bodies!).

For those who enjoy playing spot the well-known extra, look out some five minutes in as Pat Gorman makes a brief appearance (as man on escalator).

Across the years we only very rarely (Ray, Tucker) saw ex-pupils return to the series as adults.  This is a slight shame as it would have been interesting to have seen which ones sank and which ones swam.  Based on their time in school and their efforts here, it’s hard to imagine either Robbie or Ziggy having a glittering future once the doors of Grange Hill have closed on them for the last time.  But you never know ….

Laura and Julia are different cases altogether.  Both are intelligent, articulate and blessed with well-off parents, but neither of their home lives are necessarily always straightforward with Julia probably faring the worse.  We’ve already been primed that Julia’s father, Mr Glover (Vincent Brimble), is something of a tyrant and so it proves as we meet him for the first time.

Bad tempered would best sum him up. He’s far from happy with his daughter (especially the way she hogs the phone) and is firmly of the opinion that Laura and her mother are very bad influences on her. That he’s heading out to interview Mrs Reagan for the vacant post of head of sports at Grange Hill only adds a little spice to proceedings ….

Earlier in the series it was revealed that Mr Glover had blocked Mrs Reagan’s application. So either this is a second interview or somehow the plotline had become a little fractured (slightly sloppy script-editing maybe?)

Julia and Laura want to go to an all-night party but it’s plain that Mr Glover would never give his permission.  So they decide to go anyway (telling Julia’s parents and Laura’s mother that they’ve gone to visit Julia’s father).  Although Mr Glover might be painted in a somewhat two-dimensional way, it’s difficult not to admit that – as we’ll see next time – his judgement wasn’t the one which was lacking.

The mystery of Louise’s homelife is teased out a little more after she runs into Laura and Julia.  It’s obvious that Louise, with younger brothers in tow, doesn’t want to stop and talk, leaving the uncomfortable impression once again that all isn’t well at home.

It’s worth remembering that Mrs Reagan had asked the girls a while back to see if they could find out what the problem with Louise and her sister was.  But hey don’t appear to have done a great deal about this so far and it’s quite noticeable that although they do express a flicker of concern that Louise seems rushed off her feet, seconds afterwards they ignore her and return to the hot topic of whether Julia should have her ears pierced.

It has to be intentional that there’s a sharp cut early on from Ziggy’s bleak homelife (he shares a grimy one room flat with his parents) to the relatively palatial homes of both Laura and Julia. After Ziggy tells Robbie that anything (even traipsing around the city) has to be better than being stuck inside, the contrast between them and the two girls (chatting on the phone about boys they fancy and who – maybe – fancy them) is striking.

Meanwhile, Zammo’s story is reaching crisis point.  Zammo, along with Doug, Howard (Mike Smart) and Tamsin (Tracey Willmott) make their way to the arcade where Roland is working part-time.  All of Zammo’s companions are of the dubious variety, which instantly makes Roland a little suspicious – but he agrees that they can use the backroom (so that Tamsin can cut Zammo’s hair).  We later see them exit, with Zammo’s hair unchanged, so whatever happened in the room didn’t involve hair. By now the attentive viewer should have a good idea exactly what has been going on – which will be confirmed next time.

Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Fourteen

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 21st February 1986

Julia and Laura, having lied to just about everybody, set off to find the all night party.  Unsurprisingly it’s a total disaster.

The tone is set early on, after Laura gets cold feet.  Lying to her mother isn’t something that comes easily (unlike Julia, who is able to tell fibs to her father with a seemingly clear conscience).  Once again we’re presented with a remorseless Mr Glover – a man seemingly incapable of uttering a friendly word to anybody.

He’s not a favourite at the Reagan household at the moment, ever since he rejected Mrs Reagan’s job application (a never-seen man has been appointed as Mr Baxter’s replacement instead).  As touched upon before, this seemed to have been dealt with a while back, so it’s odd that it surfaced again here.

Given the obvious antipathy Mr Glover displays towards Mrs Reagan (he appears to dislike one-parent families on principle) it wouldn’t be surprising if he’d allowed his personal feelings to influence his decision making.  But there seems to be no recourse to appeal – it’s an unfair man’s world and that seems to be that.

Mrs Reagan shares her disappointment with Miss Partridge, who’s called round for a chat.  The reason why they discuss the difficulties of being a single parent (and Mr Glover’s attitude) will shortly become clear.  Seeds for a future storyline with Miss Partridge have already been subtly sown in previous episodes and this is the latest example of some gentle groundwork being laid.

Rather like Robbie and Ziggy last time, the girls face a weary trip across London.  At least they’ve got ample bus fare in their pockets, but that still doesn’t stop them from having to fend off unwelcome attention from some older boys.  Nothing terrible happens – Julia pretends that Laura is deaf and dumb (the sort of thing you probably wouldn’t get away with today) and are able to thumb their noses once they’re safely aboard their bus – but it’s plain that two young girls, out alone at night, present something of a target.  That they emerged unscathed this time was more due to luck than judgement, something which is explained to them (and no doubt any members of the audience considering similar antics) later.

The ultimate irony is that the all-night party is a total washout.  There’s no fit boys (just some weedy specimens, alas) and it isn’t long before they’re forced to slink off home – where they encounter Mrs Reagan and Mr and Mrs Glover, none of whom are terribly happy.

Mr Glover is the angriest whilst Mrs Glover (Sarah Nash) simply affects a long-suffering air.  No doubt she’s been witness to countless scenes like this before and has decided to let this latest contretemps just wash over her.  What’s significant is that Mr Glover’s ranting and raving simply makes Julia more intractable whilst Mrs Reagan’s sorrowful questioning ensures that Laura is instantly contrite (she also promises not to stray again).  For all Mr Glover’s acid comments about one-parent families in general and Mrs Reagan and Laura inparticular, we’re left in no doubt about which parent/daughter relationship is the strongest.

Elsewhere, Zammo’s on the scrounge again as he asks Roland for fifty pounds (spinning a presumably fake story about buying a bike).  Roland, despite the fact that he’s well aware that Zammo has a habit of borrowing money but not paying it back, readily agrees and dips into the petty cash at the arcade.  Sorry?  He’s willing to not only risk his job but also potentially risk getting into trouble with the police just to help Zammo out?

If this is strange, then it’s even stranger that Zammo does eventually reappear with most of the money still on him. Roland is able to get forty three pounds back from him (and Zammo forces Howard to hand over another fiver) in order that Roland can return the money to the float without anybody realising.  It’s hard to imagine that with fifty pounds in his pocket Zammo wouldn’t have gone out and spent it on drugs, but maybe he wasn’t able to track his dealer down.

Although that can’t be the case, as the iconic closing sequence depicts Roland’s discovery of a comatose Zammo surrounded by drug paraphernalia.  But although this part of the story doesn’t quite scan, it doesn’t really matter as the key reveal – Zammo’s secret is finally confirmed – is what really matters.

It’s an ominous moment.  Each credits cut is accompanied by a ricocheting sound effect (apart from this the soundtrack is silent) and a zoom into Zammo’s face.  The mood is slightly broken by the jaunty strains of Chicken Man fading in as we move away from Zammo, but it’s still a scene that carries an impact.  Now to see how the story develops from here.

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Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Fifteen

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Written by Rosemary Mason. Tx 25th February 1986

Mr Griffiths is being his usual intolerant self.  Regarding the gleaming corridors with pride, he confides to one of the cleaning ladies that it’s only the incoming influx of children which is a problem – without them the school would run much more efficiently!

Two things are concerning him today.  One, the general level of smoking (which is also the main topic of the episode) and two, the current amnesty on school library books.  Organised by Janet, it’s a painless way to ensure that overdue books are returned with no penalty – but this is something that Mr Griffiths simply can’t understand.

So he takes to lurking in the corridors, biding his time so he can spring out and nab an unwary child.   When Gonch, Hollo, Robbie and Ziggy learn this their eyes light up – each load themselves up with a collection of books and dash around the playground (Robbie’s “whhhhhhheeeeeeeeee” as he runs past Mr Griffiths is especially memorable).  This is rather silly, but entertaining nonetheless.

Even better is the moment when Mrs McClusky bumps into the boys.  She’s impressed with the number of books they’re returning, but she also can’t help but peruse some of the titles.  Lifting the top book from Gonch’s pile she reads the back cover blurb. “One Day You’ll Go. Cathy knew with a certainty from deep within that one day she’d find Chris”.  When she asks the boys to write a précis of the top book on their pile, Mr Griffiths approves wholeheartedly (his look of total admiration as Mrs McClusky walks away is plain to see).

Smoking has been a fact of life at Grange Hill since the series began, but this is pretty much the first time it’s been discussed in depth.  Both a section of the staff and pupils are disgusted with the habit – amongst the staff it’s Mrs Reagan who’s the most vehemently opposed which forces smokers like Mr Kennedy to keep a low profile.  I like Mr Bronson’s chuckle after he asks Mrs Reagan if she’s the smoker (naturally she denies it strongly).

Everywhere you go in the school there’s evidence of smoking.  The workmen putting up the temporary classrooms are indulging, the teachers are enjoying a puff, the children have their own secret smoking den whilst the evidence of their habit is all around the place (piles of fag ends scattered everywhere).  This seems a little like overkill, but it does serve as the trigger for the first issue of the new school magazine.

Everybody’s got views on smoking, so it’s an obvious topic to discuss.  Surely nobody could disapprove?  Well, Mr Bronson’s not happy for one.  The notion that the pupils want to see a non-smoking ban extended to the staff room appalls him – he may not smoke, but for him pupils dictating to staff is the thin end of the wedge.

Mr Bronson clearly has a sixth sense where Ant is concerned.  Whenever Ant’s placed in a compromising position Mr Bronson always seems to be there – ready to pounce.  Here, Ant’s handing round copies of the magazine to the smokers and Danny, interested in the logo competition, asks him to hold his cigarette whilst he has a look.  Mr Bronson, with the righteous fury of an avenging angel, sees Ant holding a ciggy and unsurprisingly jumps to the wrong conclusion.  Oh dear.

Gonch and Hollo have thrown themselves into the anti smoking campaign woth gusto.  Popping up posters around the school, they wonder if Mr Griffiths might want one (after all, he’s always complaining about having to clear up after smokers).  Shock, horror it’s revealed that he’s another secret smoker – although it’s a pipe for him.  Resplendent in a very natty cardigan, he’s enjoying a quiet puff in his room, only to be rudely interrupted by the boys.  Shoving his pipe into his pocket (he’s another who’s obviously a little ashamed of his habit) he then proceeds to set his cardigan on fire in another classic Mr Griffiths comedy moment.

There’s no particular rush to confront Zammo’s problem.  We only see him briefly when he, Jackie, Banksie and others attend the school magazine meeting.  It’s surprising that Zammo, who’s hardly been in school recently (or so it seems), should have allowed himself to be dragged along.  But at least he’s granted a few lines, which is more than Banksie is allowed (poor Stephen Banks, relegated to the status of a non-speaking extra at present).

Roland discusses obliquely Zammo with Janet (although he doesn’t mention him by name).  As yet, Roland hasn’t done anything about what he witnessed in the arcade and despite the evidence of his own eyes is clearly not willing to believe that Zammo could be mixed up with drugs.

Elsewhere, outside of school Mr King and Fay literally bump into each other.  With plenty to discuss about the school magazine, he suggests they grab a coffee.  This is innocent enough, but it’s the start of a slippery slope – especially after Julia and Laura see them together.

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Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Sixteen

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Written by Rosemary Mason. Tx 28th February 1986

What have I said before about how the unfortunate Ant always seems to be discovered by Mr Bronson with his metaphorical trousers down? With grinding inevitability it happens again here – Laura wants to put up an anti-smoking poster in their new temporary classroom but Ant is less keen (it’ll chip the wall, he says).

Laura presses ahead and when she makes a slight mess Ant takes it upon himself to try and repair the damage.  And that’s when Mr Bronson walks in – to be presented with the sight of Ant, Laura and the offending poster.

That Mr Bronson is no fan of the no-smoking campaign has been made clear already.  He tells Ant and Laura to present themselves to Mr Baxter later (“and no buts”).  “Like the poster” says Julia (which is a decent gag).  Laura gets off lightly but Ant finds himself placed in detention by Mr Baxter.  Ant sees this as further evidence of Mr Bronson’s victimisation but this doesn’t quite hold up – after all it was Mr Baxter who made the decision (Mr Bronson wasn’t there).  Once again there seems to be a slight disconnect between reality and Ant’s view of the world.

He complains to Georgina that Mr Bronson imagines things and is out to get him, but is forced to admit that his detention had a solid basis in fact.  Ant’s later interview with Mr Baxter and Mr Bronson is short but painful.  The subsequent conversation between the two teachers is also somewhat sparky.  Mr Baxter lays it out.  “That boy’s on the right side. But if you go on hammering him the way you are he’ll end up on the wrong side. And that’ll be another one we’ve lost”.

Mr Baxter knows that Mr Bronson has been excessive in his treatment of Ant, but this isn’t something he can communicate to the boy (the staff have to close ranks maybe?) meaning that Ant believes that he has no future at the school, a belief which will impact his later decisions.  To be fair to Ant, there is evidence that Mr Bronson has been victimising him, but Ant’s attitude has sometimes let him down as well.  So there’s no absolute right on one side and wrong on another – instead their conflict has been conducted in shades of grey.

Gonch and Hollo continue to enjoy themselves.  Proudly sporting smoking patrol armbands they’re on the prowl – but are frustrated that the nicotine miscreants are nowhere to be found.  Others have more luck – Mr Kennedy heads out to his car for a quiet puff, only to be surrounded by a group of sorrowful extras.  Tempers certainly seem to be fraying as the normally placid Miss Booth is suddenly rather bad tempered (Fay believes this is because she’s suffering from nicotine withdrawal).

The staff smokers later find themselves corralled into attending lunchtime jogging sessions with Mrs Reagan.  It’s somewhat remarkable how everybody has meekly fallen into line (both staff and pupils).  This seems far too good to be true.

Danny Kendall, in the most unsurprising twist ever, wins the logo competition.  Mrs McClusky is slightly apprehensive at the prize giving as no member of staff has seen the winning entry.  She hopes that it doesn’t contain “a nude punk or worse” (a delightfully old-fashioned comment which would have been rather out of date, even then).  He entered two pieces – one scruffy design under his own name and the wining entry under the non-de-plume of Eamon McClusky.  Did he hope that the McClusky name would influence the panel?  It’s plain that he felt his own name would scupper his chances.

His skill as an artist forces everybody to reassess their opinions of him (as touched upon before, it’s remarkable that he’s hidden his light under a bushel for so long) but other than his newly discovered artistic bent he’s still the same old Danny.  Receiving his prize (a ten pound book token) from Mrs McClusky he’s unable to smile and say thank you.  Mrs McClusky interprets this as disappointment, but it’s more to do with the fact that he lacks the necessary social skills for this sort of situation.  So he storms out and Miss Booth sets off in hot pursuit – something which will become a familiar pattern over the next few years.

When she does find him, he tells her that the magazine is doomed to failure.  What they need is a wall where anybody can write anything they want – essentially a magazine, but in a solid-brick format and with no editing.  What he really wanted was the internet but – Prestel apart – he was a little too early.

Fay heads off for another chat with Mr King.  An innocent conversation maybe, but Laura’s also in the corridor and pulls a disapproving face.  There’s another very short scene with Zammo – he’s in school again, but doesn’t want to see the announcement of the logo winner, much to Jackie’s irritation.  It’s another small sign that Zammo’s still around even if his storyline isn’t advancing at present.

A tear-stained Louise tells Laura and Julia that her father is dead.  This isn’t something which comes as a great shock – as it seems to have been the way the storyline was inevitably heading – but it’s a little strange that the school has been so slow to respond.  Despite the fact that there’s been a problem for a while, apart from Mrs Reagan sending her daughter and Julia to investigate unofficially, nothing else seems to have been done.

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Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Seventeen

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 4th March 1986

Calley’s not happy with the changes that have been made to the first issue of On Spec (the school magazine).  She feels that Mrs McClusky’s fingerprints are all over it – watering down her original fanzine idea into something that could have been produced by the school secretary.

But it’s still controversial enough to annoy Mr Glover intensely, especially the article on smoking. Since smoking is prohibited amongst the pupils, the magazine – by acknowledging that it’s a problem for all sections of the school community – is seen to condone it.  A few years back this might have been the sort of point that Mrs McClusky would have picked up on, but she didn’t seem too concerned to begin with (so she seems to have mellowed somewhat).

But now that the governors have raised concerns, she agrees that changes need to be made.  This might suggest that she’s keen to jump when she’s told to jump, but later events will prove that Mrs McClusky is still very much her own woman and still very much in charge.  The showdown between her and Mr Glover is yet to come ….

Mr King is aware that the school governors want to recall the magazine, but tips Fay the nod thereby allowing her, Calley and Ronnie to rush off to distribute it.  Hurrah, strike one for pupil and staff power!  I’ve a feeling that Mr King might get into trouble for this, but it’s his insidiously creeping relationship with Fay that’s more likely to prove his downfall.

Zammo visits the post office to cash a dodgy pension.  This is an authentically grimy slice of mid eighties London life and the dingy setting help to ramp up the tension as Zammo anxiously waits his turn.  When Banksie joins the queue, Zammo’s nerves start jangling even more.  It seems a long, long time ago when Banksie was the untrustworthy one and Zammo was the good guy.  Banksie’s posting off a job application whilst Zammo’s fraudulently collecting money to further his, and other people’s, drugs habit.

Banksie does gently jibe Zammo about his recent non-attendance at school, but like the others he still either doesn’t seem to realise that there’s anything seriously wrong or (and this might be nearer the mark with Banksie) simply doesn’t care.

It’s an interesting touch that when we later see Zammo, Howard and Doug waiting for the man (or more accurately woman – Tamsin) it’s Doug who articulates that their current lifestyle isn’t good (“there’s got to be a better way to live than this”).  You might have expected that Zammo would be the first one to realise that drugs are a dead-end street, but not so.  Possibly he’s too far gone.

Last time, Danny was keen on the concept of a speaking wall – a place where pupils could write anything they wished.  Surprisingly permission was granted, although Danny’s work is more in the artistic than verbal vein.  It’s another slice of mid eighties life – a mural depicting nuclear war (mushroom clouds, rockets and skulls).  Miss Booth stands firm as Danny’s champion – it seems that she’s recognised his talent and wishes to nurture it (otherwise her dogged determination to indulge him makes little sense).

Mr King gives Fay a lift home and – just as when the pair were spotted in the café by Laura and Julia – Julie, out walking her dog, is the latest to spy the teacher and pupil having an animated conversation.  Grange Hill’s catchment area is clearly so small that everybody can’t help tripping over everybody else.

They both plan on seeing the same film at the weekend and Fay suggests they go together.  Mr King decides that it wouldn’t be a good idea as it might give people the wrong idea (he’s rather too late on that score!) but then quickly changes his mind, arranging a date for Saturday at five.  And so he digs himself a little deeper into his ever-increasing self-inflicted hole ….

It’s been a while since we’ve seen that Grange Hill favourite – pilfered clothes from the changing room.  Ziggy decides to steal Imelda’s clothes to teach her a lesson, but of course he gets it wrong and ends up pilfering Jane’s clothes instead.  At least this gives Jane – who’s been pretty invisible this year – a little bit of screentime next episode.  Ziggy and Robbie have to disguise themselves as girls in order to breach the changing room, which is a suitably silly moment (Ziggy’s high-pitched approximation of a girl’s voice, for example).

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Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Eighteen

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 7th March 1986

If it wasn’t for the fact that this episode follows directly on from the previous one, you’d swear that a certain amount of time has elapsed in the relationship between Fay and Mr King.  Last time he was somewhat hesitant in agreeing that they could go to the cinema together – but today they seem much more intimate, strolling in the park hand-in-hand, whilst she’s happy to call him Peter (rather than Sir or Mr King).

This is another of those moments where the script-editing seems a little suspect, which is surprising given that Anthony Mingella’s hand was on the tiller.  Had they started this plotline a little earlier (or left an episode between their cinema jaunt and this new-found closeness) then probably things wouldn’t have seemed so jarring.

Fay and Laura have another entertaining clash.  Laura, who’s been told by her mother that the staffroom is buzzing with the news that Mr King and Fay are rather closer than they should be, can’t help but tactfully suggest to the older girl that she’s playing with fire.  As you might expect, Fay doesn’t take this well-meant tip off terribly well.

Later, Mr King tells Fay that they’re doing nothing wrong, although he seems a little perturbed to hear that others are talking about them.  Another indication that he’s well aware of the deep waters they’re swimming in can be seen after Miss Partridge, treating Cheryl and Louise to a cup of coffee in a local café, spots Mr King at another table and pops over to say hello.  Her smile of greeting dims a little after she realises that Fay’s with him and Mr King’s downcast expression speaks volumes.

Cheryl and Louise, in the aftermath of their father’s death, continue to struggle to keep their family together.  Miss Partridge, Laura and Julia pay them a visit and discover that they have no money and no support.  Once again, you have to wonder exactly what the school or social services have been doing – answer, not very much.

The school welfare officer hasn’t called round (Miss Partridge promises to chase them up, but it’s more than a little worrying that matters have been left up in the air so long).  Nobody seems inclined to call the social services in, but given that Cheryl’s only fifteen it’s plain that they’ll need a great deal of support. Although the spectre of them all being taken into care – and split up – is clearly influencing their actions.

Julia, who never seems to learn, is preparing once more to defy her father.  She wants to go to a Phil Collins gig and is quite prepared to go anyway if he denies her permission.  So expect maximum-strength pouting from her if things don’t go the way she wants.

After having barely a handful of lines all year, Jane has a little more to do in this episode.  Firstly, she’s perplexed as to why Ziggy is behaving in a friendly fashion towards her (he, of course, is attempting to make amends for throwing her clothes – rather than Imelda’s – into the swimming pool).  She then uses the speaking wall for the purpose it was originally intended (spreading news that couldn’t be disseminated in the school magazine) by sharing that Miss Booth is a secret smoker.  Later, having discovered that Ziggy was the clothes-thrower, she decides to take her revenge in the messiest way imaginable ….

Whilst these hi-jinks are typical GH fare, Margaret Simpson (always a writer who could be guaranteed to pen good character-based scenes) continues to depict a highly-traumatised Louise, back in school but barely able to function.  Unsurprisingly Laura is on hand to provide a shoulder to cry on and it’s equally unsurprising that Mr Bronson, when both are late for his tutorial group, is less than sympathetic.

It seems barely credible that Mr Bronson, if he was aware that Louise’s father had just died, would be so keen to send her to detention.  When Ant steps in to harangue him over this point, he does backtrack a little (but only to say that Louise’s detention has been deferred for now).  But maybe this scene was merely a pretext for another Mr Bronson/Ant contretemps, if so it seems to end a little abruptly (suggesting the end has been chopped off).  It does push their rivalry on a little though, with Ant sent home and a meeting with his parents arranged.

It’s interesting that Danny is keen to paint over the chit-chat on the speaking wall, complaining that this free-for-all is spoiling everything.  Yet he was the one to originally suggest that since the school magazine was toothless, a wall where anybody could write anything would be the way to go.  Again there seems to be a certain level of character inconsistency.

This episode features a key scene between Zammo and Roland.  It’s the first time they’ve spoken since episode fourteen and sees Roland, in his own slightly inarticulate way, confront Zammo about what he saw that night in the arcade.  Prior to that they have a more general chat, with Zammo seeming to be slightly more together than he has previously.  Roland explains his desire to move to France for a year – in order to be with Fabienne – although this is dependent on him passing his French O Level.  This appears to be just a throwaway line, but it’ll become important next episode – not least for the way it shows how Zammo is prepared to sacrifice Roland’s hopes for the future in order to fund his drugs habit.

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Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Nineteen

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 11th March 1986

Zammo’s on the scrounge again and once more Roland is his hapless victim.  Given that Roland seems to be the only person in Grange Hill aware that Zammo’s got a drugs problem, it’s slightly odd that Zammo decides to target him yet again.  This is either another case of slightly wonky plotting (given the length of time this storyline has been running I’d have expected others – especially Jackie and Kevin – to have twigged that something’s wrong with Zammo by now) or it’s an intentional move – confirming that junkies aren’t the most forward thinking of people.

It’s late at night and Roland is home alone, frantically swotting for the next day’s French oral exam.  Zammo spins him a highly suspect story about a mysterious man down the arcade who owes him a tenner.  Naturally, this involves Roland giving Zammo another ten pound note so he can change the mystery man’s twenty.  Given all Roland knows, he’s either incredibly stupid or incredibly trusting (I’d favour the latter over the former).

There’s a nice touch of continuity as we see a polaroid picture of Fabienne on Roland’s bedside cabinet (a reminder why this French exam is so important to him).  That’s what makes Zammo’s next move so shocking – when Roland goes out of the room to get the ten pound note, Zammo pockets Roland’s bedside clock.  It may not be worth much, but it’ll fetch him a few more pounds.

Remember what I said about Roland’s level of intelligence?  Hmm, I take it back.  Surely he would have realised that his bedside clock was missing?  Most people would surely use it regularly to check the time.  So this part of the plot doesn’t quite hold water – unless you believe that Roland, exhausted from his revision, fell into a deep sleep shortly after Zammo left.  That might just work ….

The upshot is that the next day Roland is late for his exam and if he misses it then all his hopes will be dashed.  This is where we see, for once, the caring side of Mr Bronson.  Pacing up and down whilst checking his pocket watch (a nice little detail – Mr Bronson would be exactly the sort of character to have such an old-fashioned timepiece) he’s clearly upset that his star pupil hasn’t shown up.  Compare and contrast to the way he’s abused Ant (sometimes unfairly) this year and it shows that deep down he does have a heart.  He’s obviously a teacher who has favourites though (a good teacher would treat everybody the same).

It’s obviously intentional that in the same episode where we see Mr Bronson give Roland a helping hand, we also see his more unrelenting side.  Mrs McClusky, Mr Baxter, together with Ant and his parents, are having a friendly chat – at least until Mr Bronson turns up and then the atmosphere changes in an instant.

Given that Mrs McClusky and Mr Baxter have both gently suggested previously to Mr Bronson that he’s waged something of a vendetta against Ant, it’s notable that they don’t mention this to Ant’s parents. A case of them closing ranks with Mr Bronson, even if they don’t entirely agree with him?

It’s a surprise that Zammo turns up for his exam.  It’s not a surprise that he’s totally mute throughout though.  Maybe he just made it to school that day in order to steal the video recorder?  How he managed to waltz out of school with nobody noticing he had it tucked under his arm is a mystery though.  And it’s odd that we don’t actually see Zammo steal it – possibly there was a general feeling this year that they had to be extra careful when depicting Zammo’s criminal activities, but on more than one occasion we’re told and not shown (which never feels entirely satisfactory).

This episode provides us with a rare opportunity to see the fifth formers together.  The likes of Banksie, Kevin and Julie – all rather sidelined this year – are given a few scenes.  Earlier in the year we learnt that Julie fancied Kevin, is that the reason why they’re revising together?  Later, Banskie continues his rehabilitation by lending Roland some money (after learning that Zammo’s left him penniless).

We finally learn why Miss Partridge has to leave early every day.  She has a young son ensconced in a nursery and, as a single parent, has to pick him up on the dot each afternoon.  Today there wouldn’t be anything remarkable in this, but some thirty years ago things weren’t quite so clear cut.

The police bring the video recorder back.  They’re looking for Kevin (since Zammo used his name when selling the recorder).  But once they track him down they know that he’s not the one – since the suspect was Caucasian.  It hardly seems credible that Mr Kennedy wouldn’t know what Caucasian meant, so why not just say white in the first place?

Roland’s also on hand and he’s the one who spills the beans about Zammo.  Of course, we don’t actually know at this point that Zammo stole the video (although it seems more than likely) but the incident serves as the trigger for him to finally reveal what he knows.  And once again we cut away at the point just before Roland tells Kevin and Mr Kennedy that Zammo’s a junkie.  That the series is continually dodging dramatic moments like this is more than a little puzzling.

Jackie visits Zammo’s flat (today it’s a standard studio set, rather than the real location used earlier on) and finds Mrs McGuire at the end of her tether.  She knows that something’s wrong but has either not considered the possibility that drugs are involved or is in a state of denial.  When the police call, Jackie meekly leaves (this seems a little unlikely, surely she’d have hung around in the passage and attempted to listen in).

But if we’re denied another dramatic story beat – Jackie learning that Zammo’s an addict – at least we’re present when Mrs McGuire is told.  This gives us another strong episode closer as she cups her hands around Zammo’s face and pleads with him to tell her it’s not true ….

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