Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Five

grange hill s09e05

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 Four

grange hill s09e04

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 Three

grange hill s09e03.jpg

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 Two

grange hill s09e02

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 One

grange hill s09e01

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.

grange hill s09e01 p2.jpg

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 …..