Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Twenty

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 14th March 1986

During these posts, I’ve discussed on a few occasions how various matters during series nine tend to develop off-screen.  There’s another example of this here – with Ant – although in this case it works to the benefit of the drama.

Ant’s still seething about the way he’s being treated – convinced that the school and his parents believe everything they’ve been told by Mr Bronson.  He therefore decides to withdraw his labour from the swimming team, something which obviously upsets Mr Baxter.  But is Ant correct in his assumption? Mr Baxter makes a very interesting comment – other pupils, accused of the things Ant has, would be expelled by now.  The fact that Ant hasn’t even received a detention should suggest to him that Mr Bronson’s accusations don’t hold water.

If this is so, then possibly we’ve missed a trick by not seeing Mr Bronson discomforted, but it’s also possible that Mr Baxter is attempting to spin a rosy picture in order to get Ant back on board.  But when Ant dismisses the team as “second rate” Mr Baxter’s attitude changes to frosty and there’s a very real sense that a bridge has been burned.  Ant needs all the allies he can get, so alienating Mr Baxter wasn’t the wisest move.

Ant may have reasons for feeling a little hard done by, but he’s rather an unlikeable character – which means that it’s hard to be on his side.  Later, Laura asks him if he’ll speak to his father – who’s a solicitor – to see if he would be able to track down Louise and Cheryl’s mother.  He refuses, due to his poor current relationship with his father, but considering that Louise and Cheryl’s father has just died this seems a more than petty reason.  Miss Partridge is eventually able to win him round though.

And Mr Jones’ meeting with Louise, Cheryl and Laura also has another benefit.  He’s able to discretely question them about Ant and Mr Bronson (naturally this happens off-screen) and concludes that Ant’s version of events is the one most closest to the truth.  Does this please Ant?  Of course not, as he seems to believe that his version of events should have been unconditionally accepted.

It’s a neat move that Mr Jones is a solicitor.  This makes him a precise and methodical man who first needs to weigh up all the evidence before pronouncing judgement. He’s shown to be fair, although there’s a clearly strained atmosphere between father and son (most of the antagonism does seem to be on Ant’s side though).  He may snap angrily at his son but seconds later he regrets it (unlike, say, Mr Glover).

Danny seems to exert a strange power over the younger children.  Despite his diminutive size he’s easily able to persuade Trevor and Vince to help him with the speaking wall.  Gonch and Hollo – hiding around the corner – are frantic.  How will they be able to make it to the safety of the bus without being spotted?  All seems well when Ziggy and Robbie – a ready made pair of sacrificial lambs – saunter past, but they seem immune to Danny and keep on walking.  If Ziggy and Robbie could do so, why can’t Gonch and Hollo?  It’s just a gag moment, but it doesn’t quite ring true.

Miss Booth later waxes lyrical over the strange power Danny has, likening him to Michelangelo with his apprentices.  Rather wonderfully, her audience is Mr Griffiths – not exactly Danny’s greatest fan.  George A. Cooper doesn’t have any lines, but it’s plain from his expression exactly what Mr Griffiths thinks!

The saga of Georgina and Imelda is still rumbling on.  Despite not being touched upon for some time, Imelda’s still glowering in the corner – promising vengeance – whilst Georgina wilts and looks around for Ant to protect her.  An equally long-running – and by now more than a little annoying – saga is that of Ziggy and Robbie, still out for revenge against Imelda.  This week they have bags of flour.  I wonder what will happen next ….

Mrs McClusky pays a visit to Mrs McGuire and Zammo.  Mrs McGuire’s weary story indicates that time has moved on since the previous episode.  Zammo’s still suffering withdrawal symptoms, but his mother is convinced that he’s nearly through it (although part of her knows this may be a false hope).  This has to be the first time that Mrs McClusky has referred to Zammo as Sammy rather than McGuire – although he’s unable to respond to her.

Zammo’s heroin problem soon becomes public knowledge via the speaking wall.  Mrs McClusky demands to know who – out of Danny, Gonch, Hollo, Trevor or Vince – was responsible.  But since none of them knew about Zammo, her well-meaning attempt to keep a lid on things has only backfired.  But who the secret scribber was remains a mystery.

Mrs McClusky orders the speaking wall to be whitewashed, but later relents and agrees that Danny’s mural can stay.  But it’s too late as Mr Griffiths has already gleefully painted over it.  Danny’s not at all pleased and storms off, leaving Miss Booth in his wake.  Never mind the power Danny has with his fellow pupils, the hold he exerts over Miss Booth is also a talking point.

The sight of Fay, lounging by Mr King’s car (“going my way?”) doesn’t fill him with instant pleasure as it did before.  But it isn’t long before he’s gently stroking her hand and moving closer to her.  That they’re doing this in the school car park, in full view of everybody, isn’t the wisest move.  As so often it’s Miss Partridge who we see hovering disapprovingly in the distance.

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Grange Hill, Series Nine – Episode Twenty One

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 18th March 1986

Zammo’s back in school, having seemingly kicked his heroin habit.  If this seems a little too good to be true then you may not be surprised to learn that it is.  Despite Jackie and Kevin constantly acting as his guard dogs, he’s somehow been able to buy some drugs and he stashes them in the toilet for later.  How he was able to get the drugs and where he got the money from is a mystery (since he’s been constantly watched for weeks).

It’s a missed opportunity that the truth is so quickly discovered.  Having an episode or two where he appeared to be back to his old self would have worked well, but given that we’re marching ever onwards towards the end of series nine, it wasn’t to be.

When he later discovers that his stash has been ruined he hot-foots it out of school, on the hunt for more.  That action makes it plain that his story is on-going but Fay and Mr King is a storyline that’s concluded here.  After blithely maintaining last episode that there was nothing wrong with their relationship, here Fay is in a state of total collapse.  It’s not clear what has forced this turnabout (an intervention from her parents or the fact it’s becoming public knowledge maybe?).

Fay doesn’t speak at all in this episode but thanks to her dramatic collapse in the gym, prior to an exam, still manages to catch the eye.  Mr King only has a handful of lines before he departs – handing in his resignation to Mrs McClusky and then clearing his desk in the time-honoured fashion.

He might be gone but Miss Partridge is still present and still worried about her job.  That she’s an unmarried mother isn’t the main issue (or so some of the governors claim).  It’s more to do with the fact that she knowingly falsified information on her application form.  Countless times in the past we’ve heard pupils bitterly mention that there’s no point in working hard (‘cos there’s no job out there) but it’s a little jolting to hear a teacher also admit that jobs are scarce.

Had she not lied, Miss Partridge maintains, then her chances of gaining a job would have been practically zero.  Mrs McClusky knows that she’ll have a fight on her hands to save her, but she’s going to fight all the same.  There’s a nice moment just before she enters the cauldron of the governors meeting – we see her applying a touch of make-up (putting her warpaint on, maybe?)

With the loyal Mr Baxter by her side, the pair have to face the terrible duo down the other end of the table – namely Mr Bronson and Mr Glover.  It’s Mr Glover who does all of the talking for them (for once Mr Bronson has nothing to say).  Mr Baxter does pipe up occasionally, but more often that not it’s to angrily retort to an insinuation made by Mr Glover.

So it’s mainly a battle of wills between Mrs McClusky and Mr Glover.  I thought the question of the headship had been decided some time back, but here it still seems to be in the balance.  Mr Glover taunts Mrs McClusky that for fear of making waves it would be best if she let Miss Partridge go quietly.  But Mrs McClusky is built of sterner stuff and in a glorious scene, which shows her at her best, she retorts that if required “she’ll sink the blessed ship!”

Ziggy and Robbie (good lads at heart) attempt to raise some money for the school by selling books – one of which contains a superstar autograph (the others also have autographs, but who really wants one signed by Humpty Dumpty?!).  The star autograph is Bono’s from U2, although nobody can pronounce his name correctly (everyone calls him Bow-no).  Or perhaps that’s how they did it back then?

Ant continues to glower away and jump to the wrong conclusions.  For once Mr Bronson is in a conciliatory mood, telling Ant gently (or as gently as he can manage) that his options aren’t valid.  It’s just unfortunate that Julia, who has selected the same options, is told later by Mr Bronson that there shouldn’t be any problem with hers.  But to be fair to Mr Bronson he didn’t have time to read them (he had to rush off to arrange the kangaroo court with Mr Glover) and he made this plain to the girl.  But the fact that he hadn’t seen them was one important sliver of information that Julia didn’t pass onto Ant.

Since he believes, incorrectly, that Julia’s been favoured over him, he tells Mr Bronson to “stick it”! and storms off.  That boy will never learn.

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Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Twenty Three

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Written by David Angus.  Tx 25th March 1986

Zammo is a hot topic of discussion for the others but luckily Trevor’s on hand to correct Vince’s wild flights of fancy.  It’s a notable touch that, not for the first time, Trevor belies his generally negative image (hectoring and aggressive) in order to pour cold water on Vince’s heated imaginings.  Zammo, Trevor tells him, isn’t in prison – instead he’s in hospital, receiving treatment for his problem.

We might not see him until later on, but Zammo remains on many people’s minds – most notably Jackie of course.  Having refused Miss Booth’s offer to accompany her when she visits him, Kevin and Roland later find her sobbing bitterly in the cloakrooms.  Having sent Roland on, Kevin then does his best to comfort her.

This is a scene that’s open to interpretation.  Jackie makes her feelings for Zammo plain (she can’t forget him, but neither can she face him at present) so is Kevin being a loyal friend to them both or does he have his eye on Jackie?  His suggestion that they could both go and visit Zammo together makes sense (as Jackie says, there’s less chance that the conversation would dry up with three people present) but it’s the way that he hesitatingly suggests that afterwards they grab a hamburger which may indicate that he’s keen to supplant his best friend.

When they exit the cloakroom he places a friendly hand around her shoulders. This could be seen as either a supportive gesture or a territorial move.  Banksie just happens to be passing and unsurprisingly favours the latter.  Having sat out most of this series it’s nice to have Steven Banks back.  Not only does he clash with Kevin (taunting him about Jackie) but he’s also keen to prove his superiority over Mr Kennedy.

This is the cue for a decent comedy scene as Mr Kennedy runs rings around him on the basketball court.  Margie Barbour employs a few unusual directorial flourishes here – incidental music (very rare for this era of the programme) and a freeze-frame after Mr Kennedy lands the killer blow.  So round one to Mr Kennedy, but Banksie is convinced that he’ll beat the teacher during the Fun Run (yes I know, a Fun Run isn’t a race, but try telling Banksie that …)

Ant’s plotline (he’s run away from home) can’t really be judged as one of GH’s successes.  For one thing, it’s far too short (it gets wrapped up here) and for another, the level of jeopardy is very low.  Since he’s still dressed in his school uniform he clearly didn’t think things through very deeply (something of a trait with him) and his time seems to have spent dossing down in an abandoned house.  The use of a real location does help a little though and there’s another well-crafted directorial moment when Ant later returns to the house.  A tramp has taken up residence, but the light levels are low enough to mask this fact until he starts to move and leer at the unfortunate boy.

Apart from that, the other highlight is that Ant attempts to steal an apple from a market barrow and fails.  As I said, not the most gripping of storylines so it’s a relief that the episode closes with Ant returning home.  Back at Grange Hill he, like Zammo, remains a hot topic of discussion.  We only see Mr Bronson very briefly in this one but it’s a telling moment – Mr Baxter taunts him about his treatment of Ant which leaves Mr Bronson, for once, somewhat discomforted.

Louise and Cheryl’s story is brought to a (fairly) happy ending, thanks to the arrival of their aunt, Harriet Dean (played by Carmen Munroe).  She and her husband are happy to move to London and take care of the family, but Cheryl (a devote of healthy eating) is somewhat appalled by her aunt’s fondness for fry-ups.  We never see Harriet again, so presumably we can interpret this scene as a comic one and not a suggestion that the forceful Harriet will make all their lives a misery.

Danny’s not best pleased that his design for a school logo – suitably adjusted – will soon be pressed into service.  Mrs McClusky’s sweetly delivered comment that it will happen whether he likes it or not is a typically delightful moment from Gwyneth Powell.  When Mrs McClusky is at her sweetest then you should be very afraid ….

There’s yet another slightly unusual touch as we see Miss Booth on her way to visit Zammo.  Whilst she’s driving her car en-route, the soundtrack jumps ahead to her discussion with Grace (Heather Emmanuel) a worker at the rehabilitation centre.   With the aid of some mugs, Grace is able to give a visual explanation of Zammo’s former addiction but the question remains, will he be able to stay off drugs?

He enters the frame, lingering in the background unseen by both of them, which sets up a moment of tension.  This quickly dissipates as he seems much more like his old self, but it’s clear that the road to recovery is going to be a long one.  Several times during series nine we’ve had false dawns – Zammo appeared to be recovered but wasn’t – so it seems right that we’re left with a strong sense that his future is far from certain.

As his cheerful façade slowly begins to crumble (changing the shot to a view of Zammo through a rainy window was presumably an on-the-day choice, but since it helps to hide his tears it’s a good one) Zammo’s isolation seems absolute.  The way that Miss Booth clearly wants to comfort him but doesn’t is yet another subtle moment from a quality episode.

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Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Twenty Four

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Written by David Angus. Tx 1st April 1986

It’s been a while since Gonch has indulged in a money-making scheme, so it’s only right and proper that the Fun Run should offer him a chance to turn a tidy profit.  The series has been here before of course – back in 1984 – but this time Gonch is more interested in who won’t finish the race, rather than who’s going to win it (which seems to be a toss-up between those two titans of the track, Mr Kennedy and Banksie).

However, from early on we’re left with the feeling that Gonch and Hollo aren’t going to finish on top.  To begin with, Ziggy’s delighted to show them a letter he’s received from the Duke of Edinburgh (a real letter this time) inviting him to a gala concert at the Royal Albert Hall (presumably pop, since it’s hard to imagine Ziggy being enthused about an evening of classical music).  Quite why the Duke should wish to favour Ziggy is a slight mystery, but nobody said GH ever had to be true to life.

The Fun Run is an opportunity for some interesting fancy dress – most notably Mr Baxter as Wonder Woman.  That’s a combination I’d never thought I’d see.  This will turn out to be Mr Baxter’s last hurrah as during the first episode of series ten we’re told that he’d left to run a sports centre.  A slight pity that Michael Cronin’s eight years on the show wasn’t marked in some way, but possibly his departure was an unexpected one.

You may – or more possibly may not – be interested to learn that it seems Julia will be able to keep her ears pierced.  Hurrah!  It’s slightly odd though that another of her plotlines (sneaking off to buy tickets for a Phil Collins gig) never came to anything.

Ant’s set to move from Grange Hill to a private school.  But that doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of him, alas ….

Following on from the uncomfortable aura surrounding Zammo last time, there’s better news in this episode.  He’s not seen in person, but Jackie has visited him and seems encouraged by his progress.  Presumably it was felt that there should be some sort of happy ending between this series and the next, but it does mean that the drama of the previous instalment ends up being rather negated.

The Fun Run is low on tension or incident.  Banksie falls off his bike and grazes his knee.  Ouch!  Gonch twists his ankle and faces having to pay out a fortune to Ronnie if he doesn’t complete the course.  Imelda and her cronies sabotage Mr Glover’s bike in error (believing it to be Ziggy’s).

The brief and awkward meeting between Mr Bronson and Ant is nice though, offering us a quiet moment between the frenetic on-track action.  Michael Sheard, as ever, is excellent – for once Mr Bronson is conciliatory (telling Ant that he’s sorry to lose him) and it’s almost possible to believe that he means it.  But if that’s the case and he truly valued Ant’s ability as a student, why did he persecute him all year?

I like the way that Mr Griffiths’ concession to fancy dress is to sport a plastic hat whilst still wearing his brown overalls!  And glory be, at long last Ziggy and Robbie gain their revenge on Imelda.