Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode One

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Written by Chris Ellis. Tx 5th January 1988

This episode saw the debut of a new title sequence and a re-arranged version of Chicken Man. Although both moves might have upset some old-timers, you can’t really argue that it wasn’t overdue. The original titles may have been iconic, but they always looked rather old fashioned, even back in the seventies. The new titles are more frenetic (Phil Cool, remember him?) but not as distinctive. In some respects they seem like a placeholder between the originals and the more successful nineties efforts.

A new group of first years are rapidly introduced. For those who like to compare the new arrivals to old boys and girls (looking for archetypes) then Chrissy Mainwaring (Sonya Kearns) and Susi Young (Lynne Radford) fit very nicely as the new Trisha/Cathy, Fay/Annette or Calley/Ronnie. Throw in Justine Dean (Rachel Victoria Roberts) as a fashion rebel very similar to Trisha and it’s plain that – to begin with – the series was treading familiar ground with these new characters.

But Matthew Pearson (Paul Adams) and Clarke Trent (Darren Cudjoe) are hardly in the mould of Tucker/Alan, Zammo/Jonah or Gonch/Hollo. Matthew is positioned more as a Justin Bennett type – a fish out of water at Grange Hill – whilst poor Clarke (you possibly won’t be surprised to learn that he receives a few Superman jibes) seems to exist mainly to line feed his new friend.

Our first sight of Matthew sees him looking longingly at the comfort and security of home from the back seat of his mother’s car as she drives him and his sister to school. If the point that he’s an unwilling new pupil needs to be hammered home, then luckily his annoying younger sister is on hand to tell him exactly what awaits him (namely that his head will be shoved down the toilet on a regular basis!).

For the loveable bad-boy quotient, you have to look to Tegs Ratcliffe (Sean Maguire). Out of the newcomers, Tegs makes the most immediate impression. Grange Hill might have had its fair share of tearaways in the past, but Tegs is a little unusual. He’s sold to us as a positive character, even though his background is a dubious one (his family are comprised of unsuccessful petty criminals whilst he’s already racked up an impressive criminal record as well).

In time we’ll see how the isolated Tegs forms a bond with Justine which – again – is an uncommon move for the series. It wasn’t totally unheard of (Trisha and Simon Shaw for example, or Duane and Tracy/Clare) but those examples demonstrate that friendships between first year boys and girls hadn’t happened for some time.

Series eleven also saw the introduction of Mr Robson (Stuart Organ). He was by far the longest serving cast member (notching up 264 episodes) although I doubt few would have predicted back in 1988 that he would become such a fixture (he eventually left in 2003, shortly after the show relocated to Liverpool).

A few older pupils suddenly pop up without warning later on this year (an occasional hazard at this school). Fiona Wilson (Michelle Gayle) slots in neatly with the other fourth form girls whilst Mauler McCaul (Joshua Fenton) and Ted Fisk (Ian Congdon-Lee) initially exist solely to cause grief to the younger pupils.

Fair to say that Mauler’s not exactly a bully in the Gripper class (or even Imelda, come to that). He’s played much more for laughs with Ted operating as his even dimmer sidekick. But for those prepared to stick with the series, Ted’s character will undergo something of a transformation in the years to come …..

The opening few minutes plays out in a predictable way as we see various characters making their way to school – some willingly, some not. The old hands – Ziggy and Robbie – are quite casual whilst some of the younger pupils – like Susi – are more anxious. Luckily, she’s got a confident friend in Justine, who tells her that the horror stories she’s heard (about getting beaten up and having her dinner money pinched) are all rubbish. Justine’s positive attitude is therefore shown to be in sharp contrast to Matthew’s more negative viewpoint (like Susi he seems to think that everybody’s looking at him – hence the way he flinches when his mother attempts to give him a goodbye kiss).

It’s an old trick, but during these early scenes with Matthew, the camera is placed low – at his level – which makes the sudden arrival into the frame of Trevor and Vince (keen to make Matthew’s first day extra special) a little more impactful. A pity that Paul Adams seems to be registering amusement more than fear during this scene, but no doubt this was down to inexperience (although he did have a few credits prior to GH).

A few golden oldies from years gone by are given another airing – such as when Trevor and Ziggy send the first years the wrong way to the assembly hall. Another rehash from the first episode back in 1978 finds Matthew left alone in the assembly hall (everyone else has been assigned a form apart from him). Whilst this is almost certainly an intentional homage, it’s probably not a moment tailored for long term fans. Indeed, GH‘s core audience was no doubt self-renewing (new ones joining as the older ones moved on to the likes of EastEnders) so this would have seemed fresh to most of the viewers.

Both Chrissy and Justine seem to be channelling Trisha Yates. Chrissy has an overbearing older relative also at the school (in her case, Freddie) whilst Justine has a highly relaxed attitude to school uniform, which is sure to get her into trouble.

Poor Freddie is bereft to learn that Julia won’t be coming back to Grange Hill. Sorry? Considering the way that he’s burned his way through the female population at GH, it’s hard to take his sorrowful persona very seriously. But with Julia gone (and Banksie too) that leaves the way open for Freddie and Laura to hook up …..

Mr Robson lays down a marker with E4 right from the moment he first walks into the room. With a stentorian rant, he instantly silences them (easy to see that he’s not going to be a walkover like Mr Scott last year).

Mr Bronson and Danny pick up where they left off. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m growing older, but I now find it much easier to side with Mr Bronson than I do with Danny. The boy’s clearly aggrieved at being kept down a year, but since – due to his illness – he’s missed a considerable amount of coursework it’s easy to see why the decision was taken. Unlike his earlier targeting of Zammo and Ant, there doesn’t seem to be any malice – at present – from Mr Bronson’s side of the table.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Two

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Written by Chris Ellis. Tx 8th January 1988

Freddie’s continuing to play the lovesick martyr. Positioning himself at a handy point on the route to school, he presents an abject picture of misery as Laura and Louise pass by. It’s all part of his master plan to ensnare Laura of course (quite why he’s suddenly decided that Laura is the only girl for him is a mystery). His cunning ways weren’t well received by his younger sister earlier on though. Chrissy tells him that he’s “disgusting” before stomping off to school by herself! Laura’s well aware of the game he’s playing, but she’s content to let him carry on for now. There’s a vague element of humour here, but it’s all rather laboured.

Matthew and Clarke’s friendship continues to bloom. Matthew seems to have decided that Grange Hill isn’t as bad as he’d feared …. and that’s when Mauler McCaul turns up. Like the rest of his gang, he roams the school corridors in full American football gear (like Freddie’s moping this seems less than credible) looking for vulnerable youngsters to use as a ball. Is this going provide us with S11’s Harriet the Donkey moments? Hopefully it gets, ahem, kicked into touch soon.

A little more dramatic meat is provided by a continuing spate of thefts. Miss Booth – with no evidence – seems to believe that Tegs is responsible whilst the new head of the first year – Mrs Reagan – seems much more relaxed about the whole affair. So far we’ve seen very little of Tegs, although we’ve heard quite a lot about him. Most of the accounts have been negative – meaning that his card already seems to have been marked by some of the teachers (especially Miss Booth who, despite her free and easy air, has been shown in the past to be rather dogmatic and inflexible). That his character has been sharply defined in his absence is an interesting touch – the question is, will he live up to these low expectations?

Gonch still hasn’t given up on his money-making exercises (even if his right-hand man Hollo has disappeared – never to be spoken of again). This episode he’s giving the first years a guided tour of the building and, complete with his rolled up umbrella, he’s the epitome of a cheerful tour guide. The moment when he introduces Mr Griffiths as one of Grange Hill’s finest ancient moments is a proper laugh-out-loud moment.

That pair of juvenile delinquents – Tegs and Justine – find their relationship developing. Both are cooling their heels outside Mrs McClusky’s office – Tegs because of his poor attendance (and it’s only day two) and Justine because of her shocking pick blouse.

There’s a cracking cliffhanger. Laura returns home to find out the reason why her mother has had in a spring in her step recently. She’s got a new boyfriend, the oily, moustachioed Simon (Peter Meakin). His opening line is a classic. “So this is the lovely Laura. But not quite as lovely as her mother”. I think the way he rubs the back of Mrs Reagan’s neck whilst saying this is what makes the moment just a little off-putting.

I think we’re going to have trouble with this new arrival ….

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Three

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Written by David Angus. Tx 12th January 1988

It’s surprising that Ronnie and Gonch’s on-off relationship still seems to be just about on (I’d have assumed she would have dumped him by now). It’s the same old story from last year – she’s constantly exasperated that he never shows her any attention (mini-mogul Gonch is too concerned about where his next fortune is coming from).

Calley’s interest in all things astrological is still one of her main character traits. This has been constant since she first appeared in 1985 – which is either decent continuity or a sign that, as yet, nobody’s been able to think of anything better to do with her. Her latest fad is reading bumps – although Jane suddenly becomes less keen to be her guinea pig after Ronnie acidly tells her that it looks as if Calley’s checking for nits ….

Vince is always keen though (and keen to believe) so when Calley tells him that his bumps suggest he’s due a close encounter with something or someone from America he swallows it hook, line and sinker. Calley isn’t being deliberately malicious – it’s simply that other people’s expectations are greater than her own competence. And what does Trevor think of it all? He’s not impressed.

Although Vince and Trevor briefly teamed up in the first episode, they’ve now regressed to their more combative S10 personas – with Trevor keen to ridicule Vince at every opportunity. But some of Trevor’s sting has been drawn by the arrival of Mr Robson (a teacher that he finds impossible to bait in the same way as Mr Scott). This episode Trevor has regained his posse of silent hangers-on. He briefly had a similar in the previous series, but they vanished after an episode or two.

Helen and Georgina had a brief walk-on appearance in episode one, but this is the first time this series that we’ve been able to get reacquainted with them. Imelda might be long gone, but the remaining members of the Terrahawks still possess a sense of mischief (albiet playful, rather than malicious). Georgina dares Helen to tell Mr Bronson the true reason why her homework is incomplete (she was watching a good film starring Clint Eastwood) and Helen duly obliges. This scene was an obvious gift for Michael Sheard – the way that Mr Bronson slowly and unbelievably repeats the words “Clint Eastwood” are worth the price of admission alone.

Helen then dares Georgina to drop something into the lunchtime baked beans. She duly obliges with a bottle of salt and the inevitable hilarity ensues when some Louise later asks for beans and is less than impressed with her salty fare.

Ziggy and Robbie, like Gonch, are strapped for cash – so Robbie suggests a merger. Neither Ziggy or Gonch are keen, but eventually they agree. With three great business brains now working together in perfect harmony, what can possibly go wrong? Let’s wait and see.

Madeline Church makes her first appearance as Miss Stone, a fairly background teacher who appears throughout this series and a few episodes of the next. Miss Stone is keen as mustard to join Mrs Reagan’s keep fit class, whilst Mrs McClusky and Miss Booth are far less enthused (although eventually they’re shamed into attending). Gonch, Ziggy and Robbie – already debating how to make their first fortune – decide to stay in the gym and spy on them.

This is an odd little scene, although it doesn’t seem to be that the boys are perving (they’re simply being mischievous, I think). Their wonderful hiding place? Inside the vaulting horse, of course. Everything’s going swimmingly until the teachers leave and Mr Griffiths locks the gym!

The school disco is still going and there’s a sense that the series is attempting to keep up with the times when Ronnie asks the DJ to pop a hip-hop track on. This meets with the approval of Fiona (Michelle Gayle). From small acorns to the birth of Fresh ‘n’ Fly. The Hip-Hop advisor for the series was the late Mike Allen, at the time a DJ on Capital Radio.

Mr Griffiths is supplied with some top comedy moments – baffled at Calley’s head readings (convinced that she’s checking the others for nits), grumbling at the way his screwdrivers keep getting pinched and (of course) pursuing Gonch, Ziggy and Robbie around the school. He seems to have forgotten that he and Ziggy were allies last year, meaning that they’ve slipped back into their old roles.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Four

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Written by David Angus.  Tx 15th January 1988

Mrs Reagan is driving her daughter to school.  She comments approvingly that Matthew’s mother has dropped him off a street away from the gates (and also wonders if eventually she’ll detach him from her apron strings totally and let him catch the bus).  Of course, since she’s driving Laura to school this seems like an odd double standard.

Laura’s face is still set in the same expression she’s worn whenever she’s been in her mother’s company recently.  Think of someone sucking a lemon and you won’t be too far from the mark.

Helen and Georgina’s latest dare is to kiss all the boys in the playground.  This causes old-before-her-time Ronnie to tut in a disapproving manner whilst Ziggy is sanguine about the fact that girls are always throwing themselves at him!  Wisely they both decide to give Danny a wide birth – he’s still radiating despair and irritation at being pushed down a year.  He doesn’t pull his punches when Mrs McClusky innocently asks him how he’s getting on.  “The staff don’t know whether to treat me as an invalid or retarded”.

Danny’s returned to his series nine persona.  An uncommunicative individual, unwilling to accept that any of the school rules relate to him.  The first stirrings of the later conflict between Danny and Mr Bronson can be seen after the senior teacher discusses the boy’s wandering ways with Mr Robson.  Mr Bronson believes that they can no longer put his erratic behaviour down to his illness as he’s – apparently – now fully recovered.

Having forgotten his PE kit, Gonch is forced to borrow a strip from Mr Robson.  This leads to a lightbulb moment as he tells a slightly nonplussed Robbie and Ziggy that they should run a PE reminder service (and offer to hire out strips for anybody who forgets to bring theirs).  The only flaw in this wonderful scheme is that Mr Robson already supplies kit – for free – to anybody who’s forgotten to bring their own, so why should anybody pay for the privilege?

Mauler and his ridiculous crew are once again roaming the school corridors, looking for pint-sized first years to use as American footballs.  Tegs seems like the obvious choice but a militant Justine is having none of it.  He finds it hard to say thank you though – as a loner the words don’t come easy – but Justine continues to shadow him nonetheless.  Clearly there’s something about Tegs (his thieving ways?) which fascinates her.  He later shows his gratitude in a non-verbal way.  This is a moment clearly set up to later address Teg’s fondness for taking things which don’t belong to him.

Meanwhile, Matthew’s absent father (he’s working aboard at a secret location apparently) continues to be an object of innocent interest for the others.  It’s plain that there’s rather more to this than meets the eye as Matthew may be many things, but a fluent liar he isn’t.  Possibly this is connected to his, as yet, unspecified home-life issues.

Fiona and Ronnie now venture further afield for their ration of hip-hop tunes.  They’ve gone to a local club, where they run into Danny who’s painting a mural on the wall.  Fiona is keen to get up on stage and perform, and her hip-hop ambitions intrigue the other two – even Danny, who’s rarely shown an interest in anything this year.  Ronnie’s blossoming friendship with Fiona has started to isolate her from her long-term friend Calley, although this means that Jane – reduced during the last few series to a character with only a handful of lines – has now moved slightly more into prominence (she’s now operating as Calley’s confidant).

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Five

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Written by David Angus.  Tx 19th January 1988

The great PE kit reminder service is in full swing and to assist the process, school equipment (namely the computer and printer) is being pressed into service by Gonch and the others.  There’s nothing so evocative as the sound of a dot matrix printer printing inexorably slowly, whilst it’s interesting to see that Grange Hill still uses BBC B’s.  It’s odd though that back in the heyday of the BBC computer (say 1983) Grange Hill never took the opportunity to utilise them in order to generate a spot of sneaky product placement.  Barbara Thorn, later that year to join The Bill as Inspector Frazer, makes a brief appearance as the computer studies teacher.

It does look like Mauler McCall and his rubbish Grid Iron Crew will be providing this years Harriet the Donkey moments.  They pursue Tegs around the school in a “comedy” chase before deciding to tie Ziggy up.  Ziggy declares that Mauler won’t be laughing for too much longer, but considering the eons it took for him and Robbie to gain revenge over Imelda, I won’t be holding my breath …..

Some of the first years dress up as people from different points in history.  Chrissy isn’t happy with her clothes, but Susi likes what she’s been given to wear.  Although it’s the boy dressed as a Viking (complete with a helmet sporting two very large horns) which really catches the eye.  Whilst Chrissy is out front – glowering – Matthew’s ever increasing web of lies is becoming more obvious.  He’s told Clarke that he’s due to fly to Amsterdam for the weekend with his father, but has trouble in remembering which airport they’re going to use.  Matthew’s habitual storytelling is gently teased out during these early episodes – it’s a signifier that the boy is unhappy, but the reason behind his tall tales remains nebulous at present.

Miss Stone and Mrs McClusky later debate Matthew’s weekend trip, with Mrs McClusky deciding that Matthew could be going to Amsterdam, although it seems unlikely (she declares that it’s rather grand).  Given that the journey from London to Amsterdam is hardly a lengthy one (223 miles) and wouldn’t have been that expensive, this seems like a slightly odd statement to make.

Stephen Churchett’s an actor with one of those faces that you know, but you just can’t remember exactly where you’ve seen him (he’s got a lengthy track record though – from Up Pompeii! in 1970 to EastEnders in 2015).  Today, he’s playing an Education Welfare Officer who is on the hunt for the absent Danny, but is equally happy to snag a truanting Trevor.  Trev, thinking on his feet for once, gives him Vince’s name instead of his own.  Mind you, since the Welfare Officer later gives Mr Bronson a description of “Vince” it’s maybe not as clever as he first thought.

Robbie’s delighted with the way the strip hire business is going, telling Ziggy that they’ll be laughing all the way to the Leeds.  A cultural reference which would have made sense at the time, although is possibly more obscure now.

Old GH hands may find the next scene a little familiar.  Mauler’s suddenly taken an unhealthy interest in Calley but avenging knight Robbie happens to be passing by and isn’t impressed.  This seems to be a definite echo of Gripper’s obsession with Claire (Stewpot, of course, was her knight in shining armour).  But the 1988 love triangle is less effective, mainly because Mauler – a very underdeveloped character anyway – has never shown any interest in Calley before.  Neither has Robbie, it has to be said, but it seems obvious that they’ll become an item soon.  I wonder if Calley’s horoscopes have foretold this?!

Joshua Fenton, as Mauler, pulls some extraordinary faces when Mauler confronts Robbie.  Compared to Gripper (or even Imelda) I’m afraid that Mauler is a very second-division heavy.  He may spout plenty of threats, but there’s no sense that – unlike Gripper or the even more unhinged Booga – he’s actually dangerous.

Things you wouldn’t see today …. Georgina’s latest dare involves her covering her face with yellow food dye and giving us her best Chinese impression.  “Ah so”.  Also appearing in the cookery scene is Susan Field as Mrs Evans.  Like Stephen Churchett. she’s an actor who you might instantly recognise (she was active between 1961 and 2000) even if you can’t name too many of her credits off the top of your head.  SF fans might remember her from the first Blakes 7 episode, The Way Back, where she played the conniving Alta Morag.

The saga of Mr Robson’s missing motorcycle helmet rumbles on throughout the episode. It’s eventually discovered in Mauler’s locker, although he didn’t pinch it (Tegs – looking to gain revenge – framed him).  Mauler’s reaction when he finds it is priceless – pricelessly bad that is.   He opens his mouth wide like a gaping fish.  This is supposed to be shock I guess, but it appears to be another example of bad acting.  Since Fenton will be a regular in the series until the end of series thirteen, I hope he improves soon.  Rather better fare can be found when a desperate Ziggy tries every trick in the book to stop Mr Bronson from inspecting his locker.  He’s innocent of stealing the helmet, but explaining all the PE kits he’s got stashed away might be difficult ….

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Six

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Written by David Angus.  Tx 22nd January 1988

The Grid Iron crew have been corralled to Mrs McClusky’s office.  As always, Gwyneth Powell is never more delightful than when we see Mrs McClusky turn on the sweetness.  Her feigned surprise at how Mauler and the others play a non-curriculum sport without a ball is nicely done.

Matthew’s dropped back to school after his weekend with his father (played by the non-speaking Bunny Losh).  So Matthew’s father is presented as little more than an intimidating presence – it’s Matthew himself who has to fill in all the blanks.  But considering the lies he’s continuing to spread (there was a strike, he tells Clarke, so they couldn’t go to Amsterdam but ended up touring the Lake District instead) it’s hard to believe anything he says anymore.  Especially when he mentions to Clarke that the Lake District is in Wales.

For once, Mauler and the others take part in a well choreographed comic scene.  Mr Griffiths has gone to the library in order to replace a lightbulb and after climbing the stepladder, he’s able to spot Mauler and his crew forceably “interviewing” a younger pupil.  After Mr Griffiths shouts out, they all quickly grab books from the nearest shelves and adopt poses of innocence!

Mr Robson is certainly a different character from the departed Mr Baxter.  Mr Baxter’s raison detre was to ensure that Grange Hill scooped up as many sports titles as possible – he was never happier than when his teams were crushing opposing schools into the ground.  Mr Robson’s vision of sport revolves around inclusiveness (ensuring that everybody gets a chance to shine) which means that he’s set on a collision course with Freddie, the first team captain, who believes that winning is everything.

Matthew sticking his fingers down his throat in order to make himself throw up is a disturbing image (which thankfully occurs just offscreen).  But it’s another indication that there’s something badly wrong with him (many children aren’t keen to do games, but don’t tend to go to those lengths).  In the girl’s changing rooms, Susi is equally unwilling to get changed, but she doesn’t act up so dramatically.  She’s simply uncommunicative, even brushing off Mrs Reagan’s delicate suggestion that it might be her time of the month.

Again, those with long GH memories might recall that Annette’s reluctance to get undressed during S7 was due to the fact that her body was bruised from physical abuse meted out by her mother.  Either Matthew or Susi could be in the same boat – with Matthew, due to his history of erratic behaviour, looking the more likely victim.

Fiona and Ronnie decide on a name for their hip-hop venture – Fresh ‘n’ Fly.  They meet in Ronnie’s bedroom in order to work on their masterpiece, but aren’t too impressed when Gonch comes calling.  They send him away, although Ronnie feels a pang of conscience afterwards.  But, as Fiona tells him, since Gonch only bothers with her when he feels like it, she shouldn’t feel too bad.  And after being slightly discomforted by Ronnie’s rebuff, Gonch is quite happy talking to Mrs Birtles (Angela Crow), especially when she starts dishing out the tea and cakes.

Mrs Reagan’s new beau, Simon, continues to irritate Laura.  Mind you, it’s hard not to feel slightly creeped out after he tells her that he wasn’t academically inclined at school – instead he spent most of his time watching the girls play tennis.  It’s when he then asks Laura if she plays tennis that you can’t help but squirm a little.  But Simon’s leering and boorish behaviour doesn’t seem to bother Laura’s mother, who locks lips with him as soon as her daughter exits the room.  Cue Laura standing by the door, looking on disapprovingly ….

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Seven

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Written by Sarah Daniels. Tx 26th January 1988

The episode opens with a rare sighting of Justine’s elder sister, Tracey (Penny-Belle Fowler). Since Justine has more than an echo of Trisha about her – today she’s once again straining against the limits of school uniform – had Tracey been a regular, then like Trisha’s sister – Carol – she could have been used to tease out other aspects of Justine’s character.

I’m afraid that Mauler and his Grid Iron crew are still infesting the school corridors. After haranguing Matthew for the crime of bringing a briefcase to school, they’re distracted by Tegs, who throws a water bomb directly into Mauler’s face. Once again his reaction is horribly overplayed and yet another “comedy” chase ensues. The most interesting part of the scene is the way it demonstrates how Tegs is completely at home moving through the nooks and crannies of the school (his small frame makes it easy for him to enter the ventilation ductings).

But this time, Mr Bronson is tugged into their orbit. After Mr Bronson views the out-of-order staff toilet with disfavour, we later see Tegs duck into the children’s urinals. Mauler and the others, hot on his heels, follow him in and prepare a series of water balloons to surprise the occupant of the locked cubicle, who turns out to be …. Mr Bronson. No, really.

Obvious though it is, this is still a decent payoff – the sight of a water-soaked Michael Sheard, complete with a distressed wig, is a lovely one. Even better is to come as Mr Bronson – a towel around his head – creeps into the staffroom. Only Mrs Reagan is there to begin with (reading a poetry anthology – Lovers Nosegay) but then Mrs McClusky walks in. Mr Bronson, caught behind the door, freezes and then delicately tip toes out of the room. That’s more like it, a nicely handled comedy moment which helps to erase the non-acting of the Grid Iron crew.

Indeed, having not featured a great deal this year, Sarah Daniels’ first 1988 script is a decent one for Mr Bronson. Post soaking, he has to deal with the sniggers of his fifth form French class (passing around notes that he’s wet himself) although the arrival of Justine, carrying a note for Laura from her mother, gives him the chance to reassert his authority. Was it scripted, or an involuntary reaction from Rachel Victoria Roberts, that Justine responds with a smirk after Mr Bronson booms at her? The latter, I think.

Tegs and Justine head out to the local café for a spot of lunch. En route, Justine spies a clothes shop and goes to investigate. Tegs, keen to please her, shoplifts a scarf she had her eye on. Before he reveals his unconventional present, Tegs tells her about his home life – a mother who left home when he was five, a father in and out of prison and an older brother currently in youth custody. When he tells her that his father was banged up when his mother left them, Justine asks him if he means hospital. This is either a signifier that Justine is more innocent than her streetwise persona might suggest or it’s designed to make Tegs’ situation crystal clear to the younger viewers.

Tegs explains his burglary modus operandi. As touched upon before, GH has had its fair share of criminally inclined children, but it’s always been made clear sense that eventually they would have to face up to the consequences of their actions. Tegs’ unrepentant, unabashed character feels different – mainly because he’s neither portrayed as an inherently “bad” person or a “good” one who’s temporarily gone off the rails. For him, this sort of life seems perfectly normal.

Helen’s latest dare involves her getting a tattoo ….

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Eight

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Written by Sarah Daniels. Tx 29th January 1988

Mr Griffiths has had his eye on Tegs for some time and finally runs him to ground in the girl’s cloakroom. The moment when Mr Griffiths attempts to stop him escaping by holding onto his blazer – only for Tegs to slip out of it – is slightly clumsily done, as it’s plain that George A. Cooper is actually tugging it off him.

Tegs, escorted to Mrs McClusky’s office by Mr Griffiths, remains uncowed. He denies that he’s responsible for the recent spite of bike thefts – instead he offers the head his professional opinion about safety measures (locking stands and chains would be a good idea). Poor Mr Griffiths gets a roasting from Mrs McClusky after Tegs leaves the office. Mr Griffiths’ confident assertion that Tegs is the culprit is quickly shot down by Mrs McClusky, who tells him that they have absolutely no evidence against him. Mr Griffiths’ hangdog expression after being ticked off speaks volumes. His heroine-worship of Mrs McClusky has long been one of his defining traits, so to be in her bad books is a painful moment for him.

Sarah Daniels once again comes up with the goods for Michael Sheard. Mr Bronson, lurking for no good reason in Mrs McClusky’s outer office, happens to overhear the head telling Mr Griffiths that if she can’t deal with this spate of thefts then she should resign. The words “it’s time for me to resign” catches his attention and his facial expression after this apparent bombshell speaks volumes! Also good to see the ever-faithful, if mute, Janet back in her familiar position as Mrs McClusky’s secretary.

You may, or may not, be delighted to hear that Mauler’s reign of idiotic terror shows no sign of abating. Desperate as I am for any small crumb of comfort during these scenes, I have to say that there’s a very unusual camera angle (high above the set, looking directly down) during the moment when Mauler and his posse chase Clarke round and round the lockers. Top marks to director John Smith for attempting to liven up yet another “comedy” chase.

But better times are just around the corner as Mr Bronson, like an avenging angel, strides into the frame and declares that Mauler was the boy responsible for giving him the soaking. Quite how he’s worked this out is a slight mystery – he didn’t see him at the time – but no matter as it’s a chance for Michael Sheard to turn the intensity right up. “You are the boy responsible for my getting wet”. It’s a fairly innocuous line, but it’s all about Sheard’s line delivery – the way he emphasises each word with increasing force.

I also love the conclusion to the scene. Mr Bronson tells Mauler to “follow me” and the teacher strides off, only twigging after a few seconds that Mauler’s legged it in the opposite direction! It’s only a pleasure deferred though, as Mr Bronson then runs the unfortunate Mauler to ground during the next lesson. Sheard is once again on top form as Bronson tells the boy to explain to the class, in French, exactly what he did. Sheard milks every last moment out of lines such as “you pathetic, unteachable specimen”. And what exactly was Mauler’s French explanation? “Mr Bronson, in boy’s bedroom, with basket of water on the head”.

Tegs explains a little more to Justine about his philosophy of life. “I nicked two hundred quid in fifteen minutes once. You’d have to be a politician or a pop star to earn that much in quarter of an hour”.

It’s fascinating how public acceptance of tattoos has changed over the last thirty years. Ronnie (unsurprisingly, given her straight-laced persona) isn’t at all impressed with Helen’s tattoo, telling her that she’s got it for life and only a skin graft will remove it. Back in 1988, a tattoo seems to have been seen as a departure from the norm – Ronnie wonders if Helen’s gone a bit funny and Fiona agrees, commenting that it’s a bit mad.

Matthew’s travails continue. After behaving quite normally during his few brief scenes last episode, he’s back to his old, storytelling tales today. Paul Adams’ breathless listing of untruths and half-truths isn’t terribly convincing – although I’m not sure whether this was supposed to be as scripted or was simply due to Adams’ acting. For sure, it’s a difficult part to play – and reviewing Matthew’s initial storyline some thirty years on, it seems a pity that he wasn’t given the opportunity to settle into the school community for a while before attention was drawn to his fractured homelife. Had this been done, then it probably would have generated a more rounded character.

Matthew’s father once again is nothing but more than an intimidating profile. We never hear his reply to Matthew’s request that they give Clarke a lift, but Mr Pearson’s disgusted expression speaks volumes.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Nine

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 2nd February 1988

The peace of Laura’s breakfast is disturbed by the arrival of Simon. This obviously doesn’t please her (no doubt he picked up on this by the subtle way she banged a dish down on the table). True, Simon is his usual boorish self – grabbing the newspaper off her without thinking to ask first – but you could also argue that Laura’s not prepared to meet him half way. This is a plotline that’s been in a holding pattern for a while – Mrs Reagan loves Simon whilst Laura loathes him – with no sign of advancement.

I’m surprised to see that Gonch, Ziggy and Robbie’s kit hire service is still up and running. A few episodes back it seemed to be knocked on the head after Mr Robson rumbled them (or was that possibly just the reminder service?). Ziggy finds himself at the mercy of some fifth years who aren’t at all happy with the level of service being provided. These scenes are chiefly interesting for the way that Ziggy’s suddenly become the fall guy and junior partner – Gonch and Robbie very much have the air of senior partners, leaving the hapless Ziggy to do all the donkey work.

Mr Robson’s latest wheeze sees him launch an access club – featuring the likes of Badminton, Table Tennis, Weightlifting and Five a Side Football. Freddie’s not pleased, as it’ll mean that football practice will have to be cut down. This allows Freddie to once again restate his contempt for non-competitive sports. Instead, he harks back to the good old days of Mr Baxter and penny under the mat.

Helen continues to obsess about her tattoo, convinced that it’s growing larger. I love the way that Georgina shows the minimum of concern about her friend’s plight – she’s much more interested in filing her nails! Jane is the latest to view the tattoo and her obviously feigned delight only helps to reinforce the notion that Helen’s made a big mistake. She then confides to Georgina that “I bet Paula Yates had never had this problem” (yes a touch ungrammatical).

Vince has never been the brightest, but as the years roll on he seems to be regressing backwards. How else could you explain the fact that he believes Trevor’s assertion that he’s not only seen Helen’s tattoo, but that the two are an item? If that’s difficult to believe, then the notion that Trev’s prepared to nobly stand aside in order that Vince can ask her out is just bizarre ….

Danny’s return (he’s been in Scotland for a check-up apparently) sees him haunting the art room whilst avoiding Mr Robson. He’s also on hand to give Fiona and Ronnie some musical advice as they continue to craft their hip hop magnum opus. Quite how or why Danny’s suddenly become an expert (or even someone whose opinion they value) is never quite made clear.

The saga of the strip hire rumbles on. Surprisingly for a Margret Simpson script (she was always one of GH‘s more distinctive writers) the boys hit on a master plan which operates along rather sexist lines – they’ve got all these dirty clothes that need washing, so why not invite Calley and Ronnie to become equal partners? They can do the washing (well, they’re girls after all) whilst the boys handle the rough stuff, such as tangling with the likes of Big Tel (David Parker).

The episode ends with a “comedy” chase. Big Tel’s less than delighted that he was given one of Mr Robson’s football shirts (the teacher noticed and called him a thief) so there’s the inevitable run-around as he attempts to extract a suitable revenge. It’s mainly of interest due to the fact it continues during the end credits whuch at least allows it to be snappily edited. And if you think that this is one “comedy” chase without Mauler then think again – as he and his Grid Iron crew pop up out of nowhere to carry Gonch off. Quite what they’re doing wandering about the streets still dressed in their American football gear is a mystery which I don’t think has an answer.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Ten

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 5th February 1988

Gonch, now sporting a neck brace, thanks to his previous encounter with Mauler, declares that something needs to be done about him. Ziggy agrees, leaving Robbie to shake his head at the impetuousness of them both. It’s a pity that we never actually see what happened to Gonch as Ronnie’s explanation – she found him trussed him up in Harriet’s old stable, complete with a sign saying donkey – sounds intriguing.

Why Mauler suddenly decided to attack Gonch (the two have barely, if ever, spoken) is another of those mysteries which I don’t think there’s an answer for. A case of sloppy storylining or was it designed to demonstrate that Mauler’s menace is totally random? The decision is yours.

Whilst Gonch thanks Ronnie for rescuing him (and also for not telling anyone else) this allows Robbie and Calley to enjoy a brief moment of intimacy. This slightly develops the possibility that they may become an item, although it’s still early days at present. Oh, and of course Ronnie couldn’t resist telling Calley about Gonch’s plight (she promptly told Robbie and then Ziggy found out) leading to maximum humiliation for GH’s top wheeler dealer.

Vince’s pursuit of Helen finds him running into Mauler. McCall’s not impressed with Vince’s American football top (deciding that Vince is setting up in opposition against him!). Vince is wearing the top at all times, as Trevor told him that Helen loves American football. I’ve got a feeling that Trev’s not been entirely honest with Vince ….

This is another of those slightly baffling incidental storylines. I’m not sure what’s harder to believe – the fact that Vince for a second believes that Helen (once she claps eyes on his shirt) will be overcome with passion or the notion that Mauler regards Vince as a rival. After a strong run of episodes (the two from Sarah Daniels were especially good) we seem to have hit something of a brick wall here.

The normal affable Mr MacKenzie is in a strop today. Too much petty pilfering has finally caused him to snap – although maybe the final straw came when he saw that Trevor’s pockets were stuffed with computer keys. Clearly he spends his computer studies period dismantling the keyboards! It’s been a while since the topic of limited resources and vandalism was raised (back in the early eighties it was a particularly fruitful source of drama for the series) so it’s not unpleasing to see it touched upon again.

The sudden arrival of Mr Bronson is an episode highlight. Spotting Danny Kendall being escorted by the still highly irritated Mr MacKenzie, Mr Bronson lightly skips down the corridor before bellowing “do what do we owe this honour?” to the slightly nonplussed boy. As Mr Bronson then leads Danny down away, it’s notable that the walls are looking particularly grubby. Unless I’ve previously been unobservant, I don’t think this has been a regular feature this year, so possibly – like Mr MacKenzie’s diatribe – it’s something unique to this episode. Another notable feature of their extended walk is the ambient sounds we hear as they pass various classes. Only a small touch, but it helps to create the impression that this is a living and breathing school.

Vince’s stupidity has now reached previously uncharted proportions. Despite the fact that Helen’s told him she loathes all sports (and pushed him in the fountain for good measure!) he still believes Trevor when he casually mentions that Helen’s waiting for him over by the sheds. Of course, she’s not there – but Mauler’s gang is. So Vince finds himself chained up in the bike sheds, minus his prized shirt ….

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Eleven

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 9th February 1988

Mr Pearson speaks! His parting words to Matthew aren’t particularly friendly though. “How many times have I told you? Don’t say ‘aint’. Just because you have to go to this dump of a school doesn’t mean you have to forget how to talk properly”. As with Mr MacKenzie’s diatribe regarding the paucity of funds during the last episode, this comment helps to reinforce the notion (not often touched upon during recent years) that Grange Hill is a far from an affluent or top-rated school.

Of course, if the Pearson family are well-off, as has been mentioned in the past, why isn’t Matthew going to a private school?

Mr Pearson’s comment also helps to restate the impression that he’s a distant and uncaring father. With Mrs Pearson and Matthew’s sister having disappeared to the country (Mrs Pearson would return, making occasional appearances for the next few years, but we’ve seen the last of the brattish Lucy) it’s not too surprising that Matthew’s wearing a troubled expression – especially if he’s now been forced to live with his father.

There’s a big hip hop competition coming up and Danny’s keen to partner Ronnie and Fiona. He’s decided that – despite his inexperience – he’d be a wizard on the decks. Fiona believes that Danny would be a liability though, so she and Ronnie are economical with the truth when Danny mentions it. This seems slightly unkind – given Danny’s recent withdrawn and angry nature, something like this would appear to be just the thing he needs to perk him up. Fiona’s decision that they need someone more professional (which Ronnie hesitatingly goes along with) marks her down as – at best – a very ambitious young women. Clearly she doesn’t want to enter the completion just for fun, she wants to win.

And still the saga of the strip hire rumbles on. Gonch is besieged by angry punters, which seems less than credible. It appears that nobody in the school ever remembers to bring their strips, so Gonch and the others face an ever increasing cycle of kit maintenance. Like Vince’s belief that Helen is desperately in love with him, suspention of disbelief is required here. Poor Gonch, having just got out of his neck brace, now receives a nasty off-screen beating from Big Tel. There’s blood everywhere (especially on the kit) which doesn’t make their business any easier ….

Tegs’ decision to attend the remedial reading class is an interesting wrinkle. Given his unconvential homelife it’s not surprising that he’s fallen behind with his studies. Tegs displays a pleasing sense of vulnerability during this scene, although he returns to his more usual persona after sensing that he’s being accused of being behind the recent spate of petty thefts.

Tensions between Calley and Ronnie continue to bubble away. Calley’s unhappy that she’s been lumbered with the kit washing (Ronnie’s spending all her time hip hopping). Calley’s complaints are the latest reason why the kit hire scheme is beginning to crumble – hopefully so, as I think it’s about time it was knocked on the head.

Gonch, Ziggy and Robbie share quite a long scene in the launderette. It’s noteworthy since it’s a one take, single camera effort . This explains why when George Christopher slightly stumbles over a few lines they’re kept in (if it was a normal scene then they’d be able to drop in an insert to cover this fumbled moment).

Freddie continues to mock the efforts of those participating in the access group – such as Vince playing badminton – at all times. It’s another boorish display from a character who doesn’t have many positive traits (unless narcissistically self-obsessed womanisers appeal). Laura and a number of extras also join in with the general jeering. Luckily Mr Robson’s on hand to ram his point of view home. “I’ve no doubt you find it very amusing, you lads, who’ve never had any trouble with sport. But it’s people like you, to whom games come easily, who make it hell for the people who find it hard”.

Even after Mr Robson concludes by telling him that his job is to ensure everybody in the school enjoys physical education, Freddie remains locked in his tunnel-vision outlook. This clearly irritates Laura – who at least has the good grace to accept that Mr Robson has a point.

As with the previous episode, Mr Bronson only makes a brief appearance, but it’s certainly memorable. When Ziggy, Robbie and a clearly unenthusiastic Gonch decide that the time has come to teach Mauler a lesson, I was all set for another interminable “comedy” chase. But luckily that wasn’t so. Instead, they all cannon into Mr Bronson, knocking him to the ground and dislodging his wig. Not only is it a rare chance to see Mr Bronson sans hairpiece, but any time that Mr Bronson’s dignity is ruffled it allows Michael Sheard to shine. The sight of Mr Bronson, his wig replaced somewhat haphazardly, desperately attempting to reassert his authority is a lovely one.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Twelve

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Written by David Angus. Tx 12th February 1988

If Ronnie’s had a defining character trait since she first appeared back in 1985 then it probably would be her honesty. So the opening of this episode – she steals a ten pound note from behind her mother’s back – is the first sign that something’s awry with her. But no doubt she considers it was only “borrowed” and also in a good cause (expenses for the hip-hop competition).

What happens next is especially interesting. Ronnie, out in the local shopping precient, spies Calley, Helen and Georgina indulging in a little light shoplifting (lipsticks). Clearly blocking out her own pilfering, Ronnie is her usual moral self – she doesn’t directly accuse them, but it’s pretty obvious that everyone registers her disgust. How long have the others been shoplifting? It’s obviously not the first time. Calley must have become pally with the others offscreen as there’s not been a great deal of interaction between the three during the episodes to date. Whilst this seems to be just an incidental story detail, we’ll shortly see how it serves as the catalyst for Ronnie’s downfall.

Gonch, Robbie and Ziggy are back down the launderette. They seem to spend more time there than they do at school ….

Ziggy, attempting to get a free drink from the launderette drinks machine, gets squirted with boiling coffee for his pains. There are several points of interest here – not only is the drinks machine absolutely massive but the gleeful cackling from the old lady (played by Ruby Buchanan) after Ziggy gets splattered is very memorable. Subtle acting it isn’t. Ziggy then strips down to his boxer shorts, paying homage to a well known advert of the time.

Tensions at Chez Reagan remain high. Laura’s not exactly looking forward to an upcoming dinner party organised by her mother – as the loathsome Simon will be there – but the reappeance of a tanned Julia helps to cushion the blow somewhat.

Ronnie’s asked Gonch to arrange transport for the sound system, which will manipulated by Fiona’s cousin, the ebullient Wesley (Alan Cooke). This he does, although it probably wasn’t what they were expecting – a rag and bone man’s horse and cart! Were there still horses and carts on the streets of London during the late eighties? Slightly hard to believe, but it’s possible I guess.

Mrs Reagan’s party is in full swing and Simon makes an immediate beeline for Julia. He’s smoothness personified – expressing surprise that she’s not a teacher but is actually Laura’s former best friend.

The hip hop party is also swinging, albeit just a little bit louder. It’s probably not coincidental that the episode switches between the two – especially since we hear one of Mrs Reagan’s guests querying “what’s hip hop?” in their best high court judge’s voice. Luckily Simon’s on hand to explain to a bow-tied older gentleman that the Beastie Boys are hip hop people, sort of (everybody seems to have heard of them). Mrs Reagan wears an expression of delight as her beau once again demonstrates his knowledge of just about everything.

Later there’s some smoochy dancing in the (fairly small) living room. Spandau Ballet’s True (something of a golden oldie at this point) is their song of choice. We then jump back to the hip hop competition, where Fresh ‘n’ Fly finally have their chance to compete. They’re …. okay, but obviously not the best. Mind you, their weedy sound system might have had something to do with this.

Fresh ‘n’ Fly don’t win the competition, so there’s no prize money for them. How will Ronnie replace the ten pounds she pilfered from her mother?

And then we’re back again to the dinner party, where Simon’s decided that he’d rather like to kiss Julia (he corners her in the kitchen when no-one else is about). This is a final confirmation that he’s a rotter (to be honest, it would have been more of a shock had he turned out to be a decent chap after all). And then Julia disappears. This was her sole S11 appearance (and her final GH credit too) so clearly she featured here just to perform a single function – the reveal (to only the audience at this point) that Simon’s nothing more than a slippery snake.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Thirteen

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Written by Kay Trainer. Tx 16th February 1988

Ronnie isn’t one of life’s natural conspirators. This is made plain after she discovers her mother anxiously looking for something. The money which Ronnie pilfered? No, a nearly overdue library book. Crisis past for now, although Ronnie’s still giving off anxiety and guilt in waves ….

Her isolation is restated minutes later, after she’s cast in the role of a silent observer – watching Gonch and Fiona walking by, gently flirting. It seems a little strange that Gonch – who’s barely exchanged a handful of words with Fiona all year – would decide to chat her up, but it serves the purpose of darkening Ronnie’s mood just a little more.

She explains her dilemma to Calley, who’s sympathetic, but unable to offer any practical advice. Calley’s got her own problems to contend with – the revelation that she’ll need to wear a brace depresses her enormously.

I’m delighted to hear that the strip hire business has been wound up. Hurrah! Another entrepunerial sideline is launched after Chrissy and Susi decide to sell badges with real fruit on them. Yes, really. This odd minor plotline does through up a few nice character moments with the teachers – Mr Bronson is less than sympathetic to hear of their debate as to whether the olive is a fruit or not (although he later pops into the library to secretly look it up!) and kindly Mr MacKenzie (now fully recovered from his hissy fit a while back) is gently amused when Susi declares that they should make him a badge with a leek on it. He suggests that a thistle might be more apt ….

Once again we see Matthew running like a hare from his father’s car. Despite this, he’s late to Mr MacKenzie’s registration (not entirely sure why as it’s not made clear what he’s been doing). Mr MacKenzie casts a slightly concerned glance his way whilst later, Miss Booth also picks up that things aren’t quite right. Although he’s been acting in an off-key manner for a while, it doesn’t seem to be something which the staff have picked up on until this point and it has to be said that they’re rather slow in doing anything about it.

The slow torture of Matthew’s life continues after we see him, extremely unwillingly, undress for gym. Several vicious looking welts on his back tell their own story (one which probably wouldn’t have come as a surprise to many, since it seemed a while back that the story was heading in this direction). Later we see him unable to get into his house (his father is out a meeting and he tells Clarke that he’s lost his key). As so often with Matthew, it’s possible that he’s not telling the whole truth. Has his father has denied him a key? The meeting part of the story might also not be true, unless the meeting was an alcoholic one ….

A staffroom scene allows us to take a look at some of the posters on the wall. Fair Pay for Teachers is an obvious one (remember this was the 1980’s, when teacher’s strikes were very common) but it’s slightly more eye-opening to see a CND poster. It’s not commented upon, but again it helps to anchor the series very firmly in a specific period.
Mrs McClusky hasn’t really featured for a while. She briefly pops her head round the staffroom door – only to have her ear bent by Mr Bronson – but just as quickly disappears. It’s a shame that Gwyneth Powell has been rather underused this year – there would have been plenty of dramatic mileage in setting Mrs McClusky and Mr Bronson at loggerheads over the best way to run the school (although maybe it was felt that this plotline was exhausted last year).

Helen’s tattoo woes continue. Now that her mother’s found out, it simply makes her all the more anxious to get rid of it (but using a scrubbing brush isn’t going to do the trick). She cuts a teary and forlorn figure, but luckily Miss Booth’s on hand to offer some common sense advice. It’s rare to see Helen quite so exposed – her normal image is strong and assured – but the tattoo seems to have stripped away her normal acerbic defences, leaving her vulnerable and childlike.

If Matthew’s storyline has suddenly picked up some traction, then so has the question of Simon. Louise spills the beans to Laura about Simon’s mauling of Julia, which leaves her with a dilemma. Should she tell her mother, and even if she did, would she be believed?

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Fourteen

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 19th February 1988

Justine’s gained a couple of giggly friends, who help to arrange her hair in a kaleidoscope of colours (thanks to the judicious application of ribbons). Fair to say that the new crop of first years (despite only numbering six main speaking roles) are a fairly dysfunctional bunch – Justine’s a fashion rebel, Matthew’s cursed with the home life from hell and Tegs is an unrependant criminal. Throw in the slightly flaky Susi and Chrissy and it seems as if Clarke’s the only straightforward one amongst them (which possibly explains why he doesn’t last too long – nobody likes a normal person).

The only thing worse than Mr Bronson on the warpath is a jolly Mr Bronson. So the sight of an effusive Mr Bronson, humming a merry tune, is probably the last thing Matthew wants to see at this precise point – but see it he does. “Your face is a mask of tragedy” he helpfully tells the boy, which is just the sort of thing to raise his self esteem ….

Freddie continues to chunter about Mr Robson’s training methods whilst Susi keels over in a spectacular fashion after Mrs Reagan tells her to get changed for games. Justine’s unconventional hair results in a trip to Mrs McClusky’s office. Finally, Mrs McClusky is given a little something to do, expressing weary exasperation as to why Justine – not a normally disruptive girl – indulges in these feats of exhibitionism. I also like her outburst, after Justine suddenly decides to unpick her creation there and then. “Not here! This is my office, not a hairdressing salon, you’ll do it at home”.

Mr Robson drops a bombshell – he wants to withdraw Grange Hill from the District Cup – an act which is sure to irriate Freddie all the more. For a new character, Mr Robson’s had a decent crack of the whip so far this year. These early episodes of his are also a reminder of the more radical and aggressive teacher he used to be, before the pressures of command took precedence.

Mr Griffiths, like Mrs McClusky, has been a little underused of late. But his reminisces of his own school days, to a clearly uninterested Tegs and Justine, helps to redress the balance a little. “You had to roll down a sock, because you see in those days it wasn’t everybody who wore long trousers. And it wasn’t everybody who had socks either. That was it. You had to roll down your left sock, right down to the ankle, and that was a sign”. Wonderfully, they simply carry on their interrupted conversation after Mr Griffiths wanders away.

Tegs invites Justine to tea round his Aunties. It quickly becomes clear to the audience that he’s lying – it’s just a random house that he’s decided to burgle. Again, Justine is shown to be rather slow on the uptake – even after Tegs’ shifty explanations (he tells her that his Aunty has popped out but left the back door on the latch) she doesn’t twig. It’s only when Tegs’ “Aunty” comes down the path that the penny finally drops. A smashed back window serves as the final confirmation of his crime.

Some of the long-running plotlines remain in stasis – namely Matthew’s abusive homelife and Laura’s dilemma over her mother’s lecherous boyfriend. Elsewhere, there’s an interesting two-handed scene between Chrissy and Susi where they discuss training bras and periods. Period pains are something that the series has briefly touched upon in the past, but not quite as bluntly as we see here.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Fifteen

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 23rd February 1988

The kit-hire service may be dead and buried, but Ziggy and Robbie are never ones to rest on their laurels for too long. Their latest wheeze – security in the bike sheds – seems to be (at last) an easy and sure-fire money winner. Although you have to wonder why the children don’t have their own bike chains. But nothing’s ever straightforward as Mauler and his gang start to play with the bikes. So Robbie and Ziggy decide that, at long last, Mauler’s long overdue for a severe beating ….

Calley and Ronnie’s previously inseparable friendship continues to fracture. Calley has ben drawn towards Helen and Georgina (the bad girls) whilst Ronnie’s newfound interest in hip hop has seen her forge a new relationship with Fiona. Calley, Helen and Georgina ask Ronnie if she’d like to go “shopping” down the precinct (i.e. shoplifting) but it’s done in a slightly taunting and teasing way (no doubt they’re secure in the knowledge that the fundamentally decent Ronnie would never agree).

Ronnie’s miserable time continues after Gonch (her supposed boyfriend) and Fiona (her supposed friend) continue to make googly eyes at each other. But Gonch does have a decent suggestion as to how Ronnie could make a little money (to pay back her mother) – set up a stall in the precinct and sell some of her tapes. Interesting that Fiona keeps her eyes firmly on him during this scene, only looking at Ronnie after Gonch has finished speaking. Another sign of her infatuation?

The wave of thefts continue. A cabinet is shattered in the music room and all the recorders are stolen, leading to the cancellation of the Music Club. Crisis! Suspicion once again falls on Tegs, a boy with a bad reputation, but it seems too obvious that he’ll turn out to be the guilty one. If so, he’d surely have to leave the school – meaning that the time spent building up his character this year would have been wasted.

Speaking of characters, this episode is the first time that Liam (Steven Coe) emerges as a character, rather than just another face in the crowd. Given the small number of featured first-years, it’s not a bad idea to introduce some new blood – although it’s a pity that Coe’s delivery is rather wooden and lifeless.

Trevor may once have again lost his gang of hangers-on, but his taunting of Vince remains. Trev’s taken up weight-lifting (another of Mr Robson’s non-competitive sporting endeavours) and is doing pretty well. Poor Vince, continuing to follow him around like a puppy dog, would also like to have a go – but Trevor tell him that he’d never be able to life such weights, not in a million years. You probably don’t have to be a mind reader to work out what happens next – maximum humiliation for Vince …

Mr Griffiths is hot on the trail of the thieves – muttering darkly about “organised crime” to Mr Bronson. Their discussion takes place in the playground on a windy day – so was I the only one to marvel at the way that Mr Bronson’s wig stays firmly in place?

Tegs takes Justine round to his house (it’s best described as a tip). It’s rare that we ever see such a dishevelled house (even the more impoverished pupils, such as Benny, lived in fairly spick and span surroundings). Various sound effects – dogs barking, trains rumbling by – help to cement the sense of unease that’s palpable on Justine’s face.

Tegs finally admits to Justine that he can’t read. This is a plotline that’s been done before (Simon Shaw in S2) although Tegs has never seemed to have trouble in any of his lessons. This is a bit of a mystery – surely English and various other lessons would have been a little tricky for him? It might have been a decent storyline to develop – as it is, it’s only an incidental detail.

Ziggy’s rounded up a considerable posse to deal with Mauler. At the same time, Mr Griffiths is organising his troops with military precision (he’s still on the lookout for the thieves). This is rather wonderful – Mr Griffiths’ “troops” number precisely three – they look like a deputy caretaker, a general handyman and a cleaning woman. All three nod in silent assent as Mr Griffiths – swagger stick substitute in hand – details his plan to stake out the bike sheds. The arrival of Mr Bronson, who continues to regard Mr Griffith’s obsessions with an amused and jaundiced eye, is the icing on the cake.

An rare use of incidental music (rather High Noon-ish) is employed as Mauler and his gang prepare to face down Robbie, Ziggy and the others. The posturing of Mauler and Ziggy is a little tiresome, but the sight of Mr Bronson and Mr Griffiths – waiting like coiled springs and eager to pounce – amuses.

It’s a shame that the low-interest plotline of Mauler’s upcoming comeuppance is intercut with the more absorbing scenes of Ronnie’s fall from grace. Finally seduced by the trio of bad girls – Calley, Helen, Georgina – who tell her that shoplifting is an easy way to make money, she decides to give it a go. With disastrous consequences. All the warning signs are there (literally, as she passes a notice which states that “this store prosecutes shoplifters”) but she ignores them. So the outcome – Ronnie is apprehended by the manager after attempting to steal some clothes – is completely predictable. The sight of a tearful Ronnie being escorted out of the shop by two police officers whilst a group of onlookers (extras or simply members of the public?) is a powerful one though.

As is her arrival at the police station, where she ends up alone in an interview room. It seems more than a little unusual that a minor would be left unattended, but in dramatic terms it’s not a bad move since it allows her a moment of quiet reflection. As the camera closes in, the tears start to flow ….

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Sixteen

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 26th February 1988

Time has moved on since the events of the last episode. We never see Ronnie’s police interview or the reaction of her mother after she learns that her daughter has been arrested. Instead, the episode opens with Mrs Birtles and Ronnie both sitting in their living room – Ronnie is staring into space whilst Mrs Birtles is doing a spot of needlework (possibly it’s simply to take her mind off the horror of recent events).

Mrs Birtles isn’t positioned as a particularly strict or forbidding parent. Instead she regards her daughter more in sorrow than anger, an attitude which no doubt only helps to increase Ronnie’s sense of guilt and shame. Unlike Tegs, to whom criminality comes naturally, the Birtles are a nice, middle-class family who no doubt aren’t familiar with a scandal of this nature.

When Ronnie eventually does speak it’s in an unearthly monotone. Mrs Birtles appears to be more distraught than her daughter, fretting that Ronnie will have a black mark against her name for the rest of her life. And how will she get a job then? The contrast between the scenes here and Tegs’ free and easy attitude to the law is striking.

There’s also a fascinating moment of role reversal after Mrs Birtles breaks down in tears and Ronnie goes over to comfort her.

Calley is guilt striken to learn that she may have been responsible for Ronnie’s shoplifting misadventure. She’s keen to confess her own crimes, but Helen and Georgina would prefer to keep quiet ….

We haven’t seen Mrs Pearson for a while. She drops Matthew off at school and tells him that although things are difficult at the moment, they will get better. There’s an interesting story beat after she tells him that she’s sure he always has fun with his father on the weekends. The look on her face and her faint hesitancy implies that she knows all is far from well, but if that’s the case, why hasn’t she done anything about it?

Mr MacKenzie continues to be anxious about Matthew’s wellbeing, but his concern still hasn’t resulted in any positive action yet – although a meeting with the educational welfare officer has been arranged for the following week.

Justine’s hair is very red today. This is something which yet again catches Mrs McClusky’s eye, although it’s not too dramatic a change (had it been green, then fair enough). She continues to fret about the best way to help Tegs learn to read. Trisha schooled Simon in secret, but Justine doesn’t seem to have considered this – instead, she wants the school to help (not unreasonable).

Freddie and Laura begin their protest campaign against Mr Robson’s policy of non-competitive sports. The sit-down protest on the hockey field is chiefly memorable for the way it stuns the cheerful and relentlessly hearty games mistress. It doesn’t matter how many times she blows her whistle, they ‘ain’t shifting.

Finally the truth about Matthew’s abusive father comes to light. Mr MacKenzie, who had earlier expressed concern about the boy once again, is aware that during his craft lesson Matthew’s rather apathetic and listless. Given this though, it seems rather irresponsible for the teacher to let Matthew loose on a dangerous piece of equipment.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Seventeen

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 1st March 1988

It seems like an awfully long time ago when Robbie first started to make googly eyes at Calley. He’s only now just beginning to think about the possibility of maybe asking her out (you clearly don’t want to rush these things). Luckily, man of the world Gonch is on hand to give him a few sage dating tips (although considering Gonch’s stuttering relationship with Ronnie, surely no sensible person would listen to him).

Poor Robbie. After eventually plucking up the courage to speak to Calley, she blanks him and wanders off. We’ll find out the reason why later.

Ronnie’s back at school. She encounters Mr Bronson in the playground who – unexpectedly – welcomes her back. He does it in his own inimitable fashion of course (initially appearing to be somewhat stern) before telling her to keep her “chin up”. A nice little character moment.

Ronnie later has a meeting with Mrs McClusky. Like Mr Bronson, she’s in a supportive mood. It’s interesting to ponder whether everybody would have been quite so understanding had it been, say Tegs, caught shoplifting. Clearly not, as Ronnie’s previously unblemished character seems to count for a great deal.

Eventually Calley, Georgina and Helen decide to come clean and confess their own shoplifting sins to Mrs McClusky. Best to say she’s not terribly pleased. I think the look she gives them could probably be described as withering. It might have made the three girls feel a little better by admitting that they had a part to play in Ronnie’s lurch to the dark side, but it now places Mrs McClusky in a difficult position – should she report them to the police? And if she does, how can it be proved that they actually have been shoplifting?

Laura and her mother have another spat. Since series eleven is drawing to a close, we’re clearly coming towards the end of the Simon storyline. It’s been one of GH‘s more leisurely stories – we haven’t seen Simon since he tried to kiss Julia at the end of episode twelve (and although he’s mentioned here, he doesn’t appear). His final appearance will be in the next episode, hopefully after stringing us along for all this time it’ll be a conclusion worth waiting for.

Another episode, another money making scheme from Gonch. Babysitting. Hmm, what could possibly go wrong? First, they need to find girlfriends (or failing that, just business associates). Gonch leaves this in Ziggy’s capable hands. Oh no …..

Ziggy’s in a somewhat annoying mood today. He spends most of the episode operating at full tactless level (such as when he asks Freddie if he could chuck some of his castoff girlfriends his way, whilst Laura is in earshot). But it’s possible that he’s met his match after he runs into Karen (Barbara Sinclair). This isn’t comedy at its subtlest – Karen, due to her larger frame, might not be everybody’s ideal dream girl (she’s definitely not Ziggy’s – every time he sees her he dashes in the other direction).

No prizes for guessing that eventually, after all the other options have been exhausted, Ziggy will be forced to ask her to join him for babysitting duties. Despite Gonch’s claim that babysitting is money for old rope, Ziggy (who was clearly born under a bad sign) finds himself at the mercy of his childish charges. When he tells them that he’s not going to read them a story, the girl asks him if he’s dyslexic. “No I’m from Liverpool” he retorts. Well it amused me.

Ziggy’s increasing irritation as the children run rings around him (debating which video – Rocky 4 or Rambo – would be the best to watch and constantly asking if Karen’s his girlfriend) is easily the best part of the episode. Eventually he cracks and tells them that if they go upstairs he’ll read them a story. “You’d better come up or else” is the girl’s parting shot, leaving Ziggy to sorrowfully reflect that he’s been reduced to fending off threats from a seven year old!

And even when he’s dealt with them, there’s still the man-eating, food-loving Karen to deal with. Her intentions are plain from the moment she starts inching closer to him on the sofa. But when she flounces off after one insult too many, Ziggy’s left alone and grows increasingly frantic – until Gonch turns up. If the house was a studio set then it’s a rather impressive one – built on two levels with a practical staircase and rooms on the first floor.

Whilst Ziggy’s suffering attacks on several fronts, everybody else – Freddie, Laura, Gonch, Robbie, Ronnie, Louise and (rather improbably) Danny – are holding a council of war at the local burger bar. Robbie complains when he gets the wrong burger. It’s noticeable that John Alford’s performance has become much more aggressive during the last year or so (by this point in the series, Robbie often seems on the point of apoplexy at the most trivial of things).

The plan to get Grange Hill back into the district cup begins here ….

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Eighteen

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 4th March 1988

Mrs McClusky and Mrs Reagan have an early morning meeting with Mrs Pearson and Matthew’s social worker Mr Devenish (John Bowler) which serves as the signal that this storyline is drawing to a conclusion. I would have liked the scene to be a little longer – Mrs Pearson only has time to say that she doesn’t know how she managed to miss all the signs that Matthew was desperately unhappy (quite) before the episode moves on to other matters.

Next there’s a further example of Robbie’s extremely short fuse. He reacts angrily when Ziggy tells him that they decided not to ask Calley to join their babysitting venture (as the brace on her teeth might be a bit off-putting for potential clients). Possibly Ziggy intended it as a joke, but if so Robbie doesn’t see the funny side and yet again flies off the handle. If it was another character who was subject to violent mood swings then we might wonder what the reason was – but it seems we just have to accept that it’s Robbie’s way.

But he does demonstrate his softer side when he again asks Calley out, although she’s still fretting about the fact she has to wear a brace. Although Robbie arranges a date with her – a meeting outside the burger bar – will she have the nerve to show her face? As Robbie anxiously paces up and down on the pavement, it’s hard not to focus on the scene-stealing extra sitting inside ….

Speaking of slightly hysterical, Mrs Reagan’s crumbling since Simon won’t answer her calls. “I know he’s there listening. Why won’t he talk to me?” she sobs to Laura. Although this plotline earlier revolved around Laura’s feeling of estrangement (being pushed away by her mother’s new beau) by this point it’s hard to imagine that the child audience would have been terribly interested in the question of whether Simon and Mrs Reagan were right for each other.

It’s showdown time at the Staff Council, where Freddie and the others are battling to reverse Mr Robson’s policy of non-competitive sports. They have an unlikely ally in Mr Bronson who tells them that “to play the game with all ones spirit” is an admirable thing. But the way they roll their eyes during his impassioned monologue suggests that they see his interjection as more of a hindrance than a help. Mrs McClusky also seems to be of the same opinion ….

Mrs McClusky is able to take the wind out of their sails after she reveals that they didn’t withdraw from the District Cup after all. Oh well, that was a storyline which didn’t really go anywhere.

Given Ziggy’s disastrous attempts last time to recruit female babysitters, today Gonch decides to turn on the charm. Tracking down Calley, Georgina and Helen (who are all waiting outside Mrs McClusky’s office, anxious to know what she’s decided to do about their shoplifting spree) he launches into his spiel. “We’re looking for some girls who are available at nights”. That seems a rather adult spot of innuendo ….

Mrs McClusky escorts Calley, Georgina and Helen back to the store where they did most of their shoplifting. A low camera angle (in the scene where they approach the manager’s office) helps to create a feeling of apprehension – when we see Helen look up at the manager’s sign on the door this angle makes her seem smaller than she actually is. As has happened before (notably with Ronnie’s time at the police station) we then cut away and have to be content with Helen later telling a mildly uninterested Gonch all about it (she earlier agreed to join him on his babysitting job).

Simon makes a brief and final appearance towards the end of the episode – he and an attractive young woman are ahead of Mrs Reagan and Laura in the cinema queue. So Laura never had to break the news about Simon’s roving eye – her mother could now see that for herself. It’s a bit of a spluttering way to conclude a storyline which had been burbling away for most of the year.

It’s also slightly clumsy that after Simon happened to drop his wallet, it was Mrs Reagan (via Ronnie and Fiona) who discovered it. After she hands it back to him with a feeling of smug satisfaction, she’s finally able to banish him from her thoughts and enjoy some serious mother/daughter time instead. The status quo is restored.

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Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Nineteen

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 8th March 1988

The episode begins with Ronnie and her parents at the police station, all anxiously waiting to hear what her fate will be. It’s the first time we’ve seen Mr Birtles (and he only appears once more, during series twelve). He’s played by Geoffrey Beevers, which helps to gladden my heart. Beevers is one of those actors who – although never the star – enriches any production he appears in. His credits are far too numerous to mention, but it’s a fair bet that if you’re watching a British television serial or series from the seventies onwards, he may very well pop up at some point.

The bleak institutional nature of the station helps to create a sense of tension. Director John Smith chooses to raise the camera high during the scene when Ronnie and her parents are walking down the corridor for their meeting. It’s an interesting move by Smith, who also directed the previous episode (there, he kept the camera low at the moment just before Helen and the others discovered what punishment they would receive). This birds eye view works just as well though – especially since Ronnie is positioned at the rear of the set and therefore seems somewhat diminished in size. Even the friendly smile of the policewoman escorting them can’t remove the faint feeling of dread.

Another very familiar actor – Ken Sharrock – plays the Inspector. The Inspector is remorseless in driving home to Ronnie just what a terrible crime pinching a jumper from Miss Selfridge is. He may be laying it on a bit thick, but the moral tone of this scene was obviously designed to operate as a PIF for those watching at home. If you stray from the straight and narrow then you too might find yourself at the police station, being lectured by a stern policeman.

The only odd thing about this plotline is that it sits alongside Tegs’ misadventures this year. Here, it’s hammered home that any crime is serious (after much deliberation, Ronnie is issued with a caution) whilst elsewhere we saw that Tegs regarded petty villainy as a perfectly normal part of life. Maybe this juxtaposition was intentional, but if so then it doesn’t quite work for me.

After Ronnie returns home (having faced the wrath of her father – he’s painted as a slightly ineffectual character, which means that possibly his only release is via angry outbursts) we then see a very unusual camera shot as Ronnie talks to Gonch on the phone. It’s a split screen effect, although since there’s not an actual split on the screen Gonch appears to be hovering in a ghost like fashion above her ….

Whilst some of the storylines this year (Mauler McCaul and the Grid Iron Crew, the interminable saga of the kit hire business) have been less than enthralling, Ronnie’s travails have been by far the most engaging. Tina Mahon took the material she was given and ran with it (a pity that post GH she appears, apart from a few credits, to have dropped out of acting).

The moral tone of the episode continues when we see Helen lectured by a doctor about the hazards of tattoos – specifically the danger of dirty and infected needles. Helen’s complete and utter revulsion about her tattoo (she’s distraught when she learns that laser removal is impossible and that a skin graft would leave a noticeable scar) is one of those moments which would probably puzzle a modern audience. Would the children of 1988 have shared Helen’s disgust?

Calley continues to obsess about her brace. And her obsession is now so severe that it causes her to completely forget that her best friend Ronnie had faced her day of destiny at the police station. Some friend. If Ronnie’s been gifted with a good storyline this year, then Calley hasn’t been so fortunate.

Will Grange Hill beat St Joes in the semi final? Hmm, not really bothered. The highlight of this scene is the three way conversation between Mr Bronson (who demonstrates a firm grasp of football tactics), Mr Griffiths (who reminisces about the time England won the World Cup as well as the Chinese meal he enjoyed with his good lady wife afterwards) and Mr Robson, who’s caught in the middle. Lovely stuff.

There’s a very rare mention of teacher’s strikes in the aftermath of GH’s semi final defeat (awww). Freddie is convinced that Mr Robson’s non-competitive system had torpedoed their chances of retaining the cup, although one of his teammates mentions that the numerous strikes (all of which have happened off screen) didn’t help. Freddie continues to chunter away – not even Louise’s comment that to be a good sport you have to be gracious in defeat seems to penetrate his ultra-competitive shell. I can’t confess to being too sorry that he’ll disappear after the next episode.

The on-going saga of Mauler’s comeuppance makes an unwelcome return here. This involves Robbie filling up a bin with water (which he naturally manages to mostly spill over himself). Ziggy and Robbie do manager to deliver this watery treat effectively though – which is the cue for yet more terrible overacting from Mauler and his crew.

Gonch and Ronnie arrange a blind date between Robbie and Calley, but they leave it to Trev to speak to Robbie. And of course, he tells Vince instead. The sight of Vince in his best suit with a bunch of wilted flowers attempting to woo a clearly unimpressed Calley is nicely done. But she’s kind-hearted enough not to bolt at the first opportunity, and so the pair set off for the cinema ….

Grange Hill. Series Eleven – Episode Twenty

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 11th March 1988

Director Robert Gabriel opens this episode with an unusual shot choice. Matthew and his mother have a conversation in her car (about the upcoming custody battle) which is mainly framed in the rear-view mirror. The focus then shifts mid scene to observe what’s happening on the street before regaining focus on Matthew.

The last day of term inevitably means that people can let their hair down and so it’s in this spirit that Mr Bronson speaks to Mrs McClusky about Danny Kendall and hip-hop. The way that Mr Bronson enunciates the words “hip-hop” suggests that he’s only just learnt them.

Since Robbie, Ziggy and the others gained revenge over Mauler and his gang last time, it now means that Mauler is after counter revenge. Clearly this is the storyline that just keeps on giving. Cue yet another “comedy” chase. It’s Ziggy’s last day at Grange Hill. Although since he returns next year, this is actually bit of cheat. Although maybe the original plan was to write him out at this point?

The teachers play dress up again. Mrs McClusky takes her Little Bo Peep costume out of mothballs whilst Mr Bronson and Mr Griffiths are dressed as a couple of colonials, complete with pith helmets. Laura’s rather mortified that her mother has decided to go for the full cheerleader look.

The dramatic heart of the episode is provided by Mrs Pearson’s revelation that whilst she’s gained temporary custody of Matthew, her husband can still see him at the weekends provided a third party is present. This stipulation has upset him greatly and it raises the possibility that he may attempt to snatch Matthew from school. This is a plotline which we’ll have to wait and see whether it’s developed next year.

That we never actually saw the custody proceedings (Mrs Pearson later told Mrs Reagan what occurred) clearly helped to save a little money (no need to deck out a court with extras) but it does slightly diminish the drama of the story.

Overall, series eleven was an improvement on series ten although it still had its share of Harriet moments (Mauler McCaul was an especial lowlight). At this point in time, Grange Hill is, for me, caught in a transitional period – it would gain a new lease of life from the mid nineties up until the point when it upped sticks and moved to Liverpool, but that’s still a few years away. So at present, the series is slightly misfiring. There’s enough happening to still engage, but you have to be prepared to take the good with the bad.

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