Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Eight

Written by David Angus. Tx 26th January 1990

Although a few other plots bubble along today, this is very much Ronnie’s episode – something that’s reinforced by the way it opens and closes with her (and on both occasions she’s in a tearful mood).

We begin with a camera pan around her bedroom. She’s lying in bed whilst the clock radio burbles out the jolly sounds of Radio 1 (a cover version of Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World). The choice of song is a nicely ironic one, as the viewer processes the fact that every inch of wall space is taken up with posters protesting at animal cruelty.

Coming downstairs to breakfast, she discovers a budgie in a cage. Her mother explains that they’re looking after it for a neighbour who’s had to go into hospital.  Ronnie instinctively goes to release it, but Mrs Birtles tells her not to – as the bird is happy in the cage. This moment of tension passes without Ronnie being able to articulate why she disagrees with this viewpoint, which in some ways is the episode’s theme – she wants to help all animals, but can’t find a way to do so.

Ronnie learns, via a chance meeting on the way to school with a couple of girls from St Mary’s, that they still dissect animals in their biology classes.  This reveal is done in a rather clumsy way – Calley happens to bump into a couple of St Mary’s girls she’s friendly with (although we’ve never seen them before) and the talk instantly turns to their biology lessons.

Grange Hill no longer uses animals in their classes, although they did in the past (series seven, for example). Possibly we’re missing a trick here – had Ronnie suddenly launched a crusade to stamp out this sort of thing in her own school it would have had more of a dramatic punch.

The scene we do have is still effective though. Ronnie storms over to St Mary’s, wanders through the corridors and finally finds the biology class  – whereupon she crashes in and hands out leaflets, to the bemusement of the pupils and the simmering anger of the teacher.

Few of the St Mary’s pupils seem that interested (although a few look slightly bashful). Possibly this because they don’t care or it might be that they don’t want to rock the boat – their grades mattering more to them than a handful of dissected animals.

This failure to connect only deepens Ronnie’s gloom and she goes off to wander up and down the high street, with seemingly every window (a butchers, a shop selling genuine leather handbags) causing her further pain.

In other news, we meet Mr Bentley (David Cann) for the first time.  Given the way he’s been talked about in the past, it’s no surprise that he’s totally single-minded where his son is concerned – treating Mike more like a machine than a human being. The affable Mr Robson (someone who’s never been that keen on ultra-competitive sports) is polite, but his real feelings are expressed by the various faces he pulls as Mr Bentley drones on and on.

There’s a chance to dig a little deeper into Neil Timpson’s character. Caught by Mrs Monroe with a video nasty (the rather tame looking Ninja Demon) she has a friendly chat with him in detention about his home life, which possibly helps to explain his poor attitude at school.

It’s once again noticeable how sidelined a figure Mrs McClusky has become. Once upon a time she would have been the one to argue about budgets and funding with the likes of Miss Booth and Mr MacKenzie, but these days she’s perfectly happy to delegate that sort of job to Mr Hargreaves. This is all well and good, but it does mean she rarely has the opportunity to tackle any dramatic scenes.

Having said that, today’s episode slightly bucks the trend as she provides Ronnie with a shoulder to cry on.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Seven

Written by Kay Trainer. Tx 23rd January 1990

Neil and Barry Timpson continue to provide a service of low-level irritation for their fellow pupils, something which they’ve been doing since the start of the year. Neither have yet to emerge as rounded characters (Neil never really would, as John Pickard jumped ship from GH to 2 point 4 children the following year).

Today they briefly sling a racial epithet Akik’s way, which infuriates Jacko (and to a lesser extent, Brian and Locko). These four are also rather underdeveloped at present, with Jacko (by dint of the fact he owns a troublesome dog and is always ridiculously cheerful) the most memorable at this point in the series.

Quite why Jacko should be so defensive of Akik is a slight mystery – presumably he’s just keen to get one over on the Timpson brothers and Akik has provided him with a good excuse. The selected method of revenge – chucking Mr Robson’s climbing net over them – isn’t one of those scenes to get the pulse racing, but it passes a few minutes fairly agreeably.

The best moment in the episode featuring Jacko, Brian and Locko occurs when Mrs Monroe spies them acting suspiciously. “Freeze like trees” she says – and they do …

Mr Griffiths is getting the hang of his dubiously acquired computer (thanks to Akik’s tutelage). Given the delighted way Mr Griffiths reacts to his new found tech skills, it seems rather sad that, unless he can come up with a plan, he’ll have to hand it over to Mr MacKenzie.

Elsewhere in the episode, already established plot-threads continue to bubble away. Mike and Robbie mention the fight yet again (and yet again they’re scouring the paper for news and coming up with nothing, which reassures them). Tegs and Justine have their latest difference of opinion – she’s convinced he’s spying on her (which he denies). Although later he does go and spy on her anyway. Matthew’s family fortunes continue to decline (it looks like they’ll be forced to sell their house).

Georgina tells the others that she’s seen Calley’s boyfriend (who she estimates to be forty!). Calley tells them that he’s only twenty four and that, yes, they are sleeping together. Ronnie pulls a disapproving face (similar to the one she pulled earlier in the episode when she spied meat being dished out in the canteen). Is Ronnie jealous or is she worried that Calley will end up being hurt by someone who’s simply using her? I’d say it was the latter.

Aichaa’s got some good news – her photo will be printed in the next issue of Just Seventeen, plus they’ve given her a cheque for £20. It’s fair to say that the stare Georgina gives her is decidedly on the icy side.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Six

Written by Kay Trainer. Tx 19th January 1990

Mike kicks off the episode sporting a very silly hat. He hasn’t lost his mind (well not completely) as this is his idea of a disguise. Mike is still fretting that they’ll be some comeback from the pub fight, so he’s keen to keep a low profile.

Of course, Georgina would have to come walking down the street just as he’s leaving the leisure centre with his tremendous tifter. What does he do? As befits a star athlete he runs away ….

Georgina, Calley and Ronnie meet up. Ronnie’s still fuming that Calley used her as an alibi to explain her all-night adventure (Ronnie is certainly a girl who knows how to hold a grudge). Bad feeling between the pair is still bubbling away then, although things calm down a little when the threesome go to look for some new cosmetics.

Although Ronnie’s been interested in animal rights since the start of series 13, it’s only today – when she’s given a leaflet about the testing of cosmetics on animals – that she appears to decide that this sort of thing is a very bad thing indeed. Calley half-heartedly agrees to boycott the offending shop, but Georgina sneakily still buys some of the make-up.

There’s something rather topical about the way Miss Booth despairs over her ever-shrinking art budget. Things are now so tight she’s been forced to re-use scraps of paper, which is hardly ideal.  The fact that Mr Hargreaves is able to fit out a new office with an up to date computer only sticks in her craw even more.  Clearly Mr Hargreaves is one of those people who believes the arts mean very little (presumably because they don’t turn a profit – or at least not one that he can quantify).

Mr Hargreaves’ old computer (a BBC B by the look of it) is snaffled by Mr Griffiths, who seems entranced with it. Taking it back to his office, he delightedly pushes a few buttons, although as yet he doesn’t seem to realise that it works better with a monitor ….

Mr Hargreaves’ crusade to stamp out unauthorised photo-copying continues. Both Mr Robson and Mrs Monroe are seen to have grabbed a few sneaky personal copies (although Ronnie and Calley are rather pushing things by running off 150 copies of anti-vivisection leaflets). Mr Hargreaves isn’t too pleased when he catches the guilty pair.

Ronnie and Calley join an animal rights demo outside the shop. Things get a little rowdy, especially after Ronnie daubs the shop window with red paint. I think she can count herself lucky that Mrs McClusky happened to be passing and was able to intercede with the police (although annoyingly we aren’t witness to that moment).

Mike and Georgina go on a date to the movies. Mike, a Western fan, is engrossed by the film whilst Georgina (looking round at the other couples getting rather friendly) sighs longingly. So Mike – a boy who’s slow on the uptake – doesn’t take up her blatant offer of a cuddle.

Later, when they head to the café for a coffee, Georgina spies Calley kissing a man. This closing scene confirms that Calley’s interested in men not boys, but it’s mainly interesting for the reactions of Mike and Georgina. He looks a little downcast whilst Georgina (who you might have expected to be shocked) responds with an enigmatic smile. She seems to be wondering why Mike isn’t kissing her in that way (or indeed, any way at all).

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Five

Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 16th January 1990

Some of the events from the previous episode are briefly touched upon. Robbie remains anxious about the pub fight (fretting that the man was badly injured) although Mike seems blithely unconcerned. Aichaa and Georgina are more than happy with their glamour photos while Ronnie is still seething at Calley (more than a little displeased at being used as an alibi to explain Calley’s all-night absence).

Mr Hankin takes the third-years down to the canal. As you might expect it’s a slightly chaotic trip, although the reassuring presence of Mr MacKenzie means that events don’t spiral out of control. Although Mr Hankin does receive a certain amount of teasing, there’s also frustration from the likes of Chrissy – who doesn’t understand exactly what they have to do and why, thanks to Mr Hankin’s rather vague utterances.

The trip also allows Tegs and Justine to have yet another argument, which leaves both of them frustrated. Later, they both pour out their troubles (Tegs to Matthew, Justine to Andy). This episode allows us to take the first proper look at Andy – who doesn’t impress. Not only does he come across as a jealous type (convinced that Justine and Tegs have a closer bond than mere friendship) he’s more than happy to leave Justine hanging when Trev breezes in with the offer of taking part in a card school.

Rod, of course, is running the card school – snugly ensconced in the caretaker’s office, with mugs of tea all round (although he won’t allow Mauler to smoke!).  Given that Mr Griffiths has previously been portrayed as a man who loves his office, it’s a little surprising that Rod feels so comfortable (although maybe Mr G, incensed at the presence of the younger man, has decided to work just a little harder – hence his more regular absences).

The lunchtime disco is in full swing, although they could do with getting some more up to date records (Always on my Mind by the Pet Shop Boys was heard drifting out of the door). And I was intrigued to see that the disco ran from 12.15 pm to 2.00 pm. That’s a very generous lunch hour, unless the school operates split meal breaks.

The key part of the second half of the episode revolves around Tegs and Matthew’s attempt to steal a photograph from Mr Griffiths’ office. Matthew is depressed about his home life, so Tegs decides that stealing the photo will cheer him up (hmmm).  We haven’t seen any criminal activity from Tegs for a while, so I did wonder if that character trait had been quietly written out, but today’s episode confirms otherwise.

Tegs has a touch of the Artful Dodger about him as he corrupts the innocent Matthew (Oliver). This whole plot doesn’t really go anywhere though – they drop the picture and break the frame, steal another frame from Mr Hargreaves’ office and return the picture with the new frame to Mr Griffiths’ office. Something of a waste of time then ….

The subplot of Mrs Monroe locked in the stationery cupboard did raise a smile though.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Four

Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 12th January 1990

Mr Hargeaves is still obsessing over the unauthorised photocopier use. Today he’s targeting Miss Booth – convinced that she knows more about the numerous animal rights posters dotted around the school than she’s letting on. She doesn’t of course, and his none-too-subtle probing only serves to irritate her all the more.

Mrs Monroe, present when he begins another round of questioning, warns her to “be careful, he’ll be taking your fingerprints next”.  Indeed, Mrs Monroe is the recipient of most of the best lines today – when the still trustingly innocent Mr Hankin tells her that he’s going to take a group of third years to the canal, she comments that “there’s one or two little heads in that year that I might be tempted to hold under the water a fraction too long”.

She also does terrible things to Mr Hankin’s tie – it’s wrapped around a dog’s neck and then dipped into custard – although she blithely tells him that it’ll perk up with a damp iron! Plus there’s the moment where she gives Mr Griffiths a brief restorative shoulder rub (a busy episode for her today then).

There’s a nice moment of continuity as Deirdre Costello makes her fourth and final appearance as Mrs Donnington (she was previously seen in both series eight and eleven). Her short scene kicks off another plot-thread in a rather off-hand way – Mrs Donnington casually complains that she was slightly worried when Calley stayed out all night. You might have expected there to be much more panic on Mrs Donnington’s behalf – so her resigned calmness suggests Calley is now a frequent absentee.

Calley’s excuse (she was spending the night with Ronnie) sounds rather feeble and when Robbie later spies her getting into a man’s car for a night out, all the pieces seem to be fitting together.

Georgina and Aichaa decide to enter a modelling competition and as luck would have it, Georgina knows a local photographer so high quality photos will be no problem. Ronnie looks on – content to observe but not participate – although she’s told that she could be a decent girl next door type. Flattering with faint praise there ….

Julie continues to be something of a wet lettuce, blubbing after forgetting her sports kit (she wails that she’ll be forced to do games in her underwear).  Becky and Alice offer verbal support (and Becky manages to find her a spare kit) but the message seems plain – Julie needs to toughen up or she’s not going to survive at Grange Hill.

The episode ends with a fight in a pub involving Robbie and Mike, which is another new plot-thread that will run and run. Mike, anxious not to get involved in any trouble, accidentally trips over an injured man but his action is interpreted as a hostile one. The whole scene is rather confusing, mainly because we’re only ever told about the injuries inflicted (it’s obvious why a children’s series would steer clear of graphic violence, but it does rather rob the moment of any impact).

The last scene – Robbie, having thrown a few punches during the melee, is approached outside the pub by a well-dressed man who compliments him on the way he handled himself – is a more ominous one though.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Three

Written by Chris Ellis. Tx 9th January 1990

Today’s episode opens with a race against time – Ronnie and Calley are using the school photocopier to run off more anti-vivisection posters, but Mr Hargreaves is getting ever closer to them ….

As the photocopier keeps ticking away agonisingly slowly, will they be able to escape before he catches them? Well yes. But he does find a warm photocopier, which sends him scurrying to the log to see who last used the machine. The total cost is probably just a drop in the ocean, but it’s plain that every penny counts for him.

I’m a bit baffled as to why the staff-room (where the photocopier is located) was unlocked. That just seems to be asking for trouble.

After a few years during which the teaching staff became fairly negligible characters, it’s interesting to observe that we’re entering an era where they become much more central again. Today that’s highlighted by an entertaining staff room meeting where Mr Hargreaves holds court to an air of general apathy.

Chief apathetic is Mrs Monroe, who masks her dislike of the man with an air of polite brutality. Mr Hargreaves has now emerged as a thrusting Thatcherite figure – eagerly espousing concepts such as economy and image, worrying about how Grange Hill is seen in the marketplace and attempting to find ways to provide good value for their consumers (i.e. the parents). He rounds off his speech with a rallying cry of “traditional values”.

Mrs Monroe later attempts to give him what he wants – a school song sung in Latin by R1 (her “empty-headed vessels” as she delightfully calls them). This leads to a nice beat of tension between the pair as he correctly assumes that she’s mocking him. Mr Hargreaves is a very different character from Mr Bronson then, but I’d say the change has done the series good.

Elsewhere, Mike and Georgina start to get a little closer, although this means that he misses his lunchtime training session (much to Robbie’s chagrin, who’s been working out on his own). Mr Hargreaves is displeased with Mike’s lack of application – as a star athlete he brings prestige to the school but without this skill he’s nothing.

Although Mr Hargreaves has been set up as a somewhat pompous and comic character (today he receives his nickname “Mad Max”) moments like this are illuminating. His single-minded drive to raise the profile of the school means that he has little interest in the pupils as people – only in what they can deliver for Grange Hill’s greater glory.

We also find out that Justine’s boyfriend is called Andy and that Rod is an extremely sharp type. Pretending to Trevor that he can’t play darts and then fleecing him in a money game isn’t very friendly.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode Two

Written by Chris Ellis. Tx 5th January 1990

Many things have altered at Grange Hill over the years, but Mrs McClusky remains the one fixed point in a changing age. At the start of today’s episode she’s quite taken with young Rod – who’s been able to repair her chair in double quick time (she makes her delight plain by spinning around a few times!)

Mr Griffiths can’t help but harrumph at the speed at which his young deputy has been able to attend to certain jobs. This is anathema to Mr Griffiths, who prefers to mull everything rather slowly (preferably with a nice cup of tea). Rods’s ability to get things done in double-quick time leaves Mr Griffiths feeling rather threatened – so he seeks reassurance from Mrs McClusky.

But it’s Mr Hargreaves who sets his mind at rest in a lovely little scene where he outrageously plays on the caretaker’s vanity (telling him that young Rodney needs the guidance of an older, more experienced man). Give George A. Cooper the comic material and he’ll never let you down.

As for Mr Hargreaves, he comes into sharper comic focus today. The new Deputy Head is emerging as a cheerfully single-minded type – he’s someone quite prepared to ride roughshod over everyone else whilst remaining convinced that it’s all for their own benefit. Efficiency is his watchword – at one point he regrets that the pupils don’t have numbers (which suggests he sees them as work units, rather than people).

Tegs and Justine give Mr Hankin a rather rough time in his science class, although that’s more to do with their on-going issues than any particular dislike for him. Tegs continues to fume that Justine has the temerity to go out with someone (whilst at the same time refusing to accept that he’s at all romantically interested in her). Hmm ….

Mrs Monroe has no such problems controlling her class – she’s more than able to hold R1 in the palm of her hand. From her first scene onwards she’s presented as an inspirational and left-field sort of teacher – whatever else she is, Mrs Monroe is certainly a one-off.

Anna Quayle had quite the career (A Hard Day’s Night, The Avengers, Basil Brush and Brideshead Revisited, to name just a few of her credits) before pulling into the harbour of Grange Hill, which turned out to be her last major television role.

Grange Hill. Series Thirteen – Episode One

Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 2nd January 1990

A new year, a new decade and a new producer (Albert Barber). All of which means that it’s easy to spot that the series has undergone a subtle revamp. There’s a new theme tune and opening titles for starters, which was a positive move – it’s good to see the series moving forward, rather than clinging onto the past with yet another regigged version of ‘Chicken Man’.

There’s also an influx of new characters – both pupils and teachers. Most make an appearance here, even if some (Mrs Monroe) don’t speak. Mr Hankin (Lee Cornes) has slightly more to work with – his debut scene (scrabbling on the floor for his textbooks, knocked over by an unruly pupil) is a deft shorthand move. He seems affable enough, but this moment marks him out as someone who will find class management a problem.

Mr Hargreaves (Kevin O’Shea), the new deputy head, seems to have no such problems on that score. Right from this first episode there seems plenty of scope to develop his character. Slightly surprising that O’Shea’s television career has been fairly limited (with only two regular roles – GH and The Gentle Touch).

The way Mr Hargreaves deflates Mr Griffiths’ affronted pomposity is very nicely played, as is his later encounter with Mauler. In time-honoured fashion, Mauler is changing the direction of the arrow on the blackboard, thereby attempting to confuse the first years. Luckily, Mr Hargreaves catches him and subjects the six-former to a lengthy and impassioned speech. Which impresses Mauler not one little bit ….

Mauler (unfortunately) doesn’t seem to have grown as a person since last year (ditto Trevor and Robbie – who are both as irritating as ever). Ted seems a little better adjusted though.

It’s always melancholy to witness the debut of actors (such as Jamie Lehane, playing Jacko) who have passed away. Although substantial plotlines in this first episode are conspicuous by their absence, Jacko’s misadventures with his pet dog (who’s roaming the school corridors, searching for his master) do provide some low-level comic relief.

Natalie Stevens (Julie Buckfield), is one of those characters who we are invited to believe has always been in the school (just out of shot for the last two years). Ditto René Zagger as Mike Bentley, although maybe he’s slightly more of a new arrival. Positioned as something of a heartthrob (and an athletics ace to boot) it’s plain he’s got his eye on Georgina.

Most contrived moment of the episode concerns Justine and Tegs. We see Justine waiting for someone – who else could it be but Tegs? That’s what we’ve been primed to expect (especially as when he appears, she smiles and moves towards him). But no … she walks on by (totally blanking him) and into the arms of another boy. Eek!

There’s plenty more plot-threads established – the loneliness of new-girl Julie Corrigan (Margo Selby), Aichaa’s (Veena Tulsiani) reluctance to hang around with her much younger brother Akik (Sundeep Suri), the arrival of shifty deputy caretaker Rod (Wayne Norman), Matthew’s straightened financial circumstances and Ronnie’s growing obsession with animal rights.

Phew! Hopefully now these have all been established they can be tackled in a less fragmentary way as the series continues. Time will tell.