Grange Hill Series Seven and Eight coming to DVD from Eureka DVD in November 2019

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It’s good to see that, a year following the release of series five and six, the next two series of Grange Hill are slated for release this November.  And if the front cover is to be believed then this DVD will also include the 1981 Christmas Special (which was left off the previous DVD).

Given its school disco setting, it was assumed that music clearances had scuppered its release – so possibly the clearances have now been sorted or there may be trims/music substitutions. Time will tell.

As for series seven and eight, it’ll be good to retire my old off-airs and revisit these two years.  For me, series seven has always felt like it was treading water somewhat – by this point GH would have benefited from the introduction of some fresh blood (although we’d have to wait until the following year for a new crop of first years).

Gripper (apart from a brief cameo) is missed.  At least they didn’t attempt to replicate his character and Jimmy McClaren (Gary Love) is fitfully amusing from time to time (although his villainy does seem quite restrained compared to Gripper’s rampaging).  Possibly the most interesting thing about Jimmy’s inclusion in the series is that it enables Roland to make the switch from victim to bully.

Jeremy Irvine’s swimming pool demise (Grange Hill‘s second pupil fatality) is the clear dramatic highpoint whilst there’s a generous (three episodes) amount of time set outside the school. Two episodes focus on the mock UN summit hosted by David Bellamy (they also feature a young Gina Bellman) whilst the third centres around the odd couple of Mr Baxter and Roland, who find themselves in trouble during an orientating weekend.

If series seven felt at times like an inferior companion to series six, then series eight initiated a major shake-up.  Most of the fifth-formers failed to make it to the sixth form – only Stewpot, Claire and Precious survived.  Indeed, had it not been for the plotline of Stewpot’s infatuation with Annette (a bizarre twist – Claire might have been a bit of a moaner, but surely she was preferable to Annette) then they would have nothing at all to do ….

The new crop of first-years – Gonch, Hollo, Trevor, Calley, Ronnie – fell into familiar patterns. Gonch was simply another Pogo (always with his eye on the next money-making scheme) whilst Calley and Ronnie are this years Trisha/Cathy or Annette/Fay.

There’s conflict amongst the fourth-years, as the remnants of Rodney Bennett and Brookdale found themselves rubbing shoulders with the old GH hands (although I’ve never quite understood how three schools worth of pupils could fit into two school buildings).

By far the most significant new arrival is, of course, Mr Bronson (“You boy!”). For many he defines Grange Hill, although his era (series eight – twelve, 1985 to 1989) saw some peaks and troughs for the show (series ten in 1987 was a bit of a nadir for 1980’s GH as the running thread of Harriet the Donkey was stretched to breaking point).

For those who want more episode by episode information, posts on series seven can be found here whilst my thoughts on series eight are here.

Grange Hill – The Rise of Gripper

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With Eureka due to release series five and six of Grange Hill on DVD later in the year, it seems like the ideal time for an irregular series of quick posts looking at some of the key themes developed across these two years. To kick off – the rise and rise of Gripper Stebson (Mark Savage).

GH had tackled bullying before (as early as the third episode of series one) but there was something very different about Gripper. Since the first series was episodic in nature, there wasn’t any room to develop the plot-thread of first-former Judy being targeted by the mean fifth-former Jackie Heron in any great depth.  One intervention later, everybody lived happily ever after ….

Gripper would prove to have much more staying power. Indeed, although he had appeared in a handful of series four episodes and would go on to cameo in a few post series six ones (“oy! that’s my bike!”) the story of Master Stebson is also, in part, the story of series five and six.

Previous victims of bullying – such as Judy and Benny (who had been targeted by Doyle) – found they had others (Trisha/Tucker) who were prepared to stand with them. Poor Roland Browning (Erkan Mustafa) had nobody and this made all of his wretched misfortunes throughout 1982 even more disturbing. If the message from series one (delivered by Trisha’s older sister to Judy) seemed just a little too pat (report a bully and all will be well) then Roland’s silent suffering had more of the ring of truth.

It’s tempting to wonder if the change in tone was initiated by Susi Hush, the new producer for series five.  It’s telling that the previous producer, Colin Cant, had – back in 1980 – cast severe doubts about whether GH could ever show the reality of bullying.

And yet that’s what was achieved throughout 1982 and 1983.  Possibly this was simply an indication of the series’ increasing confidence – although GH had had long-running plot-threads before, this was the period when they started to elongate even further. With an established audience base, it seems likely that Grange Hill had no qualms in pacing certain storylines quite slowly.

In later years this could sometimes turn out to be more of a curse than a blessing (Gonch’s interminable money-making schemes became tiresome very quickly) but Roland’s apparent suicide attempt at the end of S05E16 has a special resonance due to the fact that it was placed towards the end of a run of episodes which had featured him under attack from Gripper on so many occasions.