Thursday, 11 February 2016

335 Grange Hill

First  viewed : 8  February  1978

This  is  another  milestone. Although  it's  not  quite  the  last  children's  programme  in  this  list  it  ended  up  being  the  only  one  I  was  still  watching  into  adulthood.

Grange  Hill  replaced  A  Traveller  In  Time   as  the  Wednesday  serial  in  February  1978  but  was  a  very  different  beast. For  that  we  have  to  credit  one  of  my  least  favourite  people.  "Professor"  Phil  Redmond  who's  done  more  than  anyone  to  debase  the  whole  concept  of  higher  education  in  the  UK.  Nevertheless , Grange  Hill  was  a  landmark  in  childrens'  programming  and  should  always  be  regarded  as  a  feather  in  his  cap.

Grange  Hill  was  set  very  firmly  in  the  present  day  and  the  first  series  ( of  9  episodes )  followed  the  fortunes  of  what  we'd  now call  a  Year  7  class  as  they  entered  a  comprehensive  secondary  school  for  the  first  time. And  so  we  were  introduced  to  lovable  rogue  Tucker  Jenkins  ( Todd  Carty ), long-faced moaning  Cock-er-nee  Trisha  Yates ( Michelle  Herbert ), shy  swot Justin  ( Robert  Morgan )  and  deprived  black  football  ace  Benny  ( Terry  Sue  Patt ) in  the  form  class  of  typically  bland  geography  teacher  Mr  Mitchell  ( Michael  Percival )  with  his  naff  clothes  and  even  naffer  jokes . Some  of  the  others  introduced  in  the  first  episode  ( in  which  nothing  remotely  interesting  happens ) like  Judy, Ann  and  David  have  vanished  from  my  memory banks. My  favourite  was  big  fat  Alan ( George  Armstrong ). He  started  out  as  a  minor  character  , one  of  a  pair  of  henchmen for  Tucker's  escapades; the  scriptwriters  didn't even  give  him  a  consistent  surname  in  the  first  series  before  settling  on  "Humphries". However,  Alan  clicked  with  the  audience  and,  whereas  the  other  lad  didn't  make  it  to  the  second  series , he   became  a  strong  character in  his  own  right. Towards  the  end  of  the  series the  first  villain  was  introduced  in  Michael  Doyle  ( Vincent  Hall ) a  shifty-eyed  blonde  lad   but  he  was  a  bit  weedy  compared  to  his  successors  and  always  fairly  easily  outwitted  by  Tucker.

It  took  just  four  episodes  before  the  first  real  controversy  arose  when  Tucker  and  his  mates  dropped  the  benches  into  the  swimming  pool  and  parents  and  teachers  became  concerned  about  copy  cat  behaviour. Some  primary  kids  were  said  to  be  terrified  by  the  series.

Nevertheless  it  returned  the  following  year  and  in  a  big  way , now  twice weekly with  a  run  of  18  episodes.  Ann  was  dropped  but  the  class  was  fleshed  out  with  some  new  characters  mainly  girls  like  goody-good  Susi  McMahon  ( Linda  Slater )  who  was  often  compared  at  our  school  to  the  girl  I  fancied, posh  redhead  Penny  ( Ruth  Davies )  and  bright  Asian , Sudhamani  ( Sheila  Chandra ). The  series  also  acquired  its  first  sex  symbol  ( Trisha  actually  had  an  older  sister  Carol  who  was  quite  nice  but  didn't  feature  enough )  in  buxom  Cathy  Hargreaves  ( Lindy  Brill ). I  actually  preferred  her  dark  haired  sidekick  but  she  never  had  an  individual  storyline. Justin  got  a  mate  called  Andrew  who  had  family  problems  and  Tommy,  who'd  barely  had  a  line  before,  got   a  new  head and  a  beefed  up  role  as  another  mate  of  Tucker.  There  were  more  adult  regulars, such  as  new  headmaster  Mr  Llewellyn  ( Sean  Arnold ) prissy  English  teacher  Mr  Sutcliffe ( James Wynn ) and  hard but  fair  games  teacher  Mt  Baxter ( Michael Cronin ). I  don't  think  I  saw  much  of  this  series  first  time  round  but  my  sister  started  following  it.

Series  3  saw  a  split  focus  between  the  old  class , now  under  form  teacher  Miss  Peterson  and  a  new  crop  of  Year  7's  including  good-looking  Duane  Orpington ( Mark  Baxter )  and  charmless  fat  boy  Pogo  Patterson ( Peter  Moran ) . Their  form  teacher  was  the  too-good-to-be-true  Mr  Hopwood  ( Brian  Capron ). Redmond  started  pushing  the  envelope  a  bit  more  with  this  series  which  included  Susi  having  problems  with  a  bra, Cathy  having  period  pains  and  Sudhamani's  dad  fretting  over  her  Westernisation. There  was  also  a  nice  storyline  for  Alan  who  started  a  romance  with  Susi  towards  the  end  of  the  series.  I  think  my  viewing  was  intermittent  to  begin  with  but  became  more  regular  towards  the  end.

Series  4  is  the   one  where  I  was  most  committed  to  watching  the  series. The  younger  class  was  expanded  with  goodie-two-shoes  Clare  ( Paula  Ann  Bland ),  her  rebellious  mate  Suzanne  ( Susan  Tully  ), likely  lad   Stewpot  ( Mark  Burdis ), giant  black  girl  Precious (  Dulice  Liecier )  and   the  show's  most  notorious  villain,  Gripper  Stebson  ( Mark  Savage ) .  New  adult  characters  were  headmistress  Mrs  McCluskey  ( Gwyneth  Powell ) , sexy  IT  teacher  Miss  Lexington ( Allyson  Rees )  and   the  supremely  irritating  caretaker,  Mr  Thompson  ( Timothy  Bateson ).  This  series  saw  the  show  becoming  much  more  soap-like  with  story  arcs  stretching  across  a  number  of  episodes. One  of  these  saw  Cathy  forming  a  band  with  two  sidekicks , one  of  whom , ( either  Ruth  or  Gerry, I'm  not  sure )  was  a  dark-haired   beauty  but  she  never  got  a  surname  or  an  individual  storyline. That  story  ended  with  them  getting  the  cane  ( Note  for  CP  fetishists  ; it's  not  worth  you  checking it  out )  for  bunking  off  which  reminds  you  that  we  were  still  in  the  corporal  punishment  era  here.  However  in  what  was  the  most  memorable  episode  of  all  , a  transient  PE  teacher  Mr  Hicks,  played  by  serial  TV  villain  Paul  Jerricho,  oversteps  the  mark  and  gets  walloped  by  Mr  Baxter , a  scene  we'd  been  waiting  for  since  Kes   twelve  years  earlier. This  was  the  last  series  written ( in  the  main )  by  Redmond  who  had  his  hands  full  with  Brookside  which  debuted  later  in  the  year.

One  year  on,  I  was  in  the  sixth  form  and  no  longer  watching  kids  TV  ( I  took  part  in  a  sketch  based  on  Willo  the  Wisp  in  the  Sixth  Form  Review  despite  never  having  seen  the  programme )   but  was  drawn  back  to  Series  5  by  all  my  class  mates  talking  about  it  and  one  character  in  particular, the  hapless, hopelessly  obese  Roland  Browning  ( Erkan  Mustafa )  and  the  main  target  for  the  ever-nastier  Gripper. He  was  part  of   a  new  year  7  intake,  along  with  the  too  self-regarding  to  be  likable  prankster  Jonah  ( Lee  Sparke ), his  slightly  dim  sidekick  Zammo  ( Lee  McDonald  ), bubbly  croaky-voiced  blonde  Fay  ( Alison  Bettles )  and  slappable  spoilt  brat  Annette  ( Nadia  Chambers ).  The  one  thing  Roland  had  going  for  him  was  a  self-appointed  guardian  angel   Janet  ( Simone  Nylander )  who  followed  him  around  over-enunciating  his  name  as  "Ro-land"   but  alas  her  passion  was  unrequited. Episode  15  "Despair",  where  all  Roland's  difficulties  come  to  a  head  is  a  junior  equivalent  to  "Yosser's  Story"  in  Boys  from  the  Blackstuff,  a  remarkably  harrowing  25  minutes  for  a  children's  TV  slot. The  only  significant  addition  to  the  teaching  cast  was   long-haired  , sociology-spouting  leftie  Mr  McGuffie  ( Fraser  Cains )  who  was  something  of  a  caricature.

With   kids  preoccupied  by  impending  O  Levels  not  offering  too  many  dramatic  possibilities  , the  original  class  were  reduced  to   cameo   roles  in  this  series ( Tommy  and  Susi  didn't  appear  at  all ).  Apart  from  Tucker  making  a  couple  of  re-appearances  as  an  adult  many  years  later, this  was  the  last  series  to  feature  the  survivors  from   the  first  one ;  Alan,  Trisha, Benny  and  Justin  ( who'd  been  pretty  redundant  from  series  3 )  all  took  their  final  bows.

Having  baulked  at  killing  Roland  off  in  the  previous  series  the  only  way  for  the  writers  to  go   in  Series  6  was  to  make  him  a  bit  more  comfortable  in  school  and  that  necessitated  getting  Gripper  off  his  back. The  way  they  did  that  was  to  make  this  the  most  violent  and  controversial  series   of  all  as  Gripper  became  preoccupied  with  racism  and  set  up  his  own  version  of  the  BNP  in  the  school  which  would  eventually  lead  to  his  expulsion. Some  light  relief  was  had  with  three  episodes  taking  place  outside  the  school  precincts  on  a  field  trip  to  St  Alban's  and  an  Outward  Bound  course  in  Wales. Educational  politics, which  hadn't  been  a  major  part  of  the  series  before, reared  their  head  with  the  new  teacher  Mr  Smart  ( Simon  Heywood ),  fresh  from  public  school  with  a  head  full  of  inappropriate  ideas  and  approaches.

By  Series  7  I  had  left  school  myself  and  was  at  university  but  there  were  plenty  of  other  Grange  Hill  fans  in  my  Hall  of  Residence  and  I  saw  most  if  not  all  of  the  series. The  major  newcomers  were  a  raffish  rogue  Jimmy  McClaren  ( Gary  Love ) , love  interest  for  Zammo , Jackie ( Melissa  Wilks ) and  the  obnoxious  Jeremy  Irvine  ( Vincent  Matthews )  who'd   appeared  briefly  in  the  previous  series  as  the  now-departed  Jonah's  cousin. He  provided  the  series'  main  talking  point  when  , after  a  few  close  calls  in  previous  series  the  writers , bolstered  by  Redmond's  return  ( at  least  the  credits  for  each  episode  say  so ) , went  the  full  hog  and  killed  someone  off, Jeremy  not  re-surfacing  after  arsing  around  in  the  swimming  pool . Gripper  had  a  small  , rather  disappointing  cameo  in  one  episode. This  series  was  the  end  of  the  line  for  most  of  the  second  wave  of  pupils. Duane  and  Pogo  departed  along  with  Suzanne  who  provided  another  of  the  series'  iconic  moments  when  she  turned  up  dressed  as  Boy  George  and  gave  Mrs  McCluskey  a  mouthful  in  the  corridor  ( wildly  cheered  in  our  TV  room )  having  already  left  the  school.

The  big  break  happened  now  for  me  .  90%  of  the  students  in  the  Hall  left  at  the  end  of  the  year  either  because  they'd  graduated  or  preferred  to  house  share  in  the  bedsit  land  nearer  to  the  campus. The  handful  of  us  that  chose  to  remain  divvied  up  the  vacant  roles  on  the  Junior  Common  Room  Committee  between  us  ( I  was  Treasurer )  but  perhaps  inevitably  we  were  bitterly  resented  by  some  of  the  incoming  students  saddled  with  a  team  they'd  had  no  say  in  electing. And  so  we  tended  to  huddle  together for  mutual  protection  and  thus  began  the  ritual  of  trying  to  be  first  in  for  dinner  at  5.30pm. This  meant  queuing  from  5.00  pm,  outside  the  doors  where  there  were  some  comfy  chairs  to  sit  on ; we  were  later  satirised  for  this  in  the  Hall  newsletter  although  nobody  was  personally  singled  out. By  the  time  Grange  Hill  came  back  round  for  Series 8   in  February  1985   the  habit  was  too  ingrained  and  so  I  stopped  watching  it.

And  so  I  missed  Mr  Smart's  conversion  to  a  good  guy, the  entrance  of  the  fearsome  Mr  Bronson  ( Michael  Sheard )  ,  Zammo's  love  triangle  with  Jackie  and  rival  Banksy ( Tim  Polley   who  she  would  certainly  have  picked  in  real  life  )  and  most  famously  of  all  Zammo's  drug  habit  in  Series  9. I  was  aware  of  all  the  tabloid  hype  and  of  course  the  "Just  Say  No"  single  and  having  left  the  Hall  by  then  could  have  gone  back  to  the  series  but  I  didn't.

That  was  the  series'  zenith ; though  it  marched  on  it  would  never  enjoy  the  same   high   profile  again. Once  the  hysteria   had  died  down  I  thought  little  more  about  it  except  for  when  a  familiar  face  would   pop  up  in  something  else.

Then  in  April  1993  the  Beeb  started  repeating  the  series  starting  from  the  beginning   on  a  Sunday  morning  on  BBC2  to  celebrate  the  show's  fifteenth  anniversary. This  was  irresistible , to  wallow  in  something  from  what  I  already  deemed  the  golden  period  of  my  life  and  so  I  watched  Grange  Hill  all  over  again  with  far  greater loyalty  than  I had  the  first  time  round  ! I  didn't  stop  until  the  end  of  the  drugs  series which  they  reached   in  1996. There  was  no  reason  to  continue  beyond  that  point  so  I  signed  off  for  good. I  don't  recall  that  I  had  any  real  consciousness  that  the  series  was  still  going  strong  on  the  other  channel.

I  remember  reading  about  its  cancellation  in  February  2008  and  once  I'd  got  over  my  utter  amazement  that  it  had  still  been  going  for  all  those  intervening  years  I  felt  as  much  sadness  as  for  the  passing  of  Top  of  the  Pops  and  Smash  Hits,  those  other  totems  of  my  youth  that  todays  generation  had  discarded.   For  a  couple  more  years  there  will  be  school  children  who  dimly  remember  the  series  then  the  lights  will  go  out.

As  with  the  wrestlers,  I'm  not  going  to  attempt  to  trace  the  subsequent  careers  of  all  those  I've  mentioned . Inevitably  many  of  them  didn't  stay  in  acting  and  have  long  since  vanished  from  the  public  eye. Some  of  them  we'll  meet  again  in  a  spin-off  series  further  down  the  line.  In  2005  Justin  Lee  Collins  featured  Grange  Hill  in  his  Bring  Back...  series despite  the  series  not  having  finished  yet  but  he  concentrated  almost  solely  on  those  involved  in  the  Zammo  storyline  including  Erkan  Mustafa  who'd  had  a little  brush  with  the  law  over  drugs  himself  ( not  sure  if  it  went  to  court )  Alison  Bettles  who  was  now  just  a  happy  housewife   after  a  brief  spell  in  The  Bill  and  Lee  McDonald  who  did  some  reality TV  on  the  back  of  the  show  and  seems  to  be  the  one   most   enthusiastic  to  return  to  the  public  eye.

 They're  not  the  ones  who  really  hold  a  place  in  my  heart  though. I  was  sad  to  hear  of  the  passing  of  Terry  Sue  Patt  last  year. My  favourite  , George  Armstrong  was  last  heard  of  working  as  the  theatre  manager  at  a  public  school. His  lost  love  Linda  Slater  has  long  since  vanished . Sheila  Chandra  had  a  brief  pop  career  as  lead  singer  of  Monsoon  and  managed  to  sustain  a  low-key  career  in  world  music  until  she  fell  seriously  ill  a  few  years  ago  and  had  to  retire. The  lovely  Lindy  Brill  gave  up  acting  when  she  turned  30  and  now  works  in  personnel  at  a  finance  company  .In  case  anyone's  interested  (  and  let's  face  it  guys  we  are  )  I  think   just  three  of  the  actresses  I've  mentioned  above  have  subsequently  disrobed, Paula  Ann  Bland  in  The  Fruit  Machine  ( 1989 ) ,   Rudi  Davies  in  A  Sense  of  Guilt  ( 1990 )  and  The  Lonely  Passion  of  Judith  Herne  ( 1987 )   and  Melissa  Wilkes in  The  Advocate  ( 1993 ).


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