Written by Alan Janes. Tx 5th January 1982
Series Five opens with what I take to be a deliberate nod back to the very first episode as the camera tracks through the corridors of the eerily quiet school. Before the pupils arrive it’s a haven of peace and quiet – although it’s no surprise that the silence doesn’t last for long.
Five new arrivals will be the focus of their year during series five (their classmates will also feature, but not to the same extent). Jonah Jones (Lee Sparke) and Zammo McGuire (Lee Macdonald) are clearly cast from the same mould as Tucker Jenkins and his friends. Jonah and Zammo are scamps and tearaways who can’t help but get into trouble – but since they lack malice the audience is invited to identify and side with them.
Annette Firman (Nadia Chambers) and Fay Lucas (Alison Bettles) bear more than a passing resemblance to Trisha and Cathy (and also Suzanne and Claire). Annette is the rebel (like Trisha/Suzanne) whilst Fay is the more sensible one (like Cathy and Claire). Although in later years Fay will go slightly off the rails as Cathy and Claire did.
Possibly the most significant of the new arrivals is Roland Browning (Erkan Mustafa). Roland is friendless, overweight and becomes an instant target for Gripper and his new henchman Denny Rees (Julian Griffiths). Gripper is a larger and more physically imposing figure from the youngster we saw in series four and it doesn’t take long before he makes poor Roland’s life a misery. Because Roland is an isolated figure, he has no-one to turn to and his anguish only comes to an end towards the end of the series when he’s hospitalised following an accident with a car. This is a very disturbing moment as it’s strongly inferred that he deliberately stepped out in front of it.
It’s certainly a far cry from the previous attempts by the series to show the effects of bullying. Judy Preston was targeted by a gang of older girls during series one, but everything was neatly wrapped up in the space of a single episode. For Roland there’s no quick solutions and the fact that the storyline was developed over a run of episodes is a sign that Grange Hill was becoming more confident to unfold longer storylines which wouldn’t have an immediate payoff (no doubt happy that the audience would stick with them).
GCE (Gripper’s Cash Enterprise) provides him and Denny with a nice little earner. Roland is their latest victim and they force him to hand over twenty pence every Monday. Gripper’s warning to Roland not to squeal is bleak in the extreme. “You talk to anyone and I’ll put you in a wheelchair.”
The initial meeting between Jonah and Annette isn’t a promising one. The girls beat the boys to the desk at the back of the classroom and Jonah isn’t prepared to take this lying down – although when Annette pushes him off his chair that’s exactly what happens! As he lies sprawled on the ground this gives the camera the opportunity to view Miss Mooney’s attractive ankles and she decides the best place for him is right at the front. Zammo wonders if his friend is going to take such an insult without attempting reprisals, whilst Jonah counters that there wasn’t anything he could do at the time. Zammo’s solution – punch her on the jaw – is direct and has more than an echo of similar early encounters between Tucker and Trisha. He was always promising her a knuckle sandwich but – as here – the threats were never followed through.
Jonah’s stink bomb helps to clear their classroom and earns the class the immediate disapproval of Mrs McClusky. But he manages some form of redemption when he uses another of his stink bombs to force Roland out of the toilets (he’s locked himself in and refuses to come out). It’s certainly more effective than Mr Thomson’s efforts. Mr Hopwood had called the caretaker in – no doubt in the hope that he’d be able to lever the door off his hinges – but Thomson’s only response was to bang on it! It’s a lovely comedy moment played to perfection by the always reliable Timothy Bateson.