Grange Hill. Series Five – Episode Thirteen

grange hill s05e13

Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 16th February 1982

This episode focuses on Suzanne’s increasing disenchantment with both Grange Hill and life in general.  Early on we see her (along with two other girls) rehearsing a sketch for the school revue.  It’s a satire on the need to wear school uniform and features a very thinly disguised caricature of Mrs McClusky.  Such barbed criticism of the head seems unlikely to make the final show, as the girls are convinced that Mrs McClusky will insist on its removal.  Mr McGuffy seems totally unaware that she’d be concerned (to him, free speech is something to be taken for granted).

That he could be at Grange Hill this long and have not realised that Mrs McClusky runs the place in an autocratic and dictatorial fashion speaks volumes for his unworldliness.  Her management style is once again made quite clear at the school council meeting where she rides roughshod over all the points raised by the pupils.  Suzanne, as an observer, is far from impressed.  “I just don’t see the flipping point of it. You rabbit on and at the end of it she gets her own way.”

Suzanne’s bad-girl ways are first demonstrated when she pinches some pens from the local corner shop.  Goody-goody Claire tells her she’ll pay for them and the moment is rather flatly played – Suzanne really should be angrier at being taken back to the shop, instead she’s too compliant and it doesn’t feel right.

A sign of the times is the ubiquitous Space Invaders machine in the local cafe (although by this time you’d have thought it would have been superseded by the likes of Galaxians).  But it still holds a deep fascination for many – especially Gripper – who’s reputed to be something of an expert.  Is this the reason why he extorts money from so many unfortunates?  He admits that much of it does go into the machine, so the impression is that Gripper just enjoys bullying people and the money he gets off them is of little interest.

Suzanne attempts to break into this male dominated world, but her efforts on the Space Invaders machine are met with derision.  Together with Christine (Linda East) they hatch a plan to get more money to practice – by extorting it from Roland (they tell him they’re collecting for Gripper).  Christine would return during series six and seven, although she’d later be a more conventional character (here she’s an obvious delinquent).  And it’s Christine who is the prime-mover in extracting money with menaces from Roland, Suzanne does have the good grace to look slightly apprehensive and doubtful.

When Gripper learns that she’s been collecting money that’s rightfully his, he gives her a slap.  It’s not a graphic moment but it’s still slightly shocking (although Gripper probably does much worse to many other unfortunates off-camera).  The episode ends with Suzanne bemoaning her life as a girl.  Everything upsets her, not least period pains.  “I can’t bear the thought of having that having that curse every four weeks for the next thirty years”  Some of the other dialogue is equally bleak – Suzanne tells Claire that her mother takes “loads of pills” (presumably antidepressants?) and one of the ways that Claire manages to snap Suzanne out of her depression is to tell her that if she’s chucked out of Grange Hill she’ll end up in a dead-end job, just like her mother.  We briefly see Mrs Ross when she attends the Parent/Teacher evening.  She’s presented as a nervous, pallid character who not only seems unable to control her daughter but is also obviously no role-model for her.

An all-film episode, the real school locations help to give Margaret Simpson’s script even more of a depressive feel.  There’s something about the crumbling and institutionalised look of the interiors that fits the despairing tone of this installment very well.

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3 thoughts on “Grange Hill. Series Five – Episode Thirteen

  1. Watching Grange Hill from this period has made me realise that Margaret Simpson is an unsung heroine of British television drama. Do we know anything about her? All her episodes have a notably convincing characterisation and give a female perspective that would be likely to get overshadowed without her four or five episodes a series (the similarly unknown Helen J Wilson on 80s Brookside would be a good comparison). Her episodes also work well as freestanding dramas in their own right, be they filmed character pieces like this one or self-contained studio ‘issue’ plays like the sex education and commercial sponsorship ones earlier in this series.

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  2. Margaret Simpson’s work on GH is notable for several reasons, not only for the quality of her scriptwriting but also because she straddled several different eras – from the late 70’s to the early 90’s. As I slowly work through the series I’m looking forward to being reacquainted with her episodes.

    Apart from some Emmerdale scripts a few years back she hasn’t worked in television for a while. There’s a link to a brief bio below. That she taught in London schools is interesting, no doubt that helped to inform her GH scripts.

    http://www.mbalit.co.uk/author/149

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