Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 19th February 1982
There were few taboo subjects which Grange Hill didn’t tackle during its thirty year run. Inappropriate relations between staff and pupils was no doubt one of the trickiest – bearing in mind that a certain section of GH‘s audience would have been preteen – but it still did so on several occasions.
Later, we’d see the likes of Mr King and Fay enjoy a close out-of school relationship (although presumably a non-sexual one – I don’t think the series was ever prepared to go down that route). In this episode, although it’s clear from the outset that Mr Hopwood is simply the unwitting victim of Claire’s diary wish-fulfilment it’s still dramatically satisfying, since it clearly demonstrates how a teacher’s unblemished career could be destroyed by nothing more than gossip and innuendo.
It’s the first time this year that Paula Ann Bland has been at the centre of the story. During series four, Claire was much more prominent (partly because Suzanne was so pallidly written). With Susan Tully coming more to the fore during series five, Bland had to wait a little longer for a starring role. It was worth waiting for though as she’s excellent as the dreamy Claire, who seems to have overdosed on magazines like Jackie. Since she lacks a real boyfriend (Duane seemed positioned for this role during the previous series, but it never happened) she’s latched onto the next best thing – her form tutor.
Claire’s secret diary, in which she paints herself as the heroine of the story (with Mr Hopwood as her dashing white knight) is packed with some wonderful gushing prose. “He came up close to me and drew me to him. His sweater prickled against my face. He lifted my chin and kissed me very gently. ‘Darling Claire’ he said. ‘I’ve been in love with you for so long.'”
Years before he gained notoriety as the evil Richard Hillman in Coronation Street, Brian Capron was undoubtedly best known for his four year stint in Grange Hill. Although Mr Hopwood could be strict (and wasn’t averse to the odd physical confrontation with pupils – such as when he discovered Alan smoking) he was generally an easy-going and well-liked teacher. Which makes his problems in this episode even more dramatic.
It’s obvious from the first scene that Claire has developed an unhealthy interest in him. He’s aware of it, but is unsure what to do for the best. It’s also generated debate amongst her classmates which results in them teasing her (Suzanne characteristically sticks up for her).
Whilst her diary remains her secret, it’s harmless enough. But once her mother finds it, things take a more serious turn. The diary seems to document Mr Hopwood’s seduction of the girl and it’s so convincing that it fools a number of people for a short while. Claire’s caught in a dilemma – she doesn’t want to see Mr Hopwood falsely accused, but neither does she want to admit that it’s just the product of her overheated imagination.
Mr Scott (Malcolm Terris) is certainly taken in and storms to the school to confront the man he believes has seduced his daughter. Terris, a television and film regular since the 1960’s, is intimidating in his sole appearance as Claire’s father. Bristling with indignation (“how many other little girls have you been corrupting?”) you certainly get the feeling he’s capable of inflicting serious damage!
All’s well that ends well, as Mrs McClusky is quickly able to deduce that Claire’s diary is a work of fiction. But Mr Hopwood still has to endure the sniggering and finger-pointing from some of the pupils (although since everything’s wrapped up neatly by the end of the episode this is never developed as fully as it could have been).
But it’s still another strong, stand-alone episode from Margaret Simpson, one of Grange Hill‘s most prolific scriptwriters.