Grange Hill – Series Ten, Episode Twelve

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 13th February 1987

Again, you have to wonder exactly what Ant’s getting out of this trip. He has to spend his nights hiding on the boy’s barge (clearly breaching the girl’s one would have been a step too far) so he’s not close to Georgina.  And since she tends to spend her days with the others (and there’s usually a teacher or two around as well) there seems to be few opportunities from them to grab any time together.

At the start of this one he’s somewhat dismayed to find that he can’t sneak away first thing in the morning as the barge has floated away from its mooring.  So he has to hide in one of the toilets, which comes as a surprise to the others ….

Meanwhile, how are our intrepid foursome of Gonch, Trevor, Ziggy and Robbie faring? They made it to the tent and stuck it out through the night, although neither Gonch or Robbie slept at all (they were too frightened by the sounds they could hear outside).  Trevor and Ziggy clearly had less imagination as they slept soundly, but now the time has come to confront their fears.  And they turn out to be … sheep.

I guess you can say that these episodes are somewhat low on the excitement scale.  Also, it’s slightly unbelievable that Mr Scott, who’s been keeping an eye on them, had a tent pitched up very close by.  It might have been dark when they reached their tent the previous evening, but surely they would have spotted that they weren’t alone?  Mr Scott continues to be a transformed man – far removed from the pushover he was at school.  Does this mark the start of a new chapter, or will he regress once he’s back in the corridors of Grange Hill?

The boys are irked that the girls are getting friendly will some local boys.  This inevitably leads to several battles – one of which involves Ziggy stuck up a tree and Freddie yet again bemoaning the fact that his clothes have been ruined.

Mr Scott remains the life and soul of the party.  He digs out a guitar and leads everybody into a somewhat tuneless version of Yellow Submarine.  But while this cacophony is occurring, somehow Freddie is having a doze on his bunk.  But, oh no, the gas has been left on.  Will somebody discover him in time or will he die horribly?  I wonder.  Possibly more interesting is that the others decide to run through the Beatles songbook – next on their torture list is Help although they then decide that Buddy Holly (Oh Boy) deserves their attention as well.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Banksie and Laura seems to have developed off-screen.  Her mother is far from happy that she’s tarted herself up – presumably for his benefit.  As we’ll discover during the remainder of series ten, Mrs Reagan is not a great admirer of Steven Banks.

Mr Scott’s impressive aura already seems to be dissipating.  He tells the others that there’s a hot disco in town – which turns out to be a hop held in the church hall.  “Once a wally, always a wally” mutters Trevor sagely.

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Grange Hill – Series Ten, Episode Eleven

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 10th February 1987

The pupils are en-route to begin their half-term canal boat adventure.  Their journey is illustrated by a brief shot of two mini-buses bombing down the motorway whilst they all enthusiastically sing The Chicken Song (although it quickly descends into la, la, la, as nobody seems to remember the words).

Freddie’s going to be a problem.  He’s commandeered one of the two toilets and turned it into a wardrobe for his incredibly diverse collection of clothes.  Since all he really needs are jeans, a sweater and a comfortable pair of boots, there’s no sensible reason for him to have brought so many expensive togs.  I fear it’s going to be a long week with him on board ….

Mr Kennedy offers a short homily about canal boat safety.  But with the likes of Ziggy, Robbie and Trevor standing by the quayside, this week seems like an accident waiting to happen.  A slight moment of dramatic tension is introduced when we observe a stranger lurking in the bushes, watching the departing boats.  Our mystery man pops up several times throughout the episode, his hand constantly pulling back the bushes – all the better to spy.

Freddie is the first to be allowed to steer the boat, something which irks Ziggy no end.  And why are all the children wearing life jackets but Mr Kennedy and Mr Scott aren’t?  Given the lectures we’ve already had on safety, this seems more than a little remiss.  Fay’s ginormous camcorder is a sign of the times (today you’d probably get better picture quality on a phone).

The relationship between Laura and Banksie was one which I didn’t see coming.  It begins here.  Freddie and Julie want to head out for an evening stroll but Mrs Reagan tells them that they need at least three in their party.  Georgina agrees to go along and Mrs Reagan then corrals an unwilling Banksie to join them. Laura (tiring of Julia’s constant sniping about Freddie) also decides to join them.

But for once, Freddie had an ulterior motive which didn’t involve canoodling with Julie.  The mystery man lurking in the bushes turns out to be Ant (so those brief moments of tension didn’t last long) meaning that Freddie’s turned cupid in order to reunite Georgina and Ant.  Quite why Ant would want to traipse all this way (he’s been seeing Georgina regularly anyway) is slightly baffling and the possibility that his attempt to stowaway will be successful seems to be rather on the low side.

Banksie places an arm around Laura’s shoulders but their interaction goes no further at the moment.  But the fact she doesn’t shrug it off or look askance at him tells its own story.

Ziggy’s a terrible cook.  This is another of those obvious moments – after his proud boast that he would be able to knock them up a tasty meal with no trouble, it would have been more of a surprise had he actually delivered something edible.  Mr Kennedy is once again cast in the role of the long-suffering onlooker – viewing the devastation wreaked in the kitchen with dismay.  Luckily Roland’s on hand to save the day with a cauliflower cheese (although Mr Kennedy did earlier on ask him to keep an eye on Ziggy, something which he rather failed to do).  I guess you can say at present that the interest levels in these various plotlines are quite low.

Mr Scott is also a member of the trip, but the kind-hearted Mr Kennedy decided to stow him far away from the third year boys.  No doubt he quickly began to regret this, since it means that Mr Kennedy has to bear the brunt of their idiotic behaviour.  Jeffrey Kissoon is excellent as the increasingly harassed teacher.

Freddie (ironically dubbed ‘Johnny Cool’ by Gonch) turns out to be an industrial strength snorer, which rather obviously dents his romantic lover image.  A trip to the farm isn’t a highlight for him either – he’s dressed in his snazziest clothes, there’s mud and water around, do I really need to go on?

Gonch and Ronnie have their first argument, although since they’ve only just become an item (on screen at least) this doesn’t carry a great deal of weight.  She’s irked that Gonch and Trevor take it in turns to steer the girl’s barge (she’d agreed that only Gonch could do so).  That Gonch still likes to lark about with the boys (Trevor has now completely shook off his briefly held bully persona) shouldn’t really have come as any surprise to her though.

Mr Kennedy, now incandescent with rage at the boys, decides that Robbie, Ziggy, Trevor and Gonch should go camping – but first they have to start from the middle of nowhere and find their tent.  And if they don’t discover it then they’re likely to have a long, cold and hungry night.  Mr Scott explains the rules to them – here he’s far removed from his earlier, hesitant school-based persona.

It’s a bit of a con of course, the teachers are monitoring them from a distance, but it’s mildly entertaining nonetheless.  A pity that they couldn’t film at night though (instead we have a night filter placed on the camera). The episode ends with one of the barges genty floating downstream at night …

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Grange Hill – Series Ten, Episode Ten

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Written by Margaret Simpson.  Tx 6th February 1987

Gonch is back and bearing gifts.  They’re mostly for Ronnie – earrings, a scarf and first of all a bunch of flowers.

Mr Glover pops up for the first time this year.  He’s his usual charmless self and today is baffled as to why everybody’s raising money for Danny.  As one of the more anti-social members of the school community he wonders why anyone would waste their time on him (he doesn’t quite come out and say it wouldn’t matter if he lived or died, but that seems to be his general drift).

Besides, he believes all these extra-curricular activities are getting in the way of Grange Hill providing their pupils with a decent education.  This is a not unreasonable point (in this episode Freddie seems to live in the radio room, so quite how he’s managing to do his schoolwork is a mystery) but Mr Glover doesn’t seem to comprehend that the school should also operate as a community. When it does, then it can teach important life sessons.

As a businessman he seems to embrace the Thatcherite ideal that there’s no such thing as society.  Everybody should look out for themselves and the weak are presumably left to perish.  No wonder that Julia rolls her eyes rather delightfully at this latest diatribe.

Gonch isn’t the only returnee as Laura’s back after a long absence.  Although Gonch’s absence was scripted – Laura’s presumably just been hanging around the school always just out of shot.

As a recovering addict, it’s possibly not surprising that Zammo’s become a master of manipulation.  He wants Jackie to come with him to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting during half term.  This means she would miss the canal trip – but this is all the better in Zammo’s eyes, as he doesn’t like the thought of her and Banksie being stuck together for a week on the same barge.  So is Zammo being sincere when he tells her that he needs her moral support during this difficult period or does he simply not want to risk that she might restart her relationship with Banksie?  If it’s the latter then he’s clearly not a trusting person ….

It was already hinted at last time, but Gonch’s return has something of a destabilising effect.  Hollo finds himself a little sidelined as Gonch is now spending more time with Ronnie than he is with him.  Vince is put out that Hollo shares the secret of their underground secret den (he might want to bring Ronnie – a girl! – back there) whilst even Calley exchanges a brief look with Hollo that suggests she’s not terribly happy with the current situation either.  Although to be fair to Calley she’s much more understanding than Hollo is.

Banksie attempts once more to win Jackie back, but with the same lack of success.  And his face falls even further when she tells him that she’s not going on the canal trip after all (Gonch will be taking his place) as instead she’ll be accompanying Zammo to Narcotics Anonymous.  Poor Banksie, his plaintive cry of “oh why don’t you like me?” after Jackie leaves the common room would surely melt even the hardest of hearts.

Donkey watch.  A Harriet free episode, hurrah!

And so we bid farewell to Imelda.  After her violent antics in the previous episode she leaves in a much more low-key way.  After yet another classroom disagreement she sinks to the floor and refuses to move.  So the passing Mr Mackenzie clears the room and tells her that he can wait there all day until she decides to get up by herself.  Mrs McClusky decides expulsion is the only answer and asks Mr Glover, who’s popped by to harangue her about various matters, to sanction it.  The way his eyes light up make it clear this is something he’s more than happy to do!

We meet Mrs Davis (Marcia King) for the first and last time.  Although it’s recently been revealed that Imelda meets with an educational psychologist we’ve not (unlike Roland) been privy to any of those meetings.  Therefore Imelda’s always remained an unfathomable character.

Will Mrs Davis provide any pointers as to why her daughter is the way she is?  Well Mrs Davis is a little brassy and, to begin with, unconcerned.  She knows that her daughter is (at best) naughty but presumably considers that it’s the school’s problem, not hers.  Only when Mrs McClusky tells her that Imelda will have to leave and possibly attend a special unit (for children like Imelda “who are a little disturbed and have difficulty fitting in”) does she react.  Mrs Davis curls her lip at this.  “You teachers. The labels you put on people”.

Mr Kennedy wishes Imelda all the best as she leaves, but characteristically she doesn’t respond. Therefore she remains an enigma right until the end.

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Grange Hill – Series Ten, Episode Nine

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Written by Margaret Simpson.  Tx 3rd February 1987

I do believe Mr Bronson is human after all.  Spying Banksie walking to school he offers him a lift in his car.  Banksie initially refuses, but Mr Bronson isn’t taking no for an answer and eventually the boy agrees.  The teacher listens sympathetically to the reason why he no longer brings his motorbike to school (left outside in the street it’s liable to get knocked about) and decides that if it was left in the carpark then it would be safer.

All this and apologising for accusing him of wrecking his car too.  I wonder what’s caused this sudden sea change, could it be Danny’s illness?  There’s certainly a much more conciliatory air about Mr Bronson at present – witness the way he organises a lunchtime meeting to consider ways they can raise funds for Danny’s family.

It’s strange though to see him stripped of his usual arrogance as it’s such a defining character trait.  Without it he’s curiously vulnerable – this is most evident when he’s standing outside the assembly hall, fretting that his meeting will be poorly attended.  The reason?  Everybody’s attending a rival meeting organised by the pupils in the radio room.

His sudden cheerleading for Danny doesn’t go down well with everyone – most notably Miss Booth, who’s in something of a stroppy mood anyway.  She’s not pleased with Mr Bronson’s sudden adoption of Danny as Grange Hill’s favourite son and she’s even less delighted when Mr Kennedy takes over editorial control of the radio station.  Her bad day continues when Ziggy tells her she’s not welcome at their meeting (although it’s plain he doesn’t speak for the others).

Ziggy’s in a rather arrogant mood, which isn’t like him.  He declares that he’ll raise funds for Danny by scaling the highest building in the school and planting a banner (shades of Tucker J).  But before he can get started he needs money for the banner and a safety harness, meaning that his capital outlay makes it hard to imagine he’ll end up making that much money.  And whilst he claims to be doing it all for Danny, it seems to be more about Ziggy’s lust for glory.  As I said, a tad unusual.  He does manage to get some money from the others though, a point which will become important later ….

Imelda, it may not surprise you to learn, is still causing trouble.  It’s serious this time though as she gets involved in a classroom scrap which results in a bloody nose for Ronnie and general mayhem.  An unusual high shot gives us a bird’s-eye view of this short, but explosive piece of action.

Mr Scott’s not present (he’d already hightailed it out to find Mr Kennedy).  The older teacher doesn’t seem terribly pleased to be called, which no doubt only serves to fray Mr Scott’s already shattered nerves some more.  So Imelda is removed from class for the day with the warning that she’s well on the way to being suspended – something which appears to fill her with complete indifference.

Banksie and Jackie – separately  – take the opportunity to bend Fay’s ear.  Banksie’s wondering if he should go on the forthcoming canal trip as he can’t bear being close to Jackie if she’s still not speaking to him.  Jackie meanwhile is ruminating on her reactivated relationship with Zammo.  Fay, who’s been frantically studying all year, possibly isn’t too bothered about either of their tangled love lives but is too polite to say so.

It’s very odd to see Calley, Ronnie and Hollo together as they’re not a natural trio.  The reason quickly becomes clear as the girls have news – Gonch is due back soon.  But that’s not all – he and Ronnie are an item and have been for a while.  Hollo is unbelieving, surely Gonch would have shared this news with his best friend?  A surprising revelation that’s for sure and it’s a little odd that it’s not been mentioned before.

Donkey watch.  Helen is clearly very fond of Harriet (nothing else could excuse the baby talk she indulges in) whilst Imelda is much less so.  We can tell that Imelda’s a rotter by the way that she kicks the donkey, although this does have an ulterior motive.  She wants Ziggy’s money, which he’s hidden in Harriet’s stable ….

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Grange Hill – Series Ten, Episode Eight

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Written by Rosemary Mason.  Tx 31st January 1987

Mr Griffiths isn’t happy with the piles of bottles which are accumulating around the school.  “Mark my words they’ll be broken bottles and tears”.  This point is made seconds later after Mr Bronson reverses his car into a crate of bottles and smashes them.  Oh dear.

The radio room is taking shape.  I daresay that if this episode was repeated today then they’d probably pixilate the prominent poster of Dave Lee Travis.  The common room posters of Gary Davies and Bruno Brookes would be acceptable though.

Ant make his latest appearance, today he’s walking Georgina to school.  He’s not changed since he was a GH pupil – He’s still the same sullen, stroppy person that we grew to love (or not) last year.  It hasn’t taken him long to find his new school as tiresome as his old, although since there’s no Mr Bronson there it’s unclear what his problem now is.

Mrs McClusky stands for no nonsense as she quietens down the rowdier third-formers who are carousing through the corridors.  “I said walk, Trevor Cleaver, not stand still and smirk”.

Mr Scott continues to be a forlorn figure.  His body language as he sits in his orange Mini makes it plain that he’s continuing to fight his nerves.  The way that Mr Kennedy is suddenly revealed at his window comes as a surprise both to him and the audience.  Mr Kennedy makes the point that it’s better if he’s in the classroom before the pupils arrive (he made the same suggestion some time ago) but it seems that it doesn’t work.  Nothing seems to work, which is why he continues to flounder.  Given that Imelda is his main problem (something which is acknowledged by Mr Kennedy) is does seem a little mean that a green, young teacher has been gifted her.

Imelda might be an isolated figure – despised by all her classmates – but she still continues to rule the roost.  But there are signs that they’ve all lost their patience with her (and indeed with Mr Scott) which means that the teacher has to endure the sight of his pupils attempting to restore order, when of course it should be his job.

The question of closed profiles continues to rumble on.  The likes of Freddie and Danny aren’t particularly happy – Danny wonders what would happen if a teacher, who didn’t care for a pupil, decided to write something inaccurate or defamatory.  What checks and balances are in place?  Mr Bronson can’t really answer this and since Danny’s illness became public he’s had to tread somewhat softly with him (which is possibly the reason why he’s now singled out Banksie for special treatment.  Mr Bronson clearly always has to have someone he can needle).

Having earlier given Mr Scott a pep talk, Mr Kennedy then moves onto Mr Bronson.  The older teacher laments Danny’s illness (“young potential wasted”) which surprises Mr Kennedy, who naturally enough believed that Mr Bronson had little time for the boy.  Mr Bronson offers this in reply.  “It is often the most gifted of pupils who kick against the system. It doesn’t make the system wrong or the pupils not worth bothering about”.  A rare insight into the way Mr Bronson’s mind works o a desperate attempt to justify his previous actions?

Hollo and Vince decide that the bottle money should go to Danny Kendal’s fund whilst Ziggy and Robbie continue to attempt to crack the girl’s secret code.  This involves the pair hiding in the hay of Harriet’s stable in order to overhear their conversation.  This is such a brilliant scheme it’s hard to imagine anything going wrong.

Oh wait, this is Ziggy and Robbie we’re talking about, the pair who spent last year atempting – and failing – to gain revenge over Imelda on a weekly basis so of course their great plan is doomed.  It wasn’t too clever for Ziggy’s foot to be sticking out of the hay.

The radio is now set up for a test transmission.  Mr Bronson views the set-up with disfavour and is not backwards in coming forwards to say so.  He can’t resist flicking a few switches and impatiently ignores Miss Booth’s admonition (“I’m not a complete idiot”).  Those are fatal words as you know that the microphone will now be live and their private conversation will be broadcast around the school.  This mainly involves Mr Mackenzie jibing Mr Bronson about the scandal which exists between him and Harriet.  The mind boggles …..

Calley, Ronnie and Jane gain revenge over Imelda.  It’s noticeable how Jane this year has moved back into the centre of things having sat out a large part of the previous series.  And whist the girls are getting messy, Danny’s inspirational message continues to be broadcast around the school.  But the sting in the tale is that his message was recorded as Roland discovers when he finds an unconscious Danny on the radio room floor.

This is the cue for an unusual end credits sequence as the scene of the ambulance arriving and everybody staring anxiously plays out as the titles roll and Chicken Man plays.

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Grange Hill – Series Ten, Episode Seven

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Written by Rosemary Mason.  Tx 27th January 1987

You have to feel a little sorry for Banksie.  After pursuing Jackie for the last few years he finally got his wish – as they became an item – only for her to now dump him without a word.  At the end of the last episode we saw him discover the truth (he angrily wobbled away on his motorbike).

He’s back on his bike at the start of this one, as he catches up with Jackie on the way to school.  It seems that Jackie hasn’t even told him it’s over to his face (and since she’s clearly been pining for Zammo all this time, possibly she was never interested in him in the first place anyway).

This means that Banksie’s not in the best of moods so when he’s subjected to one of Mr Bronson’s “You boy!” he reacts in a typically truculent manner.  This is the first “You boy!” we’ve heard in a while – nice to have it back on the school timetable again.  Mr Bronson isn’t happy that Banksie’s brought his bike into school (motorised transport driven by pupils is strictly forbidden on school grounds) whilst Banksie’s clearly not pleased at being spoken to as if he was a small child.

But Mr Bronson’s main interests are elsewhere.  He’s very irked (to put it mildly) that Danny threw his diary into the fishpond (Danny’s response is that he won’t need it anymore).  This scene is shot behind Mr Bronson – we see Danny through the crook of Mr Bronson’s arm – which is an usual framing device (normally GH tends to be rather plainly directed with few interesting flourishes).  The meaning behind Danny’s statement isn’t spelled out, so for now we remain in the dark.

We meet Mr Kendall (Chris Saunders) who’s come to the school ostensibly to talk about the radio scheme but he – like Mrs McClusky – also wants to discuss Danny.  Rather embarrassingly they’re at complete cross-purposes.  She believes that he’s going to confirm that Danny’s on drugs – well he is, but only because he’s very ill.  It seems more than a little foolhardy to suggest to a parent that their son is a drug addict without any firm proof.

Roland, Danny’s instant best new friend, happens to be eavesdropping outside the office and hears everything.  Treatment is available – via a special unit in Aberdeen – but it will incur costs, so Roland immediately heads off to do a spot of fundraising.  So in an instant Danny has changed from being an enigma to some and an irritation to others.  From this point on he’s the recipient of sympathy from all.  Even Mr Bronson.

Mr Scott’s registration period remains a battleground.  Today Imelda mercilessly teases Ronnie about her unrequited passion for the teacher.  This is illusionary of course (we’re not heading down the Fay/Mr King road anytime soon) but it helps to keep the pressure stoked up.  A non-verbal signifier of Mr Scott’s continuing discipline problems can be seen on the blackboard, which is covered with scrawled messages (remarkably none of them are rude).

Banksie continues to carry his black mood into Miss Partidge’s lesson.  A spot of role-play allows him to articulate his anger at being cast aside by Jackie (a bad move that Miss Partridge elected to pair the two of them together in an exercise which cast him as a surly waiter and her as a customer).  And if this doesn’t entertain then you can always just sit back and admire the jumpers worn by the extras.

Roland’s transformation from an outsider and misfit (seen during 1982 to 1984) to a rounded member of the school community (from 1985 onwards) continues here.  He’s passionate about the radio station – partly because he thinks it’s a good idea but mostly because he wants to fulfil Danny’s wish – and his gift of the gab means he’s able to blag some free cable from a local electrical shop.

He marshals some of the others – such as Robbie and Ziggy – into helping, although things don’t quite go the way they should have done.  Some runaway cable provides a limp comedy moment which comes complete with a prat-falling milkman.  And then it turns out that they took the wrong cable, although it’s hard to blame them for this mistake as surely one lot of cable would look pretty much like another.

Grange Hill are collecting bottles, so Vince and Hollo decide to pick up as many as they can.  Remember what I said about their largely excitement free plotlines?  I miss Gonch.

Donkey watch.  This was shaping up to be a Harriet-free episode, but no she makes a brief appearance at the end as a stroppy Imelda lets her roam free.  It looks as if Harriet was responsible for damaging Mr Bronson’s car but he decides (with no evidence) that Banksie was responsible.  We’ve been here before with Mr Bronson jumping to conclusions ….

Mr Bronson enters the sixth form common room just as Banksie demonstrates his unique way of dealing with dirty coffee mugs – he throws it against the wall, smashing it to pieces (“now no-one will have to wash it up, will they?”)  Mr Bronson doesn’t like that. “You, vandal! My car and now this!”  The truth later comes to light as he spies a large pile of donkey droppings by his car (weren’t they there before?).  “She will have to go” he mutters.  Yes please.

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Betjeman – The Collection. Simply Media DVD Review

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Sir John Betjeman (1906 – 1984) described himself with characteristic understatement in Who’s Who as a “poet and hack”.  There was rather more to him than that though – he was a writer, broadcaster and from 1972 until his death also served as the Poet Laureate.

Betjeman’s love of architecture (especially from the Victorian era) and landscape is explored in detail across the three series which make up this boxset – A Passion for Churches, Bird’s Eye View and Four with Betjeman: Victorian Architects and Architecture.

Four With Betjeman finds him indulging one of his most strongly held passions – that of the Victorian architects and the buildings they left behind.  “I have known for years and so have most of you that there were great Victorian architects, but they have never been given their due. Today, thank goodness, we can see Victorian architecture in perspective”.

This excerpt from a contemporary Daily Telegraph review articulates just why this short series was so entertaining and absorbing.  “There is a precision about his informed enthusiasm which enables one to see the most familiar buildings, such as the Houses of Parliament, in a new light … Sir John, who succeeds in making his conducted tours seem addressed to a personal friend, can move without pause from an appreciation of shape and proportion to an anecdote about an Irish peer rolling the full length of a Barry staircase”.

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Four With Betjeman contains four half-hour programmes – (Charles Barry & Augustus PuginWilliam Butterfield & Gilbert ScottAlfred Waterhouse & Norman ShawSir Ninian ComperWilliam Robinson & Sir Edwin Lutyens).

In Bird’s Eye View we, unsurprisingly, observe Britain from a different angle as we take to the air for an unusual take on the familiar.  The first programme, An Englishman’s Home, sees Betjeman waxing lyrical (with the occasional sharp barb) as the camera swoops over a diverse selection of dwellings.  From stately castle, Georgian terrace, suburban semi to looming concrete tower blocks, Betjeman has words for all.  His comments on tower blocks (“but where can be the heart that sends a family to the twentieth floor in such a slab as this?”) carries a particular resonance today, following the disaster at Grenfell Tower.

From the same series, Beside the Seaside is a treat as we tour past some of England’s most popular seaside destinations.  The somewhat faded colour print helps to give the visuals a faint air of melancholy.

A swooping seagull takes its flight
From Weymouth to the Isle of Wight
From Cornish cliff tops wild and bare
To crowds at Weston-super-Mare
The seaside seen as history
Bournemouth, Butlin’s and Torquay
Whatever paddles, surfs or sails
Braves the waves or rides the gales
A scrapbook made at Christmastime
Of summer joys in film and rhyme

The title music for Bird’s Eye View is a typically jazzy piece from John Dankworth (the incidentals are more classically inclined, all the better to compliment Betjeman’s words).

Also included on the same disc is One Man’s Country – Cornwall (1964).  This isn’t part of the Bird’s Eye View series, but since it has a similar style it fits well with the two later programmes.  The stark black and footage of Cornwall is very striking and helps to make it especially memorable.

Although he’s not on camera, these three programmes (a perfect marriage of visuals and Bejeman’s poetic prose) are probably my favourite from the set.  Both of the Bird’s Eye View programmes run for fifty minutes whilst Cornwall is shorter, at twenty five.

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A Passion for Churches (1974) sees Betjeman explore his long-held fascination with church architecture.  “What would you be, you wide East Anglian sky, without church towers to recognise you by?”  His love of churches began exactly sixty years prior to this, as the eight-year old Betjeman went rowing on the River Bure in Norfolk with his father.  Delightfully, this film opens with Betjeman re-enacting this. He then moves on to take a whistle-stop tour around the area.

From Medieval stained glass and brass rubbings, to weddings and the Edwardian parish church on the Queen’s estate of Sandringham, A Passion for Churches is another leisurely treat.  As with all the programmes, the visuals are anchored by Betjeman’s measured, poetic narration.

Also included on the same disc are ABC of Churches (two episodes of approx. 23 minutes, 1961), Journey to Bethlehem (30 minutes, 1966) and a ten-minute fragment from a later edition of the ABC of Churches series (since the two complete editions only go from A – F, presumably the others were wiped).  All of these, unlike A Passion for Churches, are in black and white.

I’m sure that Doctor Who fans will appreciate the tour of Aldbourne’s church (memorably later depicted in 1971’s The Daemons) in the first edition of ABC of Churches whilst Journey to Bethlehem still captures the attention some fifty years on.

Given the age of the source materials, the picture quality is naturally a little variable.  The colour film prints are rather faded in places, although the black and white prints aren’t in too bad a condition at all.  But everything’s perfectly watchable with no major picture glitches to report.

A wonderful collection of programmes, Betjeman – The Collection should appeal to anybody interested in archive documentaries. Recommended.

Betjeman – The Collection is released by Simply Media on the 23rd of October 2017.  It can be ordered direct from Simply here.

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