Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Eighteen

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 22nd April 1985

The opening night of the school musical – Brighton Rock – is nearly here, but discord is still rife.  The lack of decent sets remains an issue, although Zammo is more concerned about the absence of any bikes, bitterly reflecting that they’re going to be the only Mods and Rockers who ever had to walk to Brighton.

Something certainly seems to be lacking and help comes from a most unexpected quarter – namely Mr Bronson.  After a year terrorising most of the pupils (and some of the staff!) he demonstrates his more approachable side after he corrals Vince into extracting sound effects from the film Death Race 2000.  Mr Bronson hopes that this will help to spice things up, although Mr Smart is less convinced.

Those with long memories will remember Gonch’s wheeze of copying tapes from the video shop owned by Vince’s dad (that explains how Mr Bronson discovered the tape of Death Race 2000 on the media resources machine).  Michael Sheard is on fine form as Mr Bronson informs Gonch that his old eyes get a little tired towards the end of term, but they’ll be undimmed at the start of the next.

It’s a pity that this new, briefly human, Mr Bronson doesn’t achieve rapprochement with Zammo.  After spending the year riling the boy, this part of the plot just fades away (next year Mr Bronson will have a new unfortunate – Ant Jones – to victimise and his contact with Zammo will be minimal).

Mr Baxter, standing in for the ever-absent headmaster, and Mrs McClusky are sandwiched either side of the Mayor, who regards the unfolding first night entertainment with a long suffering air.  Everybody seems convinced that something’s missing in the performance, although quite what is hard to say.

Banksie, after smashing up the sets, makes amends by persuading his brother Phil and some of his mates to bring their bikes into the auditorium.  When Mrs McClusky hears of this she’s not at all sure it’s a good idea (understandably) but Mr Bronson once again is on the side of the pupils.  Is this because he’s remembering his own salad days?  He seems to confess as much to Mr Smart at one point, although imagining Mr Bronson as either a Mod or a Rocker is something of a stretch ….

The bikes make an appearance, although since all they do is drive onto the stage and park up, you have to wonder whether it was worth all that effort.  The play comes to a decent conclusion thanks not to the bikes but because the final song is suitably stirring.  It claims that strife between warring groups can be settled if only everyone could learn to love one another.  It’s a nice, albeit hopelessly optimistic, sentiment and ties in neatly to the running theme of Grange Hill vs Brookdale vs Rodney Bennett.  Zammo and Jackie of course have been attempting to bridge this gap all year, although with limited success.

Whilst the 1985 Christmas Special touches on several topics (Roland’s lost love, the struggle between Cally’s real and adoptive mothers) developed during series eight, it was made as part of the production block for series nine, so series eight ends here.

Various characters – Jimmy Flynn, Julian Fairbrother, Annette Firman, Mandy Firth – all bow out with no ceremony.  Annette is at least mentioned at the start of the next series, the others join the list of the Grange Hill forgotten – pupils who simply disappear and are never referred to again.

Ben Rea’s sole year as producer introduced a host of characters who would have long term futures with the series and although at times the plotlines seemed not to be terribly well developed (frequently dropped or picked up again with little ceremony) it’s still an agreeable run of episodes.

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Seventeen

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 17th April 1985

Hollo has a brainwave about how to assemble a new set for the school play at short notice – raid the rubbish dump for suitable material.  Along with Miss Booth and the rest of E1 they head down to the dump to pick up numerous likely objects.  The fact that everything’s bound to be rusty and filthy doesn’t seem to concern Miss Booth, but I guess that needs must.

The new set doesn’t go down well with all the performers and Fay’s sporting commitments means that she’s not able to make a vital rehearsal.  This is all too much for Miss Washington who goes into something of a tizzy.  Miss Washington is sporting an interesting dress – something she’s worn before, but with a plain black dress over the top of it.

Roland’s back from his French misadventure and naturally enough doesn’t really want to talk about it.  Unluckily for him, Janet’s present to fill in all of the embarrassing details.  Now that Fabienne’s departed, so has Roland’s striped jacket and beret, although this particular storyline will be referenced again in the 1985 Christmas Special.

Jackie and Banksie are still serving their suspension.  Time is clearly hanging heavily on their hands, as we see them aimlessly wheel around on a roundabout in a deserted children’s playground.   There’s rather a nice bleakness to this scene – although it’s a sunny day, the inner-city feel of the location matches Banksie’s dialogue.  He tells Jackie they’d better get used to doing nothing, after all that’s what they’ll be doing after they leave school.

This nihilistic attitude has been aired by others before, with numerous pupils wondering why (like Jackie) they should be fretting about exams when there’s no jobs to go to after they leave school.  It’s not been touched upon for a while, so this moment helps to anchor the series in the mid eighties, when unemployment was still high.

Mr Smart continues to entertain (his transformation from the cold, unbending teacher of previous years is now complete).  Make no mistake, he’s not a man to cross, but his newly found sense of humour has certainly fleshed his character out.  Here he once again crosses swords with Gonch, who had popped into his office to retrieve Mr Bronson’s wig.  Simon Heywood doesn’t milk the comedy, but his incredulous reaction that the tattered hairpiece is Mr Bronson’s (at one point he gingerly pushes it across the desk with a pencil) is nicely done.  As is the moment when he hands Mr Bronson a small parcel containing his lost property.

With Mr Smart due to write to Gonch’s parents to tell them exactly how badly behaved he’s been all year (slightly odd that he hasn’t done so before) Gonch starts to fret about how well, or not, he’s going to do in the upcoming exams.  So naturally enough he decides to cheat ….

Even for Gonch, this is a particularly hairbrained scheme.  We’re told that Vince is a bit of a swot (not the first time this year that a character trait has been dropped on us out of the blue) and has prepared tapes which will help him in the exams.  Gonch “borrows” one such tape for a French exam, but Ronnie decides to swop it (for The Meteors – presumably it was 1985’s Monkey Breath) and everything goes downhill from there.  It’s quite interesting to see Trevor, introduced in episode one as something of a hard-man, tell Gonch that he’s mad to try and cheat in the exam.  For whatever reason it wasn’t decided to follow through and make Trevor the class bully – the introduction of Imelda will help to fill that gap.

The identities of the set smashers hasn’t been one of the series’ most taxing mysteries and N4 take their own brand out vengeance out on Banksie and his shadow, Loop.

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Sixteen

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Written by Margaret Simpson.  Tx 15th April 1985

It’s time to bid a fond farewell to the French exchange students.  But Roland doesn’t seem to be too upset that he’s going to be parted from Fabienne, which no doubt has something to do with the fact that he’s decided to stow away with them on the return trip to France ….

Like the pelican crossing protests in the previous episode, this is another story beat that comes to us cold.  We’ve seen that Roland and Fabienne have been close, but since the ground for his misadventure hasn’t been laid at all, it comes across as a rather half-hearted escapade.  But it does give us our only chance this year to see Mike Savage as Mr Browning who, as ever, gives us his best hangdog expression when he learns the news, courtesy of the ever-zealous Janet (poor Mr Browning has had more than his fair share of strife with Roland over the years).

The cross-channel ferry crossing was done on the cheap – a quick bit of stock footage and then a cut to what is supposed to be a rough crossing (plenty of camera moves and overlaid mist).  Not terribly convincing, but then for such a short sequence it’s hardly surprising that they had to quickly cobble something together.

For those keeping up with the Zammo/Jackie relationship, it’s off again.  We never actually see Jackie (or Banksie) in this episode, but Julian breaks the bad news to Zammo that they’ve been seen together.  I have to admit that this eternal triangle is starting to wear a little thin with me, thankfully series nine shakes things up, as  Zammo spends the year otherwise engaged ….

Ronnie cleans Mr Bronson’s wig after Gonch asks her nicely.  Poor Mr Bronson has had to resort to wearing his emergency hair-piece, which causes a certain amount of merriment (even Mrs McClusky isn’t immune).  The question still remains about how they can return it though.

One of the longest running threads of series eight is finally brought to a conclusion as the identity of the thieves is discovered – Emma Stebson, her brother Gripper and Denny Rees.  Okay, let’s just stop for a moment and consider this – Gripper and Denny (both of whom would be recognisable to many of the pupils and staff) have apparently been wandering around the school corridors during the daytime for weeks on end, carrying out armfuls of swag.  Really?

It’s even more remarkable that we don’t even see them – we just hear their voices on Gonch’s Walkman.  At last his staffroom bugging came up trumps, it’s just a pity (for him) that Mrs McClusky, Mr McCartney and Mr Smart learn about it.  Mrs McClusky asks him, dangerously sweetly, if listening to the staff’s tittle tattle is very interesting.  Whenever Mrs McClusky is particularly pleasant you know there’s danger.  I also like the way that Mr Smart launches into full judicial mode when interrogating Gonch – grasping his lapels like he was at the Old Bailey.

With the robberies wrapped up, that just leaves the school play to sort out.  Everything seems to be going swimmingly, until it’s discovered that all the sets have been slashed.  Was this the work of Gripper or did someone else with a grudge against the school do the deed?

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Fifteen

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Written by John Godber.  Tx 10th April 1985

Following her sons accident, Mrs Wallace (Zienia Merton), leads a spirited demonstration outside the school, calling for a pelican crossing.

This demo comes rather out of the blue, since we’ve seen no preparations previously.  But on the plus side it’s good to see Zienia Merton (probably best known for Space 1999) as a crusading parent.  What’s really interesting about these early scenes is that some of the other teachers – Miss Booth and Miss Washington – have already decided that Mrs McClusky is bound to react unfavourably.

It’s therefore ironic that Mrs McClusky is shown to be fully in favour of the aims of the demonstration.  She also calmly points out that blocking the road will do little good and instead will only serve to alienate both the police and motorists.  Mrs Wallace, in the white heat of anger, eventually comes around, but it’s much more surprising that Miss Booth or Miss Washington take so long to grasp this obvious point.

This episode is probably the best so far during series eight for Gwyneth Powell.  Mrs McClusky tangles entertainingly with Mr Bronson (always a delight when those two lock horns) and she also faces off against the builders.  They’ve returned to start work in earnest but have to shamefacedly admit that the reason they’re so far behind is because they’ve been nipping off to help the old folk with their house repairs.

Once again, there’s an inversion of our expectations – everything seems to be set up for Mrs McClusky to react in anger to this news, but instead she cues up Mr Bronson to splutter indignantly before swiftly cutting him off to sweetly praise them for their community spirit.  Lovely!

John Godber was a very infrequent contributor to the series (this was the third of his five scripts).  A pity, because there’s some sharp character work here (especially amongst the staff).  Another enjoyable moment comes when Mr Smart and Mr Baxter discuss Mr Smart’s forthcoming Hardy exhibition.  Mr Smart clearly assumes that Mr Baxter is unaware of Thomas Hardy, although Mr Baxter firmly makes the point that this isn’t so.  Mr Baxter’s disgusted expression is a delight (and continuity wise it ties back to series six, where we learnt that he has a great love of English literature).

There’s a nice literary joke when the builders confess to Mr Smart that everything’s taken so long because a good deal of the wood in the school is rotten and has to be replaced.  He wanders off, muttering that there’s “something rotten in the state of Denmark”, much to the builder’s bemusement (who later conclude he must have had a bad holiday there!).  I don’t know how many of the target audience would have got this Shakespearian joke, so maybe it was one for the parents watching.

The other running thread of the episode concerns Hollo’s new blazer and shoes.  This doesn’t really work, mainly because his blazer doesn’t look different from anybody else’s and we never see his shoes.  But it does allow Robbie to indulge in that time-honoured school gag (pinching Hollo’s clothes from the changing rooms, leaving the poor boy trouserless).

Hollo and Gonch have also done some pinching though, taking Mr Bronson’s wig (the teacher was enjoying a swim and had left it by the side of the pool).  It’s our first opportunity to see Mr Bronson sans wig (“he’s bald!” exclaims Hollo) and it leads into another great comic scene as the two boys, playing about with the hairpiece in the changing rooms, suddenly hear Mr Bronson approaching and have to swiftly hide the offending toupee.  Alas, Gonch shoves it in the rubbish bin, where it gets rather dusty!

So as the episode ends, Mr Bronson has lost his wig and Hollo is deficient in the trouser department.  Not the most dramatic of cliffhangers true, but an effective way to close one of the stronger episodes from series eight.

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Fourteen

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 3rd April 1985

There’s something a little odd going at the start of this episode.  Fay is agonising over how to tell Julian that she no longer wants to go out with him, but since they’ve never had that sort of relationship this doesn’t make any sense.  Julian’s got other things on his mind though – his beloved dog, Bumper, is nearing the end of his life, but Julian remains in denial, convinced that he’s going to get better.

Banksie’s latest plan for some quality time with Jackie involves taking his brother’s stock car for a spin, with Jean-Paul and Sarah tagging along.  Banksie might tell the others that his brother, Phil (John Blundell) is totally fine with this, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that when Phil does make an appearance he’s going to be less than impressed.

Blundell (who had previously appeared in both the tv version and film of Scum) is menacing as Phil, probably because he doesn’t get angry.  His self-control, mildly telling his younger brother that it might be a good idea to flag down the car (Jean-Paul driving, Sarah sitting beside him) sooner rather than later, carries with it a certain chill as we can sense the inherent threat of violence behind his calm words.  This is put into action when he starts to give Banksie a few slaps and Jackie backs away in fear.

The next day Banksie turns up to school with a battered face, courtesy of his brother.  As with the familial beatings issued to pupils during the first few series, this isn’t dwelled upon – except in an obliquely approving way.  Since Banksie was in the wrong he deserved such a beating (which is certainly Zammo’s conclusion).

As for Jean-Paul and Sarah, he might have been a good driver but his luck finally runs out and he turns the car over (a nicely mounted stunt).  He walks away without a scratch but Sarah is hospitalised with a broken arm and facial bruising.  Sarah’s last moment in the episode – which also turned out to be Joanne Bell’s final scene in Grange Hill – is a powerful one, as she silently turns her ravaged face away from Jean-Paul who, finally shocked into a semblance of responsibility (or possibly he’s simply worried about the reception he’ll receive back home from his strict parents) visits her in hospital.

With Mr Humphries mysteriously absent once again, it falls to Mrs McClusky to host the parents meeting with Mr Wright, Mrs Wilks and Mrs Banks.  Mrs Banks was obviously played by a non-speaking extra though, so has nothing to say!  Mrs Wilks is much more voluble, although Mrs McClusky isn’t inclined to agree with her view that Sarah was totally innocent, so Jackie, Banksie and Sarah are all suspended indefinitely.

With Mrs McClusky now effectively back as the head, it does make you wonder why they decided to demote her to deputy if they weren’t going to follow through with any decent storylines on this topic.  It wasn’t the first and won’t be the last time that the head is an off-screen character, but at least here it’s not long until the matter is resolved.

With Banksie and Jackie suspended, that leaves an opening in the school play and Fay and Julian are drafted in at short notice.  It means they’ll have to work closely together, but now that the exciting, but reckless, Jean-Paul has returned to France, Fay regards the steady and reliable Julian more warmly.

Although since Julian doesn’t return in 1986, we’re not too far away from Fay’s next – and most catastrophic – choice of boyfriend …..

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Thirteen

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Written by Frances Galleymore.  Tx 1st April 1985

Possibly inspired by Mr Baxter’s previous complaints that the others keep on finishing off the coffee without replacing it, the staff room is now the proud recipient of an imposing new vending machine.  Mr Smart and Miss Washington aren’t impressed though, she comments that it just makes a terrible groaning noise and doesn’t deliver, leading him to respond that it sounds like the school in general.  Mrs McClusky, of course, just happens to wander into the staff room at that precise moment ….

Caroline Gruber has another opportunity to demonstrate Miss Washington’s doe-eyed appeal after Mrs McClusky expresses her opinion that some of the first years (especially the ones in Miss Washington’s charge) are pushing the school uniform rules to the limit.  It’s plain that Mrs McClusky believes that the younger teacher isn’t setting them a good example, but politeness – and Mrs McClusky is sweetness personified during this scene – dictates that she doesn’t openly come out and say so.

There’s some later nice staff-room interplay (Mr Bronson complaining about the level of smoke and continuing to bemoan the fact that others have taken his seat) but the episode revolves around two main areas – Eric’s accident and the babysitting misadventures at the McCartneys.

Those with fairly long memories might recall that Eric, previously revealed to be partially deaf, featured in an earlier series eight episode.  The poor boy is now the recipient of Janet’s interest (who seems to have finally decided that Roland – constantly speaking French – is now totally absorbed with Fabienne) but she wasn’t there at the moment when Eric stepped out into the road and was knocked over.

I’m not sure whether Eric’s deafness is supposed to be a factor here – but this doesn’t make much sense if so, surely he’d have looked left and right to check the road was clear before crossing?  Possibly he was simply chosen because whilst not a main cast member (whose absence would be problematic) he was still someone with a higher profile than a non-speaking extra – and therefore his accident would carry a little more impact.

If that was the case, they could have used Diane.  Although she has a couple of lines in this episode, they only highlight just how underused she’s been throughout series eight (whereas during 83/84 she’d featured quite prominently).  It seemed that once her spots faded away so did any thoughts about developing her character, so she’ll not return in 1986.

One point of interest is the way that Mrs McClusky appears on the scene mere seconds after the accident.  How did she get from the school to the road outside so quickly?  Was she waiting in the playground for such an accident to happen?!

Real-life school politics of the mid eighties do get a brief mention when the fourth-formers are left to their own devices, thanks to a cover strike.  British schools were hit by waves of industrial action during this period, as teachers regularly worked to rule and refused to cover their colleague’s lessons.  Phil Redmond would have no doubt made capital out of this, but here it’s very much an incidental point – at this point in the show’s history, staff-room squabbles are more over coffee and chairs than politics ….

There’s an air of deceit running through this episode.  Fay agrees to babysit for Mr and Mrs McCartney and Julian offers to walk her home.  Fay, still not keen on the worthy-but-dull Julian, tells him that the babysitting’s been cancelled, so that Jean-Paul can go instead.  And with Annette and Stewpot also there, everything’s set for a cosy evening.  Which of course doesn’t go to plan.

If Fay lies to Julian, then Stewpot continues to lie to Annette.  Just as Claire’s been somewhat reduced in character during series eight, then poor Stewpot has also received the rough end of the scripting stick.  By continually stringing both Claire and Annette along – lacking the courage to choose between them – he’s portrayed as buffoonish at best and an insensitive idiot at worst.  Even here, he can’t bring himself to tell Annette that it’s over, but since he’s clearly not enjoying himself, why not?

Jean-Paul burns a hole in the McCartney’s carpet with his cigarette, providing us with yet another example of his flawed character.  His plan – chuck a scatter cushion over the offending mark and walk slowly away – also highlights that he never stops to think about the consequences of his actions.  This moment was no doubt one of several created in order to prepare the ground for episode fourteen.

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Twelve

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Written by Frances Galleymore.  Tx 27th March 1985

So Claire and Stewpot’s on-off-on-off, etc relationship now seems to be on again.  I’m somewhat sorry that we didn’t see the scene where she agreed to have him back, as that would have been fun to watch.  Has anything changed?  Well Stewpot’s still making excuses when Claire attempts to arrange an evening out (this time he claims he has to help his father decorate the bathroom) so maybe not.  Surely he can’t still be juggling two girls, and both of them incredibly stroppy as well ….

I do feel a little sorry for Paula Ann Bland during this run of episodes, as Claire doesn’t really have anything to do except express disapproval at Stewpot, so she spends her time as a rather shrewish character with little light or shade.

But this does give us a lovely scene as Annette crashes into Stewpot, Claire and Precious and blithely arranges a date with him.  Claire’s response?  “Stewpot, you’d better not have chosen that tarty little fourth-year with the raggedy hair before me. ‘Cause if you have and you do see her on Friday night then you won’t be seeing me again.”  This gives Mark Burdis another chance to give us his best hangdog expression (something he’s had to do an awful lot this year).

The on-off-on-off relationship between Zammo and Jackie is now once more lurching into the off position, thanks to Zammo’s jealous and controlling nature.  Banksie invites Jackie to join him, Loop, Fay and Jean-Paul on a visit to the old Brookdale school.  She wasn’t sure, but after Zammo told her not to, it’s not hard to imagine the outcome ….

They decide to bunk off, which means that Fay spends the time in a highly stressed manner.  She may not quite be the goody-goody now she’s hooked up with the louche Jean-Paul, but she still knows right from wrong.

It’s odd that none of them seem to consider the possibility that there may still be a caretaker on site (if there wasn’t, why would there be a television set and a kettle?).  Of course there is (played by the wonderful Derek Deadman) which means there’s a short comic chase.  “Blast! Flipping kids!”