Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Six

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Written by Margaret Simpson.  Tx 24 January 1986

Gonch has been a little quiet this year (although given the influx of new characters that’s possibly not too surprising).  But after a fallow period he comes roaring back to life here with yet another brilliant scheme – a sandwich-making business.  And Gonch being Gonch he starts off by selling shop-bought sandwiches at a profit.  Truly he is Pogo Patterson reincarnated.

But as we’ve seen so often, the life of the businessman is littered with pitfalls.  He has to find premises to maintain his sandwich production and it’s not surprising that his mother bristles at the way her kitchen has been turned into a café. So where now?

Gonch’s sandwich plan is a sound one – with no tuckshop and the canteen full to breaking point there’s a clear opening to make a little money. We drop into the canteen to see a green young teacher left at the mercy of the rather feral pupils (custard smeared on the tables and the likes of Imelda refusing to clear their table doesn’t help). The rest of the pupils also rush out – all but Laura and Julia, the goody-goodys! Tamsin Heatley, later to appear as Bella in The Tweenies, plays the very put-upon teacher.

Whilst it’s understandable that series nine is mainly remembered for Zammo’s heroin addiction, other interesting plotlines were also developed.  Possibly in any other year the relationship between Fay and Mr King would have generated more publicity, but with the blanket Just Say No campaign dominating the airwaves it’s understandable that Grange Hill’s first attempt to depict a suspect relationship between a teacher and a pupil seemed to pass by unremarked.

It’s gently teased out to begin with as we see Fay confide to Julie that she thinks Mr King is really nice (although she immediately denies that she fancies him).  Fay’s been here before of course, although her crush (if that’s what it was) on Miss Gordon back in series seven was handled in a understandably oblique manner. It’ll be a short while before this story develops, but the seed has definitely been sown.

It’s been a few years since the school magazine storyline has reared its head, but it makes a comeback here – with Calley keen to create a school fanzine.  Essentially this would be a school magazine, so the distinction between the two isn’t too clear – except there’s no doubt that she wouldn’t be inclined to run the content past the staff first.  Is this going to end well?  Hmm, I wonder.

Imelda has words with Georgina after Georgina’s relationship with Ant becomes public knowledge.  Quite what a nice girl like Georgina is doing hanging out with a nasty piece of work like Imelda is a bit of a mystery.  You can assume that she decided it was safer to be a part of Imelda’s gang rather than stay on the outside, but one drawback of S9 is the way that a number of new characters tend to rush through various plotlines.

When Denny appeared to turn his back on Gripper in S6 it carried a certain resonance as we’d seen him act as Gripper’s right hand man all the way through S5.  Georgina’s shifting allegiance doesn’t carry the same weight as we’ve only seen her in a handful of episodes.

It’s interesting that both Helen and Georgina are different – and nicer – people away from Imelda’s influence (although Helen’s still shown to be quite spiteful). They both cheer on Ant during the swimming gala (he, of course, wins his race. Mr Perfect, he is). Ant’s victory is the only highlight though, which irritates Mr Baxter no end.

Jackie’s suspicions about Zammo grow. He’s not only spent all the money she lent him but he’s gone ahead and sold his bike to Kevin anyway (she lent him the money so that he wouldn’t have to do this – or so she thought). Once again, Zammo can’t look her in the eye and this – together with his hesistant delivery – is a further sign there’s something up.

If he’s this disconnected most of the time then it’s hard to see how it could go unremarked during lesson time (unless Grange Hill’s teachers are spectacularly unobservant). But as yet, apart from Jackie it seems that nobody’s noticed there’s anything amiss with the boy.

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Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Five

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 21st January 1986

The cramped, multi-class environment of the gym continues to be a stressful experience for teachers and pupils alike.  Mr Bronson stalks around from class to class, saying nothing but clearly far from pleased (signified by the way he taps his pencil in a frustrated manner).  He spends several minutes standing silently by Miss Partridge’s class and it’s instructive that although he observes that Danny is the one who’s being awkward, Mr Bronson’s ire is directed at Ant.

Miss Partridge is eventually able to convince him that Ant was blameless but it’s intriguing that Mr Bronson is clearly shown to victimise Ant without any evidence.  The way that Mr Bronson targets certain pupils is something of a running thread during his time at the school (Zammo, Ant and – later – Danny).

But if Mr Bronson’s intervention was partly due to his disdain for Ant, then Miss Partridge is convinced that it also had something to do with the fact that she’s a woman (“I wouldn’t mind but he didn’t interfere with Peter King’s class”).  Mrs Regan sympathises.  Mr Glover, a school governor, blocked her application to become head of sport, although quite how he could do this isn’t clear.

Now that Mr Baxter is a suit (deputy head) he finds himself a target as few of his colleagues are happy with the current state of affairs.  He weakly wonders whatever happened to the Dunkirk spirit, although that doesn’t seem to go down terribly well (Mrs Regan’s whispered “men” signifies what she thinks, although this isn’t really an argument that can be divided across male/female lines).

There’s a slight lapse in continuity here.  Last episode we were told that the old Brookdale building couldn’t be reopened because it had been extensively vandalised but this week we learn that it’s half way to becoming a multi-story car park.  Presumably a similar fate has befallen Rodney Bennett, as nobody ever mentions using that school on a temporary basis.

We haven’t seen Zammo since episode three.  There we learnt that he’d sold a present given to him by Jackie, now he’s on the verge of selling his pride and joy – his bike – to Kevin.  He’s clearly on a downward path – when Jackie speaks to him he’s hesitant and can’t look her in the eye – but it’s still not clear what his problem is.  Jackie is still prepared to stand by him and is happy to give him all the money she has in her post office savings account – twenty five pounds.  He’s grateful and promises to pay her back, although it seems unlikely.  It’s noticeable that they only feature very briefly across the twenty five minutes.  This may turn out to be the dominant plotline of series nine but it’s being set up in a very sparing manner.

Trevor is convinced that Julia Glover fancies him.  No, really.  This is even more unlikely than an Ant/Ronnie team up, but it sets us up for the inevitable comic reversal later.  Trevor has a brilliant plan to get a little on-one-on time with the woman of his dreams, he and Vince will rock up to Cheryl’s party, complete with a bottle of cider (lovely touch that) and blag their way in by claiming to be guests of a non-existent friend who’s already inside.  What could possibly go wrong?

This scene between Trevor and Vince is a delight.  It’s very much in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy where one – Laurel/Vince – is stupid and the other – Hardy/Trevor – is even stupider but thinks he’s cleverer.  Trevor’s promise to tutor Vince in the art of female seduction is a mouth-watering one (“watch me at the party, watch a master at work”) as is the way Trevor casually straightens his tie in a knowing manner.

With a little help from Paul Young on the stereo, the party at Louise’s is soon jumping although older sister Cheryl (Amma Asante) disapproves.  Asante must be one of Grange Hill‘s most distinguished former pupils as she’s gone on to enjoy an award-winning career as a director.  Belle (2004) and A Way of Life (2013) have both picked up numerous awards.

Luckily Kevin’s acting as a bouncer, so Trevor and Vince have to skulk off home and sadly we’re denied the opportunity to see Trev’s skills as a lothario at first hand.  Pity!  Kevin later acidly sums them up as “Meat Cleaver and Planet of the Apes”.  Harsh but fair.  Ant is more successful in gaining admittance, although given his comment (“I’m the drummer with Duran Duran, but I’m incognito tonight”) I feel that Kevin was well within his rights to give him a slap anyway.

Unable to catch Ant’s eye, Julia finds solace with alcohol instead.  It’s plain that this isn’t going to end well and so it proves with Mrs Regan forced to pick up the pieces.

Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Four

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Written by David Angus. Tx 17th January 1986

Big sister Jackie and younger brother Robbie are walking to school.  Jackie is complaining that she has to do numerous household chores whilst Robbie gets off scot free.  Robbie doesn’t see anything wrong with this (after all, she is a girl).  Following this moment of pure sexism (sure to raise the hackles of a certain section of the audience) the attention turns to Robbie’s new earring.  He’s only just had his ear pierced and is more than a little sensitive about letting his friends see it – hence he removes it just before encountering Trevor and Vince.  Melissa Wilks pulls a lovely face here to signify Jackie’s disdain at Robbie’s chicken-heartedness!  As might be expected, the others tease him mercilessly.  All except Trevor who – surprisingly – is supportive.

The characters of Laura and Julia are developed a little more.  Laura, as befits a pupil who has a parent for a teacher, sees herself as something of an outcast although this is possibly only something which exists in her imagination.  Julia is a warm-hearted and friendly type of person, best demonstrated when she attempts to engage Mr Bronson in conversation.  This is a lovely scene.  Mr Bronson, still sporting a large sticking plaster on his neck, is on playground duty and possibly because he’s outside of his natural environment – the classroom – and also talking directly to the girls is surprisingly vulnerable.  He finally admits that his injury was caused by a parrot.  This nugget of information amuses them but Mr Bronson insists that “they can be quite vicious you know. It was a very painful experience”.

If he’s almost human here, then elsewhere he’s his normal, abrasive self.  And once again it’s Ant who’s on the receiving end of his anger.  There’s a painful inevitability in the fact that Mr Baxter turns out to be the reason why Ant doesn’t reach Mr Bronson’s tutorial group on time.  And it’s just as inevitable that Ant, smouldering away, will once again bow to Mr Bronson’s authority with a very ill grace.

Ricky Simmonds had clearly been cast as this year’s GH heartthrob – a rebel without a cause, destined to set female hearts fluttering.  So far this year he and Georgina have already exchanged smiles whilst Ronnie has been gazing wistfully in his direction for a while, although there’s no indication that he even knows who she is.  This is demonstrated when both Ronnie and Georgina head independently to the lunchtime disco and – remarkable coincidence this – happen to stand close together.  Ant ambles towards them, Ronnie nearly faints with excitement but Ant make a beeline for Georgina.  Poor Ronnie.

Apart from these various character interactions, the main thrust of the episode is the way that the one remaining school building is pushed to breaking point.  With capacity for 800 pupils, how can they cram 1,500 in?  The answer, in part, is by installing numerous classes into the gym, although this open-plan and noisy environment is far from ideal – as might be expected Mr Bronson is far from pleased with this solution.  Later he advocates taking industrial action (Mrs McClusky rolls her eyes at this).  It’s a reasonable suggestion, but maybe Mrs McClusky has an alternative plan up her sleeve.

Louise is granted a few more lines as plans for a party at her house are mooted.  Laura and Julia are both keen, although Julia frets that she’ll have to lie about it to her father.  Julia’s father, Mr Glover, has yet to make an appearance but his character type – stern, disapproving – has already been deftly set up here.

Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Three

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Written by David Angus. Tx 14th January 1986

The episode opens with Kevin, Fay and Julie chewing the lunchtime fat with Mr Kennedy and Mr Baxter.  A sticking plaster on Mr Bronson’s neck (Kevin believes it’s a love-bite) is a hot topic of conversation.  I love this bit of banter as well as the way that Mr Bronson self-consciously touches the plaster when Mr Kennedy and Mr Baxter sidles past his table.

It’s noticeable that Zammo’s conspicuous by his absence during this merry-making.  Later we see him eating alone before Jackie joins him.  Zammo’s distracted state is once again in evidence – he doesn’t want to go along with Jackie to the lunchtime disco (can’t really blame him for that as it’s not exactly a hip and happening scene) or indeed do anything else with her.  She still wants them to be an item (despite their sniping in the first episode) but Zammo’s non-committal.  That he sold a present she gave him (a calculator) was either a thoughtless gesture or another indication that something’s seriously wrong.  Jackie’s teary state and Zammo’s inability to comfort her suggests the latter.

The wonderful George A. Cooper is on fine form as he takes it upon himself to keep an eye out for the miscreants who are using part of the school as a smoking den.  Mr Griffiths proudly tells Mrs Reagan that during his army days he was known as “the chameleon. That’s what, no lie”.

Last time it wasn’t clear whether Imelda knew how damaging the fibreglass was.  Here we’re left in no doubt on this score – Mr King spells out that it’s nasty stuff – but she still presses ahead to use it in her plan to gain revenge on Ziggy.  This serves as an indication that she’s not merely naughty, but possess a strong malicious streak.  It’s just a slight pity that her attack on Ziggy was a little bungled (he starts screaming before she pushes the fibreglass down his back – presumably a second take was out of the question).

Fire! It’s worrying to see that some teachers don’t respond instantly when the fire alarm sounds.  Mr MacKenzie is a little reluctant (it’s obviously another false alarm) but quickly bows to the inevitable.  Mr Bronson eventually also has to accede, although he does so with an ill grace that’s quite in character.  But there’s smoke billowing out of the building so it must be the real thing.

It was clearly something of a big-budget day as not only do we see a substantial number of schoolchildren (at least a hundred) milling in the playground but there’s also a couple of fire engines thrown in for good measure.  Always a pleasure to see the late Peter Childs, here as a fireman, even if it’s only for a few moments.  The playground scenes also serve as our last opportunity to see the old Grange Hill school in all its Victorian glory (once asbestos is discovered it’s closed for good).

Ivanhoe – Production Stills

A collection of production stills from Ivanhoe.

Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode Two

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 10th January 1986

Zammo’s descent into heroin addiction would become the defining theme of series nine (and possibly of the entire thirty one year run).  But dramatically there’s a few missed opportunities along the way.  It’s very noticeable that we never see the reaction of key characters – Zammo’s mum or Jackie – when they learn the news for the first time.  Roland’s chosen to be the one who discovers his secret, but again there’s no scene where he discusses this news with the others.

You’d also have expected that his increasingly erratic behaviour would have been commented on by his classmates but after the next episode we aren’t really privy again to many classroom scenes with the fifth formers.  Possibly this was an intentional move though – from now on Zammo’s an isolated character and rarely interacts with his former friends.

Although it’s still early days with this plotline there’s clearly something up with Zammo.  He’s short of money (already in debt to Kevin) and attempts to cheat in the great moustache weighing competition.  Mr Kennedy – aware that Banksie is feeling self-conscious about his moustache – offers to shave off his own facial hair as well.  Banksie’s will be weighed and the class will then be able to use that figure as a control in order to estimate the weight of Mr Kennedy’s moustache.  There’s a twenty five pence entry fee and if anybody guesses the weight correctly they win six pounds, if not the money goes towards the school fund.

It’s an interesting wrinkle that Banksie is the one who discovers Zammo’s cheating ways.  He manages to ensure that Zammo doesn’t profit, but he also doesn’t reveal Zammo’s secret to the others.  Was this because he intended to hold this piece of information back, all the better for using it to manipulate and embarrass Zammo at a later date or has Banksie turned over something of a new leaf?  He does later tell Mr Kennedy that it’s better that the money goes towards the school, although given that we’d only recently seen him and Trevor attempting to cheat at one of the games during the Christmas Special, this holier-than-thou attitude is slightly hard to swallow.

Mr Kennedy’s affability and ability to connect with the pupils is clearly demonstrated here.  He’s an inspirational teacher and therefore couldn’t be further removed from the bitter and twisted Mr Bronson.  There’s a lengthy staff-room scene at the start of this episode in which Mr Bronson, quietly spitting venom, caustically comments on Mrs McClusky’s choice for acting deputy head.  Mr Baxter? A sports teacher? It’s obvious that he saw himself in the role (or more possibly as the head itself) but instead has to sit on the sidelines, quietly fuming.

As for Mr Baxter himself, he’s the recipient of a fine scene where he firstly berates the second years for their poor quality gym kits and then conscripts the unwilling Gonch, Hollo and Robbie into the newly reformed Grange Hill swimming team.  As ever, Michael Cronin is a joy.

1986 was the last hurrah for the old Grange Hill school.  Shortly to be closed for good following an asbestos scare, it’s in a remarkably run down and dingy state.  This ties into the conversation between Mr Kennedy and the fifth formers (who bemoan the fact that it’s impossible to do projects since the school library has so few books – hence their small fund-raising effort).  The way that Grange Hill has always struggled with funding has been a subtle running theme for a number of years and given the turmoil in the real world during the mid eighties (teacher strikes were at their height) it’s not surprising that it’s touched upon again here.

My recollection is that although it was stated that a character would become addicted to heroin, their identity wasn’t known, meaning that that Danny Kendal seemed to be the obvious choice.  Despite his diminutive size he was unafraid to take anybody on (older pupils, teachers) and there’s further early evidence of his erratic behaviour here as he runs amok with a wrench.  But it would have been obvious – too obvious no doubt – to make him the one and the dramatic potential of turning a previously likeable character like Zammo around was clearly too tempting to avoid.

Imelda’s reign of terror continues.  This week it’s shoving fibreglass down the backs of unfortunate first years.  Everybody around at the time – including Gonch, Hollo and Robbie – find this to be a huge joke, although they aren’t present when the painful lacerations are revealed.  This allows us to understand that they maybe weren’t as heartless as they first appeared, although Calley and Ronnie have sharply differing opinions about Imelda’s part in this.  Calley believes that Imelda also couldn’t have known what damage it causes whilst Ronnie isn’t so sure.  Next time we’ll discover the answer to this question.

Grange Hill – Series Nine, Episode One

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 7th January 1986

If the Christmas Special, in part, harked back to the past (featuring last hurrahs for some old favourites) then the first episode of series nine was an exercise in looking forward.  This is partly symbolised by an unattractive piece of modern art – aptly titled “New Horizons” – but it’s mostly to do with the various arrivals and departures, courtesy of new producer Ronald Smedley.

The merger between Grange Hill, Rodney Bennett and Brookdale (which had been a running thread during series eight) is now quietly forgotten.  This means that several characters (Banksie’s mate Loop and Julian Fairbrother) were probably deemed surplus to requirements although Banksie and Jackie – now assimilated as Grange Hill types – still had roles to play.

School uniforms, which had previously been abolished for the upper years, are quietly reintroduced.  Nobody ever seems to comment on this which is a little odd (I’m sure Trisha, back in the old days, wouldn’t have taken this decision lying down!).  The dramatic possibilities of Mrs McClusky continuing to chafe at only being the Deputy Head are quickly nullified when it’s revealed that the Headmaster, Mr Humphries, has died in a car accident.  In time-honoured soap style this happens off screen (a quick and easy way to write a redundant character out).

But at least Mr Humphries merited a mention.  Poor Loop and Julian Fairbrother are amongst those who join the long list of the Grange Hill vanished (characters who disappear and are never mentioned again).  Annette’s absence is deemed worthy of comment (she had been in the series for five years though) when it’s revealed that she’s now living in Milton Keynes.  A fate worse than death it’s implied.

With the episode count increased from eighteen to twenty four, some new blood was obviously required.  Deep breath ….

Georgina Hayes (Samantha Lewis) is revealed to be the third member of Imelda’s gang.  Georgina – like Helen – is positioned as someone who could be a good person if only she was able to escape from Imelda’s orbit.  All three have been at the school for the last year (obviously always off-camera during series eight) but one genuine new arrival this episode is Ziggy Greaves (George Wilson).

Ziggy loves spiders (hence his nickname, although I daresay that most of the target audience – like Robbie – wouldn’t have heard of the David Bowie album which gave him his moniker).  With a broad scouse accent, Ziggy is clearly an exotic and unusual creature.  This ensures he ruffles a few feathers (crossing swords with Imelda and a frog whilst Trevor chunters away quietly that the newcomer is taking liberties).  In time Ziggy will team up with third-wheel Robbie, thereby generating a new partnership to sit alongside that of Gonch/Hollo.  Their friendship is tentatively begun here, although since there’s so many new arrivals and plotlines to set up it doesn’t go much further than a quick hello.

It’s not been uncommon for new characters to suddenly appear with everybody pretending they’ve been there for years (Kevin during series seven for example) but this episode goes one better as we see a whole form suddenly materialise out of nowhere.  Laura Regan (Fiona Mogridge), Julia Glover (Sara McGlasson), Louise Webb (Alison McLaughlin), Ant Jones (Ricky Simmonds) and Danny Kendall (Jonathan Lambeth) are a bunch of third years no doubt less than delighted to learn that Mr Bronson is their new form tutor.

Laura and Julia both have influential parents (the games mistress and a school governor respectively).  Louise isn’t given any lines here whilst Danny is shown to be completely disconnected – happy to flout school rules with seemingly not a care in the world.  We’ve seen anti-authority figures before, but Danny is something different.

Ant doesn’t hit it off with Mr Bronson.  Last year Zammo was his whipping boy and it seems that Ant will perform that same function this term.  Once again we see a battle of wills between master and pupil, with both believing that they’re in the right.  Ant had a good excuse for being late for Mr Bronson’s tutorial – a meeting with Mr Baxter – but Mr Bronson isn’t prepared to listen.  Mr Baxter later confronts his fellow teacher and is less than cordial.  “Insisting you’re right when you’re wrong won’t get you respect, it’ll get you resentment”.

On the teaching front, Mrs Reagan (Lucinda Curtis), Miss Partridge (Karen Lewis), Mr Kennedy (Jeffrey Kissoon) and Mr King (David Straun) all make their debuts.  Miss Partridge hardly has the chance to open her mouth in assembly before a frog causes chaos (quite why the unnamed extra reacted with such terror at the frog – placidly sitting inside a crisp bag – is a slight mystery, but we can blame the script).  Mr King fares a little better.  His inexperience is shown (bringing the wrong register to the classroom) although his form group – E2 – don’t make capital out of this.  He may be young, but he’s capable and good humoured and right from the start it’s plain that he has the respect of the pupils.  His replacement next year won’t fare nearly so well ….

With so much going on, there’s still time to set up a few important plotthreads which will simmer away for a while.  The relationship between Zammo and Jackie is a key one (it’s shown to have fractured, with them spitting venom at each other).  Zammo’s also shown to be a little distracted, although the reasons for this aren’t elaborated on.  Banksie’s brave but doomed attempt to grow a moustache amuses Fay, Julie and Jackie no end.  Kevin’s tickled too – he mimics Banskie with a Sieg Heil salute – a little touch which you probably wouldn’t see today.

Possibly introducing the new arrivals of the course of a few episodes would have been more sensible, but although this first episode doesn’t stop to pause for breath, by the end Grange Hill‘s New Horizons have been firmly laid out.

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