Grange Hill. Series One – Episode One

grange hill s01e01

Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 8th February 1978

Benny Green (Terry Sue Patt) has the honour of being the first pupil we see entering the grounds of Grange Hill. Quite why he’s so early isn’t explained here – but it’s obvious from his opening scene that he lives for football. He’s also black and poor – both of which were considerable disadvantages in late seventies Britain – but he’s always a positive character and never spends his time complaining about what he doesn’t have.

This opener is quite effective in demonstrating how intimidating a comprehensive school could be on your first day and the key part of the episode is the way that the various pupils react. Tucker (Todd Carty) and Alan (George Armstrong) take it in their stride whilst Judy (Abigail Brown) and Justin (Robert Morgan) view the place with barely disguised horror. Both are isolated, since all of their old friends have gone to different schools. Trisha (Michelle Herbert) on the other hand, seems to regard the new school with complete disinterest.

Most are placed under the care of Mr Mitchell (Michael Percival). As their form tutor, Mr Mitchell will be a key figure in guiding them through the school year and it’s clear from the outset that he’s both funny and compassionate.

On the other end of the scale is Mr Foster (Roger Sloman) who we’ll see more of in episode two. He lacks all of Mr Mitchell’s redeeming qualities and his early run-in with Tucker makes this quite clear. It’s somewhat staggering to learn that Sloman was only thirty two at the time this was made, as he looks a good ten or fifteen years older. It certainly bears out the truth that some people aged quicker back in the old days!

What will become something of a GH cliché gets its first outing here – a noticeboard with an arrow pointing the way to the assembly hall (which handily can be turned the opposite way to fox a green newcomer!).  Ann (Lucinda Duckett), who overslept, is the first pupil to fall foul of this trick as several mean older girls, led by Jackie Heron (Mariam Mann), delight in sending her the wrong way.  Even as a child it never struck me as credible that the arrow would be a moveable one (why not just chalk it on the board?) but no matter, it’s certainly a memorable moment.

It was a nice touch that the final episode of the final series, broadcast in 2008, ended with yet another changed arrow gag.  The more things change …..

Although it might seem surprising that not all of the pupils are working class (the likes of Tucker, Alan, Benny and Trisha are firmly working class whilst Ann, Judy and Justin are resolutely middle class) this was an intentional move on the part of Phil Redmond.  One of the themes he wanted to explore was the way that Comprehensive Schools took in a range of pupils of mixed abilities and backgrounds – as opposed to the grammar/secondary modern split which had existed before.  It also helps to set up the possibilities of conflicts based on class, which would always be a fruitful avenue to explore.

Like a number of episodes from the early years, most of this one was shot on film and on location at an actual school.  Although single-camera filming would have been more expensive and slower than multi-camera videotaping in the studio there were obvious advantages – both aesthetic and financial.  The gloomy vistas of a real school (endless corridors seemingly stretching to infinity) are more effective at creating a sense of space and isolation than studio sets would have been.  Shooting on location also meant that substantial constructions (like the school assembly hall) didn’t have to be mounted in the studio, which made financial sense.

Colin Cant’s direction, demonstrated with the screencap above, sometimes liked to favour low angle shots.  It’s an obvious trick, but since the camera is positioned lower than Tucker it makes Mr Foster seem more imposing than he otherwise would be.

By the end of the episode we’ve seen Tucker and Trisha clash for the first time and everything now seems to have settled down a little. The mystery of Alan’s surname (given as Turner in the episode, Hargreaves on the end credits and later to be changed again to Humphries) is a mystery that’s never been explained (at least not to me).

Advertisements

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Two

grange hill s01e02

Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 15th February 1978

Mr Foster is something of a monster. There’s a slight resemblance between him and Mr Baxter (who is introduced in series two) but whilst Mr Baxter could be hard and uncompromising, he also had a kindly side. There’s no kind side to Foster (the amount of physical abuse he inflicts on the children is disturbing) . As a games master he’s strict and unrelenting – every pupil must have precisely the correct kit or they don’t take part in the lesson.

This brings him into conflict with Benny, who can’t afford to buy either a school uniform or a games kit. This is a particular problem since Benny wants to take part in the football trials, but without the correct kit Mr Foster won’t let him. His new friend Tucker comes to the rescue though, “borrowing” Justin’s sports top (I do like the way that Tucker never thinks to offer him his own!)

This still leaves the question of football boots. It’s nice that Mr Mitchell brings up the question in class and asks everybody if they have any suggestions since it helps to build a feeling of community. Ann Wilson (Lucinda Duckett) offers him her hockey boots – they’re not quite the same as football boots, but they’re better than nothing.

Eventually we see Mr Foster turn a blind eye to the hockey boots and he allows Benny to take part, but the fact he’s been so obstructive doesn’t reflect well on him. Mr Mitchell’s already told him that Green is a talented footballer and everything we’ve seen so far would suggest he’d be an asset to the school-team. So the fact that Mr Foster would be prepared to deny him a trial because he doesn’t have the right kit is rather petty-minded (you know that Mr Baxter would place ability over clothes any day).

Making brief appearances in this one are Perry Benson (later to become a familiar television face) and Brenda Cavendish as the games mistress. As a fan of Public Eye, it’s always nice to see Brenda Cavendish pop up in any other series.

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Three

grange hill s01e03

Written by Phil Redmond.  Tx 22nd February 1978

Judy Preston is still deeply unhappy at Grange Hill, bemoaning the fact that nobody ever speaks to her. Although, as her mother points out, she probably needs to put a little more effort into trying to make friends. But the next day it seems as if the first tentative steps towards a friendship are established after Trisha rescues her from the boisterous attentions of Tucker and Benny.

Tucker isn’t best pleased to find himself bested by a girl and offers her a knuckle sandwich – before belatedly remembering that he doesn’t hit girls. Always a charmer, the young Peter Jenkins!

But Trisha isn’t around when Judy finds herself facing the unwelcome attentions of three fifth-form girls, led by the spiteful Jackie Heron (Miriam Mann). All three clearly have a great deal of experience in bullying those younger than themselves and there’s something quite disturbing about these scenes.

Possibly it’s because we’ve seen how isolated and friendless Judy is, so we know that she’ll be totally unable to put up a fight. After rummaging through Judy’s possessions, Jackie spots a rather nice pen. Judy pleads with her not to take it, as it was a present from her late Grandfather. Jackie tells her that she can have it back – if the price is right.

Later, Trisha becomes aware of what’s happened and instantly decides to help. This gives us an early insight into Trisha’s character – she’s always keen to help the underdog and never seems to realise when she’s outnumbered. In this case, two first-years facing off against three fifth-years is clearly an unequal battle, but the prospect of defeat never seems to have entered Trisha’s head.

In the end, Trisha’s sister Carol (Julia Gale) saves the day. Like Jackie, she’s a fifth-former and is able to confront her on equal terms and so forces her to give back the pen. This episode has a clear message at the end as Carol tells the two girls that “people like Jackie Heron never pick on someone who’s able to stand up to them. So if you can’t do it, the answer’s simple – get someone who can. Look, if anything like this happens again, tell someone.”

Short of Carol looking directly down the camera and adding that that goes for everybody else watching at home too, the moral couldn’t have been more clearly stated.

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Four

grange hill s01e04

Written by Phil Redmond.  Tx 1st March 1978

Episode four was the first (but certainly not the last) time that Grange Hill found itself courting controversy. This centered around the unsupervised swimming lesson which saw Tucker and his friends running amok in the pool.

Given that there were two teachers, Mr Mitchell and Mr Malcolm (Christopher Coll) on duty, it does feel slightly contrived that both of them were absent. The reason why one of them had to leave (a boy injured his foot) is reasonable enough, but when he only suffered a fairly small cut, did they really both have to carry him away?

Tucker, Benny and Alan decide to throw some of the benches into the pool and have a race – whilst being cheered on by the other boys. The only one who doesn’t join in is Justin (who’s no doubt still smarting from the fact that Tucker stole his trousers during their previous swimming lesson). He runs off to find the caretaker and when Mr Malcolm returns he has his own way of dealing with the miscreants.

His punishment (a ban from swimming for three weeks and a detention) does seem incredibly lenient though – anything could have happened in his absence and it’s remarkable that there’s no further action taken. Perhaps this is because Mr Malcolm is well aware that he and Mr Mitchell were at fault and considers it to be best to leave things as they are.

Tucker would later turn into something of a loveable rogue, but he’s simply a rogue here. His wild behaviour would continue in episode six, but the events there seem to finally bring him more into line.

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Five

grange hill s01e05

Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 8th March 1978

This is a rather nice episode, played mainly for laughs, which centres on Trisha and her well-intentioned efforts to help Mr Rankin (Blake Butler). Mr Rankin teaches biology and Trisha has recently taken to helping him tidy his lab in the lunch-breaks. Her sister teases her that it’s because she has a crush on him – something Trisha vehemently denies.

When Judy pops in, Trisha grandly tells him that she’s Mr Rankin’s assistant. Judy asks if she can hold the hamster and Trisha, against her better judgement, agrees. Naturally, the animal escapes and then the problems really begin.

In trying to find it, they overturn a bookcase, before Judy hits on the bright idea of buying another hamster at the local pet shop to replace it. There then follows a race-against-time, which doesn’t work out quite as intended (Judy is distracted when buying the animal and doesn’t notice that the one chosen by the assistant is a different colour!)

It’s all for nothing anyway, since when Mr Rankin returns he spots the original hamster on the floor. But he’s inclined not to punish them, since they did make an effort to rectify the problem. Trisha’s in trouble anyway though, thanks to a run-in with another teacher, Miss Clarke (Jill Dixon). She objects to Trisha wearing jewellery in the lunch-time, which irritates the girl no end.

This moment marks the beginning of Trisha’s battles against authority.  Any time she feels her basic freedoms are being eroded she’s not backwards in expressing herself ….

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Six

grange hill s01e06

Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 15th March 1978

Tucker’s still very much a loose cannon. His latest trick is seeing how often he can throw his woodwork chisel into a piece of wood – which is rather dangerous to say the least. The fact that the teacher remains oblivious to this no doubt would have upset those watching at home who already found him and some of the other pupils to be less than ideal role models.

His next wheeze is to persuade Benny to explore an abandoned building which he claims is an ammo dump. Rather unexpectedly, Justin asks to join them. Tucker’s reluctant (since the incident at the swimming pool) but Benny is happy for him to come along, so Tucker eventually agrees.

The abandoned building offers plenty of scope for unusual camera angles and tension is ramped up by mysterious noises (which turn out to be a cat!) But the abandoned building isn’t quite as abandoned as it seems – two workman turn up. As the three boys attempt to escape, Justin loses his footing and falls.

At first glance, it looks as if he might be dead. But it would have been a daring move (and probably a step too far) to kill off a pupil so early in the run. Although at the time the first series was made it was far from certain that a second would go into production, so you could argue that they had nothing to lose.

But after the fall-out that occurred over the swimming pool incident, they were probably wise to ensure that Justin only suffered broken bones and concussion. We’d have to wait a little longer before the series started killing off its pupils.

Mrs Jenkins and Mrs Green are called to the school and it’s refreshing that neither find fault with the school – they both put the blame onto their children (whilst also accepting that they have to shoulder responsibilty as well). After some deliberation it’s decided that only corporal punishment will fit the bill – and this is enough to finally wipe the smile off Tucker’s face (although, brave to the end, he does insist that he can take more punishment than Benny!)

Grange Hill. Series One – Episode Seven

grange hill s01e07

Written by Phil Redmond. Tx 22nd March 1978

Perhaps the most significant part of this episode concerns Michael Doyle’s (Vincent Hall) transfer to Mr Mitchell’s class. It’s spelled out very early on that Doyle is bad news (he and his friends were bullying other pupils so it’s been decided to split them up).

Over the next few series he’ll lock horns with Tucker time and again, but in this episode he’s more concerned with Ann Wilson, who’s running for election to the school council. First though, she has to win the vote from her form (which she does, beating Tucker into second place).

It’s a shame that Lucinda Duckett didn’t return for series two, but it’s clear to see that her character (serious, hard-working) was simply re-created several times – firstly with Penny Lewis and then later with Pamela Cartwright. It’s quite possible to imagine Ann Wilson doing everything that Penny Lewis later did – clashing with Doyle, writing endless articles for the school magazine, etc.

Her path to election success isn’t straightforward though, as Michael Doyle uses all the tricks in the book (including intimidation) to ensure that his preferred candidate wins. But after a last minute adjustment to the voting (which I’m not sure was strictly legal) Ann is declared the winner.

This episode sees the first of three appearances by Carole Nimmons as Miss Mather. Nimmons has had a long and successful career, which includes the rather good series Bird of Prey, starring Richard Griffiths.