Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode Eighteen

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 2nd March 2016

It’s the end of term and a disco has been organised, but the news that the music’s going to be provided by Glenroy strikes fear into the hearts of many.  Glenroy likes very heavy reggae – so with his impressive sound system (Sir Lord Glenroy indeed!) the evening promises to be loud if nothing else.

Pogo’s also on hand with a selection of discs, but will Glenroy allow him the use of his equipment?  Poor Mr McGuffy draws the short straw and scuttles off to speak to him.  Unsurprisingly he doesn’t pluck up the courage but Suzanne turns up later and is more successful.

Elsewhere, Claire’s in a very stroppy mood and the hapless Stewpot is in the firing line.  He can’t seem to do anything right – not even buttering a piece of bread – which seems to be another hint that their on/off/on relationship might be heading for more stormy waters.  Check back next series for some surprising revelations …..

Jimmy McClaren, resplendent in a white suit, seems to be back on the side of the angels again – he’s concerned that Gluxo’s planning something.  A fight maybe?  Or simply absconding with the door money?  Jimmy’s not sure but he elects to stay on watch, much to Nigel’s chagrin.  What’ll happen to all the talent?  Jimmy replies that there’s never any shortage of talent when Jimmy McClaren’s about.  There’s a chance to see his lady-killing skills in action later when he asks Precious if she’d like quick spin around the dancefloor.  She says “no” which rather deflates him (but he’s later reinflated when she changes her mind!)

This is the final episode for quite a few of the regulars.  Most of the class of 80/81 depart (only Claire, Stewpot and Precious return for the next series).  On the teaching side, Mr Keating, Mr McGuffy, Miss Gordon and Mr Howard all make their final appearances.  I’ll miss Mr Keating and Mr McGuffy, although Miss Gordon and Mr Howard haven’t really been around long enough to make too much of an impression.  It’s not impossible to believe that Miss Gordon was intended to return though, as Miss Booth (introduced in the first episode of series eight) isn’t a terribly dissimilar character.

Incidentally, the series-long gag of Mr Howard’s (and to a lesser extent, Mr Smart’s) pursuit of the fragrant art teacher concludes as she declines both of their kind offers to dance and chooses Mr Knowles as a partner instead!  So both Mr Smart and Mr Howard decide to head off for a drink.  Mr Knowles is another teacher who disappears (Chris Jury would be heading off to become Lovejoy’s sidekick).

If Mr Howard’s unlucky in love, then Zammo’s a little more fortunate and is relived to find that Jackie still loves him.  She’s also on hand to break the news that the boys helping behind the bar come from Brookdale and not (as they claimed) Rodney Bennett.  Ah ha, this obviously means they’re up to no good.  Gluxo pops up to taunt Zammo about Jeremy’s death and Jimmy’s on hand to express his displeasure at such a low remark and is also able to exact a suitable revenge (which reveals where the missing bar money ended up).

With Pogo on the decks we get a snapshot of mid eighties pop (Duran Duran, New Order, Thompson Twins) ending up with Spandau Ballet’s True –  a chance for everybody to get just a little closer.  The most delightfully awkward moment comes when Mr McGuffy (no doubt out of a sense of politeness) asks Mrs McClusky if she’d like to dance, just as the record changes to True.  The look on both their faces makes it clear that they’d sooner be anywhere else but dancing together, but the pair bite the bullet and hold each other close (but not too close).

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Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode Seventeen

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Written by Jane Hollowood. Tx 28th February 1984

It’s exam time and Stewpot’s feeling the pressure ….

His mood isn’t helped by Pogo cheerily telling him that he should have sat CSE’s rather than O Levels – as Pogo’s exams are nearly over.  Stewpot also doesn’t seem terribly interested to learn that Pogo’s got the chance of a job (as a double-glazing salesman, a perfect occupation for him!)

The classroom used for the exam is a cheerless place – shabby and joyless – no doubt this doesn’t help to improve the general tension that everybody’s feeling.  Over the next few years GH will undergo something of a transformation, most notably in the style and look of the school (the pending merger with Brookdale and Rodney Bennett has, in part, come about in order to explain why the school will look so different in the years to come).  One side-effect of the changes is the way that the crumbling Victorian nature of the school to date is replaced with a much more modern environment.  This is a shame in some ways, as the inner-city bleakness of the earlier years rather fades away.

Stewpot snaps out of his catatonic state once the exam starts but not in a positive way.  He has something of a breakdown and has to be lead out.  Prior to this, the silence in the room – as the others start writing – is used effectively to ramp up the tension as he stares at the paper blankly.  Mrs McClusky is on hand to give him a pep talk which sends him back.  She’s not prepared to put up with any nonsense from him.  “Don’t be such a stupid little fool. Stop being weak and pull yourself together.”  Fighting talk!  It’s just what he needs of course, and he’s able to go back and complete the paper.

Mrs McClusky later briefly mentions that exams put the children under a great deal of pressure, but there’s no debate as to whether this pressure is too great or if there’s anything that can be done to help the more vunerable pupils.  The message seems to be that you just have to get on with it the best you can.

Miss Gordon continues her quest to secure a nude model for the art club, whilst Mrs McClusky continues to be far from convinced it’s a good idea.  It would certainly liven up proceedings as we see them sketching a number of twigs, not terribly exciting!

Suzanne returns.  She’s looking very different (seemingly having modelled her appearance on Boy George) and outwardly is happy with her life outside Grange Hill.  But her inability to get a job depresses her (which ties in neatly to the exam theme of the episode).  Mr McGuffy offers to help, but Suzane isn’t convinced that exam passes are the answer.  “O Levels, A Levels, that’s all you teachers think about isn’t it? Look, what is the point? There are no jobs.”  This is an argument that’s been played out several times before, but Suzanne’s eventual grudging acknowledgment that he’s right leads him to suggest she attends sixth form college.

Suzanne meets up with Claire and the others, but this only serves to make her feel more isolated.  The others don’t ignore her deliberately, but their banter highlights that she’s no longer a member of the school community and therefore isn’t able to join in.  She’s got what she’s always wanted – Suzanne has long desired to leave Grange Hill – but now it’s happened the girl is a little lost and scared.

Her final conforontation with Mrs McClusky is an oft-repeated moment.  The headmistress is appaled by the sight of the bizarrely attired girl.  But Suzanne is able to have the final world by telling Mrs McClusky that since she no longer attends Grange Hill she can wear what she likes.  She then proceeds to sashay down the corridor, hips swinging impressively.

Mrs McClusky agrees that the art club can have a nude model.  Pogo, on hearing the news, can barely contain his excitement (he’s practically frothing at the mouth) and immediately signs up to join the club.  The eventual revelation that the model is a wrinkled old man rather than an attractive young woman is a nice (if obvious) gag.

Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode Sixteen

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Written by Jane Hollowood. Tx 24th February 1984

N3, Mr Baxter, Mr Knowles, Claire and Stewpot have headed out into the country for an orienteering weekend.  Jane Hollowood’s script develops a theme first seen in the previous years trip to Wales, namely that Mr Baxter struggles when he’s out of his comfort zone.

That he’s not terribly familiar with orienteering is made clear right from the first scene – the whole class head off in one direction, whilst he goes the opposite way!  He’s called back by Mr Knowles (with the children’s jeers ringing in his ears) who points out that he was holding his compass upside down.

Mr Knowles has organised a competition – teams of two people set off through the forest using their newly found orienteering knowledge to locate a series of checkpoints – and the wheel of fortune means that Mr Baxter and Roland have to pair up.

This is a genius move (again, the abrasive relationship between the pair was touched upon during the Wales trip).  It’s plain that Mr Baxter’s opinion of the desperately unathletic Roland has never been high, but from the moment they set out there’s a subtle change in their personal dynamic.  Mr Baxter, for all his surface bravado, is out of his depth, which means that it’s Roland who’s able work out the correct route they have to take.  For once the boy gets the chance to act in a positive manner.

But when Mandy and Sarah decide to hide one of the checkpoint markers it means that the mismatched pair of Mr Baxter and Roland find themselves hopelessly lost.  The teacher then sprains his ankle, which leaves them stranded in the forest, cold and hungry (and with night fast approaching).  This then leads into one of the key moments of the episode.

ROLAND: Everything I do is a disaster.
MR BAXTER: Rubbish. Listen, this was my fault not yours.
ROLAND: What about my mum walking out though? That wasn’t your fault.

There’s a world of pain from Roland in this short exchange.  Despite his visits to the school psychologist during series five, we’ve never really seen him express his fears, hopes or emotions before.  No doubt this is due to his friendless nature (true, Janet’s always been a more than willing listener, but Roland’s opinion about her has been made crystal clear on many occasions!)

Although Roland’s never been the most popular member of the class, the others (even Annette) are concerned about him.  Annette promises that if he comes back safely she’ll never tease him again (she then glances upwards, which suggests she’s said a quick prayer for his safe return – a very uncharacteristic thing for her to have done).

After the pair are finally rescued, Mr Baxter is packed off to hospital with a suspected broken ankle whilst Roland returns back to base.  He’s treated like a returning hero by the others, which is lovely to see (although I’ve always been a little perplexed as to how they managed to create such an impressive “welcome back Roly” banner in double quick time!)

Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode Fifteen

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Written by John Godber. Tx 21st February 1984

When Annette turns up to school with a new bike, it worries Fay and Julie.  Remembering the tale of the camera, they wonder if this is further evidence of Mrs Firman’s mistreatment of her daughter.  Mind you, Annette doesn’t have the bike for long as Jimmy, Nigel and Roland see it as a nice little earner ….

Although Annette’s fate is the topic of this episode, she’s actually fairly peripheral to proceedings, whilst those concerned about her (Fay and Julie and Miss Gordon and Mrs Wilkins) are much more central.  Whilst Annette’s brand new bike suggests that Mrs Firman has been hitting her daughter again (and this is her way of apologising) there’s no actual evidence that this is so.

That’s not really important though, it simply serves as the catalyst to give Fay and Julie the final push they need to speak out.  It’s quite noteworthy that Julie tells Fay that when her mother hits her she doesn’t have any bruises.  Fay agrees with this, which suggests that she too has received physical chastisement from her parents (providing us with a window into a world where such things are commonplace).

They tell Miss Gordon, who along with Mrs Wilkins (Angela Galbraith) later visits Mrs Firman (Dorothy White).  Mrs Wilkins is introduced as coming from Grange Hill, although her precise role is unclear.  She’s a good listener though, as demonstrated when she patiently allows Mrs Firman to tell her tale.

Although Mrs Firman has lavished presents on her daughter (Nigel believes she lives in a big house) it’s a little hard to see how she manages it, especially after it’s revealed that her husband has left her after sixteen years of marriage.  She actuallyvlives in a modest house with nondescript fixtures and fittings (and is quite shabbily dressed).  At one point she tells them that she doesn’t want any sympathy.  Mrs Wilkins responds that they don’t intend to offer her any, but Annette could do with some.  After Mrs Firman expresses remorse it closes the chapter on this story.  This feels a little pat to be honest, but there’s always the possibility that it isn’t a definite ending.

Jimmy’s more Gripper-like in this episode.  Pinching Annette’s bike is rather out of character (remember, he started series seven as a businessman, keen to provide his customers with services) but it does bring Roland’s story-arc to a close.  Having seen Roland move from victim to bully, he now has to face the consequences of his actions after the police catch up with him and his two partners-in-crime.  Roland will remain a regular until the end of the 1987 series, but he’ll rarely feature as a central character again.

Annette and Fay have a brief, but memorable, fight.  It helps to clear the air and it means they’ll be able to pick up their friendship after this brief hiccup.

Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode Fourteen

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Written by Frances Galleymore. Tx 17th February 1984

Diane’s stories about her imaginary boyfriend become more and more elaborate. But Julie seems to smell a rat ….

This episode gives us our one chance to take a look at Diane’s homelife.  Her mother, Gloria (Linda Marlowe), couldn’t be more different to her daughter.  She’s brassy, confident and seemingly not very interested Diane at all.  No surprise then that Diane prefers the safe haven of her bedroom (which, of course, has a big poster of Duran Duran on the wall) and the romantic certainty of teen magazines.

Mr McGuffy’s drama classes seem to be the inspiration behind her endless tales of Mark (he drives a car, works in a record shop, uses aftershave, looks a little like Shakin’ Stevens, etc, etc).  Do we interpret this as a cry for help, or is she secretly delighting in fooling everyone?  Diane’s usually portrayed as a victim (or at least a fairly passive character) so there’s evidence that she relishes stringing everybody along.

This includes her mother, who finds Diane’s stash of secret love letters.   This faintly echoes the storyline of Claire and her secret diary, but it’s plain that Diane intended her mother to find the letters just so she could create a scene.  Gloria has always complained that her daughter never seems to do anything or go anywhere, so it’s more than a little ironic that when she discovers Diane apparently has a boyfriend she’s dead against it.  Diane is then able to taunt her progressive mother most effectively.

If Diane’s managed to fool Fay and Janet, with Annette not really bothered either way, then Julie is the one who seems not to believe a word of it.  But she never comes out and calls Diane a liar to her face (Julie, unlike Annette, is rarely mean or spiteful) and doesn’t press matters after Diane tearfully brings the affair to a close (imaginary Mark is forced to leave town for somewhere up North).

The merger is steaming ahead, with Mrs McClusky keen to take charge.  I like that she calls Claire and Stewpot to her office and passes over paperwork for them to give to their parents, Mrs Scott and Mr Stewart (both of whom are prominent members of the PTA).  Some might see this as underhand, but there’s no doubt that Mrs McClusky is a skilled political animal ….

Miss Gordon is keen to bring a nude life model to the school.  Mrs McClusky reacts in shock (a lovely moment) as does Mr Keating later on (another fine comic scene).  We’ll have to wait a few episodes for the punchline, but it’ll be worth it.

Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode Thirteen

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Written by John Godber. Tx 14th February 1984

Annette proudly displays her new Polaroid camera to the class.  She seems to have an indulgent mother who spoils her rotten – but this surface happiness hides darker secrets …..

The first of five GH episodes penned by John Godber, it provides answers to questions which were posed earlier in the series.  Annette’s mother suffers from depression and hits her daughter, so we can assume that the lavish presents are her way of saying sorry.  Knowing this explains a great deal about Annette’s behaviour (her willingness to taunt others, for example) but it also poses troubling questions.  She’s been this way since we first met her in the first year – has she really been abused all this time?

Everything comes to light after Julie jealously steals her camera.  She only meant it as a joke (this gives me nasty flashbacks to the sagas of Belinda’s clarinet and Fay’s hockey stick) but Annette doesn’t see the funny side.  They have a brief fight but Annette pulls away, clearly in pain.  This wasn’t Julie’s fault though – Annette has bruises on her arms, caused by her mother.

Earlier, the games mistress Miss Hartley also spotted the bruises and gently questioned her.  Annette insisted she fell and Miss Hartley, somewhat reluctantly, seemed to believe her.  We’ve seen this in the series before, where a teacher is aware that a pupil may be suffering abuse but decides not to act.  It’s no doubt an accurate reflection of real life, but it still feels disturbing.  Fay and Julie attempt to cheer Annette up, but there’s a sense that this story isn’t over yet.

Elsewhere, Roland’s smartened himself up – much to the delight of Janet (Simone Nylander).  She launches one of her trademark monologues as she fires question after question at the uncomprehending and uninterested Row-land.  It’s a nice moment of comic relief.

As is Roland’s transformation into a school bully.  After being bullied himself by Gripper, Roland’s now become a fully fledged member of Jimmy’s gang.  Jimmy, Nigel and Roland form an intimidating trio – Jimmy does most of the talking, Roland chips in with the odd word, whilst Nigel says nothing (although he sneers very effectively!)

Mrs McClusky, Mr Smart and Mr McGuffy discuss the merger, which now seems to be going ahead.  Mr Smart isn’t in favour, he declares it would be better if they went back to smaller schools which would give teachers a chance to spend more time with the pupils.  Mr McGuffy doesn’t see the logic in this, although there seems to be something in Mr Smart’s argument.  It’s interesting that Zammo’s mother, Mrs McGuire (Jenny Twigge) also expresses a desire to see the merger stopped.  Although she leans politically to the left (and no doubt Mr Smart leans very much to the right) they both seem to have come to the same conclusion.  Maybe for different reasons ….

Given that he’d just become Artistic Director of the Hull Truck Theatre in 1984, it’s no surprise that John Godber only penned a handful of scripts for GH.  His other episode for series seven concludes the storyline developed here and is just as dramatically satisfying.  His later work for the series is a little more light-hearted though (it includes the memorable affair of Mr Bronson’s stolen wig!).

 

Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode Twelve

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 10th February 1984

Suzanne walks out of Grange Hill again, but this time it looks like she’s gone for good.  On her way out she encounters Mr McGuffy and Mr Smart.  Both want her to stay – although they speak to her in very different ways, as per their diametrically opposed characters.  Mr McGuffy is patient and understanding whilst Mr Smart is abrupt and hectoring.

Neither tactic works, although it’s Mr Smart who feels the most affronted.  He storms over to Mrs McClusky’s office to demand she does something, but the headmistress doesn’t share his anger.  Gwyneth Powell’s been a little underused this year, but she’s very cutting in this brief scene.

Although Suzanne’s left the school, she’ll return to the series in episodes seventeen and eighteen.  But this episode does see the final appearance of Mark Baxter as Duane Orpington.   Given the length of time he’d spent in the series it’s slightly surprising that he just seems to fade away.  One minute he’s there and the next he’s gone, with nobody appearing to notice (although I seem to recall that illness might have been the reason why Baxter didn’t appear in the rest of series seven).

Zammo eventually hands over Gluxo’s note to Jimmy.  Jimmy’s up for a scrap – provided it’s done with a sense of style – but Zammo’s not keen.  Jackie has forbidden him to get involved in any fighting, which leads to a simmering feeling of tension between him and Kevin.  Zammo doesn’t want to be thought of as a coward, but neither does he want to lose Jackie.  It’s a bit of a dilemma.

There’s the second mention of Diane’s boyfriend – and this time he’s got a name, Mark.  At the moment this doesn’t go any further, but it’s another seed planted which will come to fruition later in the series.

Roland’s chaotic home life is finally explained, as Janet (annoyingly helpful and inquisitive as ever) pops around and is told by Mr Browning that Roland’s mother has left home.  One parent families are such a fact of life now (and would also be in later series of Grange Hill) that it seems rather remarkable that this is one of the first instances in the series when it’s been explicitly stated that someone is missing a parent.

The big fight is an anti-climax, but on the plus side it means that Zammo doesn’t have to break his promise to Jackie.  Gluxo locks the Grange Hill boys into the warehouse where the fight was supposed to take place and calls the police.  That’s a somewhat uncharacteristic thing for Gluxo to have done, but GH couldn’t really have been seen to condone gang fighting, so this ending (even if it feels like a bit of a cop-out) does make sense.