Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode One

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 3rd January 1984

The opening episode of series seven begins with Zammo rushing to meet someone.  So far, so familiar (it brings to mind a similar scene from the start of series six) but when we learn that he’s not meeting Jonah, it’s the first of several instances which demonstrate that change is in the air.

Jackie Wright (Melissa Wilks) is Zammo’s new (first?) girlfriend and together they set off for her school, Brookdale.  Although they hold hands on the way, Jackie complains that it’s like holding hands with a plank!  Is this because he’s ashamed to be holding hands with a girl or because he has to drop her off at Brookdale?  They part at the school gates and exchange a peck on the cheek, to the intense annoyance of Gluxo Remmington (David Rippey).

Gluxo presumably goes to Brookdale (although it’s more likely that his attendance record is slim to non-existent).   Maybe he spends his time roaming the streets, duffing people up?  He’s certainly keen to hand out a beating to Zammo, but the younger boy manages to escape (following an entertaining chase where joggers and children in the park are just some of obstacles to be overcome).  WW2 reference number one – as Zammo rides to freedom on a handy bus he raises his arm to Gluxo in an ironic Nazi salute.

There are major changes with the teaching staff, as both Mr Hopwood and Miss Mooney have left.  Mr Smart is assigned to be H5’s form tutor and there’s a very revealing scene where he confesses to Mrs McClusky that his performance the previous year was, in many ways, an “act”.  But in order to connect with H5 and function effectively as their form tutor he realises that he needs to show them a little more of his real personality – which isn’t something he finds easy.  This moment is the start of the humanizing of Mr Smart which will develop more fully in series eight where he’s, at times, a totally different character from the abrasive martinet of series six.

Miss Gordon (Kara Wilson) is N3’s new form tutor.  She makes a very strong first impression on both Fay and Annette, albeit for different reasons.  Fay does her best to be friendly and welcoming (with Annette characteristically remarking that she’s a bootlicker!).  No surprise that Annette is neither friendly or welcoming, not only to Miss Gordon but to everyone else as well.  Annette’s first appearance – plastered in make-up – is a startling one and Fay’s comment to Julie that she was rather odd during the holidays is the first hint that something may be wrong with Ms Firman.

Other plot-threads are started (why does Roland have so much money and why is he so scruffy?) but there’s no need for them to be answered in this episode.  It’s simply a mystery that can be tucked away for later.

One of my pet hates is when a new character is introduced and everyone reacts as if he/she has been there for years and we’ve simply never seen them on screen before.  Kevin Baylon (Mmoloki Chrystie) is a classic case in point.  With the absence of Jonah it’s easy to believe that he was created to fill this gap, but that wasn’t the case at all.

Jonah was to have appeared in the first few episodes, before meeting a watery end in the school swimming pool.  Either the actor, his parents or his agent didn’t fancy this, so the character of Jeremy Irvine was drafted in to take his place.  In a way it’s a pity that Jonah didn’t feature, as certain parts of the plot – Zammo and Jackie’s relationship, for example – would have had more resonance if Jonah had been the one on the outside, slightly irritated that his best-friend Zammo was spending all his time with a girl.

Within a short space of time Jeremy manages to annoy virtually all of his new class-mates and he ends the episode proudly displaying the forged bus-pass he made in art class.  I wonder how this will end for him ….

It’s interesting that Jeremy’s parents decide to transfer him to Grange Hill because they’ve heard rumours that Rodney Bennett (Jeremy’s old school) and Brookdale are due to merge. Series eight would see a three-school merger (with GH too, of course) so I wonder if this was an early foreshadowing of that. More likely it was just a throwaway line that someone later realised had plenty of dramatic potential.

WW2 reference number two – as H5 wait for the arrival of Mr Smart, Stewpot does his best impression of him (if he was played by Adolf Hitler that is).  It’s a little hard to imagine a modern children’s serial peppered with references to the Second World War, if only for the fact that many of the audience might not understand the references.

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Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode Two

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 10th January 1984

Although Mr Smart is aware that he needs to unbend a little and show a more human side to H5, old habits die hard.  When Claire, clutching a biorhythm calculator, asks him for his date of birth (in order to work out his physical, mental and emotional states) he tells her not to be impertinent.  His date of birth is clearly information that he doesn’t wish to share.

But as if to demonstrate his inflexibility, later Miss Gordon and Mr Howard (Michael Osborne) are both happy to let the girls know their dates of birth.  This scene, whilst demonstrating how friendly and approachable they both are, also signifies the start of Mr Howard’s campaign to woo Miss Gordon.  It’s obvious to Claire and the others that he popped into her class on the merest pretext – he basically just wanted a little quality time with her.

They all approve – in their eyes Miss Gordon and Mr Howard would make an ideal couple and they don’t consider the age difference (some four years) to be a problem!  Prior to this, I can’t think of many instances where the private life of a teacher was considered an acceptable story topic (apart from the trials and tribulations of Mr Sutcliffe and Miss Mooney) so this seems to mark a subtle change in the series’ format as from now on the teachers will tend to become more rounded characters.  Mr Howard is another person who has apparently been at Grange Hill for years, but always out of shot.  Michael Osborne makes Mr Howard relaxed and friendly – clearly a teacher who’s a favourite amongst the pupils.

But he has a rival in love, as Mr Smart is also interested in the fragrant new art teacher.  It must be said that he’s rather forward – placing his arm on her shoulder as he steers her down the corridor.  Mr Smart also approaches her under a flimsy pretext (in his case, advice about sets for the school play) and at present it’s far too early to say which (if either) is going to get the nod from her.  Indeed, this is a story that’s going to run and run …..

After being a key figure during series six, Randir is much more low profile this year (this episode is probably his most substantial contribution).  He offers to sell Pogo one of his chain letters – for a mere five pence.  Pogo spies a money-making opportunity and buys all of them so he can start his own chain (this naturally ticks off Randir).

The nature of chain letters, how they work (or don’t) and exactly how you can apparently make a fortune is discussed in some detail.  With a fair bit of mathematical discussion, this is probably one of Grange Hill‘s most educational episodes.

Although there are warnings that chain letters always fail, for the moment Pogo seems to be in the money.  But Claire warns him that Jimmy McClaren will want his cut – the first mention of the unseen (as yet) successor to Gripper.  Following Gripper was always going to be difficult, so it was probably quite wise that they chose to make Jimmy McClaren a very different character.

 

Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode Three

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Written by David Angus. Tx 10th January 1984

There’s something in Jeremy’s nature which means he can’t help being deceitful.  Even if it doesn’t gain him anything, he still delights in misdirection and falsehoods.  Because of this it’s a pity he didn’t stay in the series a little longer, as there would have been considerable mileage for this sort of insidious character.

At the start of this episode he tells Zammo that there’s no point in waiting for Jackie – she’s left without him (in a car, with a strange young man).  It’s all a complete tissue of lies as we see Jackie failing to catch up with them and then later stropping in the Brookdale playground because she can’t understand why Zammo didn’t wait for her.  Why do it?  Zammo was bound to find out the truth eventually, but even when he does Jeremy won’t admit that he lied – merely that he must have been mistaken.  He has all the makings of a first class politician.

Annette continues to flout the school rules by wearing make-up, but this goes unnoticed since (on doctor’s orders) she’s able to wear sunglasses indoors.  This seems rather futile – why bother to wear make-up if no-one can see it?! – but there you go.  Her man-eating tendencies are commented upon, as Julie mentions she fancies anything in trousers.  Annette responds that it’s better than fancying someone in a skirt.  She quickly backtracks and mentions a Scotsman, but the inference is that Fay’s keen interest in Miss Gordon has not gone unnoticed by her.  Unsurprisingly this would be a topic that Grange Hill would skirt around very delicately – although as series seven develops, the chatter that Fay has a crush on her form teacher begins to intensify.

But then Miss Gordon clearly has a certain something, as both Mr Smart and Mr Howard are both still valiantly attempting to broach her defences.  First, Mr Howard offers her a lift as he’s going her way (she innocently asks him which way is that?).  Alas, Mrs McClusky steps in and asks him to cover Mr Keating’s detention which leaves him very downcast.  Mr Smart finds it hard to hide his jubiliation though!  Mr Smart pops round to the art room later, but he finds himself no further forward as she politely declines his offer of a lift as she already has one.  This leaves Mr Smart perplexed, does this mean there’s another rival for her affections?

Roland’s still looking scruffy, although his transformation from victim to bully (well sort of) begins here.  He starts a money-lending business, with interest charged on late repayments and there seems to be no end of people willing to take him up on it.  When he later joins forces with Jimmy McClaren (still to make an appearance) his change of sides is even more pronounced.

Jeremy gets nabbed by the bus inspector, who was never going to fall for his fake pass.  Why didn’t he just pretend he didn’t have the fare?  He would have got slung off the bus, but that would  have been better than waving a forged pass about.

Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode Four

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Written by David Angus. Tx 13th January 1984

The opening scene gives us our first look at Jimmy McClaren (Gary Love) and his ever-present sidekick Nigel Flavin (Gary Hailes).  Although Jimmy has somewhat stepped into the void left by Gripper, he also bears more than a little resemblance to Pogo.

Jimmy’s a fixer – he’s happy to relive others of their money, but he likes to provide a service in return (unlike Gripper, who just liked the money).  Here, we see him plot to get someone onto the school football team (with the wheeze of stealing another boy’s boots) whilst Nigel later receives a payment after agreeing to arrange that a boy has his pick of the desks (he doesn’t like his current place and no-one else will move).

This transaction is overheard by Mr Keating and it provides us with the spectacle of Robert Hartley ear-wigging in the background as he desperately tries to hear what’s being said.  This will be Hartley’s final series as Mr Keating and I’m going to miss his firm (and usually fair) methods.

Gary Hailes would be another actor who’d make a seamless transfer from Grange Hill to EastEnders.  Gary Love would later become a regular in Soldier Soldier as well as maintaining a parallel career as a director.  Although neither continue in Grange Hill after 1984, they both manage to liven up the few episodes they do appear in.

Although Jeremy’s absent – suspended – following his bus-pass forgery, he continues to cast a shadow over Zammo.  Kevin doesn’t believe that Jeremy would ever get one of them into serious trouble, but Zammo isn’t so sure.

Annette dreams of stardom and decides to enter a fashion competition.  Her self-delusion is made plain after she boasts that she’ll have professional pictures taken, only to later be seen emerging from a photo booth, glammed up to the nines.   This storyline will pay off in a couple of episodes time.

After appearing in a one-off episode last year, Chris Jury’s Mr Knowles has now become a regular.  I’m not sure whether it was a performance choice or simply a stumble, but at one point Mr Knowles seems to forget Annette’s name for a second and then almost pronounces “historical” as “hysterical”.  An actor’s fumble maybe, but it’s also very in character for someone who’s no longer the helpless teacher we’ve previously seen, but isn’t yet totally in command of the class.

And there’s an outbreak of nits.  Eek!

An anonymous phone call to Mrs McClusky spells trouble for Zammo.  Nigel was passing at the time and is able to give Zammo a heads up – much to the despair of Jimmy, as he’s given away information for free!  Zammo believes that Gluxo was behind it, and recruits his friends for a showdown.  Unfortunately they start to drift away one by one after they fail to find him.  So that by the time the Brookdale boy does make an appearance, only Zammo and Kevin are left.

How Gluxo learnt that Zammo’s bus-pass was used by Jeremy is a mystery, which makes it much more likely that the anyonomous call was made by Jeremy (or someone on his behalf).  This ties back to Kevin’s comment earlier in the episode and although Jeremy wouldn’t have benefitted from grassing Zammo up, it seems like just the sort of thing he’d do.  So why didn’t Zammo consider the possibility?

Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode Five

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Written by Margaret Simpson. Tx 17th January 1984

Although it’s been a while since we’ve seen Mrs Scott, Claire’s mother, she’s still the same fusspot that she’s always been.  And despite the fact that Claire’s now in the fifth form she still talks to her like she’s in the first year.  Nits are the problem – Claire’s had them and Mrs Scott is convinced she must have caught them from Suzanne.  Another example of the long-standing disdain that Mrs Scott has always held for Claire’s common (in her eyes) friend.

Jimmy’s upset that he hasn’t received the promised six hundred pounds from Pogo’s chain letter and forcibly makes his point.  This shows us Jimmy’s more menacing side, but events later in the episode prove that he’s far removed from the thuggish Gripper.  Mrs McClusky corners Mr Howard on the stairwell (a piece of the set that’s been seen so many time during the last few years that it’s almost become an old friend) and demands he finds out who’s responsible for the letters.

Mr Howard agrees, but is distracted by the passing Miss Gordon.  He walks a few paces to watch her retreating back with a wistful look on his face, whilst Mrs McClusky is still trying to gain his attention!  That’s the only reference to his pursuit of her in this episode, but it’s a nice dialogue-free throwaway moment nonetheless.

Mr McGuffy is attempting to recruit five pupils to go with him on a weekend trip organised by the UN.  Each school will pick a country and they’ll have a mock debate.  There’s a high level of cynicism on display – Suzanne likens the UN to the school council (with the one as effective as the other) whilst Glenroy tells the others that the UN exists to keep the poorer countries in their place.  Suzanne isn’t keen on going, but when she learns that Glenroy is, she perks up ….

Precious can’t go because she’s got a Saturday job at a hairdressers.  We’ll come back to this, with disastrous consequences for Christine’s hair, in a later episode.  There’s also the first mention of Anita’s gran for quite a while.  During series three she could hardly go a couple of sentences without mentioning her, but that hasn’t been the case recently.

This episode sees the last appearance of Allyson Rees as Miss Lexington, which makes me rather sad.  We learn that her first name is Jenny (a fact I don’t believe has been divulged before).  She and Mr Gordon are on hand to collar Pogo as he desperately tries to harness the power of the computer to salvage something from the chain letter fiasco.  Mr Howard suggests they ask their maths teacher why a market can never expand indefinitely.

There’s a lot of disappointed out-of-pocket kids after the chain letter scheme is wound up.  Jimmy extracts all the money held by Pogo and is quite happy to see it redistributed amongst those who lost out.  This makes it obvious that while he can be menacing, he also doesn’t always act in his own self-interest.  He gained nothing out of this (apart from being able to taunt Pogo) but perhaps we can put it down to another example of his canny business sense.  After all, all those people that have gained something might be potential customers in the future ….

Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode Six

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Written by Barry Purchese. Tx 20th January 1984

Annette has received a letter inviting her to take part of the finals of the fashion contest she entered a few weeks back, but neither Miss Gordon or Mr Howard will allow her to take time off school.  This doesn’t bother her as she bunks off anyway.  Jeremy returns from suspension, as mischievous as ever.  The others give him the cold shoulder but he continues to act up during their swimming lesson, where tragedy strikes ….

Ms Firmin is her usual charming self, unable to hide her glee that she’s the only one from the school chosen for the finals.  Mandy sums her up succulently with a single word (“cow”).  It’s a mild form of abuse, but it still a slightly jolting moment.

The third years have a biology lesson where they witness a rat being dissected.  If this had occured a decade later there probably would have been a debate as to whether it should have happened at all.  But here, the teacher just gets on with it and those who want to stay do and those that don’t are free to sit in the other room.  There’s no suggestion that they don’t stay out of a sense of animal rights, simply that they felt a little squeamish.  This scene might be a little jarring for modern viewers, but it’s an accurate picture of school life back in the 1980’s.  Back then, animals were used in lessons and I personally don’t recall any objections being raised.

Jeremy can’t resist hiding Diane’s schoolbag in the same cupboard as the dissected rat, which has inevitable consequences.  It’s yet another idiotic action which further estranges him from the rest of the class and drives Mr Howard to despair.

For those keeping track of Mr Howard’s pursuit of Miss Gordon, this episode he bumps into her (literally) which seems to please him no end.  He’s certainly gained some ground on Mr Smart who hasn’t made a move for a few episodes …..

Annette’s dreams of stardom come to nothing when she realises that there’s hundreds of girls in the queue ahead of her (and they taunt her by pointing out that she’s the only one in school uniform).   She returns to school, downhearted, and refuses to get changed for swimming.  This initially seems to be just another case of her stroppiness, but then we see her roll up her jumper to look at her arm.  Together with the comments from previous episodes it’s another moment that suggests all isn’t well.  It’s also an example of how the series was now much more confident to develop plot-threads over an extended number of episodes, no doubt happy that the audience would be tuning in week after week and also that they’d be paying close attention.  Back in series two or three this would have probably been dealt with much sooner.

When I rewatched series six for this blog, I noticed that Mr Baxter mostly tended to show up on film.  And again the same thing seems to be happening here – this is the first time we’ve seen him during series seven and all his scenes here are on film.  Did Michael Cronin have other commitments which meant his time was limited, meaning many of his scenes had to be pre-filmed?

It’s rather nice to see Dennis Blanch as Mr Devereaux and he helps to serve as a reminder that I really should dig out Strangers to rewatch soon.  He’s in the one swimming pool, teaching the beginners, whilst Miss Hartley (Angela Newmarch) takes the main class in the other pool.  This isn’t the first time that pupils have been left unattended by the pool (series one, episode four) but this has fatal results.  Miss Hartley decides to go back into the changing room to speak to Annette, who’s still refusing to come out of the cubicle, although her visit proves rather fruitless.  As with the series one episode, it beggars belief that a whole class would be left to their own devices so close to water.  And the fact that nobody seems to be to blame is something we’ll discuss a little more next time.

The moment when Zammo surfaces to shout that Jeremy’s in trouble is a chilling one.  And the last few minutes, as Devereaux and Baxter frantically try to resuscitate the boy whilst the rest of the class looks on, is another striking image.  As Devereaux tells Baxter that it’s hopeless – the boy’s lungs must have filled with water immediately – the picture freeze frames.

Grange Hill. Series Seven – Episode Seven

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Written by Frances Galleymore. Tx 24th January 1984

Following Jeremy’s death there’s an episode of reflection.  This is more than we had after Antoni Karamanopolis plummeted to his death from the shopping centre roof – his fate was discussed in a very offhand manner in the subsequent episode.

It’s Jeremy’s unpopularity which is uppermost in the minds of N3 as it causes several of them to wonder if they were somehow to blame for his death. Diane, because of the prank he played on her in the science lab whilst Fay is upset because he died after diving into the pool to retrieve her necklace (true, he was the one who had thrown it in in the first place, but grief and logic don’t always go hand in hand).

Zammo, Kevin and Annette have yet to turn up and it’s interesting that Fay declares she’s never going to talk to Annette again. It’s true that if Annette hadn’t caused Miss Hartley to leave the pool then the tragedy might not have happened, but this is just another example of the children’s attempts understand a situation that was outside of their control.

Janet, sensible as ever, declares that talking about it can only help, whilst Miss Gordon – who had been listening outside the classroom – agrees. She tells them it was nobody’s fault, Jeremy had s weak heart and he simply stayed under the water too long.

Wild rumours are sweeping the school though (lurid tales that he committed suicide) whilst Mrs McClusky comments that there are (unseen) reporters outside the school gates. From Grange Hill’s point of view the upcoming enquiry will be a formality – had they known Jeremy had a heart problem then he would never have been in the pool in the first place, but no blame seems to be attached to the teaching staff.

If the lesson had been supervised than at the very least Jeremy would have been extracted from the pool a lot quicker. Would this have saved his life? Impossible to say, but it’s slightly remarkable that Mrs McClusky doesn’t seem to draw this conclusion from the sad events.

Mr Baxter feels responsible and tenders his resignation, which Mrs McClusky refuses. Good playing from Michael Cronin during this episode. It’s also a nice moment when Fay and the others try to raise his spirits. As Julie said earlier, they all have to stick together in times like these.

Zammo wasn’t present to hear Miss Gordon tell the class that no-one was to blame. He’s at home with a stomach-ache and no doubt thoughts and regrets whilst Annette seems to be totally unaffected. She breezes into class as if nothing’s happened, a sharp contrast to the subdued attitudes of the others.

But Annette’s brave face is nothing more than an act and she later breaks down. It’s another nicely played moment in a reflective episode that ranks as one of the strongest of series seven. It often seems to be the way in soaps that whilst the deaths of characters are dramatic high-points, it’s the aftermath that really allows the actors to shine.

And to lighten the mood a little we learn that Precious isn’t very good at cutting hair ….