Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode One

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Written by Barry Purchese.  Tx 18th February 1985

The opening episode of series eight sees a mass influx of new characters, possibly a “new broom” policy instigated by producer Ben Rea (who had just taken over from Kenny McBain).  This is the first time that a fresh crop of first years had been seen since 1982, so they were a little overdue, but – thanks to the closure of Rodney Bennett and Brookdale – we also see the fourth form strengthened with an influx of refugees from those two schools (many still clinging to old, tribal loyalties) whilst several long-running teachers also make their debut.

Most of the pupils from N1 are familiar archetypes – Calley Donnington (Simone Hyams) and Ronnie Birtles (Tina Mahon) aren’t too dissimilar from Trisha/Cathy or Fay/Annette whilst Gonch Gardner (John Holmes) and Hollo Holloway (Bradley Shepherd) could be another Pogo/Stewpot partnership, especially Gonch who’ll develop, just like Pogo, into the ultimate free marketer.  And the role of the class bully, formally filled by the likes of Doyle, is taken here by the initially imposing Trevor Cleaver (John Drummond).  But Barry Purchese also shakes things up a little.  Calley, from her first scene, is just a little odd and offbeat, carrying to school something mysterious in a box which she plans to return to the pet shop later.

Few of N1 seem to have known each other prior to the first day, so friendships (Calley/Ronnie and Gonch/Hollo) are swiftly forged.  But after Hollo, riding his brother’s bike, knocks into Gonch and the passing Mr Smart seems (rather unfairly) to put all the blame onto Gonch’s shoulders, friendship seems unlikely.  Despite being pint-sized, Hollo is itching for a scrap and plans to settle this score with Gonch after school (but their enmity is short-lived as they soon form an efficient double-act).

Trevor’s bullying is swiftly undercut.  He may impress the squeaky-voiced Robbie Wright (John Alford) but it doesn’t take long before Trevor is cut down to size.  For the remainder of his time on the show he’ll remain an occasionally aggressive character, but more often than not he’s played for laughs – Trevor’s certainly no Gripper that’s for sure.

As for the sixth form, there’s now only three old pupils remaining – Stewpot, Claire and Precious.  We briefly see Stewpot and Claire in passing, but rather like the fifth-formers back in 1982 they don’t really have storylines of their own any more – instead they exist to interact with the younger pupils.

Visually the series looks a little different, thanks to using two different schools.  The old Grange Hill site now houses the form rooms for the fourth, fifth and sixth forms whilst the former Rodney Bennett school is the home for the first, second and third years.  Since Brookdale has been “left to rot” it rather begs the question as to how three schools worth of pupils can now be crammed into just two schools – especially since the classes in Grange Hill always seemed to be full ….

An old story staple reappears here – two teachers squabbling over one classroom.  It’s an interesting wrinkle that we’d previously seen Mr Smart and Mr Knowles at loggerheads (with Mr Smart the aggressor) whereas here Mr Bronson is the one who’s happy to exercise his full range of arrogance whilst Mr Smart is placed in a subservient role.

Another interesting visual touch is seen in the opening few seconds as we see a board which states that Mrs McClusky has been demoted to deputy head, Mr Humphries is now the headmaster.  There was potential for decent character conflict between the two, but alas Mr Humphries rather ends up like Mr Lllewellyn – a character who’s always just out of shot or in an important meeting and can’t be disturbed.

Jackie’s in the same class as Zammo, which makes them happy, but she’s less impressed to see some of her former Brookdale classmates, especially the loutish Banksie (Tim Polley).  For a touch of contrast there’s also the well-spoken ex-Rodney Bennett type Julian Fairbrother (Douglas Chamberlain) who tells the others about their new form-tutor, the intimidating Mr Bronson (Michael Sheard).

Several new teachers are introduced here, but it’s clear that Mr Bronson (“you, boy!”) is the one with the most potential for conflict and drama.  Upon entering the class he looks for someone to browbeat and the unlucky recipient is Zammo.  This is the start of a repeated pattern, we’ll see that he enjoys victimising people over an extended period of time (unlucky later subjects include Ant Jones and Danny Kendall).  Sheard’s wonderful from his first scene and he’s able to brighten many an episode over the next five years.

The long-running Miss Booth (Karen Ford) also appears for the first time, but Miss Washington (Caroline Gruber) was a one series character only, a pity since Gruber is really rather lovely ….

There’s a lot to pack in with just twenty four minutes to play with, but series eight hits the ground running.

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Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Two

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Written by David Angus.  Tx 20th February 1985

Annette’s got a new boyfriend.  She’s coy about his identity though, only giving the other girls one piece of information – his name begins with “S”.  First name or last name, they ask?  She won’t say, but it’s the name he’s best known by.

The hunt for Mr S occupies the imagination of Fay, Julie and Diane.  They reel off a list of (never seen) potential victims, but later are briefly convinced it’s Mr Smart!  This only comes about due to a major piece of plot contrivance – Annette and Mr Smart have a chat about Mr Smart’s prowess as a squash player, whilst the others (out of sight down the corridor) misconstrue their conversation.  Although given that Mr Smart and Annette aren’t exactly shouting and the girls were a fair distance away, it stretches credibility just a little that they could actually hear them.  Oh well, it passes a few minutes and Fay’s shocked reaction is retrospectively ironic when you consider what happens a year later.

Mr S’s identity is revealed at the end of the episode.  This could have been spun out for a few episodes more, but no matter – we now know that Stewpot prefers the charms of Annette over Claire (although strictly speaking he’s enjoying them both, as it were, at present).  Mark Burdis’ end of episode expression is a classic, sheepish best describes it.  Given the effort Stewpot spent trying to re-establish his relationship with Claire, it seems bizarre he’d risk it all for a liaison with Annette (who’s no less annoying this series than she’s been previously).  But love is blind I guess.

In the nineties, Grange Hill would introduce several disabled pupils who weren’t characterised by their disability – that was simply a part of who they are.  Eric Wallace (James Hickling) is the reverse, his few appearances in S8 all revolve around the fact that he’s partially deaf.  To begin with, nobody seems aware of this and the fact that he sometimes appears to ignore people is put down to general ignorance.

It rather stretches credibility that he would have kept his deafness a secret (surely his parents would have mentioned it to the staff?) but it does enable us to have a nice moment with Mr Bronson.  When the exasperated Mr Bronson, annoyed that Eric turned to the wrong page in the textbook, asks him ironically if he’s deaf, Eric says that yes, he partially is.  That silences Mr Bronson quite effectively …..

Tensions between Jackie and Zammo continue to simmer away.  Zammo and Mr Bronson still aren’t hitting it off, whilst Zammo is torn between being one the boys and spending time with his girlfriend (expanding the theme from last year).  There’s also signs that Fay and Julian might be interested in each other – when it’s revealed that Julian is opposed to animal experimentation, Fay tells him that she is too.  “Good for you” he says.  It’s a slightly clunky exchange, but then Douglas Chamberlain’s overtly earnest delivery is probably part of the reason why.

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Three

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Written by David Angus.  Tx 25th February 1985

After unsuccessfully pursuing Miss Gordon for all of S7, Mr Smart’s on much firmer ground with Miss Washington – they’ve already fixed up a date at the squash court and it’s only episode three.  He’s a quick mover!  This episode also sees the first stirrings of Gonch’s skills as a salesman.  He and Hollo have various things to sell, scavenged from the rubbish tip – and I do like the way he describes that they’ve come from a “tip-top” supplier ….

The ever patient CDT teacher Mr McKenzie (Nicholas Donnelly) appears for the first time.  Donnelly would put in long service at Grange Hill, appearing for the next eight series and he’s perfect as the unflappable teacher (he seemed to specialise in such characters as he had an even longer-running but similar role in Dixon of Dock Green).

Calley is entertaining the others with some palm reading but Jane (Joann Kenny) is convinced it’s all a con.  It’s plain that Calley is simply making stuff up, but we’re still invited to side with her as Jane’s plan to expose her backfires and she ends up as the one who’s ridiculed.  This seems a little unfair, as Jane isn’t really positioned as a spiteful character.

A wave of thefts are sweeping the school, including Mr Smart’s squash racquets.  It’s just one of a number of niggles which convince the teaching staff to make a direct appeal to Mrs McClusky.  Mr Bronson is less than impressed with Mr Smart’s missing racquets, he’s more concerned with the lack of car-parking spaces.  Mr Baxter, someone who’s tended to appear mostly on film during the last few seasons, is now back to being a VT character as well – he leads the deputation, but is far from impressed at the outcome, telling the others that he feels like a “right nana” after they fail to reach a consensus.

The bickering continues into the staff room and descends into a male/female debate, only terminated when Mr Baxter blows his whistle, which shuts Mr Bronson up!  This is good stuff and it’s nice to focus a little more on the staff, something which we’ll see more of in later years.

And I have to spare a word for a scene-stealing extras right at the start, who have a brief conversation about fish fingers.

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Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Four

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Written by David Angus.  Tx 27th February 1985

Calley’s latest wheeze is hypnosis, she certainly has a varied portfolio of interests.  Meanwhile, the Grange Hill Bridge-Builders scheme (Mrs McClusky’s plan to help the local, aged community) and preparations for the school musical continue apace.

There are more thefts, including Ronnie’s Walkman (taken from the staffroom) and we also see Gripper’s sister, Emma (Bonita Jones), for the first time.  Is there a connection between the two?  Emma could have been developed as a regular – it’s been a while since GH has had a female bully – but instead she only makes a couple of appearances, meaning we have to wait until next year and the arrival of Imelda before the series gains such a character again.

Ronnie’s convinced that Gonch pinched her Walkman and Calley uses her hypnotic powers to try and confirm if this is so.  But all it proves is that Gonch is a good actor as he manages to convince them all for a few moments that she really did hypnotise him.

The subject of Mr Bronson’s hair is touched upon.  Previously it was believed that it was dyed (inevitably leading to the question about what it died of) but now everyone seems to know it’s a wig – or at least Precious does, especially after she collides with him.  Mind you the way he anxiously checks it after the knock is a dead giveaway ….

Hollo plans to use the Bridge-Builders scheme to give his neighbour, Mr Light (James Ottoway) a helping hand.  Of course, Hollo hasn’t bothered to ask him first, which makes things a little awkward at first.  But after an unpromising beginning, Mr Light doesn’t quite turn out to be the stern curmudgeon we initially take him for (something of a cliché, true).

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Five

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Written by Margaret Simpson.  Tx 4th March 1985

One of the drawbacks about switching focus between the first and fourth years is that you sometimes have to wait a little while for continuing storylines to develop.  So although we left (shock horror) Stewpot and Annette locked in an embrace at the end of the second episode, it’s only at the start of this instalment that the plot kicks forward.

Stewpot, still sporting something of a hangdog expression, has to confess to Annette that he’s yet to tell Claire that it’s all over.  Stroppy Annette is far from pleased about this of course.  Mind you, Claire is equally as stroppy so goodness knows how he’s going to choose between them – but his habit of lying to each of everybody is obviously going to catch him out pretty soon.

And Stewpot’s appearance, in school uniform, raises the interesting topic of uniform policy during series eight.  Leaving aside for the moment why a sixth-former like Stewpot would be wearing school uniform (I can’t recall this happening at GH at any other time) we’re told early on that uniform is optional from the fourth form onwards.  That some ex-Brookdale and Rodney Bennett pupils turn up at the start of term in their old uniforms is explained by the fact that they’re still clinging onto the memories and loyalties of their former schools.  This doesn’t explain why so many of the old Grange Hill types in the fourth year are still wearing uniform though ….

There’s also something of a glaring continuity error between the studio and film sequences (fairly understandable since they were probably shot months apart).  Inside the school Stewpot is wearing a blazer, jumper and no tie, but when he ventures outside he’s lost the jumper but gained a tie.  It makes him look very odd, especially when Annette, two years his junior, is a vision beside him in orange.

The arrival of Mr Bronson sees something of a realignment of Mr Smart’s character.  With Mr Bronson taking on the mantle of the hard (and occasionally fair) teacher, Mr Smart has become more conciliatory – although this may be simply due to the fact he enjoys baiting Mr Bronson.  There’s a great example in this episode as Mr Smart nips into the last parking place in the school, leaving a highly aggrieved Mr Bronson with no other option than to park on the street.  Watch how quickly Mr Bronson speeds off through the playground after he fails to persuade Mr Smart to give way – it’s lucky he didn’t knock anyone over.

Zammo continues to rail against the Brookies, whilst Banksie and Jackie get slightly closer.  The constant fighting between the rival (and now non-existent) schools irritates Jackie no end, but all becomes clear – in story terms – when Miss Washington and Mr McCartney (Tony Armatrading) announce they plan to stage West Side Story.  Casting Zammo and Banksie as the rival gang leaders with Jackie as the object of their rival affections is a perfect example of life and art imitating each other.

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Six

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Written by John Godber.  Tx 6th March 1985

Sion Tudor Owen makes the first of two appearances as English teacher Mr Dean.  The actors name might be a bit of giveaway, as it turns out that Mr Dean is Welsh, very Welsh.  He’s one of those teachers who attempts to adopt a chummy attitude with the pupils (as they dash off for their next lesson he tells them to be “careful out there” – clearly he was a fan of American police dramas).

Zammo tells Mr Bronson to keep his hair on.  Oh dear.  Zammo wasn’t referring to Mr Bronson’s still-unconfirmed hairpiece, but it irritates the touchy teacher.  Michael Sheard continues to entertain ….

The Zammo/Jackie/Banksie triangle is still simmering away.  Zammo can’t take Jackie to the UB40 concert as he’s working in the chipshop, leaving Banksie free to escort her to the gig.  And the other love triangle – Stewpot/Claire/Annette – is reaching critical mass as Stewpot is taking Annette but starts to panic when Claire decides she wants to go as well.  There’s a memorable encounter in the hallway between Claire and Annette.  Claire tells Annette that if she was any thicker she’d clot!

Love continues to be in the air as Fay and Julian arrange a date at the concert (clearly UB40 have the power to bring numerous couples together).  I do like the way that Stewpot greets Annette with a friendly kiss on the top of her head, given the difference in their heights it makes sense – he would have had to crouch down awkwardly to kiss her on the lips!

The fun stops when Claire turns up and Annette proudly tells him that Stewpot’s her man now.  Claire offers him to the chance to leave with her, but he declines.  Later, Precious tells her not to worry as there’s plenty more fish in the sea – we then cut to the fish shop as Kevin serves up a piece of cod.  Well it amused me anyway.

Grange Hill. Series Eight – Episode Seven

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Written by Margaret Simpson.  Tx 11th March 1985

The French exchange students arrive.  Mr Bronson is no doubt hoping for a rewarding cultural cross-pollination whilst I suspect that Fay and Julie are thinking about quite another form of pollination ….

Both seem impressed with the French boys, although it has to be said that most of the exchange students (both male and female) seem to be narcissistically self-obsessed.  This may be a little unfair though, as their limited English obviously hampers them (expect various “comic” moments of misunderstanding) and it’s true that the Grange Hill types give them a welcome which varies enormously.

Amusingly, they’re treated very much little cattle as they get off the coach (“what’s your one like, I don’t think much of mine”) with Zammo being the worst offender.  For some reason he’s very much taken against his one – a perfectly inoffensive chap – and proceeds to give him a hard time.  No doubt this is because he’s still smarting over his on-off-on-off relationship with Jackie, but it’s still a rarity to see him behave in such a boorish manner.

A party at Julian’s finds everybody (to the strains of George Michael’s Careless Whisper, the perfect mid eighties smooch record) pairing off – even Roland, who’s rather taken with Fabienne (Jessica Harrison).  Given that Roland is pretty anonymous during the rest of series eight, this is a nice piece of character development, especially given his long-running issues with making friends and forming relationships.

The other main thrust of the episode is the revelation that Calley is adopted and her real mother, Angela (Jean Heard), has returned to the area and is keen to establish contact with her daughter for the fist time.  It’s a challenging role for Simone Hyams and her lack of acting experience is possibly exposed when the camera focuses on a close-up of e, overhearing her parents talking.  We should be seeing horror, pain and confusion on her face, but instead Hyams can only manage mild inconvenience.

This is only a minor niggle though, since when she’s given dialogue she’s on much firmer ground.  Her adoptive mother (played by Deidre Costello) tells her that they didn’t tell her when she was little because they thought she wouldn’t understand – Calley’s plaintive rejoinder that she’s “not been little for ages” is very nicely played and remains a memorable moment.

Ian Redford makes the first of a handful of appearances as Mr Legge – in this one he spies the absconding Gonch and Hollo and steers them reluctantly to their home economics class.  Mr Legge is clearly something of a trendy teacher (sporting a lapel badge) and his easy-going nature, albeit also with a core of steel, comes across well here.  He’s another of those short-lived characters who could easily have become a regular.

The cooking lesson also gives us another example that Ronnie is rather an iconoclast and a rebel (she breaks an egg over Trevor’s head).  This part of the episode is also of interest thanks to the question of Ronnie’s hair.  It’s in something of a Toyah style (as acknowledged) but shortly afterwards it turns back into a more normal style.  I’m not sure exactly how she could have done this, so I’ll surmise it was done in order to match a later film sequence which featured her normal hairstyle.

We close on a cliffhanger – it’s late in the evening but Calley hasn’t returned home.  Earlier, we’d seen her go off with Angela for a cup of tea, but where is she now?