Thirty Years of Grange Hill – Part II 

30 November 2008

Grange Hill had made its impact and was here to stay – but only in the second series could Phil Redmond realise his aim of showing life “as it existed, not how we would like it to be”. The programme switched to a twice-weekly soap format and the storylines would be more reflective of Grange Hill‘s long lived comic-book title sequence, with its playground fights and iconic flying sausage on a fork, the brainchild of BBC graphic designer Liz Friedman, to symbolise a canteen food fight. The school canteen is particularly significant.

The dramatic backbone of Series Two was the arrival of liberal headmaster Mr Llewelyn (a pre-Bergerac Sean Arnold) to do battle with the militant fifth formers of the Student’s Action Group (SAG). Their main raison d’être was to achieve the abolition of school uniform. The school council and its protocol let SAG down and so they took matters into their own hands. Mr Llewelyn patiently listened to SAG’s leader Jessica Samuels (perhaps with more patience than she deserved) but increasingly SAG shouted ever louder.

Where SAG really gained the upper hand was their impromptu demonstration in the school canteen against school policy of seating pupils on free meals at designated tables. Jessica Samuels climbed atop her table and urged anyone who agreed with her to do likewise. In a near-riot, everyone started chanting, “We want the head!” and sure enough Mr Llewelyn arrived. Amazingly, he decided the protestors had a point and allowed everyone to sit where they wished. This proved the last straw for the nation’s parents who were furious to see the head teacher cave in so easily and the matter was even debated in the House of Commons – but Phil Redmond reiterated that for most Grange Hill was escapism and that schoolchildren were unlikely to copy anything they’d seen on screen.

SAG’s victory would only allow them to become more brutish, disrupting school sports and blackmailing naysayers into supporting them. Eventually Grange Hill played its moral card and Llewelyn expelled SAG’s ringleaders after they occupied the secretary’s office and vandalised it to make their voice heard. Ironically, SAG in departing got the referendum they sought on school uniform, with a resounding “yes” vote for uniform being made optional.

Away from school politics, Grange Hill was a ‘proto-EastEnders‘ in how it tackled grittier aspects of teenage life. A menagerie of new characters was introduced to accommodate the expansion of the show’s run; Andrew Stanton muddled through his parents’ marital difficulties, and the girls of Grange Hill were warned against a prowler, prompting Cathy Hargreaves to use the word “rapist” on children’s TV. When the man turned out to be Cathy’s father whom she believed was dead, Cathy went off the rails, turned to bad girl Madelin Tanner for excitement and was consequently caught shoplifting from the local precinct. In an early example of a storyline which would define the series in its later years, Simon Shaw was discovered to be dyslexic, turning to Trisha Yates for help.

Despite a policy of showing the consequences of bad behaviour, Grange Hill was now causing a headache for the BBC. A Somerset branch of the W.I. wanted the show banned and several celebrities including newsreader Anna Ford refused to allow their children to watch. Grange Hill was blamed for “everything that went wrong in any school in the country” said Phil Redmond, always having to leap to the show’s defence, in reminding parents that bullying, truancy or disrespect for one’s teachers had been around long before Grange Hill. Series 3 was at an advanced planning stage when BBC bosses summoned Redmond to lunch and forced him to tone down future series if he wanted the show to continue. Yet Grange Hill gained licence to carry on by winning the BAFTA award for Best Children’s Entertainment in both 1979 and 1980.

The third series, 1980, saw the school expanding for the first time. With Tucker and his mates now in the third year it was time to bring in some new first years – spiv Pogo Patterson, tomboy Tracy Edwards (Holby City‘s Amanda Mealing), and Sally Forsyth – who suffered from a heart condition. Grange Hill was also moving into a second phase with the arrival of much-remembered characters such as drippy science mistress Miss Mooney and a woodwork master Mr Hopwood, played by Brian Capron years before Coronation Street catapulted him to national fame. The usual storylines of power struggles on the school council remained; hitherto good-girl Penny Lewis was banned from the school magazine after writing a contentious article exposing school rep Doyle as self-serving but the main event was the first death in the series. Antoni Karamonopolis would pay the ultimate price for ignoring the lunchtime ban on visiting the local precinct – falling to his death from the roof. Off-screen, the series had vacated Kingsbury High and now filmed at Doyle Gardens in Willesden Green.

Series Four was make or break after Phil Redmond’s earlier warning from his bosses. There was more of a moral undercurrent with the introduction of iconic headmistress Mrs McClusky – viewed by some as a Thatcher figure – fresh out of a girls’ school and determined to turn around this school’s reputation.

First she had to deal with mindless vandalism to the school toilets by psychotic thug Booga Benson. When McClusky threatened to cancel the school dance unless the culprit was named, Tucker Jenkins “squealed” on Benson after much wrestling with his conscience. The dance was saved but Tucker got bruised ribs for his efforts. Trisha Yates, now a Farrah Fawcett double with her power-suited dress, turned to the school council in her ongoing quest for a more democratic school, while Cathy went off the rails again and was even given the cane (quite legal at the time and still in use in many schools) by Mrs McClusky when she bunked off school to practice with her band.

The previous line-up of ‘first years’ had changed – Tracy was replaced by Claire Scott, a sheltered girl whose self-consciousness when faced with forthcoming school medicals played out in a way we can all relate to, but more significantly the new bad boy “Gripper” Stebson would fit nicely into Booga Benson’s shoes. Stebson’s wanton vandalism of the common room (after Pogo Patterson misguidedly refused Gripper’s “custom” for the homework service he ran) persuaded Mrs McClusky to make school uniform compulsory again in a bid to restore discipline.

1981 ended with a Christmas Special for Grange Hill – the storyline was chosen from a Blue Peter competition. Paul Manning’s tale of Tucker running the school disco offered a light-hearted break from Grange Hill‘s normal fare.

These early years of the show are now a revealing social document of how different the education system was, almost thirty years ago. In one episode, sports master Bullet Baxter threatened to “bust a boy’s skull” for insolence, a response quite unremarkable for the time, but an unthinkable reaction today. Antoni Karamonopolis’ death was all but forgotten in the next episode with no sign of the bereavement counsellors that today would be brought in routinely after such a tragedy. Grange Hill packed the dyslexic Simon Shaw off to a special school instead of providing the in-house support that Serena Sulli would enjoy decades later in Series 31. Further into the eighties, Grange Hill would continue to dig deeper in its quest for reality, as part three of our series will explain.

You Say

3 responses to this article

Liz Friedman BA (Hons) FHEA MISTD 28 April 2013 at 11:55 pm

I designed the Grange Hill sequence and not Liz Sidel Friedman! I now head the Motion Graphics Course at Ravensbourne, having been a creative director at the BBC until 2002.

Russ J Graham 29 April 2013 at 5:09 pm

Hi Liz. I can’t see where Transdiffusion says Liz Sidel Friedman rather than you created the title sequence.

Graham Pearson 13 May 2014 at 7:40 am

As far as I’m concerned, Booga Benson was obsessed with Tucker being absent from Grange Hill through suspension, illness or injury. Benson may have written in his diary about Tucker being absent as a direct result of he and Benny being caned by the head teacher for factory roof break in and a few years later done by Sutcliffe for throwing snowballs at windows and a woman teacher for disruptive behaviour in class.

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