Another chance to see… The Grimleys 

21 December 2021 tbs.pm/73641


Granada

Granada, 1999-2001

“Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be…” would be the type of strapline the TVTimes may have used if they were publishing this article. I won’t use it because I’m at a loss as to exactly what nostalgia used to be. It’s not actually a word I’m comfortable with, it has implications of a world and a time when things were so much better than they are today, not just ‘things’ in general but everything, a world that simply didn’t exist. When we get nostalgic we’re really pining for our youth rather than the period in which we were young and in that capacity, at least for those of us who were in our teenage school days in the mid-seventies, The Grimleys delivers that type of nostalgia in heaped spoonfuls.

In the real life mid-seventies we were treated to what many at the time cited as the definitive piece of TV nostalgia from America. Happy Days was set around the misadventures of a teenage gang in the second half of the fifties, inspired by the 1973 movie American Graffiti and lighting the blue touch paper for Grease in 1978. However, apart from the wonderful soundtrack of period records playing on the diner jukebox and the odd piece of fifties teenage-speak, there was very little in Happy Days that really put it in the fifties. It was a great show, hugely enjoyable, but script wise it could have been any American family sitcom set in any period, nostalgically and historically about as accurate as The Flintstones.

Fast-forward two decades and we’re taken back to the seventies with The Grimleys, a dysfunctional family coping with everyday life in Dudley, West Midlands, circa 1974-5. The series revolves around the intellectual but feeble teenager Gordon Grimley (played by James Bradshaw) and his ongoing and painful crush on his English teacher Miss Geraldine Titley (Amanda Holden). The storyline is set and narrated by his younger brother Darren (Ryan Cartwright) who sympathises with Gordon’s unrequited love for Miss Titley, but is also somewhat embarrassed by his brother’s reputation as the ‘school spanner’.

 

 

Their bone-idle father ‘Baz’ Grimley (Nigel Planer) injured his back on his first day working at a British Leyland car factory and went on strike the next day, having not raised himself from his armchair ever since, spending his days watching television and being infuriated by Gordon’s artistic and intellectual leanings, unlike their hard-working and put upon mother Janet (Jan Ravens). Lurking in the background is their Nan (Barbara Keogh) frequently referring to ‘The Grimley Curse’

Gordon’s nemesis comes in the shape of Doug ‘Dynamo’ Digby, a sadist superbly played by Brian Conley who is not only engaged to Miss Titley but is also Gordon’s PE teacher. For me this is where the series presses the dreaded ‘nostalgia’ button, being that ‘Dynamo’ Digby personifies nearly every games/PE teacher I encountered in my school days. I’m sure I’m not the only one who recognises him.

What sets The Grimleys above previous period/nostalgia shows is the almost effortless attention to detail. Household brands and fashions are present but appear only as brief references, outdoor scenes feature the correct mixture of cars from the late sixties and early seventies, any passing trucks or buses being of the correct period and liveries, setting the bar for future period shows such as Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. As with Happy Days, period music plays a big part in the soundtrack too, but unlike Happy Days much care is taken in using pop music of the day rather than just any record from the seventies. Sadly, due to copyright clearance problems a lot of the music had to be ‘altered’ or omitted on repeat showings.

The real genius of the show – and I use the word ‘genius’ unapologetically – is in the casting. Among the regulars are Slade’s own Noddy Holder playing the part of the music teacher Neville Holder (the Nod’s real name). At various points in the series we’re treated to some wonderful acoustic versions of various Slade hits. Alvin Stardust plays the part of the local pub landlord, in one scene he and Mr Holder are seen discussing how lucky they were to land their current jobs rather than pursuing careers in pop music.

Other cameo supporting roles include:

  • Stephen Lewis reprising his role as Inspector Blake from On The Buses, now retired and driving the school bus.
  • Johnny Ball as a maths teacher in a private school.
  • Bamber Gascoigne (ex-quizmaster from University Challenge) as the school headmaster.
  • Tony Blackburn as a medallion-man wide-boy trying – and failing – to ‘pull’ Miss Titley at a disco.
  • Michael Cronin appearing briefly in his original role as Mr ‘Bullet’ Baxter from Grange Hill at a PE teachers conference.

Three series were made, the first two set around ’74 and ’75. The third series leaps forward to 1978, the soundtrack now featuring the punk and new-wave of the time. Gordon is now a teacher at his old school and therefore a colleague to the woman of his dreams, Doug Digby is out of the game having been victim to an accident in the gym in episode one and we finally get to learn of ‘The Grimley Curse’ at the end of the series.

The ITV network as-was had real difficulty in scheduling this show, being undecided about its appeal to those who weren’t around at the time. It solved this by playing it on Monday nights after News at Ten for the benefit of us ‘children of the seventies’, then with a teatime repeat on Saturdays for a family audience. It succeeded in satisfying both and, for me at least, remains among the best of ITV’s comedy output. It did enjoy a couple of repeat runs on ITV3 but sadly, only the first series was released on DVD and has now been deleted from the catalogue. It’s possible to turn up some sell-though VHS episodes in obscure places and they are well worth a look. Mix yourself an Angel Delight or open a bottle of Cresta, sit back and enjoy.

 

You Say

3 responses to this article

Westy 21 December 2021 at 5:25 pm

If series 1 was set in Dudley circa 1974 / 1975, Istr them using a ‘period’ Beacon Radio jingle.

Beacon didn’t start till 1976!

Surely BRMB (started 1974!) was receivable in Dudley?

Andy Roberts 2 January 2022 at 6:20 pm

A stellar cast, with James Bradshaw now well known as pathologist Dr Max “shall we say 2 o’ clock” DeBryn in Morse prequel Endeavour. People may be forgiven for forgetting how good a comedy actress Amanda Holden was before becoming a talent show judge! Glad it all turned out well for Mr Holder and Mrs Grimley. Surely there’d be demand for a DVD?

Andy Roberts 3 January 2022 at 11:58 pm

PS There seems to be a fair bit of this on You Tube, maybe every episode. I’d forgotten that the pilot featured Jack Dee as the PE teacher and Samantha Janus as Miss Titley, but otherwise all good. In fact I was a bit confused when I first saw the pilot on ITV some time after series one, puzzled that they’d essentially crammed the whole Grimley story arc into a single long episode!

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