Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Friday, February 08, 2008

Just Say NO!!!

Aaaah bleedin' 'ell Tucker! The BBC are axing "Grange Hill"!! No waaaaay, mate!

Yes, after being broadcast for some thirty years, the popular children's drama series, set in a fictional comprehensive school, is finally coming into an end.

I feel quite gutted by this news, even though as an (apparent) adult I haven't watched the programme for a very long time. For one thing, it's shown before I get home so I don't get the chance.

But in my primary and secondary school days (appropriately enough) I was a major fan and remember quite clearly when the show erupted onto our TV screens in 1978. The series caused controversy right from the start, with its gritty, true-to-life portrayal of school life, as opposed to the "nicer", more cosy school dramas that had preceded it. Not to mention the characters themselves, like the tearaway Tucker Jenkins and mouthy madam Trisha Yates. Parents across the country were up in arms, worried that the antics of these rebellious pupils would somehow rub off on their own offspring.

Funny, because if you watch early episodes of "Grange Hill" now, they seem pretty tame in comparison with the kind of kids' TV we get in 2008 and what is now regarded as permissible television viewing. As one of the original actors from the show said, if they really showed what went on in schools in the 2000s, the programme would have to be broadcast after the 9 o' clock watershed. Standards have definitely changed and so in this respect it's understandable why they have decided to lay the show to rest.

However in its heyday, "Grange Hill" dealt with a variety of pertinent and controversial storylines, such as bullying, pupil-teacher romances, students throwing benches into the school swimming pool (ooooh!), heroin addiction (Zammo! more on him later), attempted suicide and even - gasp! - homosexual teachers!

So to commemorate the passing of this iconic kid's series, here's a mini tribute from moi, focussing on some of the most memorable characters (really I think this should be a Cheeser's Choice post!)

First off...

The pupils!

Peter "Tucker" Jenkins (see photo at the top of post, and the one above of the first cast line-up - Tucker's the one in the middle row with the dark-parted hair.) He was a right little rebel but somehow sexy with it (well erm, once he'd got past the pre-pubsecent period...) In his later years, he morphed into an English version of the Fonz / Danny Zucco from Grease with his leather jacket (see photo with Pogo below) and swaggering ways. Tucker was always getting into scrapes, though he wasn't a truly bad 'un, more of a lovable rogue and a point of identification for us kiddies (getting into strife with our teachers was something we all dreamed about but were too scared to actually do - so we lived our fantasies through Tucker). The character even went on to star in his own "Grange Hill" spin-off, "Tucker's Luck". And he was played by a very young Todd Carty, who later played the HIV positive character Mark Fowler in "Eastenders" for many years! Odd, cos "Grange Hill" seemed to serve as a kind of "warm up" school for lots of budding actors, many of whom graduated to "Eastenders" later on.

Alan Humphries (second from left, middle row, above). Rotund friend of Tucker. I can't remember much about him except that he too was one of the school deviants (no, not THAT kind). Oh and he liked to smoke too, which was very daring in its day. I do recall one episode when the school is on a cross-channel ferry trip to France and Alan chucks his packet of fags into the sea ... even the bad ones are capable of reform it seems ...

Benny Green (second from right, middle row). One of the few black characters when the show kicked off. Again don't remember much about Benny but he was a bit of a "naughtie". Him, Alan and Tucker formed the school's rebel triumvirate in the early days.

Trisha Yates (bottom row, left). As said, quite a mouthy, cheeky mare, but basically a good soul. She was often getting into fights with other girls - cue lots of hair-pulling and rolling around in unconvincing fashion. I also seem to remember she had a sister who affectionately referred to Trisha as "piglet". Fortunately she didn't resemble one. Years later in "Tucker's Luck", Trisha and Tucker ran into one another - it transpired that Tucker had had a birrova crush on old Trish over the years and they got it together! Wooh!

Justin Bennett (middle row, first right). The token Middle Class pupil and a bit of a snot-nosed bore. The polar opposite to Tucker, Justin was a well spoken, well-dressed young boy who played cricket and the piano and also suffered from nosebleeds. Artistic or "wet" depending on your point of view. His parents were worried that Grange Hill would be a bad influence on him. And when Justin tried to prove himself to Tucker's lot by climbing up a roof and then falling off onto the concrete below, it looked as though they were right. They should have sent him to Eton.

Penny Lewis (bottom row, first right). Another Middle Class student and terribly, terribly posh and clever. Wrote lots of scathing articles for the school magazine. Erm. Can't think of much else to say about her, except ... the actress who played her, Ruth Davies, went on to change her name to "Rudi" and starred in a rather good Andrea Newman drama called "A Sense of Guilt". Although her character in that was somewhat annoying. And did you know that her Mum is the authoress Beryl Bainbridge? Now you do.

Michael Doyle (middle row, first left). The first of the school "bad boys" and Tucker's nemesis. However his evil doings weren't made to go unpunished. At the end of one series, he's made to pick up lots of garabage off the floor of the corridor, prompting Tucker to come out with the "priceless" comment: " 'ere Doyle, I always said you were a load of rubbish!" Gripper Stebson followed in his wake and was a much nastier proposition ...

Douglas "Pogo" Patterson. Tubby ginger kid, seen here being mentored by the older and wiser Tucker. Pogo was a clownish figure and also the school wheeler-dealer - always trying to sell things like chocolate hedgehogs or pens in order to line his pockets with dosh. One of Pogo's most memorable storylines occured when he stole and memorised the contents of a load of exam papers, thinking that he and his fellow classmates would be tested on the very same questions in their mock exam. But he'd stolen the wrong ones and a totally different set of questions came up! Awwww Pogo!

Cor blimey! Is that Michelle Fowler in the photo above? Nah! It's pupil Suzanne Ross. But you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's 'Chelle, cos the same actress, Susan Tully played both characters. Suzanne came first and was another school rebel as well as being apparently the first girl to mention period pains on the telly (radical!) Teacher Mr Hopwood tried to reform her to little avail, although I think she calmed down a bit later. One of Suzanne's best stunts was at a parent's evening, where she wilded up her hair "punk" style just to p*ss off the teachers and parents. These days it would take a lot more than a haircut to do that ...

Roland Browning - all together now: "I want to help you Ro-laaaaaand!" Erm, that was the phrase that one of Roland's fellow classmates, the nice and caring Janet St Clair, used to continually come out with when she realised he was being picked on by other pupils. Yes poor old Roly (a rather apt name given his somewhat wide girth) was a victim of bullying from the older school students, notably the nasty Gripper Stebson. A universal school situation that many of us unfortunately had to face at some point! Gripper and co were forcing Roland to give them money, otherwise they'd beat him up. It got to Roland so much in one episode, he walked out in front of some traffic and was knocked down. Fortunately Gripper and the bullies were sprung and the bullying stopped. Later Ro-land proved to be particularly adept at French and ended up dating some French bird, if memory serves correct ...

Samuel "Zammo" Maguire. Another lovable rogue in the Tucker mode who .... became a heroin addict!! Quite a daring move for Grange Hill in its day and this was definitely one its strongest storylines. Poor old Jackie, Zammo's adoring girlfriend didn't know how to handle him but was impressed when he apparently kicked the habit. Or had he? And of course who can forget the cheesey-as-hell anti-drugs record that was released in conjunction with this storyline, "Just Say No"?! Featuring all of the Grange Hill cast in various "tuneful" states of singing? And the accompanying video featuring the pupils a) trying not to laugh whilst miming to the lyrics b) bopping down the disco c) doing Kids from Fame style moves in leotards? And the intro bit with Zammo lecturing a potential smack addict is ... quality. Right, you've asked for it:

Aaaaaah ... memories are made of this. Perhaps.

The teachers

Mrs Bridget McCluskey (that's her above in the lovely diamond pattern sweater with lacy collars). She was Grange Hill's long standing headmistress from 1981-1991. Also known as Bridget the Midget. A firm but fair type in a matronly kind of way, well portrayed by Gwyneth Powell (now a bar lady in "Echo Beach", fact fans).

Mr Hopwood (above, standing next to Bridget). Woodwork teacher and good egg; a paternal sort. Considered handsome in his day, he was the object of several crushes by the girls, most notoriously Claire Scott, who ended up writing a diary chronicling her love (and lust?) for Mr H. And hands up if you know which serial killer actor Brian Capron went on to play in "Coronation Street"...?

Mr Bronson. "You Boy!" One of the most hated, feared teachers of all at the Hill, and consequently a bit of an icon. A French teacher and strict disciplinarian, he certainly made his mark. Pupils would do as they were told or suffer the wrath of Bronson. But he was also a huge figure of fun thanks to the Hitler-style toupee he wore. Mr B had a particularly tempestuous relationship with student Danny Kendall, but when Danny unexpectedly died we saw a sudden transformation in his character... The character was brilliantly played by Michael Sheard (a Dr Who stalwart having appeared in several stories). And I once saw him at a Dr Who convention, doing a Mr Bronson style send-up, dancing to "School's Out" with a load of p*ssed Who fans! Something I won't forget.

Of course there were many, many more characters (both pupils and teachers) who populated the corridors of Grange Hill but this (already long) post would become a novel-length one if I listed them all. So I hope you enjoyed that little trip down memory lane. RIP Grange Hill, you'll always be an integral part of my growing up and I won't forget you...

And what better way to round things off then the orginal Grange Hill theme and title sequence?! A great comic book pastiche that encapsulates all of the typical school "issues"! (And If you want to keep watching there's a bit of an episode to follow...)

Only one more thing to say: SAUSAGE!!!

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  • At 7:56 am , Blogger Steve said...

    "I want to help you Ro-laaaaaand!" Ha ha ha! That makes me laugh every time I hear it. Apparently when the kids went to the US to promote their Just Say No campaign, the story is that when they met the President "Ro-laaaaaand" managed to sneakily skin up on the oval office. Not sure how true that is... but very funny if it is. I loved Grange Hill though bailed out after the Ziggy years. Gripper to this day remains one of the best kid's villains ever. A superb actor - a little too good given the furore the whole storyline created forcing the writer's to curtail it. Ah those were the days. GH will be sadly missed.

  • At 1:41 pm , Blogger Flaming Nora said...

    Excellent. What ever did happen to Susan Tully after she left EastEnders?

  • At 3:35 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    What a brilliant round-up. I am feeling all soppy now. For a couple of years I lived for my weekly installment of Grange Hill - it was nothing like my own school but I started secondary school the same year it first appeared and so I always identified with it.

    Terrific review and great photos.

  • At 1:21 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Steve - Rolaaaaaand smoking a spliff whilst doing anti-drugs promotion?! NO!!!!

    As you're about the same age as me I can see why you bailed out after Ziggy - it was the same with me.

    And Gripper was an icon although yes, perhaps he was a bit too inspirational.

    They have actually brought out the first four series on DVD and I am tempted to purchase some time! It will probably seem very tame and even naff by today's standards but I'd still relish the trip down memory lane. I do remember there being quite a lot of good acting in it too, something the Beeb has always excelled in.

    Nora - This is what I found on 't net:

    In the late 1990s Tully began concentrating on directing for television (credited as "Sue Tully"). Shows she has directed episodes for include EastEnders, London's Burning, 55 Degrees North (2004), The Bill (1999-2004), Funland (2005) and Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2007).

    So there! Directing Billie Piper no less.

    Reluctant - Thank you for your kind words... The show must have been a real point of identification for you then!

  • At 10:23 pm , Blogger matty said...

    I felt the same way when I hear that ABC was no longer doing The After School Special!

    ...and, PBS closed off ZOOM.

  • At 10:38 pm , Blogger The Sagittarian said...

    Not sure that I saw Grange Hill but have seen one or two of those other shows mentioned. Whatever DID happen to Mark Fowler? I stopped watching the show and never did find out....
    There was a programme here called "Teachers" which sounds like it is an updated version of Grange Hill? Cor, wish we had teachers like that when I was at school!!!

  • At 11:14 am , Blogger The Poet Laura-eate said...

    Fabulous posting Old Cheeser!

    Brought so many fond memories back - we the viewers were really all at Grange Hill too weren't we?

    Thinking back to my schooldays I realise that one of my minor classmates could have been a minor character on GH actually - I've now got telly and reality hopelessly confused!

  • At 7:10 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Matty - Were those kids' programmes in the US? (Well, erm, obviously I think they were seeing as that's where you're from...!)

    Amanda - Mark F had HIV and lived pretty healthily for a number of years. Then the character left the show to go off somewhere on his motorbike. We heard some time later that he'd died, which was a bit unecessary I thought. Pauline was most distraught.

    Aaah yes, "Teachers" - they showed it over here too. Quite funny and sexy (some of the male staff anyway!) As you might have guessed from the title though, it was based around the life and loves of the teaching staff and the kids were kind of secondary to the plot. "Grange Hill" was the other way round...

    Laura - Thank you very much m'dear! Glad you enjoyed. I do seem to remember comparing my school to Grange Hill. Which character was your mate?

  • At 5:01 pm , Blogger matty said...

    Yes! Those were HUGE shows in the US!

    I think I saw John Travolta for the first time on an episode of AFTER SCHOOL SPECIAL -- or, I might be confused. I was quite small at that time.

    ZOOM taught me how to tye-dye my shirts! Tho, I've long since forgotten how to do that and was only allowed to do it once. Once again, I was in like 2nd grade.

    sigh. ...I should have come of age in the 70's. Tho, I probably would not have gotten out alive.

  • At 1:39 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Matty - Aha. I do remember John T in some shmaltzy mini movie called "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble", also probably early on in his career?

    Zoom sounds a bit like Blue Peter or Why Don't You - kids' programmes over here with "arts and crafts" style bits when kids could make lots of fascinating things out of toilet rolls and sticky back plastic! I'm sure learning how to do tye-dying is a useful skill to gain...

    Yes thank the lord you have only JUST come of age, eh Matty?

  • At 7:50 pm , Blogger Salty said...

    Mr Bronson and Mrs McCluskey... Shit. One scares the living crap outta me and the other is Mr Bronson.


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