40th anniversary of Grange Hill
To mark the 40th anniversary of Grange Hill, Katharine Wootton remembers the back-of-the-bikeshed dramas and playground politics that made us all love the show
It was 1978 when the bell first rang for the start of lessons at one of the most iconic schools around,
Grange Hill. From bored students to exasperated teachers, breaktime bustups to the heartache of teenage romances, the show quickly gripped the nation’s children. And for those of us who were parents it ensured peace and quiet for at least half an hour at tea time!
The idea for the drama came from writer Phil Redmond, who had been trying to break into TV since the mid Seventies when he first had the idea for a show all about schools. Studying the sociology of education as a mature student at the time and the fact his mum was a school cleaner meant he had plenty of material to draw
DID YOU KNOW? Some interior scenes in Grange Hill were originally filmed at real schools in London.
on and straight away he started writing about a comprehensive senior school in the fictitious north London suburb of Northam.
From the off, Phil was determined this would be a drama for children about children, and so as filming began he asked to bring the camera level down to a youngster’s eyeline to show the audience their world as they saw it – a real novelty at the time. He also wanted to show a gritty, no-holds-barred depiction of schooldays unlike the other idealised school programmes that had gone before, tackling many real heavyweight issues, from teenage pregnancy to homelessness and mental health.
Speaking about the drama one of its most famous stars Todd Carty, who played Tucker Jenkins, said: “I’d wake up every morning excited about going to the studio. That was the best time of my life.”
He also praised the gritty storylines. “Before Grange Hill kids’
TV dramas had all been jolly hockey sticks and Billy Bunter. No one had been brave enough to try anything different.”
One of the biggest storylines was Zammo McGuire’s heroin addiction which ran over two series from 19861987 and caused a riot of complaints from parents, the press and even the
House of Commons as politicians debated the storyline.
But for all this, the story led to one of the biggest publicity coups the
DID YOU KNOW? A spin-off show called Tucker’s Luck ran from 1983-1985 focussed on former pupils Tucker and Alan finding work
show ever had when it took up Nancy Reagan’s drugs campaign catchphrase, Just Say No and the cast met Nancy at the White House in 1986. Following this, the child stars also released their first-ever single, also called Just Say
No, which reached No.5 in the charts.
But it wasn’t always hard-hitting seriousness. Like the best dramas, Grange Hill balanced troubling storylines with silly fun, just like real school. One of the funniest episodes was from 1982 when class N1 visited Chessington Zoo. A day of absolute farce ensued as pupil Jonah lost his bag in the sealion enclosure, which lead him to being chased by a zookeeper when he tried to retrieve it. It was apparently lots of fun to film, too, as cast members later recalled the hilarity of performing escapades and sneaking off from filming to watch Top of the Pops in a nearby studio at BBC TV centre in West London.
Throughout the late Seventies and Eighties, the show attracted huge audiences. If you were a proper fan, you could also collect the Grange Hill novels and annuals, as well as being sure to catch the Grange Hill comic strip adventures in BEEB magazine, School Fun and even the Radio Times. Sadly, in later years, audiences dwindled and in 2008, after 30 years of fun, the gates of Grange Hill school shut for good.
■ A new exhibition, 40 Years of Grange Hill, featuring memorabilia from the show, runs at the Museum of Liverpool until February 2019. For more information call 0151 2070001 or visit www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk
Pupilplotters! Behindthe smiles,chaosis neverfaraway
The show’s creator, Phil Redmond, at the Grange Hill exhibition in the Museum of Liverpool
Two of the hard-pressed staff, Mr Humphries (left) and Mr Baxter