Grange Hill: Series 3 & 4 Review
My, haven't they grown. Not least Tucker Jenkins, who now looks nearly old enough to be leaving school never mind going into third form. Cathy Hargreaves has now dropped the crotched cardigans and old woman's haircut and turned into the kind of pupil, how ever wrong this sounds, that by just a mere mention of her name, leaves thirtysomething men a quiver while her mate Trisha Yates now as a fashionable Farraw Fawcett-Majors flick. Bridget The Midget - Mrs McClusky - is preparing to join the school, Bullet Baxter has now settled in, Mr Hopwood has arrived and, for those with an interest in the old woman, maths teacher Miss Lexington, or Sexy Lexie, is causing all manner of new thoughts to spin through the minds of the first-year boys. In other words, we're entering a golden period of Grange Hill and one that is still so memorable almost thirty years on.
The problem with the first and second years of Grange Hill is that we only had one year and one group of pupils to follow. Tucker, Trisha, Benny, Justin Bennett and Doyle were in one class, Alan Humphries was in another. The number of teachers was equally limited. There were older brothers and sisters, such as Carol Yates and Gary Hargreaves, but no one can genuinely say they liked any of them, least of all Hargreaves, who goes some way to redeeming himself here after being portrayed as something of a thug. With this third series, Grange Hill sends its original cast into the third year and welcomes Pogo Paterson, Duane Orpington, Christopher 'Stewpot' Stewart, Gripper Stebson, Precious Matthews, Suzanne Ross and Clare Scott. Keeping up with the third years sees Doyle, Tucker, Alan, Benny, Trisha and Cathy all becoming regulars as well as more time given to Penny Lewis and Susi McMahon, who would become Alan's long-time girlfriend. Less is given to Justin Bennett and Andrew Stanton now that Doyle is occupying Tucker's free time, with Justin's big story being that he's given the bumps on his birthday. Finally, we get a face to put to the name of school bully Booga Benson.
In all respects, this is close to Grange Hill being at its best. There's probably never been any three mates as well placed in a drama as Tucker, Benny and Alan and, to date, Grange Hill never did them more proud than in Series 4. Tucker is all mouth but is a good lad at heart and Alan his mate who does judo and looks out for him, while the pair of them allow the light from Benny's star turns on the football pitch to reflect on them. They are so well-written as to suggest there's been no actual writing involved, more that they arrived fully-formed on the screen with Grange Hill simply following their scrapes around and about North London. And certainly as a viewer in the very early eighties, that is what made Grange Hill so memorable. These two series are funny, smart and make much of the silly, knockabout scraps with Brookdale, daft money-making schemes and a cross-channel trip in which Tucker stows Tommy Watson away on board the coach. That the school year ends with a boys against girls series of contests - Bullet playing netball, Sooty baking a cake and Miss Mooney making a trowel in metalwork - seems so very right, being the very thing that real-life teachers would dismiss as a wouldn't-get-away-with-that-here moment but which was escapist nonsense for a generation of children who were watching Grange Hill just as they had returned from their own schools.
It's the start of the third year for pupils at Grange Hill and Tucker, Benny and Alan are running late. The first years are arriving in ones and twos - Benny's little brother amongst them - while Duane and Tracey are arriving from primary school as good friends. But such things must pass as Duane meets Pogo Patterson and loses his bike on the very first day of school, an early victim of the bike thieves that will plague the school over the coming year. Meanwhile, the third years enjoy the first of school's outings but there's a drama in the woods when Alan chucks away a cigarette and Susie throws her first bra in the river. One of them causes a fire but they take a vow of silence not to say a word. Otherwise, the third years are quite happy, particularly about the relaxed ruling over the wearing of school uniform. However, Cathy Hargreaves goes that bit too far when she turns up in jeans.
As the school year goes on, more bikes go missing and Duane gets a black eye from his dad for losing his. The school council reconvenes with Doyle winning the seat for the third form. However, it isn't as though he actually turns up for any of the council meetings, which pushes Penny Lewis to writing a vitriolic piece in the school magazine about his non-attendance. Without a tuck shop, Pogo and Duane set up a stall in the boy's cloakroom selling chocolate rice krispie buns for 5p but their turning over of a small fortune attracts the attentions of a couple of school bullies. Speaking of which, Madelin Tanner is seen behaving suspiciously about the school but with two years out on cross-country runs, Grange Hill is well-placed to deal with her and her thieving friends. Outside of school, Benny, Alan and Tucker get a half-term job with Alan's dad and find themselves dealing with thieves on their own while Benny has a dilemma when he's picked for the district team. His problem is that they train on the same night as Grange Hill, which doesn't please Bullet one bit. Finally, the year ends on a tragic note when a craze for dares hits the school. For one pupil, a walk on the car park wall will be one dare too far.
The fourth series of Grange Hill begins with Mrs McClusky cracking down on the vandalism that afflicts the school. Pupils are instructed to leave the school building during breaks, the prices of chocolate bars at the tuck shop are increased to cover the damage to the school while even the school magazine is instructed to make a profit. Doctors visit the school for a medical inspection of the pupils, leaving Tucker to think that a beautiful young doctor will soon be running her hands over his body. Having seen the doctor Alan can't help but laugh, giving Tucker the thumbs-up as he takes his seat in the waiting room. Medical concerns are also on Pogo's mind, telling his PE teacher that as it's his 'time of the month' he can't take the class. Unsurprisingly, this excuse does not work.
Gripper Stebson arrives at Grange Hill, causing problems for Stewpot, Pogo and Duane. And as if this wasn't enough for Stewpot to deal with, he falls foul of the new PE teacher, Mr Hicks. The head injury that he picks up during swimming alerts Bullet Baxter to there being something amiss, who deals with the situation in his own way. Meanwhile, the vandalism continues but Tucker stumbles into finding who it is that is behind it. When the vandals turn to wrecking Baxter's office, Mrs McClusky announces that the school disco will be cancelled if the culprit is not fingered. Tucker weighs up his options...take a beating or take a fall for the good of the school. Later in the year, love is in the air. Alan and Susie come clean to Tucker about going out together, Tucker tries asking Pamela Cartwright for a date and Duane falls for Miss Lexington. Bullet tells her that she ought to let him down gently. The light bulbs in the school start going missing and turning up at a second-hand store, the third formers leave for France on a school trip without Tommy Watson - or do they? - while Alan takes up smoking and Andrew Stanton turns to drink, falling over drunk in the school cloakrooms. Elsewhere, Cathy's schoolwork is suffering with the time she spends with her band, Tucker and Doyle join Alan in judo and, after the smashing-up of a common room by Gripper Stebson and Pogo Patterson, Mrs McClusky and the PTA announce the return of the school uniform. After all that has gone on over the previous two years, Trisha is less than happy. Finally, it's boys against girls...netball, metalwork and home economics!
Like before, there's still a good deal of nonsense as regards the school council, the school magazine and, thanks to the efforts of Pogo and Gripper, the school uniform. Back when I was a lad, you did what the teachers told you, when they asked and how they wanted it done. And if you didn't, it was either a thick ear (primary school) or the strap (secondary). Grange Hill has, in these four series, encouraged more negotiations between staff and pupils than the Middle east peace process. Elsewhere, it's equally hard to swallow the first years having a lesson in mime, the difficult way with which periods, bras, perverts lurking on the common, racism and first dates are dealt with and how the series, at this early point, is without a clear idea of who and what it wants its thugs to be. Booga, Doyle and Gripper all compete for the title of school bully with none of them the clear victor. Similarly, the series has a strange relationship with corporal punishment. Cathy Hargreaves gets the cane for a couple of bouts of truancy while Gripper Stebson, having spent a term ruling the first year with an iron fist and a pair of oxblood DMs, gets away with it until, in the wreckage of a ruined common room, he is suspended until the end of the term.
Otherwise, the only real criticism that one can make of Grange Hill is that it never really feels as though a series every portrays a single school year. One of the things that the Harry Potter books and films do so well is to begin before the start of the school year and end as everyone returns home. There is no sense of time passing in Grange Hill as it does elsewhere. Christmas comes and goes but Grange Hill appears to exist in a part of London that is summer all year round. Having lived in London, it's hard to say if it is the sky, the pigeons or the smog that contributes to the greyness of the capital but the blue skies and sunshine that Grange Hill offers its audience are amongst its most unlikely. But then, with moments of drama becoming increasingly rare, such escapism is what Grange Hill was turning to. For an audience of children warming to it, this was exactly what they were asking of it.
Looking no better nor no worse than Series 1 & 2, this has been brought across from that review. 2 Entertain could have done very much more with series three and four of Grange Hill than they have done. What's obvious between the menu and the actual show is a slight change in the pitch of the theme tune, suggesting that one is running slightly faster than the other. Come the start of the live-action footage, the picture looks messy. It's clearly very soft and fuzzy, there's grain in the picture and there are some very obvious faults in the material used to source this transfer. There are, as you can see in the screengrabs, lines running across the screen, colour and brightness varies considerably throughout each episode and even the quality of the title changes between episodes. These two series could have been restored much more so than has been the case here. Of course, it might be that the source material, having not been seen since 1980/81 is in very poor condition and there might not be any financial justification for any restoration of Grange Hill but it does feel as though it ought to have been treated more kindly than it has here.
The DD2.0 audio track is a little better. There's some obvious background noise and the wind can be heard buffeting the microphone at times but the dialogue is clear and untroubled by these distractions. Given the age of the material, the videotaped internal scenes sound much better than the external shots, which were produced on film, but it's generally pretty clear throughout. It is not, however, the best that 2 Entertain have done. Finally, there are no subtitles.
As with the Series 1 & 2 boxset, the only bonus material here is a Quiz, which doesn't demand much of one's general knowledge but, instead, what goes on over these five discs.