Thursday 14 July 2022

Grange Hill Revisited

Today's post is, drum roll please, a GUEST POST! And it's all thanks to the inner workings of Elly-Mae Gadsby's noggin.

As a child I wasn’t allowed to watch a lot of television. I am an only child and, as such, was pushed into each and every club available. Because of this I would treasure my televisual viewings, elevating them to something greater than they possibly were in some cases. Much of this I viewed with my late mum, and so although my experiences were somewhat limited, they were carefully curated.

I’m certain I didn’t appreciate this at the time, but I now see that the comedies, dramas, music shows and murder mysteries I viewed when I was younger made me develop a discerning eye where television is concerned. One programme which stood out for me was Grange Hill. It was unlike anything I had seen on television. Many of my peers were not permitted to watch, as some of the subject matter was deemed unsuitable; it was the opposite in my house.

I was actively encouraged to watch and discuss what I had just seen; how had it made me feel, did I understand, could I see that the behaviour was less than ideal? These conversations made me feel that my opinion mattered. And seeing people not much older than me on television had a huge impact. For the first time I was seeing other children from “broken homes”; an awful term but one which was still applied to those families whose parents had divorced or separated. There was only one other family in the same situation at my junior school, so I felt hugely reassured by this important inclusion.

Grange Hill truly was ground-breaking; it showed school life predominantly from a young person’s viewpoint and had real, flawed, likeable, loveable, relatable, memorable characters. I wanted to be best friends with Fay and Annette. The fact that you can put the name “Roland” in front of virtually anyone around my age (21. Ish. Obvs) and they will, with glee, pronounce it “Row – LAND” is testament to the brilliance of this show some 30 years on. Topics such as teacher infatuation, child abuse, teenage pregnancy, accidental death, racism, bullying all featured; but were dealt with in a way which didn’t scare the viewer. It drew them in, gently, and had a healthy dose of light-hearted comedy moments.

Grange Hill also gifted us two of the best on-screen teachers; Messrs. Baxter and Bronson. Mr Baxter was the no-nonsense PE teacher; strict but always with his pupils’ best interests at heart. He was respected by peers and pupils alike and showed some extremely caring moments towards his charges. Mr Bronson was a force of nature; fastidious, extremely high standards; not a typical Grange Hill teacher (he had been inherited in a merge with Rodney Bennett and Brookdale where, at the former, he had taught French and Latin). And he wore a toupee. Children can have a cruel streak and this brought out both the best and the worst in them. And yet we eventually see a human side to him, almost a kindness.

This programme showed pupils demonstrating, striking, debating; all to have their voices heard. It showed how even the most despondent and forgotten of students could respond in the hands of a good teacher. It wasn’t afraid to illustrate the consequences of the pupils’ actions as we saw in its most shocking and memorable storyline: Zammo’s decline into drug addiction. This included a huge campaign with the characters visiting the White House and having a hit single, Just Say No, again evidence of just how important and influential this programme was.

It's always a risk to revisit a pre-loved show, especially from one’s childhood. So much is tied up in nostalgia and not necessarily quality or content. However, when BritBox started airing Grange Hill I couldn’t resist. It is with much relief I can report that it didn’t disappoint. As an adult, I can more easily acknowledge and appreciate just how remarkable this show was. So many of its actors have gone on to other programmes or had lasting careers in other areas such as directing or producing. Some have dabbled with music careers but we’ll gloss over that…

Grange Hill was, and is, a very special show and I am so grateful that I was allowed to watch it. Perhaps mum did know best.

Twitter: @gaddersll

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