1 9 7 8 – 2 0 0 8 (UK)
601 x 30 minute episodes
Odd really. British kids used to race home from school to watch a TV series about . . . school. But Grange Hill was funnier, scarier, and generally more interesting than your school . . .
For a start, it was set in a tough East London inner-city comprehensive school. And it dealt with issues facing real British teenagers such as drugs, alcohol, bullying, shoplifting, truancy, sex, love and teen pregnancy.
But it wasn’t all AIDS and car crashes – Although the series dealt with these issues it did so with a good dose of humour – and there were many light-hearted comedy moments in Grange Hill.
Created and written by struggling Liverpudlian comedy writer Phil Redmond (who would go on to create UK soap Brookside), Grange Hill was actually filmed in a real school – Kingsbury High School in North-West London – and the first two seasons concentrated twice-weekly on the lives of a group of eleven-year-old students who started at Grange Hill Comprehensive in 1978.
The bad boy Tucker Jenkins (pronounced “Jinkins”) was the working-class anti-hero.
His best friend Benny Green, an even-tempered black boy, battled with the problems of racial prejudice and poverty. Although he was a skilled footballer, he was stigmatised by poverty as teachers constantly reprimanded him for wearing the wrong school uniform or old gym shoes.
By the time Tucker and his pals reached the third form, a new intake of kids entered the school. Subsequently, every two years after this, a new class of younger students would enter the limelight to interact with their veteran classmates.
The second intake of Grange Hill pupils included Zammo McGuire – the Tucker Jenkins of his own generation. In 1986, amidst national panic about drug abuse in schools, Zammo became addicted to glue sniffing and “hard” drugs.
The storyline of his descent into smack hell was conceived in conjunction with a national anti-drugs awareness scheme to alert kids to the dangers of illegal drugs.
Zammo on drugs was such a news item that it even featured on Blue Peter. A cast recording of Just Say No raised over £100,000 for an anti-drugs charity.
Other notable characters included Gripper Stebson (pictured below right), Gonch, Cally, and Mauler McCaul and Imelda Davies the school bullies.
Grange Hill was not well received by parents and critics who condemned its images of worldly, disrespectful and disillusioned students. Mary Whitehouse said the series encouraged bad behaviour and undermined teachers’ authority.
Children, on the other hand, found the series a little too “nice”. The tone of the show was changed after the first season, in response to kids who complained that things weren’t tough enough.
To ensure authenticity, producer Anna Home and a team at the BBC visited schools all over the country (and kept visiting seven or eight of them) asking children what sort of issues they thought would be interesting.
Grange Hill spawned a spin-off called Tucker’s Luck (BBC 2, 1983-85) which was aimed at slightly older children and teenagers, and dealt with the problems facing working-class youth with few academic qualifications – like Tucker and his friends – in a world of growing unemployment. This series was not as popular (nor as controversial) as Grange Hill largely because it was shown against the early evening news on both BBC 1 and ITV.
Another Phil Redmond series for kids ultimately followed. This time it was set “up north” – It was called Byker Grove.
Terry Sue Patt