So, I have, for some unfathomable reason, decided to watch and review every episode of long running CBBC school soap Grange Hill. Every. Single. One. in order. All 601 episodes, or 628 if we include the spin off, Tucker’s Luck. And you better believe we’re including Tucker’s Luck. And then if I’m still alive at the end, we’re doing the novels as well.
So, full disclosure: I have watched (and read) all of it before. I do know my Grange Hill rather well. But! For the sake of the reviews and for the sake of anyone crazy enough to want to watch along with me, I shall treat every episode as though it is completely brand new. You will find no spoilers for anything that happens in an episode I haven’t reviewed yet.
With that in mind, let’s begin!
Our show starts, as so many do, with an intro. and what an intro it is.
A jaunty and cheerful piece of music, paired with all the imagery needed to tell you all about Grange Hill: kids that never appear in the show, wearing a uniform completely different to the one worn in the show, and a FLYING SAUSAGE.
Sadly, like all good things, the intro must eventually end, and we get our first glimpse of Grange Hill school itself, circa the late 70s. We can tell it’s the 70s, because everything is incredibly grey, and as we all know, colours other than grey and beige were outlawed in Britain until the 90s.
We then see our first characters, a very grumpy caretaker, and the rarest of cryptids: a child who is early for school on the first day of term. This child is Benny Green, and he is
tiny and adorable poor and mad about football. These are his two main character traits, and you can tell that from the off, by the fact that he is wearing his own scruffy clothes instead of uniform, and clutching his football. Personally I never understood the type of child that brings their own football everywhere, particularly to school, a place that houses many footballs, but then what do I know. I am not Football Mad.
We then abruptly cut to a completely different child’s bedroom, and it becomes obvious what this episode is. You know when a new kid’s show with an ensemble cast comes out these days, and the network’s youtube channel puts out little “Meet [insert character name here]” videos for each main character, basically introducing the audience to everyone and their personalities and traits quickly and easily in quick two minute character profiles? Well, maybe you don’t because you don’t watch kid’s TV anymore, because you’re a grownup. But I do, and trust me, they do do that.
But in 1978, youtube didn’t exist, so they had to do this instead. Dedicate the entire first episode to introducing each character in turn, with equal focus on all of them, and no plot.
I mean, I’m not complaining, it’s kinda cute. Just not much of an episode. More of a prologue, if you ask me. But anyway, back to the show.
This child shaped lump in the bed is Judy. Judy doesn’t want to go to school.
Judy, it quickly becomes apparent, is the poshest and whiniest child in the world. She claims she can’t go to school because she has tummy pains. Her mother, in so many words, tells her she’s 3000% done with her nonsense and is sending her to school no matter what excuses she comes up with. Or something like that.
“It won’t be as bad as all that,” lies Mrs Preston. School is always as bad as all that, and any child as Enid Blyton-esque as young Judy here is going to get bullied into the middle of next year.
“It will,” whines Judy, poshly.
The scene basically carries on like that, so let’s skip to the next one.
This next scene quickly introduces us to one of the best and most iconic characters ever put to screen:
Look, I know I said I wouldn’t talk about things that haven’t happened yet, but it’s not much of a spoiler to say that most Grange Hill parents are AWFUL. At best rude and irresponsible and at worst all out abusive and neglectful. But not Mrs Jenkins. She is flawless in every way. And we can see this from her very first scene. She gently teases Alan and David, but with a smile, and complimenting them on how smart they look. An adult? Who is nice to children and treats them like human beings? In my Grange Hill? It brings a tear to the eye. It’s truly heartwarming how genuinely kind and warm hearted she is, especially when you see what she has to put up with.
This delightful young man is Peter “Tucker” Jenkins. He rudely barges past his mother and tries to walk off to his new school without even looking at his mum, let alone saying goodbye. This is because he is a Bad Boy and a Rebel, and has not yet matured enough to know that even Cool Rebels are nice to their mothers. Don’t worry, he has all the time in the world to do some growing up, as he is currently the world’s tiniest child, but that doesn’t mean I can’t point out what a rude little boy he is right now, and disagree with the show trying to get me to side with him.
He tuts and complains while Mrs Jenkins tries to fix his tie for him, and rolls his eyes at her when she offers to walk with him. And still doesn’t say goodbye. Good grief Tucker, learn some manners.
(David politely says goodbye to Mrs Jenkins as she waves them off, because he is a nice boy. I hope he ditches Tucker and gets better friends.)
What follows is a small pointless scene where Benny kicks his ball at a brick wall with no windows on it, is told off by the caretaker for kicking his ball around there because he’ll break the windows, and is instead redirected to kick his ball around in a courtyard, where there are many windows.
Hey, you remember what I said about typical Grange Hill parents?
Mrs Yates is AWFUL.
She hasn’t got a single kind word for either of her daughters, and seems to treat them as more of an inconvenience than anything else. It’s no wonder Trisha is the way she is.
Trisha, it appears, is trying to take Judy’s crown as British Whining Champion 1978. She wants to go to school in tights and high heels and make up, and asks her mother why Carol’s allowed and she isn’t. Mrs Yates, by way of reply, reacts like Trisha’s just asked her why she’s not allowed to drown puppies for fun. Although, knowing Mrs Yates, she probably wouldn’t see anything wrong with that.
Carol attempts to escape her ridiculous family and actually get to school on time. Mrs Yates does not approve of this at all, and insists that the two girls walk to school together. Showing complete disregard for her daughters’ actual feelings, she insists that Carol wants to walk with Trisha, that Carol likes Grange Hill, and that Trisha will like Grange Hill. Whether she wants to or not.
It’s nearly finally time to actually see some school.
Judy is being frogmarched through the gates by her mother:
And Northam’s second poshest child is arriving by car.
Justin Bennett, for it is he, is very nervous. He nervously exits the car, nervously waves his father goodbye, and nervously watches his father drive away.
He then nervously walks into the school, carrying an adorable little briefcase, and being adorably polite to a teacher. N’awwww, he’s like a tiny little 40 year old businessman.
New first years are gathering in the assembly hall. But wait! Somebody isn’t there! Somebody is late, on their first day!
She’s in a such a hurry, she doesn’t even close the front door behind her. People were more honest and trusting in those days, clearly.
Meanwhile in assembly, children are being assigned to form groups, or in other words, being assigned to Main Character or Background Character. This is a very important moment in any character’s life, as I’m sure you can tell, and most pupils look suitably serious.
Tucker, on the other hand, is being a little twerp as usual. He catapults elastic bands at various girls’ heads and laughs when they look hurt or upset, because respecting women isn’t what Cool Kids do.
Judy Preston has been assigned to the Main Character form group, and looks suitably terrified. I would be too, especially if I was poor posh spineless Judy.
Meanwhile, a teacher has arrived to tell Tucker off, but I cannot enjoy it, because the teacher in question is Even Worse. He physically grabs Tucker, calls Tucker “stupid”, shouts into his face, and hits Tucker around the head, hard enough to make an audible thunk. I know times have changed, but jesus! This might be a controversial opinion, but physically assaulting children about half your size is never okay.
I bet this guy’s a PE teacher. Only PE teachers are this nasty. Any character that make me feel sorry for first year Tucker must be truly awful.
Meanwhile, Ann Wilson, our latecomer, is still not there.
“Does anyone know Ann Wilson?” says Mrs Monroe. Alas, nobody does. Poor Ann. Coming in late, and she doesn’t even know anyone. I already feel for her. Luckily for her however, she’s already been assigned to Main Character Form, unlike David, who has been assigned to Background Character Form. Alas, poor David. Maybe he’ll find better friends, at least.
We also finally get to meet Main Character Form’s glorious leader: Mr Mitchell, the coolest teacher in town! More on him later. For now it’s time to meet our designated Obvious Cartoonish Villains.
I think they’re too old for this school. They look about 30. Perhaps they’ve been held back several years, because they clearly have the sense of humour of an 8 year old. They think it is a Good Laugh to change the arrows on the signs for first years, and then to bamboozle poor Ann Wilson, who has finally arrived, and is far too trusting.
Off skips poor oblivious Ann Wilson, in completely the wrong direction.
Meanwhile, Alan has just been assigned to Secondary Character Form. His full name is Alan Turner, according to Mrs Monroe. Bear that in mind, it’ll be important later.
Tucker hasn’t been called at all, and is left standing in the middle of the assembly all alone. Tucker isn’t on the list of new pupils. Perhaps Mrs Jenkins forgot to actually register him at the school. It’s okay, I forgive her. Mrs Jenkins can do no wrong.
Let’s check in on Main Character Form.
Mr Mitchell is being a Cool Adult. He’s very gentle and understanding about Benny’s lack of school uniform, and even takes Benny very seriously when he’s talking complete nonsense at him, as 11 year olds are prone to do. What a lovely man.
He continues to be lovely while speaking to the class as a whole. He explains that the reason they’re sitting in alphabetical order is for his benefit, as he is getting very old. Even when I was at school in the 00s and 2010s, many teachers would’ve just said “you do what I say because I say so”. Mr Mitchell is an angel. He’s so soft and gentle with the kids without being a pushover, I love him.
Our wayward Ann Wilson has gone to square up against the Designated Cartoonish Villains. She has realised she was tricked, and like a legend who fears no-one, has decided to directly confront the bullies that tricked her.
“You’re not calling me a liar, are you?” says Main Designated Cartoonish Villain, villainously.
“Yes.” says Ann Wilson, in a matter of fact voice, like a straight savage.
The Designated Cartoonish Villains are angered by this, and storm off, refusing to tell Ann the correct directions. Our hero glares after them with the fury of a thousand suns.
Meanwhile in the Main Character Form Room, Judy Preston and Justin Bennett are bonding. The combined nervous posh child energy may destroy the world.
They’re both very miserable to be in school. I relate. I can only hope they come out of it more mentally healthy than I did, though I’m not too optimistic.
“My mum says we’ll make lot of new friends,” says Judy, mournfully.
“I won’t. I hate this school,” says Justin, who has literally just stepped foot in the school for the first time about half an hour ago.
#BigMood, as the kids say.
Tucker, meanwhile, has been forgotten about. He’s just standing around picking his nose outside the office. Finally, a realistic portrayal of a preteen boy.
Mrs Monroe decides she has no choice but to put Tucker in the Main Character Form. What have you done, Mrs Monroe. The world isn’t ready.
Luckily, she then meets Ann Wilson in the corridor, and makes the wise decision of putting her in Main Character form as well.
Tucker and Ann get delivered to Mr Mitchell, who doesn’t even complain about Tucker messing up his alphabet system, because Mr Mitchell is lovely.
“Here they are, all present and correct, ready to start their new lives at Grange Hill. Let’s hope it will be a pleasant experience for them,” says Mrs Monroe.
“I’m sure it will,” lies Mr Mitchell. “One big happy family!”
On that note, Trisha hits Tucker with her ruler. I think I’m going to like her.
This is where the episode ends, but as the credits roll, there’s one more thing I want us all to pay attention to. You remember I told you to pay attention to Alan’s surname, Turner? Well…