GRANGE HILL FOR CHRISTMAS: THE FESTIVE SPECIALS
Francesca Martinez: Grange Hill's Comedy Sensation
Grange Hill For Christmas
The Gripper Stebson Years
The Michael Sheard Interview
Laura Sadler: 1980-2003
Sportsmaster to Headmaster: 15 Years of Mr Robson
Flying High with Grange Hill

CLOSE UP SPECIALS
The Curtain Comes Down: the demise of Grange Hill
Grange Hill Reunited
Grange Hill Moves North
How do they celebrate Christmas at Grange Hill? With the series always shown in January we've had little chance to find out. And they rarely talk about Christmas in the playground either. But in the early days of Grange Hill, we did get to find out. Two Grange Hill Christmas specials were broadcast in 1981 and 1985, when the show was a staple in the diet of children's TV. But these two episodes are something of an enigma. Neither have ever been repeated and they were omitted from the 1990s re-runs. Not that they contained any crossover plots with the main series which followed, but we'd still liked to have seen them. So for those of us too young to remember, or who'd like a fix of nostalgia, here's the GH Online guide to the two Christmas specials.

GRANGE HILL FOR CHRISTMAS - 1981
Grange Hill was a hit from the start but fans had to wait almost four years before the first Christmas special. "Grange Hill for Christmas", as it was called, was broadcast on Monday 28 December and followed the exploits of Tucker and friends at the school Christmas disco. But this was no ordinary episode of Grange Hill - the storyline was the result of a Blue Peter competition. The lucky winner was 16-year old Paul Manning (right), who saw his idea adapted for television by Phil Redmond. As part of his prize, Paul also appeared in the episode although his role was not credited. But he did get a scene with the star of the show - Tucker Jenkins! The episode was filmed in September, while Series 5 of Grange Hill was in production.

So what happened? Christmas is approaching, and Tucker, Benny and Alan look ahead to the festive season. Mrs McClusky gives permission for an end-of-term disco and Tucker offers to run it - using equipment secretly borrowed from his brother! Mr Sutcliffe agrees to let him do it and the scene is set for an evening of slow-dancing and smooching. On the day, Alan is keen to impress Susi and turns up in a suit - much to the amusement of Tucker and Tommy. Justin and Andrew take the money at the door. It should be a great evening but nothing is ever that simple at Grange Hill!

First sign of trouble is when one boy tries to pay with Scottish money. Justin and Andrew turn him away but Miss Mooney tells them his cash is legal tender. The real ruckus starts when a gang of Brookies turn up and blag their way in. When the doormen's backs are turned, the impostors make a beeline for the cash. Fortunately Tucker sees them and a fight breaks out; the money is recovered and Baxter is, for once, impressed with Jenkins' heroics. But it doesn't stop there. The Brookies then try to make off with the disco equipment but are again thwarted by Tucker and co, with an unlikely ally in Doyle. But Doyle is quick to point out his truce is only for Christmas and the lads shake hands. With the Brookies gone the disco resumes smoothly, and the episode comes to a natural end.

A special report on Blue Peter followed Paul Manning as he joined the cast of Grange Hill for the episode. Cameras followed him as he arrived at BBC Television Centre, was kitted out in costume and then bussed, along with the other extras, to the filming location. There we saw Paul's fight with Todd Carty (Tucker) being choreographed by the director, Hugh David.

 

WHAT HAPPENED TO PAUL?
When Paul Manning won the competition to write Grange Hill's Christmas special, he had no idea what he wanted to do career-wise. 23 years later he's now working as a probation manager for West Midlands Police, and is happily married with four children. However Paul recently reappeared in front of the cameras to recall his appearance in Grange Hill for Channel 4's The 100 Greatest Christmas TV Moments. "I really thought this was a wind-up at first," Paul told the Birmingham Evening Mail.

But he has fond memories of working with Todd Carty (Tucker), with whom he shared a fight scene. "Todd came across at first as a rough and ready London lad, but he was really eloquent and sophisticated. He was always being mobbed by fans, like boy bands are now." "It is amazing where I've ended up, because at the time I had no inclination of what I would be doing in the future. I can't believe all these years later it has come up again!

 

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1981 Christmas Special * IN FULL *
Behind The Scenes with Blue Peter 1
Behind The Scenes with Blue Peter 2

   
 
Behind The Scenes with Blue Peter 3
 

 

GRANGE HILL FOR CHRISTMAS - 1985
The 1985 special featured the first sighting of Imelda Davis (right) It would be four years before Christmas was celebrated again at Grange Hill - well, on screen anyway! But this time things were very different. Gone were Tucker, Alan & Co and in their place Roland, Janet, Gonch, Ronnie and Imelda. It was also the first special to be filmed at BBC Elstree, now the permanent home of Grange Hill. Most significantly there was no Blue Peter competition; the episode was written by Phil Redmond himself - the first he'd penned since 1981.

The 1985 special was also significant for a number of reasons - firstly, it was the first Grange Hill episode to be shot entirely on videotape (exterior scenes had been filmed until now) and the programme was also used as a device to introduce some of the new characters for Series 9. With the new characters came a new producer - the legendary Ronald Smedley who would be in charge of Grange Hill until 1989. Ronald was a former schools TV producer who'd worked on the hard-hitting Scene series during the 1960s and 1970s. His tenure saw Grange Hill at its finest hour - Ron was the man who brought us Just Say No!.

Yet the plot was self-contained so if you missed the special, it didn't matter. We also said goodbye to some old favourites including Claire, Stewpot, Mr Smart and, everyone's favourite villain - Gripper Stebson. The setting this time was not a school disco but the Christmas fayre - the first since Grange Hill merged with Brookdale and Rodney Bennett. Mr Bronson was keen for the school to have a crib scene - Rodney Bennett had always had one, so some mannequins were hired. While everyone was having fun in the hall, Grange Hill was acquiring a new pet. None other than Harriet the Donkey - whose owner could no longer keep her and dumped her in the school with a note appealing for someone to take care of her.

Not all of the action took place in the fayre. The episode starts a few days beforehand and everyone is excited about Christmas. Well almost everyone - Roland faces Christmas alone when his dad is called away on a haulage job, and Calley can't decide whether to spend Christmas with her family or birth mother. But things don't stay bleak for long - Janet invites Roland to Christmas dinner at her place, and Calley agrees to split herself two ways. Back at the fayre, Harriet escapes and runs loose in the school; smashing up everything in her path! Mr Bronson finds the note from her owner and finds a use for the animal as the centrepiece of the school crib! Harriet was to resurface in Series 10, when Mr Griffiths smuggled her into school to escape a possible death sentence.

Click below for full episode summaries. These pages come with video clips from each programme!

Grange Hill for Christmas
1981 Episode Guide
1985 Episode Guide

CLOSE UP MAIN INDEX
CHRISTMAS PRESENT...WHY NO MORE SPECIALS?
Your guess here is as good as ours. Grange Hill's specials were made at the height of the series' popularity and at a time when the show enjoyed an audience monopoly, with no rival shows. By 1989 satellite TV launched and rival teen dramas began to appear. But after the mid-80s, Christmas specials of all CBBC shows were phased out and the writing was on the wall for any further Christmas editions. In 2003 there would be no room for a festive Grange Hill; Blue Peter is now three times a week, and other shows are commissioned to the right length so gaps don't occur in the schedules.

* What would you like to see in a modern Grange Hill Christmas special? Togger and Tanya realising they fancy each other? Shannon and Mel calling a Christmas truce, or Malarkey copping off with Miss Dyson? Send us your idas to the usual address or post your ideas on the forum!