|Thirty years ago, children's TV changed forever with the arrival of hard-hitting school drama series, Grange Hill. It spawned many similar hard-hitting teen dramas in its wake and outlasted them all. It's hard to believe Grange Hill broke the mould when it launched, but how did Britain's favourite school come into being?
PHIL REDMOND - THE MAN WHO CHANGED CHILDREN'S TV
Soap supremo Phil Redmond is the brainchild behind the show. In the mid-seventies Phil, then a comedy writer for ITV company ATV, felt that children's TV was too safe, middle-class and didn't tackle the real issues affecting young people. "We wanted to get away from Enid Blyton", he said. So in 1976 he came up with an idea for a docu-drama set in a comprehensive school. Phil took it to all 15 ITV companies but they rejected the idea. But as luck would have it, the BBC were looking for a series about school life and Phil's idea was perfect for them. So they got together and a series was commissioned.
The name of this series? Grange Hill. And a legend was born. Originally to have been called "Grange Park", the name was changed because there were several schools with that name in London.
Phil Redmond wanted his series to be set in his native Liverpool, but the BBC were in London so that was that. He tried to keep anything out of the series that would directly identify it with London (or any specific location). But the dialect of the young stars and occasional sightings of a London red bus meant this couldn't always be achieved.
Director Colin Cant worried that children wouldn't be interested in a drama series about school. Even the cast thought they were on a hiding to nothing, but how wrong they were...
FLIPPIN' ECK TUCKER...
The first episode of Grange Hill was broadcast on Wednesday 8th February 1978, and the young audience loved it. Tucker Jenkins, aka Todd Carty, became the first heart-throb who wasn't a pop star. Stories of bullying, playground hi-jinks, homework and uniform rebellion were watched by over 9 million children at its peak. "He's a nut job","Flippin' Eck Tucker!" were national catchphrases. Every week BBC received sackloads of letters from youngsters wanting to appear in Grange Hill. It still does!
parents were positively shocked and the BBC was inundated with
complaints. A branch of the Womens' Institute in Somerset called for
Grange Hill to be banned. Several celebrities banned their children
from watching, including newsreader Anna Ford. But looking
back, that first series seems pretty tame.Some of the cast were even
withdrawn by their parents because they didn't want their children
associated with Grange Hill.
It wasn't until Series 2, and a change to a twice-weekly format, that
Phil Redmond fulfilled his desire to make Grange Hill an issue-led
show. This was what the young audience wanted; to the parents Grange
Hill was a bad influence. The canteen desktop protest caused
particular fury and even led to a debate in Parliament. The British
Film Institute's encyclopedia of children's television, The Hill
And Beyond, reports that Phil Redmond "agreed" future
series would be toned down - or there would be no further series.Other
issues covered in the series, such as dyslexia, were praised. As the
late 80s moved into the 1990s, society was more liberal and therefore
less shockable. But Grange Hill maintained its notoriety, uncovering
more taboo subjects.
Find out more about the stories that shocked in I DON'T BELIEVE IT!
ALWAYS ON THE MOVE...
For the first two series, exterior scenes were filmed at Kingsbury
High School in north London. So popular was Grange Hill that crowds
of screaming fans disrupted filming, forcing the show to move first
to Willesden High from Series 3, then to Fulham Preparatory
School, Greyhound Road, Hammersmith.
Eventually production moved to Elstree centre in Hertfordshire, the
old ATV studios which the BBC purchased in 1983. On screen the move
to Elstree was phased in over two years, with an elaborate storyline
of Grange Hill merging with rivals Rodney Bennett and Brookdale.
The current Grange Hill school is the old Rodney Bennett building.
In 1982 Tucker Jenkins was written out of Grange Hill, much to the
disappointment of his legions of fans. But Tucker, Alan and Tommy
Watson remained on screen for a further three years, in their own
show Tucker's Luck, Grange Hill's only spin-off to date.
Grange Hill reached the height of its popularity in the mid 1980s.
Ben Elton parodied the show in an episode of "The Young
Ones" and in 1986 Grange Hill The Album - featuring specially
written songs and covers performed by the cast - hit the shops.
JUST SAY NO! REMAINS SYNONYMOUS
Without doubt Grange Hill's most controversial storyline was that of Zammo's heroin addiction in 1986. When plans for a "junkie" character were first announced there was tabloid outrage. But Zammo's plight did much to raise awareness of drug-related issues. The cast released a single, "Just Say No", in April 1986 and it peaked at No. 5 in the charts, raising over £103,000 for the Standing Conference on Drug Abuse (SCODA).
The Grange Hill cast went on an anti-drugs tour across the country and Lee MacDonald, who played Zammo, found himself particularly in demand. But the icing on the cake was an invitation to the White House by America's First Lady, Nancy Reagan, in May 1986. Mrs Reagan was involved in the American "Just Say No" project and had heard about Grange Hill's campaign. So the cast and crew jetted off to Washington, along with producer Ronald Smedley. Sadly the credibility of "Just Say No!" has been tarnished in recent years; actor Mmloki Chrystie confirmed in a 2005 Grange Hill reunion special that the he took drugs while in the States to promote the campaign.
Drugs would feature in less high-profile storylines. 1995 saw Anna Wright selling them for her brother Gordon and four years later, Sarah-Jane Webster found herself addicted to temazepam.
INTO THE 90s - AND STIFF COMPETITION
As the 1980s made way for the nineties, Grange Hill welcomed a new
generation. Gone were favourites like Zammo and Mr Bronson
and in their place Jacko, Mr Hankin, Justine, Arnie
and Jessica. But the new kids would find it harder winning viewers.
Until 1989, Grange Hill was the only children's issue based drama.
In February that year, ITV launched Phoenix Hall, an issue-led
drama set in a boarding school. The more successful Children's
Ward first aired in March, launching the careers of many future
soap stars. Children's Ward ended in 2000 to be replaced by 24:Seven,
an updated take on Phoenix Hall.
Grange Hill's most formidable rival came in the form of Byker Grove, the Newcastle youth club series first shown on the BBC in September 1989. Byker Grove continued to operate in tandem with Grange Hill. Nevertheless, Grange Hill ploughed on with a popular following. More action took place outside school, with as much emphasis on the teachers, but the school remained the star.
The issues continued and in another first, Grange Hill brought teenage
pregnancy to our screens in 1992 when Chrissy Mainwaring
found herself a schoolgirl mum. In 1995 a poignant study of AIDS
resulted from the death of Lucy Mitchell's mother, and Mr Brisley
became Grange Hill's first gay teacher and had to cope with
homophobia from the school's less well-informed pupils.
Some commentators complained Grange Hill pandered to political
correctness by introducing disabled characters Denny and
Rachel Burns (a cerebral palsy sufferer). In fact, such inclusiveness
was becoming the norm in schools across the UK. Also more common was
knife culture, emotively tackled by Grange Hill with the knifing
of Judi Jeffreys in 1998.
NEW MILLENNIUM...NEW GRANGE HILL
Grange Hill now pulls in just a third of the viewers it had in the
1980s, this may seem like a drastic decline but this is very good
in today's multi-channel age. Under new producer Jo Ward, Grange
Hill served up its hardest lessons with rape, bereavement and alcoholism.
By now Phil Redmond's involvement with the show was limited to one
meeting a year with the production crew.
In 2002, Phil Redmond's company Mersey TV took over production.
Filming moved to Liverpool and once again Phil was the show's executive
producer. A new generation is enjoying Grange Hill, Togger Johnson
(Chris Perry-Metcalf) is the show's most successful heart-throb in
years while hard-hitting storylines such as mental illness have seen
a resurgance in popularity for TV's best know school.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY - IS IT?
Grange Hill this year celebrated its 30th anniversary. But in 2007, and for the first time in Grange Hill's history, the new series was kept exclusive to the digital CBBC Channel. At the time, head of CBBC Richard Deverell defended his decision, insisting that "scheduling exclusively on CBBC helps us to ensure that the programme focuses on that 6-12 year old audience and is meeting their needs and interests." On Grange Hill's older fan base, Mr Deverell said "I'm sure these devoted followers will seek Grange Hill out wherever it is (including on the new BBC iPlayer)."
A change in CBBC broadcast policy - which means programmes for 13-16 year olds can no longer be broadcast in CBBC's afternoon slots on BBC1, means the 31st series of Grange Hill will be aimed at a much younger audience and include fantasy sequences and lighter storylines. Phil Redmond has blasted CBBC's decision, even going as far as to tell The Observer newspaper he feels that if Grange Hill can no longer cater for a teenage audience, it has served its purpose.
On Wednesday 06 February 2008, just two days ahead of Grange Hill's official birthday, came the official announcement that Grange Hill was being axed after 30 years. The final series then began a weekly run and ended on Monday 15 September with Tucker Jenkins making one last appearance to persuade nephew Togger to stick with his studies. Grange Hill ended its marathon having outlasted all rivals including Byker Grove which came to an end in May 2006.
In 2006 the BBC and Lime Pictures announced an extensive series of celebrations for the 30th anniversary including a possible cast reunion, special programmes for BBC2, retrospectives on daytime shows such as This Morning and maybe even re-runs of classic episodes. None of these celebrations happened, though Radio 4 broadcast a tribute documentary called "Grange Hill: Soap Pioneer".
||Find out more about Phil Redmond at the
Lime Pictures web site
||Read some of the complaints made against Grange Hill in recent years