Happy 40th birthday, Grange Hill! 40 facts for 40 years
PUBLISHED: 09:31 03 March 2018 | UPDATED: 19:04 03 March 2018
Grange Hill closed its school gates forever 10 years ago but its memory lives on thanks to Generation GH who grew up with the children's show. On Grange Hill's 40th birthday, we celebrate 40 facts about the iconic series
It’s more than 40 years since a cartoon sausage on a fork flew across our television screens and launched a whole new era of children’s TV.
Grange Hill has just celebrated its 40th birthday, which means a full four decades have passed since the landmark BBC drama first aired at teatime and Generation Grange Hill was born.
Writer Phil Redmond, who devised the series which was set in a fictional north London school, hoped to create a gritty show that took an unflinching look at working class life and the issues faced by inner-city teenagers. And to an extent, he was successful.
Whether you remember the sausage from the opening credits, Zammo scrabbling for heroin in a toilet, being terrified of bully Imelda, Row-land Browning or their long-suffering teachers, there’s no question that Grange Hill left an indelible mark on children’s television. To celebrate the show’s ruby anniversary, here are a whole host of gems about the show that had everyone just saying no.
40 random facts about Grange Hill to celebrate the show’s birthday
1) Grange Hill was first screened on Wednesday February 8 1978: in the first episode, Justin Bennett (Robert Craig-Morgan) and Judy Preston (Abigail Brown) started their first day at school and were intimidated by their new comprehensive, Trisha Yates (Michelle Herbert) makes it clear she’s not putting up with any nonsense from Tucker Jenkins (Todd Carty) and Ann Wilson (Lucinda Duckett) can’t find the school at all. Other characters making their first appearance included Benny Green (Terry Sue-Patt), Alan Humphries, Tommy Watson, Carol Yates, David Lewis, Mr Mitchell, Mr “Frosty” Foster, Mr Rankin, Margaret Shaw, Mary Johnson, Jackie Heron, Brenda, Lucy, Mrs Monroe and Mr Garfield.
2) Created by Phil Redmond, Grange Hill aimed to blast away “the Enid Blyton, middle-class” drama that populated children’s channels.
3) Bob Cosford designed the iconic comic strip-style opening sequence with the flying sausage and it was paired with a piece of BBC library music called Chicken Man which was recorded in 1975 by Alan Hawkshaw. The same piece of music was borrowed by ITV’s Give Us A Clue.
4) In a confusing turn of events, Alan Humphries, played by George Armstrong, was called Alan Turner in the script, appears as Alan Hargreaves in the credits and later becomes Alan Humphries in later episodes. It’s a mystery.
5) Pogo Patterson’s real name was Douglas.
6) The first character to die in the series was Antoni Karamanopolis (Vivian Mann) who died in the third series after falling off the roof of a car park during a game of dare. Jeremy Irvine drowned in series seven, Danny Kendall died in series 12
7) Lee McDonald, who played heroin addict Zammo McGuire, was the antithesis of his character when he acting in the show: “I used to go to parties and pour Coca Cola into lager cans so it looked like I was drinking beer,” he said, “but then I realised you don’t have to try to look hard.”
8) In 1987, a game for the Commodore 64, Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC was designed called ‘Grange Hill’. The game’s protagonist was Luke “Gonch” Gardener with Paul “Hollo” Holloway as an assistant. The object of the game was to retrieve Gonch’s personal stereo from the school after hours after it was confiscated by a teacher. The game was coded by Michael Delves.
9) In one of the screens, there was a bleak anti-drugs message: “You see a shifty man in a leather jacket. “Hey, Son. Want to buy some of this?” The man offers you a packet of white powder. He is a pusher” [Player selects “Yes”] “There is an empty look in his eye as he snatches the money from your hand. His face is pale and drawn; His body thin and unfed. He steals to keep his habit; And makes addicts of children. He is dead, and soon you will be too.”
10) Just Say No reached number five in the charts and the cast members who sang it were invited to visit Nancy Reagan in the White House to sing it live in front of 80,000 bemused Americans at the Yankee Stadium. Zammio himself doesn’t sing after the record producers heard his audition.
11) The Grange Hill cast had another hit: You Know the Teacher (Smash Head) was somewhat less successful.
12) Gripper Stebson was Grange Hill’s most famous bully – he extorted dinner money, hounded Row-land Browning, started his own race riots and was feared by pupils and teachers alike (other than ‘Bullet’ Baxter). Gripper – real name Norman – was played by Mark Savage who has since said that the only thing he had in common with his character was “that we looked alike”
13) Todd Carty used to give Mark Savage (Gripper) a lift to the set on his motorcycle every day during filming.
14) One of the show’s script editors went on to win Best Director at the Oscars – Anthony Minghella, who won an Oscar for The English Patient in 1996 and had a further three nominations for The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley, worked on the children’s show.
15) Ziggy Greaves nickname came from David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars single because his character was keen on spiders.
16) In 2005, Justin Lee Collins (remember him?) reunited some of the cast members from the 1980s in a documentary called “Bring Back…Grange Hill”. Collins tracked down original actors to reunite them for a one-off performance of the Just Say No song. Participants included Alison Bettles (Fay Lucas), George Christopher (Ziggy Greaves), Mmoloki Chrystie (Kevin Baylon), Lee MacDonald (Zammo McGuire) and Erkan Mustafa (Roland Browning). Gripper Stebson turned up on stage, too.
17) Hated teacher Maurice Bronson was played brilliantly by the late Michael Sheard who also had a role in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: as Hitler.
18) Recognise Connie Beauchamp in Holby City? Amanda Mealing started her career playing Tracey Edwards in Grange Hill.
19) Grange Hill had a spin-off show called Tucker’s Luck which starred Tucker and Alan after they left school and looked for work. The show was on air from 1983 to 1985. There were also 14 short story books and novels published, some of which were written by series creator Phil Redmond.
20) Tucker made another appearance in Grange Hill in 2008 when he went to talk to his nephew Togger Johnson to offer some life advice, namely to suggest to him that he continue with his studies rather than give up on school like he did. He appeared in the final episode and gave a speech which some might say could have been seen as a criticism of the way the BBC had tried to steer writers: “This place was all about people, now it’s about numbers,” he said, “Grange Hill was for everyone and (the change) makes me so angry.”
21) Paula Ann-Bland – who played Claire Scott, Stewpot’s girlfriend – caused controversy when she posed for a topless photo shoot three years after leaving Grange Hill.
22) In three years of being the headteacher of Grange Hill, Mr McNab was never seen.
23) Phil Redmond sold the idea for Grange Hill to the BBC in 1976 and nine episodes of the show were commissioned: after the first series, he was summoned to lunch by BBC bosses and forced to agree that there would be no further series unless he toned things down.
24) Grange Hill was filmed in a variety of locations: the exterior of the school in series one and two was Kingsbury High School in Middlesex. Other locations have included Hammersmith, Bushey Meads School in Hertforshire, Hillside School in Hertfordshire, Liverpool, Nicholas Hawksmoor Upper School in Hertfordshire and Willesden High School in London.
25) In the earlier series, characters would be given the cane as a punishment.
26) There has been talk of Grange Hill the movie.
27) Paula Ann-Bland (yes, her again) was almost Kylie Minogue: she was signed by a record company for a cover version of The Locomotion.
28) Comedian Kevin Bishop’s big break came in 1994 when he was cast in the role of Sam Spalding on Grange Hill. Bishop was in two series yet disappeared mysteriously during his second. As he put it: “I was so unruly that they expelled me from a fictional school.”
29) At the peak of its popularity, Grange Hill teamed up with Golden Wonder crisps – one of four comics could be found in each multipack of crisps and each A6 12-page book contained an exclusive photo story involving key cast members. There was also a competition to win a day on set or a guest appearance on Grange Hill. For the bargain price of £1.99 and a token collect you could also send off for an exclusive Grange Hill 1988 diary.
30) In real life, Grange Hill is a London Underground station on the Central Line which lies in the parish of Chigwell in Essex.
31) In TV life, Grange Hill was in the fictitious north London borough of Northam.
32) Naturalist David Bellamy played himself in a rare real-life cameo for the programme. The pupils were on a school trip in 1984 and attending a United Nations conference where Dr Bellamy was chairing lectures. It ended with Bellamy dancing at a disco.
33) In 1987, Danny Kendall (who went on to die in Mr Bronson’s car) designed a new Grange Hill logo which became part of the uniform.
34) Teachers’ unions objected to a storyline in which children were left to mess around unsupervised at a swimming pool after a pupil who had cut their foot was taken to hospital. Redmond was told that children would never have been left alone, although the story came from a true story where this was exactly what had happened.
35) On February 8 1978, when Grange Hill first aired, the American president was Jimmy Carter, Gordon McQueen was about to become Britain’s first £500,000 footballer in a transfer from Leeds United to Manchester United and Anna Ford was a few days away from becoming ITN’s first female newsreader.
36) Alex Kingston, who went on to have a hugely successful career and went on to join the top-rated American TV show ER, joined Grange Hill as a bully Jill Harcourt. She was 15 when she won the role and one of her tasks on Grange Hill was to bully Susi McMahon to do her homework for her. Textbook. Literally.
37) In 2008, Grange Hill was voted the nation’s favourite ever children’s TV programme.
38) By the time the series ended, Grange Hill had become ‘The Grange’, a creative learning centre with multimedia technology and storylines had been softened in order to appeal to an audience aged between six and 12.
39) According to his memoirs, future EastEnders star Shane Richie can be glimpsed swinging through a school fence in the opening episode.
40) And our favourite fact of all: Morrissey personally asked Mark Savage (Gripper Stebson) to appear in his Dagenham Dave video. This redeems Gripper who was a punchline to one of then Prime Minister David Cameron’s less successful jokes. He said, while promoting his ‘big society’ initiative alongside Grange Hill creator Phil Redmond in Mersedyside, that the show had always been one of his favourites: “Indeed, Gripper Stebson was one of my role models in life.” David Cameron went to Eton and became Prime Minister. Gripper went on to get a job as a butcher’s boy.