Grange Hill: The original kids’ TV soap – and still the best

You remember... The Grange Hill title sequence.

You remember… The Grange Hill title sequence.

Cast your mind back: You’ve just trudged home from school. Mum says your tea won’t be ready ‘til half past five so you nick a Wagon Wheel, pour yourself a glass of Alpine pop and slump down on the settee in front of the telly.

You hear the jaunty music and suddenly a sausage skewered with a fork flies across the cartoon strip on the screen.

It’s Grange Hill and children’s television will never be the same again.

Thirty five years ago this month Phil Redmond’s ground-breaking soap set inside a ‘typical’ comprehensive first aired.

It went on to run for 31 series over three decades before its final episode was screened on September 15, 2008.

Grange Hill came into its own in the early to mid-Eighties powered by characters whose names are synonymous with my childhood and anyone of a certain age.

Characters such as Ronnie Birtles; Roland Browning; Ziggy Greaves; and Danny Kendall.

Back then if you weren’t out playing football or reading the latest issue of Look-In there were no game consoles, no mobile telephones and no internet to distract us.

This was even before the advent of Channels 4 and Five and so the attention of impressionable teenagers after half past three of afternoon was very much focused on ITV or BBC.

Cartoons fought for ratings with straight-laced shows like Blue Peter and John Craven’s Newsround.

Then Grange Hill arrived and everything changed.

Here was a show for kids in which kids who were (sort of) like our classmates were the stars.

Spotty oiks like us who (naming no names) endured debilitating crushes on members of the opposite sex, bunked off school, hated homework (and the cross country course) and got into trouble for wearing trainers, swearing, fighting, smoking and having dubious magazines in our rucksacks.

Crossroads and Corrie were for grown-ups but Grange Hill was for us because we understood it: We knew exactly what the stars were going through. We could identify with strict, long-suffering headmistress Mrs McClusky and fierce, wig-wearing fascist Mr Bronson.

Every school, including Holden Lane High where yours truly was scraping by, had its Gripper Stebson-type bully who we all hoped we wouldn’t bump into in the toilets or on the stairwell.

Every school had its likeable Tucker Jenkins-style rogue who all the girls quite fancied and the boys wanted to emulate but didn’t dare (and didn’t have the jacket either).

Every year group had its annoying Pogo Patterson figure – constantly coming up with hare-brained money-making ideas (scams) which invariably failed but kept him busy for five years.

Every class had its Jackie Wright, THAT girl who was Premier League to all us fourth division lads but who somehow ended up dating a total loser who we could all have happily hit with a shovel.

Not that I had anything against Zammo Maguire. In fact, he was my favourite character until the whole post-heroin addiction Just Say No record debacle.
That’s another reason Grange Hill was so exciting, of course.

As well as dealing with the usual teenage angst, first loves, raging hormones and exam-related woes, its storylines were often edgy and controversial.

People died. Kids got bullied. Teachers had dubious relationships with pupils. Drugs were a very real problem.

These were issues which TV executives and even magazines editors had shied away from tackling but which the producers of Grange Hill faced head-on.

Over the last 30 years or so there have been many imitators such as Byker Grove and Tracey Beaker which have attempted to distil what it is that makes teenagers tick.

But Grange Hill was a pioneering thing of its time to which all such shows owe a debt.
The original and still the best.’

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

Eighties children’s telly stands the test of the time

Being the father of two small children you can’t help but become something of an aficionado with regard to children’s television.
Mercifully, we’ve made it through the painful In The Night Garden and Dora The Explorer phases and the girls have finally given me permission to sling their Peppa Pig DVDs.
I long ago converted my four and six-year-olds to the delights of Scooby-Doo (which they still lap up).
It is a source of great pride to me that I also recently switched them on to The Avengers – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and they are now hooked to such an extent that both can now name every Marvel superhero from Iron Man through to The Punisher.
Even so, despite the plethora of kids TV channels available I reckon the youngsters of today are poorly served compared to children of the 80s like me.
Maybe it’s the rose-tinted glasses syndrome but I just can’t imagine my girls looking back, misty-eyed in 25 years’ time and reminiscing about Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom.
Contrast that then with my memories of arriving home from Holden Lane High at 20 to four and flopping on to the settee with a bag of Monster Munch.
Perhaps I recall my pre-teatime telly with such fondness because children’s TV was still something of a novelty in the early Eighties.
Or perhaps the absence of computer games, mobile telephones and social networking meant that we were all actually limited to viewing the same stuff on the goggle box.
I prefer to think that what was on offer to children of the Eighties was simply better – with characters and theme tunes which are imprinted on our brains.
For example, do you recall the cartoon which first aired in the UK in 1983 and began with the words: “I am Adam, Prince of Eternia, defender of the secrets of Castle Greyskull…”
It’s all coming back now, isn’t it? Yes, He-Man and the Masters of Universe burst on to our TV screens during my first year at high school.
There followed 130 episodes of Skeletor-bashing action, numerous toys and even a duff movie starring Dolph Lundgren.
Another cartoon favourite of mine was Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds with its annoyingly catchy music.
I am sure you remember: “One for all and all for one, Muskahounds are always ready…” Ahem.
Yes, this little gem which was created in 1981 followed the adventures of canine versions of the swashbucking heroes from Alexandre Dumas’ novel. Enough said.
Then there was Battle of The Planets – a Japanese cartoon series involving the G-Force team of young superheroes (overseen by their robot 7-Zark-7) who battled against the evil Zoltar. Suffice to say I have the DVD.
I also adored the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon – based loosely on the roleplaying game of the same name – which saw a bunch of children take a theme park ride into a world of magic and monsters.
In truth, I never left that world and yes I do have the DVD.
Away from cartoons, I dare say few of today’s children’s programmes could hold a candle to The Book Tower.
Personally, I preferred the show when it was hosted by Doctor Who’s Tom Baker. His rather eccentric style of presenting coupled with the spooky Andrew Lloyd Webber theme tune really did the job of hooking me into reading – which was, of course, the whole point of the show.
Then there was the slapstick genius of BBC show Rentaghost which ran until 1984 and followed the antics of a number of ghosts who worked for a firm called, unsurprisingly, Rentaghost.
But the daddy of all Eighties children’s TV shows has to be Phil Redmond’s Grange Hill which enjoyed its halcyon period while yours truly was at a similar age to most of the characters.
And what characters they were… ‘Tucker’ Jenkins, ‘Ziggy’ Greaves, Fay Lucas, Ronnie Birtles, Roland Browning, ‘Gripper’ Stebson, Gonch and Hollo. The list is endless.
Groundbreaking at the time, Grange Hill pushed the boundaries of children’s drama with storylines such as Zammo McGuire’s descent into addiction to heroin.
With it’s wacky theme tune and comic book title sequence involving a flying sausage skewered by a fork, Grange Hill is as instantly recognisable today to the children of the Eighties as it was when Mrs McClusky ruled the roost.
Tracy Beaker and Horrid Henry eat your heart out.