Goodbye to the only kids who didn’t say ‘f***’
Everything went wrong for Grange Hill when they turned it into a state-sponsored celebration of minoritydom – and changed the theme music.
spiked’s TV columnist Patrick West is away for two weeks. His brother Ed, features editor at the Catholic Herald, will be standing in for him.
So, like a senile old mangy cat with one eye and a line of spit hanging from its mouth, Grange Hill is finally going to be put out of its misery, with a pat on the head, a loving stroke of the back, and a kindly but still lethal injection.
I was too young for the golden age of the show, so I never witnessed Tucker Jenkins or Gripper Stebson until repeats years later. Mine was the silver age of 1988-89, a period I chiefly remember for Danny Kendall and his tormentor Mr Bronson (played by actor William Sheard, who was otherwise typecast as Nazis – the poor man played Hitler in five different films, Himmler twice and various medium-ranking Nazi pen-pushers another dozen or so times).
At that time, the show was ‘tackling issues’ like drugs and alcoholism, and was PC before we knew the phrase, but it hadn’t quite jumped the shark of tokenism altogether. I think that moment came in the late 1990s when it featured a gang of friends, one of whom had cerebral palsy and another dwarfism. Thinking about it, Danny Kendall probably had some form of autism that was, as yet, undiagnosed.
But the show in the late 1980s, looking at it again on YouTube, was really quite good. And tame. I remember being quite dismayed that a friend wasn’t allowed to watch the show because of its racy storylines. Hadn’t his parents seen The Young Ones’ send-up of Grange Hill, where Ben Elton points out: ‘Come on, sir, we’re the only kids in the country who don’t say f…’
And its focus on ‘issues’ always had something of the Green Cross Code about it. Looking at those YouTube clips, the show’s treatment of drugs, for instance, looks eerily like those terrifying early 1980s adverts warning children to stay away from power stations.
Also slightly grating was the attempt at realism. Creator Phil Redmond always prided himself on making gritty, realistic shows that reflected life. This is, of course, the same man who set a soap in a lower-middle class street in Liverpool where one house contained a fresh corpse in the garden and another a cult, but where no one smoked.
And what made Grange Hill, as well as its bastard offspring EastEnders, so sinister is that ‘tackling issues’ became an excuse for the producers to push their agenda on to an audience too immature to understand it. EastEnders is, effectively, a state-run soap opera where the authorities, if not the actual government, can indoctrinate a young audience into following their beliefs on social issues. I even think there should be an award for the most shameless piece of social indoctrination – let’s call them the Leni’s.
A bit of indoctrination is fine, but you need to know what the show is about. It all went wrong for Grange Hill when they changed the title music (see below). Like a spooky microcosm of the state system, every new innovation made the show worse. They became addicted to ‘issues’ and ‘relevancy’, introducing ever-more obscure totems of minoritydom, so that eventually there was nowhere else to go; maybe eventually they’d have had a character with spina bifida or perhaps one of those bubble boys, who knows.
Demographics have also changed since 1978. Teenagers are far more grown up, in their TV habits if nothing else, so it’s impossible to make a show that will please both an eight-year-old and a 14-year-old.
And with state schools being what they are, Grange Hill could no longer keep up with reality. The alternative was either to retreat into a childish fantasy world, a fully realised version of the liberal ideal where every black kid had a father and every bully could be reasoned with or paid off – or to become a mix of The Wire and CSI, full of jumpy camera shots and with at least one weekly murder.
Instead, and to my great disappointment, the show will sort of continue after death in a zombified state; the BBC announced without any tongue in cheek that Grange Hill will relocate to ‘the Grange, a creative learning centre focused on multimedia technology’.
* * *
Unlike some of the libertarian types at spiked, I’m not generally in favour of allowing the populace to eat, drink and smoke themselves to death in the name of liberty. But if anything can change my mind then Heat or Eat (Channel 4, Monday) is it.
The documentary featured possibly the two least popular demographics in Britain – old people and poor people. Worse still, they were old and poor.
There are 3.5million pensioners living alone in Britain and 1.25million exist in what the programme-makers call ‘fuel poverty’. While this is obviously a bullshit expression invented on the spot, I don’t doubt the statistic that 300,000 go without electricity or gas, largely because of the companies putting up rates.
I can sympathise with this, having just received a monthly electricity bill for £120, almost 10 times the company’s own estimate. Despite there obviously being a fault – my flat is so tiny I’d have to have been staging Jean Michel Jarre tribute bands every night to use up that much power – the company refuses to admit there could be any mistake.
So I don’t doubt that they make a huge surplus by bullying old and scared people, as this Dispatches showed. But generally these were just people who had not saved enough money for old age and had no family. It’s terrible, but one could argue that the villain of the piece was a welfare state that has conned a nation into thinking it doesn’t have to take care of the future.
Our society already treats the old with utter contempt, but I especially worry for the next generation to come. At least the elderly Golden Generation have lots of Boy’s Own stories about flying Spitfires and bombing Dresden (I once worked with an 85-year-old who told me the war was ‘great fun. I got to shoot 12 Germans’).
Imagine when Tariq, Polly and the rest of the ’68 Generation become old, doddery and senile leaving those who aren’t to listen to them reminiscing about passing the Sexual Equality (Workplace) Act or suchlike. The temptation to take them on ‘mummy’s last holiday in Switzerland’ will become too much.
Ed West is features editor at the Catholic Herald. He is standing in for his brother, spiked’s TV columnist Patrick West.
Grange Hill‘s title music in 1980…
…and the first of many blanded-out new theme tunes in 1990: