Bring Back…Grange Hill
In a nutshell: "Kendall! You boy!!!"
The 411: Great Britain in the 1980s was a turbulent place. Social unrest reigned as gangs of youths roamed the streets, the nation’s catwalks were peopled by hair-gelled freaks with their jacket sleeves rolled up and every man jack of our schoolboys was smacked up on the skag.
And Grange Hill , Phil Redmond’s gritty school soap, reached unparalleled exposure with its heroin addiction storyline and top five Just Say No anti-drugs single. It was totally inevitable that, 20 years later, an annoying comedian would round up the cast to relive this historic time with a one-off performance of the single.
Yes, it was.
"Zammo looked like he seriously needed to ‘Just Say No’ to pies, the tubby bitch."
Presenter Justin Lee Collins is not very funny. He’s loud, hairy and in-your-face but that doesn’t constitute humour, at least not in this dimension. A spellbindingly bad turn on Never Mind the Buzzcocks doesn’t seem to have dented his career prospects or his enthusiasm. He ran at the task head-on in the hope that the witless optimism that has served him so well in life would see him through again.
He began his campaign with Zammo Maguire (Lee MacDonald) who now works in a key cutting shop. Zammo looked like he seriously needed to ‘Just Say No’ to pies, the tubby bitch. Obesity is killing more people than heroin, maybe you want to tackle that next time? An engaging kind of guy, Zammo agreed to the proposal in a heartbeat. Good for him.
“Erkan Mustapha (Row-land Browning) was also a pushover in every sense apart from the literal (unless there was a tow truck handy)”
Erkan Mustapha (Row-land Browning) was also a pushover in every sense apart from the literal (unless there was a tow truck handy). More cagey was Alison Bettles who played Fay Lucas – a kind of proto Kate Lawler – but she was soon talked round. She still looks exactly the same apart from having put on a bit of lady lard due to sprogging out a kid or two.
Mmoloki Chrystie (Kevin Baylon) is now a film-maker and had no interest in taking part. He did, however, provide a short film on the hypocrisy of the Just Say No campaign. "It was an anti-drugs thing," he recalls "but nobody really asked our position". And the long-standing urban myth that cast members were stoned during the trip to the White House turned out to be true. Result!
John Alford (Robbie Wright) has bucked the trend by making a success of himself. As long as you don’t count being a coke fiend and jailbird. He rumbled that he was being sought after by a bad observational comedian and fled the country.
There’s a telling difference between child actors from the United States and United Kingdom. Namely, that ours are abysmally poor. A nation that doesn’t like show-offs, we beat any acting or performing instincts out of our children until they’re scared to look a camera in the eye. That’s why there’s no British equivalent of Drew Barrymore or Michael Jackson.
Most Grange Hill stars will disappear into obscurity after the 6th form end-of-term disco. Zammo preferred to explain this by saying that most of the kids were just doing it for a laugh and some spare cash – they never really wanted this acting life.
"Once the likes of Gonch and Danny Kendall start auditioning for Holby City they realise that eggy pauses and gormless mugging to the camera ain’t gonna cut it.."
This implies that the talentless turds ever had the choice. The kids in Grange Hill had no more or less ability than Joe Blow in year six. We’ll never know – acting ability doesn’t develop in this country until the age of 18 when they go off to university. Once the likes of Gonch and Danny Kendall start auditioning for Holby City they realise that eggy pauses and gormless mugging to the camera ain’t gonna cut it.
The performance went ahead to a crowd of 2000 at Hammersmith Palais to a receptive and well-disposed SchoolDisco.com crowd to a mixture of embarrassment and nostalgia. The programme just about justified its existence. It was interesting to see all the old faces weathered by age, failure and pie. There’s enough distance from the Eighties now to convince many that we never had it so good, despite the massive evidence that points to the contrary.
As for the class of ’86 – they’re handling their loss of fame pretty well on the whole. No desperate clinging on to nano-celebrity for them – maybe they did learn something at school after all.
The best thing about it: The archive footage Grange Hill circa 86
The worst thing about it: The incessant wackiness of Justin Lee Collins
The verdict on Bring Back…Grange Hill: "Don’t listen, don’t listen to anyone else – all you gotta do is be yourself …"
Marks out of 10: 7