Grange Hill Cast Reunion
Two Words, One Name, A Thousand Memories. Grange Hill.
On 8th of February 1978, BBC TV changed the course of UK children’s TV forever. For the next few of years of mine and fifteen million other kids lives, Tuesday and Friday’s teatimes meant two words.
Names such as Tucker, Benny (R.I.P), Alan, Roly, Gripper, and Zammo became your friends.
Being a teenager is, was and will always be horrible. The journey through secondary schools for most isn’t a pleasant one. Spots, fashion faux pas, periods and the pain of unrequited love. Teenage pregnancies, bullying, pranks and bundles with other kids purely because they wore a different coloured tie. Bunking off, shoplifting, protest marches, casual (and not so casual) racism and a serious addition to Smack (Well, we’ve all been there).
So here I am, almost forty years later, on my way to a prep school in Fulham. Why? Those two words again. Two words, one name, a thousand memories. Grange Hill.
Grange Hill Cast Reunion.
So there I was, armed with five dusty old novels that have been hiding away with my vinyl in the attic, along with ninety other (mostly middle-aged) men for a Grange Hill cast reunion in a school where it was originally filmed, now known as Fulham Prep School. I wondered whether the kids who attend now have any idea how much their corridors played a part in British cultural history. I doubted it is judging by some of the double and treble-barrelled names on the school’s honour board.
Saying that during the Q&A Gwyneth Powell – the eternally youthful Mrs McClusky – told us that its heydey, kids at Eton smuggled in a TV charged others to watch the show. I can imagine Boris and Cameron pulling off this type of Gonch-like scam. (Well Boris anyway, David was probably too busy sorting through his photo’s of piggies.)
I looked around at the actors wondering what it must be like to be reminded now and then -by folk of a certain age – that posters of you once adorned their bedroom walls, cut from the pages of ‘Look In’ or ‘Jackie’. So I asked Erkan Mustafa, who for seventy-four episodes played ‘Ro-Land’ all about it.
WHEN ERKAN MET THE HYPE.
So when were you last back at the school?
My girlfriend asked me the same question this morning, and I think it must have been about 1984. I think we only did it here for four years.
So a huge impact in four years…
Extremely, we’re talking about a show with fifteen million viewers. However, at that age, we didn’t realise the impact it had. I started on the show when I was eleven.
So you were mirroring the characters’ first year of senior school.
Walking through those gates this morning I stopped, and I had a lump – it was weird. I thought about our friend Terry Sue Patt who passed away a year today. He was the first pupil to walk through Grange Hill gates.
How did you get the break (for the role)?
I didn’t go to drama school. Drama schools at the time didn’t have working class fat children. They had middle-class boys who did ballet. So the press got involved. They were looking for this fat child, at the time I was a child, and I was fat. I went for two auditions, and I got the part, which was like ‘wow’. I don’t see myself as famous; I just see myself as somebody that had a great opportunity to appear on TV. At the time we didn’t have celebrities – we had actors, and we had musicians.
So it’s coming to a show like this it changed the world. You go to ‘real school’ half of the day, film half a day. It was very happy time. There’re so many great memories from being on the show, but also some downsides. Looking back you lose part of your identity. Sometimes it’s hard for people to regain theirs.
You grew up in the public eye when teenage years are difficult enough…
Yeah, you sort of quite like Roland. He was such a sad bullied person, and you know everyone one loved him, but thought they could bully him. I’m an East London boy, and we know we have to look after ourselves. I would never turn to violence. I was very sharp, very quick-witted so I could put people down quickly with jokes. You know there were highs and lows. But I was quite lucky to have a great family, supportive friends and I don’t understand why people say it was horrid time. Some people had a horrid time – I had a wonderful time. It was only last Tuesday I realised it’s thirty years since I went to the America ‘Just Say No’ Campaign. I remember the day vividly. It’s the day before my cousin got married and I had to leave the wedding early to go to America.
The interview took an unexpected turn when I mentioned in passing I was an ageing ‘B-Boy’ and Hip-Hop fan. Erkan’s ears pricked up, and the conversation immediately turned to Eric B & Rakim and the Beastie Boys. As surreal moments of my life go, being sat in a school library, face to face with a childhood legend chatting about music from thirty years ago is certainly up there. If this is your kind of thing, Erkan will be interviewed on the most excellent old-school ‘Ageing B-Boys Unite Podcast’ shortly.
Throughout the rest of day, Erkan played host on a tour that took us along famous corridors and across the playground home to iconic stories. Remember where Gripper got his comeuppance or N1’s classroom?
The next few hours went past in a blur of Q&As and queuing up for autograph signings. It was during one of the Q&As that something strange happened…I started to feel sorry for Gripper Stebson…
Yeah, I know. Gripper positively dripped evil but as Gwyneth explained, imagine being him (Mark Savage) as a young actor whom, due to a quirk of fate and some incredible writing, suddenly became a poster boy for the National Front and a target to everyone else. Gripper struck fear into the hearts and minds of a generation. The squiffed political rhetoric spouted was incredibly real that it mirrored the streets of the UK on the early Eighties.
Gwyneth spoke passionately of the young actor’s treatment by the BBC, who left him on the streets, unsupported. The differences between their treatment of him and that of Lee MacDonald, who played Zammo. Lee was rolled out on chat shows to reinforce that he was an actor, not a Smackhead.(Who knew?)
Would I go to another convention? Well, I’m not sure as there was lots of waiting around in a hot, stuffy assembly room; though I would if only to have the chance to talk old school hip-hop with Roland Browning, invite my teenage crush Fay to the youth club disco and get a great cuddle from the lovely Lisa York.
But if you go, do watch your backs as I’ve heard that there’s a load of Rodney Bennett and Brookdale hanging about down the shops.
A big thank you to organiser Scott Franklin and his excellent team for a great event. I do hope there is another as I have plenty of mates who would love a fag behind the bike sheds with this lot…
So there’s a prize of a couple of ‘Minto’ bars* to anyone that can name all the characters above. Here’s a clue the fella in the middle in the cap isn’t Mr Griffiths, the caretaker…
Leave your answers in the comments section, below.
*Note Minto bars don’t exist., this is just for fun.