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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Book Week: Modern School Days, or do you remember TV tie-in novelisations?

August 22nd, 2012 at 14:28

For the most part I think I’ve managed to use this blog to expose pretty much every obsession I’ve been through in my past and present, but there are always a few which slip through the cracks. For instance, I’m pretty sure I’ve never touched on my deep and detailed history of obsessing about Grange Hill.

It’s pretty easy to be a geek about Doctor Who, or superheroes, or fantasy novels, or even history. But the more mainstream/genre-free a piece of culture is, the harder it is to, for instance, collect merchandise and be madly, publicly geeky about it.

I first became aware of Grange Hill through my childhood in the 80′s. It was a British TV series set in a London comprehensive school, which started in the year I was born an ran for 30 years. It was harder to obsessively follow TV in those days, but I did my best! I seem to recall that sometimes at least a whole season would run on the ABC through the school holidays.

The first year I am certain that I watched was Season 8, which introduced first year characters Gonch, Calley, Ronnie and Hollo (my generation of students!) but still featured older characters who had been around for a while like Stewpot, Claire and Zammo. Some time around then, the series “Tucker’s Luck” also screened, a sequel which followed up the very first students who were the protagonists back in 1978, particularly Tucker (Todd Carty). I remember watching this with my Mum.

But what has this to do with books, you ask? EVERYTHING.

With no video releases and repeats, no fan clubs or programme guides like there was for Doctor Who (NO INTERNET), the only way I could find out more about the characters and history of this show was through books. Mostly written by series creator Phil Redmond, Robert Leeson or Jan Needle, 1-2 tie in novels a year had been released, some of them novelising episodes, or retelling several adventures in a meta kind of way, like through diary entries or adding extra anecdotes. More commonly, they told the story of what the kids got up to in the holidays, and I adored them. I collected them whenever I could, and otherwise read them over and over from the library. I remember particularly prizing my copy of Ziggy’s Working Holiday, and being devastated when a friend I lent “Grange Hill Graffiti” to never returned it.

In 1988 Phil Redmond’s Official Grange Hill Companion was released (still a prized book in my library!) and I was finally able to fill in the blanks as to what my beloved characters from the early years looked like, and what their story arcs had been when they weren’t on holiday. Until the DVD release of the first four seasons a few years ago (which sadly has not extended to the rest of the show’s run, I assume cos I’m the only one who bought them), that book and the novelisations were Grange Hill for me.

But what was the appeal? I’d always been drawn to and interested in British culture, because that was where my Mum came from, and because she generally refused to let me watch anything but British shows because American and Australian TV annoyed her (hard to argue with, but it meant I came VERY late to A Country Practice, and had a faintly English accent through my primary school years). And maybe part of me realised that the ratbag London kids getting into scrapes and dodging homework were a lot closer to present reality than anything that Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie or yes, Doctor Who, had to offer. (I was also weirdly obsessed with EastEnders, also the point of collecting novelisations, but that was harder because the show stopped being screened in Australia after the first 5 years or so)

Also, I had deep serial loyalty. It’s something I’ve long since accepted about myself, and find it hard to unlearn despite the fact that it’s not nearly as true in my 30′s as it was for my entire life up to the point I had children, but I couldn’t walk past a soap opera without being addicted for a year, couldn’t quit reading a comics series until EVERY CHARACTER I LOVED had left or been killed off, and when I liked a show, I needed to know every little detail about it, so would collect obsessive trivia.

If the internet had been invented back then, possibly I would have learned to let go a little earlier. But story addiction was my favourite thing, and I embraced it deeply. Even to the point of reading amusing novelisations of TV series I had never watched, which is certainly true of the early Grange Hill years – not even the teachers were the same by the time I had started watching! But I cared deeply about the half-told romances, the loyal friendships, the misery and rivalry and bullying.

In 1989 I went to England for the first time, spending a few weeks in London and a couple of months living in Leeds. Apart from the awesome television, the experience of a snow-and-mistletoe Christmas, and the grand squares, hotels and museums of London, a lot of the detail I recall has to do with newsagent’s. I bought comics and magazines galore, inhaling the pure difference of them, of their ads and their stories and yes, Grange Hill comics. Grange Hill comics were the BEST.

Later, in 1991, we returned to England and I actually went to a real London comprehensive for a while. As it turned out, Grange Hill had been right on the money as far as what British schools looked and acted like, though I will admit we had fewer dramas involving asbestos, swimming tragedies or drug overdoses, and would you believe NO teachers fell in love with their students that year? Still, the flavour had been captured perfectly, and so I never felt quite as unsettled or alienated as I otherwise might have. It was all so FAMILIAR to me.

The show itself had passed its heyday by then, I seem to recall, most of my favourite characters were long-gone and I wasn’t as invested in it, though I did crow about finding Press Gang novelisations in a bookshop (again, still prized possessions!), and I never got bored with buying British magazines.

I also found myself utterly obsessed by the concept of the TV novelisation that year – I’d been reading them all my life, not just Grange Hill or Doctor Who but just about everything I could get my hands on, and I remember in that London apartment, attempting to turn the brand new Press Gang episodes into new novelisations of my own (the books I’d bought covered the previous season, the one I’d missed by skipping countries). I had forgotten that! I kept stopping and starting the video to capture the next bit of dialogue.

Later, I’m pretty sure that eBay was invented specifically so that I could replace my copy of Grange Hill Graffiti. I feel so much better for having it back where it belongs. And the TV novelisation is now all but dead as a genre now that we have DVDs and shows on demand (though they do turn up from time to time – with kids TV if nothing else). I still want to write one.

Maybe someday I will.

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So many other Book Week posts!

Story Spinner Liz has written about Imitating Enid, Books about Schools, and Books About Ponies.

I so missed out on the pony phase, but I probably made up for it by going through the teen romance phase about three times over, starting from when I was 10 or so. Plus, you know, I had a lot of Grange Hill novelisations to read.

Hoyden About Town have got in on the challenge, with Mindy talking about that Blyton lady (she got under ALL of our skins, right?) and Mary talking about Australian classics Playing Beatie Bow and Looking For Alibrandi.

Terri wrote about the glorious gaming experience of Choose Your Own Adventure novels, while Tehani wrote about Black Beauty, teen romance and all manner of other eclectic reading habits from her childhood.

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7 Responses to “Book Week: Modern School Days, or do you remember TV tie-in novelisations?”

  1. Grant Says:

    You’re not the only one who has those Grange Hill DVDs. (I am so embarrassed.)

  2. tansyrr Says:

    Don’t be embarrassed! They are vital documents about the history of television! I personally find it fascinating to watch them in the light of what else was being made at the time.

    Plus the stories are AWESOME.

  3. My Sister Sif « Randomly Yours, Alex Says:

    [...] Tansy’s fault I’m reliving these childhood memories. See this post for her love of Grange Hill… Share this:EmailMoreStumbleUponDiggRedditTwitterLike this:LikeBe [...]

  4. Liz Says:

    I have the DVDs too. They’re a brilliant social history of the UK at the time. My son, 11, loves them, thinks Tucker and Co. are great and says he’d like to go to a school like Grange Hill. He’s getting into the Press Gang DVDs too.

    My school was a lot like Grange Hill, and we had three teacher/pupil relationships, one of which retrospectively was very, very weird (he was in his 50s, she was 14) but was just seen as a joke back then, by teachers and kids.

  5. Sean the Blogonaut Says:

    Grange Hill was great (victim of state television till the late 8o’s) Degrassi Jnr High ?

  6. Grant Says:

    I loathed Degrassi. Couldn’t get into it.

    One of the better youth TV dramas that nobody can remember but me was Streetwise.

  7. tansyrr Says:

    OMG Grant, Streetwise? The one with the bicycle couriers? I ADORED that show, and never quite forgave myself for not recording it.

    It ended tragically, though. The first season was the only good one.

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