Lucinda Curtis played PE Teacher, Mrs Liz Reagan for three years between 1986- 1988. Rather than just a role as a teacher, the part also explored the relationship between Liz and her daughter Laura, a pupil at Grange Hill. Whilst they usually had a good relationship, Mrs Reagan’s new relationship caused conflict with Laura, as did Laura’s own relationship with Steven ‘Banksy’ Banks. Grange Hill Gold was fortunate enough to speak to Lucinda Curtis who told us all about her time playing the kind-hearted Mrs Reagan.
What lead to you becoming an actress?
When I was about 7 or 8, I saw the film of Henry V with Laurence Olivier and I was bewitched. I was bewitched by Shakespeare as much as by an actor. I would then start reading Shakespeare to myself in my bedroom. I went to a school that was very good at taking you to shows and things. I think it was something that happened very early on; and that became the plan! I then went to drama school at LAMDA.
What roles had you played before Grange Hill?
After you’d been at drama school, when I went, you had to earn your membership to equity, by having a professional employment for something like 28 weeks before you could get your Equity card. So one went into Repertory Theatre; where you would usually have a year or two years in a provincial theatre. The one I was in was in Dundee. When I was there, they did the first live television broadcast of a play. Scottish television came with all their cameras to the theatre to film a live play and that was quite extraordinary because it hadn’t happened much before. We were paid the handsome sum of twelve pounds extra to be on TV!
I suppose I just trundled along! I couldn’t tell you anything particular before Grange Hill. I was a working actress; I worked mainly in theatre. The first television I ever did was Emergency Ward 10 and that was live television; imagine how long ago that was! One was young and foolhardy and so didn’t worry as much as I might do now, because one just took it in one’s stride! My character had an illness in hospital and I had to have a haemorrhage from my mouth and I was given this blood capsule and told to bite it at a certain point so the blood would squirt out of my mouth. We were never able to rehearse it, so I just did it ; live TV at the start of my television experiences!
What appealed to you about the role as Liz Reagan?
The first thing that appealed was that is was a television series because that meant a financial security. Liz Reagan was a gym teacher and I was into a lot of gym; I was a teacher of movement. I think that’s partly why I got the part. I was a mother, but a mother of boys, so I don’t think I had a lot in common with Mrs Reagan.
I think I was lucky in that Mrs Reagan was also a mother as well as a teacher, so that made her story complete. Other teaching characters didn’t have that opportunity. It added a dimension and as the story went on, she got a boyfriend who then made a pass at her daughter’s friend. It was all quite close to the knuckle at that time
How much input did you personally have in the development of your character?
It would depend on the writers, because they would only write a certain number of episodes and then pass it on to someone else. There was one writer who liked my character particularly, so she would come to a script meeting and tell me she’d really like to develop my character.
How did you get on with Fiona Lee-Fraser who played your daughter Laura?
The first episode we filmed together, I just remember thinking what a beautiful girl she was. They’d given me such a beautiful daughter and I was rather stunned! She was a very pretty girl; she was very sweet.
What was it like working with such a large teenage cast?
I’d no problem with the kids; I thought they were great. The kids who were sometimes a problem were the ones who were extras and not regular characters. They would come in from different stage schools and certainly some stage schools produced more disciplined, endearing children than others. They weren’t all marvellous on the perimeter, but the regular characters were very good. Although some of them I believe were quite naughty. They were getting up to things, but we weren’t aware of that. It was the chaperones who would sometimes be moaning about a child, but I don’t remember any bad incidents.
Did you get on well with the cast? And was there anyone you were particularly friendly with?
The person who was most delightful was Gwyneth (Mrs McCluskey) because she was very steady and had a great sense of humour. Michael Sheard (Mr Bronson)was quite full of himself; he was an actor who really wanted to be remarked, which was rather fitting for his character. He had an answer for everything, but he was very good in the part. He was playing an unpleasant person and that might influence how some people saw him over the years.
I still have contact with Gwyneth as we have the same agent and sometimes, though not terribly recently, Jeffrey Kisson (Mr Kennedy) .
Did you get much reaction to your character from the public?
One got endless fan letters. I do remember an incident on a cross channel ferry when I was taking my sons on holiday. It was school holidays and the ferry was absolutely rammed and full of school children. Suddenly somebody noticed it was me and we had to shut ourselves in our cabin; so they were running riot! I remember having to run out of an underground station, pursued by screeching children! However, not all the time!
When we were in the first series, Eastenders started up at Elstree. I remember Michael Sheard took it terribly seriously. He would come in with these viewing figures, comparing Grange Hill to Eastenders. To begin with Eastenders was not beating us, but of course very quickly it took over completely!
No, not at all. I think it was of its kind. It had incredibly good writers and it had the extremely classy Anthony Minghella as script editor, who went on to become a very fine writer and film maker. The producer when I was in it, was Ronald Smedley. They used good writers and the storylines were very valid; not extreme exactly, but I think they were quite realistic.
What are your favourite memories from your time on Grange Hill?
We went on a canal boat trip as part of a storyline. We were away for two weeks on these canal boats. It was early in the morning and you’d get there and see these very, very pretty views. The location was particularly attractive.
Do you have a favourite episode or storyline?
I thought the boyfriend story was interesting. It was quite an adult kind of thing, for a mother to have a lover, who then made a pass at her daughter’s friend. I thought that was quite meaty. It was different from just being a ‘teacher’.
What did your family think of your role in Grange Hill?
They loved it. It was something, as my children, they could boast about if they chose. When faced with a hoard of screaming fans, they didn’t like it quite so much! They were aged 7 and 10 when I was doing it, so they loved it.
What lead to you leaving Grange Hill?
I got a regular part in a sitcom called ‘Dear John’ and it began to clash with Grange Hill. The sitcom spawned a stage play which was going on a tour of the country and it appealed to me a lot. I thought it would be more fun than going on with Grange Hill, so I asked to be released.
Does it surprise you that Grange Hill still has a big following , with particular interest in the earlier years?
No, I think it’s rather wonderful.
How do you think the episodes from your time on the show still stand up today?
I haven’t watched any of my episodes for a long time. Nowadays there is Waterloo Road and the docu-drama Educating Yorkshire. I think things have moved on to a much more gritty level. Grange Hill had a sort of innocence about it; the signature tune was ‘larky’, but it had its place. I think it was a landmark; the first of its kind and as I said, there were very good writers.
What have you done since leaving Grange Hill?
I’ve mainly done theatre; working for the Royal Shakespeare Company, things like that. I feel I most belong in the theatre.
‘Dear John’ would have gone on for much longer, but Ralph Bates, the star of it, died so it stopped, which was a great shame. That would’ve moved me more into comedy. I don’t work so much now, because I’m getting older and there are not so many parts for old ladies!
Has Grange Hill been a help or a hindrance to your career?
I suppose if you’ve done a series of that nature for that long, it’s good. But it’s not the same as saying you’ve been in Eastenders or Hollyoaks or anything like that. It doesn’t carry that sort of weight. It’s not a passport to the next level, but it is significant ; everyone knows what you’re talking about when you say Grange Hill.
How do you look back on your time there?
It was a good time. It was at Elstree and I’d worked out a lovely drive there every day. It was comfortable; we all knew each other. I remain great friends with the girl who did my make-up and to this day I still see her. It was like a big family. It was nice ; I loved it!
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