With a cheeky grin and a knack of upsetting people, Jeremy Irvine transferred from Rodney Bennett to Grange Hill at the beginning of Series 7. Jeremy (played by Vincent Matthews) had already been seen in Series 6 when his cousin Jonah Jones and Zammo Maguire spent a day at his school. However Jeremy’s time at Grange Hill was set to be short-lived, as after showing off in the swimming pool Jeremy drowned, in one of Grange Hill’s most controversial moments.
Vincent Matthews talks exclusively to Grange Hill Gold about his time on Grange Hill, filming the infamous drowning scene, and what he’s up to now.
How did you get your part in Grange Hill?
As with many members of the cast I to attended the Italia Conti Stage School and every year the Grange Hill auditions would come round and I, with many of my real class mates, would be paraded into our school audition room and be asked to perform several of the pre-determined scenarios normally worked out for finding the new main cast for that season. So along with my thespian friends we strutted our stuff and hoped we caught the eye of the right person and would get a recall.
What was your audition for Grange Hill audition like?
I can’t say I really remember what we did in the audition but I do remember they were looking for three main characters and a selection of other minor cast members. Kenny McBain was the producer at that time and for some reason liked what I did and (so I was told) they wrote the part of Jeremy in for me to which I must say made me feel somewhat honoured.
How much was the character of Jeremy like you?
Apart from being the proud possessor of a cheeky grin and big mouth that was about all. I was never as devious as him or would have been so nasty to a fellow schoolmate.
How did people in your real school react to you being in Grange Hill?
It was never a problem at school as I went to Conti’s, but there were some issues in my home town and travelling to and from school. Italia Conti at that time was in the middle of a council estate in Clapham and there were only around 30 boys in my School and about 250 girls (that was the good bit) but, there were three very large comprehensives in the area and this caused many problems and several times we needed police escorts home as we were targeted often by them.
Who did you get on well with in the cast?
I enjoyed working with all of them. We spent a lot of time together on location and in the studio, imagine having around 60 school kids and none of your real teachers around for weeks at a time, it was a blast. Don’t get me wrong we still were chaperoned and had to do lessons each day, but when you have story lines like smashing up a real school, placing a rat (real as well) in someone’s bag, faking bus passes and getting caught then finally turning turtle in a swimming pool, you can imagine what else we got up to and what fun we had.
Who did you enjoy working with the most in Grange Hill?
I guess Lee MacDonald (Zammo) as I did nearly all my scenes with him, but the rest of the cast were great and the crew were superb to be around as well.
Not as much fun as you would think. We spent a whole week in a swimming pool complex and three of these days we were in the water all day. Both Lee and my eyes were constantly bloated and red because of all the chlorine in the water.
The other problem was we didn’t really have a stunt co-ordinator so some off the techniques devised to keep me underwater, I don’t think would be allowed today. The first trial we had was with a long breathing tube (didn’t work), that was followed by placing a metal weight down my trunks (ouch) and finally holding onto a large weight wrapped with a white towel so you would not see me holding onto it at the bottom of the pool. If you look at the clip that is the one they finally used.
These scenes proved very controversial at the time. Do you think they (or Grange Hill as a whole) deserved such a reaction?
The whole story line was designed for that impact. Initially they were going to drown another character but they let him go instead, but still desperate to kill another poor innocent boy. Ratings a season or two after tucker had left were not the best and Grange Hill at that time was a huge show and needed a big story line, so I was asked if I would take that part. I was the first child to ever see die on children’s TV, so make no mistake the board room guys knew what they were doing.
Was it your choice to leave the show?
In a way yes.
Are you proud of your work on Grange Hill?
Its so funny when you look back it seems such a long time ago and your life moves on and that part of you life does not seem so real, but all part of what I must say was a great childhood. So to answer your question I am proud of what I achieved in that part of my life. Though my proudest moments from Grange Hill came many years later when Mel & Sue put me into Room 101 for flicking people with wet towels taken from my drowning episode and Jeremy was mentioned in the comedy Spaced.
What have you done since leaving Grange Hill?
Many, many things! I carried on acting for several years then moved to New York and since then I lived in Australia, travelled around the world and found myself behind the camera as a production manager and producer of commercials and large corporate programmes.
Does it seem strange to think that work you did 20 years ago still has a cult following?
My friends never let it go on my behalf. Just the other week I was at a large industry event speaking to a client, I nipped to the toilet and by the time I came back (3mins max) he was singing the Grange Hill theme tune at me and my friends were laughing like school children.
What is strange is that the show is still going and I was a small part of it, as to being part of a cult show that proves everything we love and remember about the show deserves its following and long may it continue.
© 2005 Grange Hill Gold
Thanks to Vincent Matthews