The Truth Behind The Departure Of Jonah Jones And The Drowning Of Jeremy Irvine!
When a new team of First Years joined Grange Hill in Series 5, one of the most popular pupils was cheeky Gordon ‘Jonah’ Jones (played by Lee Sparke). Jonah soon got himself noticed when, along with best friend Zammo, he managed to drop several stink bombs around the school. Full of bright ideas and a real show-off, Jonah always had plenty to say, even when he got into trouble.
In Series 6, viewers were introduced to Jonah’s cousin, Jeremy Irvine, a pupil at nearby Rodney Bennett. Just like Jonah, Jeremy was full of bright ideas that usually lead to trouble.
At the end of Series 6, tests showed that Jonah was far cleverer than his teachers had thought and was actually a very ‘gifted’ pupil. Though Jonah had managed to upset most of his classmates with his big mouth, he made amends by helping with the protest march to reinstate Scruffy McGuffy.
However, by the time Series 7 began, Jonah had disappeared and Jeremy had taken his place at Grange Hill. It was eventually revealed that Jonah’s father had got a new job in Wales and the whole family had moved there.
But this was not supposed to be the way that Jonah originally left the series. In an exclusive investigation, Grange Hill Gold reveals the truth behind Jonah’s departure.
Whilst Jonah Jones had proved to be a very popular character in Grange Hill, producers were not keen for Jonah to continue in the series and decided to kill him off. The scriptwriters set about drafting a dramatic exit that saw Jonah, having alienated all his friends, drowning after showing off in the school swimming pool.
With scripts completed for the series, the BBC set about issuing contracts. However, when Lee Sparke, who played Jonah, received the scripts, both he and his family were unimpressed. In a fan letter written just before filming began on Series 7, Lee revealed the following :
“Unfortunately, I will not be in the new series when it comes on in January. The B.B.C. wanted to let Jonah die in an accident. My family and I thought that this was a rotten thing to do to a nice bloke like him, so we thought it would be best if I just didn’t film anymore episodes.”
As a result, Lee Sparke didn’t sign a contract for Series 7, leaving the Grange Hill Production team with a big problem. The scripts for the entire series had already been written and half of them revolved round the character of Jonah and lead up to his death. Now they were without the character of Jonah!
Script-Editor (and now Oscar winner) Anthony Minghella recalls that this was his most unpleasant time on the show.
“My worst moment on the series was when two of the central characters were no longer available and the scripts had already been written. It was my job to sort it all out!”
After numerous meetings to sort out the problem, Anthony Minghella and his team finally came up with a solution. Instead of using the character of Jonah, they would reintroduce the character of his cousin, Jeremy. This time Jeremy would now attend Grange Hill and would take over most of Jonah’s role in the series, including drowning at the bottom of the swimming pool!
This meant re-writing most of the first half of the series, particularly the first few episodes that now needed to reintroduce Jeremy as a Grange Hill pupil and cover the reasons for Jonah’s absence. Whilst the first few episodes changed, later episodes involving the Year Group remained similar, with most of Jonah’s lines being taken by Jeremy. Script-writers had already picked up on Jonah’s knack of upsetting other people towards the end of Series 6, and had incorporated this into their original scripts for Series 7. Therefore as Jonah would have become more unpopular amongst his peers, leading to their feelings of guilt after his death, the same happened to Jeremy, who, from the outset was written as a slightly more abrasive character.
Finally, scripts were ready and filming began on Series 7, leading to its most dramatic point that saw Jeremy drown in the swimming pool. Viewers were shocked, but not as much as they would have been if they had seen hugely popular character Jonah drown, as originally planned.
After Grange Hill, Lee Sparke continued to act in series such as ‘Behind The Bike Sheds’, before moving to Australia.
Vincent Matthews who played Jeremy continues to work in the media.
Check out our Interviews section for interviews with Lee Sparke, Vincent Matthews and writer Barry Purchese.