GRANGE HILL MEMORIES – The World’s First Grange Hill Convention
DATE : SUNDAY 25th MAY 2014
LOCATION : GEORGE IV COMEDY CLUB, CHISWICK, LONDON
Many years ago, when Grange Hill Gold was first starting out, Michael Sheard (aka the legendary Mr Bronson) asked us to set up a Grange Hill Convention. A regular attendee at Star Wars and Doctor Who Conventions, Michael was a keen supporter of Grange Hill and recognised that a Grange Hill Convention would be a popular event. After all, at its peak Grange Hill was commanding 12 million viewers, so why shouldn’t there be a convention? Despite several false starts, and a couple of cast reunions, that Grange Hill Convention never happened . . . . . .until now when a team of convention organisers and Grange Hill fans stepped in to arrange ‘Grange Hill Memories’.
Firstly, it has to be said that the team behind ‘Grange Hill Memories’ could not have worked harder to arrange the event. Initially beginning with a small number of GH related guests, the guest-list grew to include 14 cast members and the title sequence designer. The team left no stone unturned in their quest to locate cast members, and so the final guest list grew to include the following :
Erkan Mustafa (Roland Browning), Lee MacDonald (Zammo Maguire),Melissa Wilks (Jackie Wright), Tim Polley (Steven ‘Banksie’ Banks), Mark Baxter (Duane Orpington),Paula Ann Bland (Claire Scott),Chris Jury (Mr Knowles),Lucinda Curtis (Mrs Reagan),Terry Sue Patt (Benny Green),Vinny Mann (Antoni Karramanopolis), Nicholas Pandolfi (Matthew Cartwright), Donald Waugh (Joseph ‘Hughesy’ Hughes), Tony McPherson (Derek ‘Woody’ Woods), Brian Capron (Mr Hopwood) and Bob Cosford (Original Titles Designer).
The event began with registration between 10:00-10:30 in which attendees were given their souvenir booklet (complete with biographies by Grange Hill Gold) and a timetable of the day. On sale were glossy photographs of the cast (and attendees) including some previously unseen shots.
After an introduction from organiser Scott Frankton, the first panel interview began on the stage. Unfortunately Chris Jury was running late and so the panel started with just Lucinda Curtis being interviewed. However, this gave Lucinda the chance to talk in detail about her time at Grange Hill and how she would have liked to have stayed longer, but had to choose between GH and the sitcom Dear John. Lucinda also revealed that Michael Sheard (Mr Bronson) was sure that Grange Hill would beat fellow Elstree BBC Drama, Eastenders, in the ratings and that just like in the show Mr Bronson and Mr Baxter (Michael Cronin) were very different and didn’t necessarily always get on!
Arriving late, Chris Jury, took ownership of the stage straight away and managed to talk not only about his time on Grange Hill, but also the state of television today. Lucinda and Chris both spoke proudly of their time in Grange Hill and the quality of the scripts and production they had worked on. Chris, who went on to be a television director, surprised the audience when he confessed that he had always been desperate to become a Grange Hill director. As the series moved to Liverpool, Chris was working for Mersey TV and expressed his desire, but it was felt that his penchant for bad language would not be appropriate as a director on a children’s TV series.
After the panel, Chris and Lucinda signed autographs, had photos taken with, and chatted to the attendees. For GHG it was nice to meet Lucinda in person, having interviewed her over the phone a few months earlier, whilst Chris had plenty to tell GHG about the quality of children’s television today.
The second panel was entitled ‘The Beginning’ and saw early years cast members Vinnie Mann (Antoni Karramanopolis), Donald Waugh (Hughesy) and Terry Sue Patt (Benny Green) talking about the beginning of Grange Hill. Having played part of the original ‘First Years’ the trio revealed how much fun they had on set and were clearly enjoying being in each others’ company again. Each guest was shown a series of clips from their time on the series, which brought back memories and provoked some interesting responses.
Terry Sue Patt revealed the reasons for his mysterious departure on screen and Vinny Mann recalled filming his character’s plunge from a high rise car park. However, when it was time for Donald Waugh to take the floor, he spoke candidly about his career, being in the original cast of Cats, and how he turned his life around having battled alcoholism and homelessness. All three proved to have huge affection for Grange Hill and were very pleased to be involved in the event.
During the autograph and photo session Donald went on to stage individual photos for every attendee, ranging from sharing someone’s tracksuit top, to posing in a bin! It was also during this time that a slightly familiar figure greeted a bemused Terry Sue Patt. Introducing himself as Mark, at first Terry wasn’t sure exactly who it was, until it became clear that Mark was in fact Mark Baxter (aka Duane Orpington). Once Terry realised who Mark was they chatted together, revealing they hadn’t seen each other since they stopped filming!
After a lunch break attendees were pleased to see the huge line up for the next on stage panel. Entitled ‘Into The 80s’, the panel reunited Paula Ann Bland, Mark Baxter, Nicholas Pandolfi andTony McPherson with their GH teacher, Bryan Capron. Clearly enjoying being back in each other’s company they joked with each other revealing that whilst they hadn’t been badly behaved they had run havoc around BBC TV Centre! As a 21 year old actor, Tony McPherson recalled being asked by one of the ‘teachers’ if he was just sensible or older than the others, and also how he had originally auditioned to play Glenroy.
‘Junior’ cast members had talked previously about how Bryan Capron had spoken to them as equals, unlike other ‘teaching’ cast, and the good working relationship they had continued on stage with Bryan and Paula recalling the infamous ‘Claire’s Diary’ episode and the changes that had to be made before it went on screen. Mark Baxter talked enthusiastically about his time as Duane, revealing he was very sad after being forced to leave the show having been diagnosed with cancer, whilst Nicholas Pandolfi talked about his crush on his on-screen sister Renee Alperstein! It was clear that despite not having seen each other in a long time, the good working relationship they had forged on Grange Hill still existed thirty years later.
During autograph sessions, Paula revealed how nervous she had been about the event, and it was only after persuasion from Erkan Mustafa (Roland) that she agreed to attend. Although Paula wanted to have words with the BBC Photographer who she insisted had taken so many bad photos of her during her GH years, she ended up enjoying the day and purchased a framed print of Bob Cosford’s title sequence artwork, which along with cards, were on sale at the artist’s stand.
The final panel was definitely worth waiting for. Consisting of some of Grange Hill’s best remembered faces, Lee MacDonald, Erkan Mustafa, Melissa Wilks and Tim Polley talked about their memories of the show, the impact of the Just Say No campaign and what they learnt from actors like Michael Sheard.
Lee Macdonald talked about how disappointed he was that Zammo’s partner in crime, Jonah Jones, left Grange Hill prematurely, but the whole room was pleased to see a personal video message from Jonah actor Lee Sparke, that Erkan had recorded during Lee’s recent visit to the UK.
Tim talked about his disappointment at being excluded from the cast trip to the White House, whilst Erkan revealed he had recently had lunch with Janet actress, Simone Nylander, and a passer by told him that they knew Roland and Janet would end up together!
Melissa and Lee discussed their on screen relationship and Melissa was keen to state that they were never romantic; much to Lee’s disappointment! The panel agreed unanimously that when they looked back at their school days they thought more about Grange Hill than their actual schools!
After autographs and photo sessions, the day drew to a close with a raffle hosted by Melissa and Erkan. Prizes included Grange Hill artwork by street artist Kransky and a title sequence print from Bob Cosford signed by the cast. All proceeds from the raffle went to Dandelion Time, a charity nominated by the family of former GH cast member, the late Joann Kenny.
As the school bell rang and the day ended, it was clear that this was one school event that people had been very happy to attend! Well organised and at a great venue, the real highlight of the day was the Grange Hill Guestlist. The cast members were all so friendly and very happy to talk about their Grange Hill school days; it was clear that no one went home disappointed.
A fantastic event that definitely calls out for a sequel! Congratulations to all involved!
Visit the GH Events page here.
Read our interview with organiser Scott Frankton here.
View our gallery of photos below.