HELEN KELLY (1986-1989)
Helen Kelly first got herself noticed as part of Imelda Davies’ Terrahawks gang before a series of dares left her with a permanent tattoo . However during her four years at Grange Hill, Helen managed to prove herself as a strong minded individual, eventually leaving to try and begin a career as a female engineer. Played by Ruth Carraway, Helen became one of the year-group’s most loved characters. In an exclusive interview with Grange Hill Gold, Ruth takes a nostalgic look back at her time playing Helen.
What lead to you going into acting?
I’ve always been a bit of a drama queen and as I was an only child my mum was keen that I met like-minded people so I started dancing classes when I was about 5 years old then found that I was more interested in the theatrics of dance rather than the movement and started attending a local drama class as well. This really fuelled my appetite for acting and decided that I would like to be an actor “when I grow up”. So when I was about 13, I started part time at the Sylvia Young Theatre School – I used to go to a normal comprehensive school during the week and then Saturdays I would travel to London from Essex to attend stage school.
What roles had you played before joining Grange Hill?
Helen was the first professional role I had played – although had played numerous roles in an amateur capacity.
Did you audition specifically for the part of Helen?
No – there were numerous new parts being auditioned that year. I think originally I was auditioning for the part of Laura (Fiona Lee Fraser ended up playing that role) but they changed me to auditioning for the part of Helen. It was a long process and I was immensely happy when I finally found out I had been given the part of Helen – it was the start of a new chapter in my life – how exciting.
Did the character develop along the lines of your own personality?
Oh yes for sure – I was definitely more of a Helen than a Laura – lol.
Did you get on well with from the cast?
We all got on really with one another – just the odd bickering that you would get with any school age children. As we grew older the friendships deepened and will stay with me forever.
How did you get on with the adults in the cast?
The adult cast were all wonderful and looking back they were very patient – I used to get the giggles quite a lot which can be very time consuming during filming and either they were very good at managing their frustration or they were just very understanding and patient – I think it’s the latter. Gwyneth (Mrs McCluskey) was just fabulous and I often think of her and wonder how she’s doing.
Helen was a very strong minded individual. Did you get much reaction to your character from the public?
The reaction from the public was very positive when Helen was keen on embarking on a career in engineering (considered a male job in the ‘80’s). I never really thought about it but Helen was a positive female role model wasn’t she? Obviously once she’d stopped the bullying and the stupid dare things.
Helen had some great storylines; being part of Imelda’s gang of Terrahawks. What was it like being ‘a school bully’?
Helen had some fab story-lines – loved being a Terrahawk – lol. Helen was a real follower back then – I’m glad she changed and became a stronger individual.
Georgina and Helen went on to challenge each other with a series of ‘dares’. One of Grange Hill’s most remembered scenes from this series is Helen scrubbing her arm trying to get rid of a tattoo. What do you recall of this storyline and did it put you off having a tattoo?
I remember the story line well – I had a butterfly tattoo on the top of my left (?) arm. I can remember doing the scene in the school toilet where I was trying to scrub it off with a brillo pad – how naïve – lol. And no it didn’t put me off – I’ve got quite a few tattoos now – I’d love more but I’ve purposely stopped myself otherwise before you know it I’ll be covered from head to toe!
Helen’s final storyline was about her being desperate to become an engineer and facing opposition for being a girl. What did you think of this storyline?
It was an awesome story-line and very forward thinking for the day. On reflection I feel very honoured that they would use the character of Helen to explore the issue of inequality in the workplace.
Grange Hill won a BAFTA during the 1986 series, and for many this (and the following 3 years) are regarded as the golden era of Grange Hill. Why do you think this series was so successful?
It was a series that tackled issues in a pro-active yet sensitive way that considered the age of the audience. Plus young people love seeing other young people ‘doing their thing’.
Did you enjoy being involved in the Just Say No campaign, and what are your memories of this?
The Just Say No campaign was during my first year in Grange Hill and it was amazing to be part of the buzz that was going on. At the time you don’t really think about it – you just get on and do it but it was a different world to what I had ever experienced – I feel very privileged to have experience it all.
Did you expect your role in Grange Hill to be remembered 25+ years later?
Definitely not – it’s nice that she is though.
What are your favourite memories from your time playing Helen?
There are so many – working with George (Mr Griffiths) and Sorrell (Harriet) the donkey, the dares story-line and the engineering story-line.
Do you have a favourite episode?
I loved the episodes when we went to the Isle of Wight for a field trip – they were fun to film and came out really well.
Do you have any bad memories of your time there?
Unfortunately my mum passed away while we were filming my last series – so that wasn’t a particularly good time for me. What made it easier was the support I received from all the cast, crew and management of Grange Hill – I will never be able to thank them enough for how they supported me through the worst time in my life.
What have you been doing since you left Grange Hill?
I stayed in acting for a while but then got a ‘proper job’ J and became a Youth Worker. Since then I have worked in a variety of roles in the community and in prisons but always in a social work sector. I am now working as a Youth Worker again in New Zealand.
How do you look back on your time in the series?
With fondness, with a smile, with a laugh and with a tear in my eye. As I’m writing this I have tears in my eyes – it really was an awesome experience and played a part in shaping the person I am today.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from your time on Grange Hill?
I keep in touch with most of them via face-book and outside of face-book I keep in touch with Fleur (Imelda), Alison (Fay), George (Ziggy) and Lisa (Julie).
Do you have a message for the thousands of Grange Hill fans out there?
Thanks for keeping this iconic programme alive. Be happy!
What do you think Helen Kelly is doing now?
Helen will be the manager of some engineering corporation and will be a campaigner for women’s rights – you gotta love her ain’t ya…
Many thanks to Ruth Carraway
(c) 2016 Grange Hill Gold