Laura Reagan (1986-1988)
When Grange Hill moved to Elstree Studios, and added six extra episodes, for its biggest ever season in 1986, it also added a range of new characters. Within a whole new, previously unseen, year-group was dynamic Laura Reagan, played by Fiona Lee Fraser. Laura was the daughter of PE teacher Mrs Liz Reagan and during her time at Grange Hill faced normal teenage struggles under her mother’s watchful eye! In our exclusive interview, Fiona Lee Fraser reminisces about her time at Grange Hill.
What lead to you going into acting?
I trained originally as a dancer. I went to a local dance school and really didn’t do any acting at all. Auditions came up for the stage version of Bugsy Malone, which Mickey Dolenz was directed and produced. That was all over the television; they were looking for children to star in this version at a West End theatre. My friend and I thought it would be a laugh to go along, so we went and queued in the snow with 15,000 other people! We both managed to get through various rounds and eventually got a part in that. That was a little bit more acting. I met lots of kids from stage school there, particularly Sylvia Young Theatre School. I decided to convince my parents that I should leave the convent school in Reading and go to Sylvia Young, which I did! I went there really to study more as a dancer, and do musical theatre but the Grange Hill auditions came up about three weeks after I’d started.
How did you get your part in Grange Hill?
It was just one of many auditions I went up for and I just happened to be lucky enough to be right for that particular part. They were auditioning for Laura and Julia at the time.
How similar was Laura Reagan to Fiona Lee Fraser?
For Laura and Julia, they were looking for two girls who weren’t necessarily from London. I originally grew up in a village called Stoke Row in Oxfordshire, so I had a Home Counties accent. We were supposed to be the children of the governors / a PE teacher, so for some reason they thought we should not necessarily have London accents. From that point of view Laura and I were similar, but that was about as far as it goes. Laura was always on the committees at school and a little bit of a do-gooder, whereas I was probably in trouble quite a lot! Although when I went to Sylvia Young, I was quite well behaved compared to some of the others there who were getting up to all sorts!
Were you well behaved on the set of Grange Hill?
We were all fairly well behaved because we were very well chaperoned. We couldn’t go off and do anything, so our time was either spent on the set or in the green room. When we were at the BBC we were very well behaved.
Did you get on well with the cast?
We all got on really well. I’m sure that everyone you’ve interviewed has said similar. In the three years that I was there, I cannot remember anyone falling out at all.
How did you get on with the adults in the cast? Especially Lucinda Curtis who played your mother.
Lucinda and I got on really well. She’s absolutely lovely. I got a chance to see her briefly at the reunion but not for long enough and she had barely changed. She was really, really sweet and very supportive. We had our own green room for the kids, and the adults either had their own green room, or dressing rooms they would go back to. During the day, we were only really with them when we were rehearsing or filming. We probably drove the adults mad to be honest. They were all lovely, so we didn’t have any complaints from our side. I don’t remember any of the adult actors complaining about us – not that we knew of anyway! The atmosphere on and off set saw everyone getting on really well.
Was it hard growing up on screen?
I think in some ways it was easier. We didn’t have social media to while away the hours! Teenagers tend to get up to mischief when they are bored and we were working so hard that we never had a chance to get bored. We were all up at 6 and not getting home until about 9:30 at night so were very self-contained and very busy. I think in that way it was a huge help through the teenage years. Because we were in a position of responsibility and actually working for a living, that gave us a really good sense of identity and achievement. The only problem was, when you wanted to do a normal teenager thing like go to McDonalds! For a long time that was a really big problem, because that’s where the demographic group of viewers were likely to be! You were always going to get recognised and it would be by younger people who were less afraid to come up to you and say something, or shout something across the restaurant! Going out in public was a little bit tricky. Dealing with that, especially if you were on your own, could be a little intimidating.
Whilst you were in Grange Hill, you dated your co-star Simon Vaughan (Freddie Mainwaring). Was it difficult to keep your private life out of work?
There were never any issues when we were filming or rehearsing. As far as Simon and I went it was fine; we had a very amicable relationship. There were no arguments where we had to turn up on set and wouldn’t be talking to each other! Initially I was still living in Stoke Row. Ricky Simmonds (Ant Jones) bought a flat in North London because he was the eldest of our friendship group. Simon moved in with Ricky. Myself and Sara, who played Julia, used to stay up a lot. She was living in the Ruislip area and I was living out in Oxfordshire, so it was really handy to be able to stay in London and not have the long commute into Elstree. The four of us hung out a lot. The only problem it ever caused, for Simon and I, was if the two of us went out for dinner together we were more likely to be recognised. We all socialised together and sometimes would go out in threes, fours or en-masse. We used to go to Stringfellows in those days and that would cause a bit more of a stir if there were more of us.
You were in Grange Hill at the peak of its success. What was it about your era that made ratings even higher?
I know it was really successful at the very beginning. Then leading up to our period its storylines were so controversial. The kids they cast in it were great. I think the reputation had really built by the time we came in around series 9. There were some brilliant characters, like Gonch, and then they brought in Ziggy and all our lot too. They already had Zammo, Jackie, Fay, Roland and all those iconic characters. Then obviously when they did the Just Say No campaign and tackled not only drugs, but heroin – which was hugely brave of Phil Redmond and the BBC – that must have attracted even more viewers. The writers were really fantastic. The characters were so well rounded and there were quite a lot of characters at that point. I think it was just down to being a really great time for the script-writing, the commitment to controversial subjects and a really great wealth of characters.
What was it like being a part of the ‘Just Say No’ campaign?
I did the recording of the single and Grange Hill – The Album as well. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the album – but it’s hilarious! I wish I had a copy myself! I had left a convent school and had a really fantastic time on the skiing trip. When I went into Grange Hill and joined Sylvia Young, there was another skiing trip that I’d already put the deposit down for, with the convent school. I decided to still go to that and not carry on with the Just Say No campaign. I didn’t go to the Whitehouse or anything, or do the video! I was absolutely gutted, but at the time it seemed the logical thing to do as a teenager; go on a ski trip! I was absolutely kicking myself. I missed out on the USA trip, a lot of those interviews and being in the video and everything, but doing the record and everything was brilliant. We had a lot of fun doing that.
Do you have a favourite episode, storyline or moment?
The canal boat episodes were brilliant. We had so much fun doing them. That was probably the time we laughed most during filming. Things were a little more laid back. We did used to get the giggles when we were in the studio and we’d get told off pretty regularly because we were on strict timing, but on the canal trip that was a little more laid back and fun. We did have a lot of fun there. We stayed in the Warwick University halls of residence, so we were having fun in the evening as well.
I also like the episode where it switches between the storyline of Zammo at his worst with heroin and Julia and Laura who are trying to go to some all-night party and getting caught. That was probably one of my favourite episodes.
Do you have any bad memories of your time there?
No. None whatsoever. I think when I was travelling backwards and forwards to Oxfordshire, I was exhausted at one point, and sitting on the train all my ankles and joints would swell up. We didn’t know what was wrong with me, but it turned out to be some bizarre arthritis thing. It stayed with me for about six months then went away again. During that time it was quite hard to keep going and push through, but we had so much fun that you just carried on. We were hardly ever off ill – you’d just keep going whatever, because you were having so much fun. I suppose the BBC Canteen food was quite good. Remarkably we didn’t get ill very often! You’d think people would be bunking off all the time, but we weren’t!
What lead to you leaving?
Sara (Laura Glover) had left after our second series. I obviously missed her. Simon wanted to go and Ricky was getting itchy feet as well. We had to decide as a year-group if we wanted to stay, so that there would be a certain number of us. I was with an agency who had other jobs we could go for and thought it might be nice to do something a little different, especially as Simon and Ricky were going. They disbanded ‘our year’ at that point as I think there was only Alison (McLaughlin) who played Louise Webb left.
How did leaving Grange Hill lead you to where you are now?
After Grange Hill, I went into presenting as well as theatre. The presenting I enjoyed, but I did a couple of TV commercials and really enjoyed those. A few days work for very decent money! I switched agents and worked with an agency who did a lot of TV commercials and ended up doing mostly commercials for about ten years. I carried on doing that sort of thing until I got married. Acting isn’t the sort of job that goes well alongside bringing up children; you want to be there for bed-time and that sort of thing. I gave up everything for a while. Then after I had our daughter, our second child, I retrained as a photographer. As I sit here now, I’m revamping my website. That’s what I do now; portraiture and actor’s head shots. I can do as much or as little as I want now, which is brilliant.
What do your children think of your Grange Hill past?
They weren’t really interested for a long time. Now they find it hilarious I suppose! My daughter is now 17 and is at the Central School of Ballet in London, training to be a dancer. She’s the same age as I was when I filmed a lot of the episodes and that’s quite bizarre, looking at me – at her age! My son is 21 and is studying music at Lincoln. He’s been in various bands. They’re both pretty into the stage and preforming anyway, so it’s not too much on an alien culture to them! They’ve always known about it, so I would say they just find it amusing to look back at the old videos.
What was it like reuniting with former cast at the 40th anniversary event in 2018?
It was brilliant. I never had any scenes with Fleur Taylor (Imelda Davies) – because our characters never had any storylines together – so I never really hung out with her at all. It was great to spend time with her and her gorgeous son who was there. It was really great to have that trip down memory lane and see everybody.
Did you expect Grange Hill to be remembered 40 years later?
I just didn’t imagine that people would even remember. It’s very flattering.
How do you look back on your time in the series?
Incredibly fondly. I was really, really lucky to get the part in it. I had an absolute ball. I’m still in touch with people I did the programme with, now. It was an absolute privilege to be in it.
© 2020 Grange Hill Gold
Not to be reproduced without permission
Thanks to Fiona Lee Fraser
You can visit Fiona’s photography website at http://www.fionamclean.co.uk/