Well liked by staff and pupils alike, art teacher Miss Ginny Booth wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Her respect and sympathy for the situations her pupils, such as Danny Kendall and Zammo Maguire, found themselves in, lead to confrontations with colleagues but helped make her a highly popular character with viewers. Grange Hill Gold chats exclusively to actress Karen Ford who played Miss Booth for 7 years.
What lead to you becoming an actress?
A most difficult question….as a child, performing was always something I wanted to do…I grew up with a passion for Shakespeare having learned to love the stories from when I was very little when my father used to read me Lambs Tales of Shakespeare. I would perform little dramas every Christmas about adventures that happened on our summer holidays. I eventually started ballet lessons but found through them that miming and telling a story was what I enjoyed the most about dance…conveying emotions . So naturally as time went on I began to realise what I really wanted to do was act. It was sometime before I told anyone that I wanted to go to drama school as my eldest sister had already gone to RADA and I was desperate that I wasn’t accused of just wanting to do what she had done….however, eventually with the support of my school I applied to The Guildhall School of Music and Drama and after an extensive audition process, I was accepted.
What roles had you played before Grange Hill?
When I joined the cast of Grange Hill I had been a professional actor for about 19 years so the number of roles I had played are numerous so I shall just mention a few that for what ever reason, stand out in my mind. The first perhaps was Bunty in the Vortex at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. I was in fact the understudy, having only just left drama school, but within a few days of the show opening, the actress playing the part became seriously ill so I took over at a couple of hours notice and played the part for the rest of the run. A very starry cast were amazingly supportive and it was a wonderful beginning to my career. I played a wide variety of parts in rep including Polly in The Boyfriend, Irma in Irma La Douce, Christabel in Mr Polly, the opening show at The Churchill Theatre in Bromely, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and too many other parts to mention. I also appeared in many television programmes, play for today, Z cars, Softly Softly, Jazz Age, 6 Wives of Henry VIII and many others…Radio has also been a great source of employment and a few films.
What appealed to you about the role?
I liked the fact that she was “arty” and not a disciplinarian…on the side of the students and a sympathetic shoulder to cry on.
Did you have anything in common with the character?
I am certainly not a disciplinarian and I hope I am a good listener and sympathetic to the problems young people have to deal with. Sadly I do not share a talent for art with Miss Booth!
How much input did you personally have in the development of your character?
None really, the character was already written when I joined ..however, it is probably inevitable that writers start to pick up on little things that an actor offers as a regular in a series.
Miss Booth was a teacher who was really supportive of the pupils and wasn’t afraid to stand up to, or clash with, other teachers (for instance her work with Danny Kendall, and the support she provided whilst Zammo was trying to come off drugs). Did you think it was important to maintain this side of the character?
Absolutely, that was what made her interesting to play…she wasn’t on the side of authority but on the side of children and so many children watching the series would have identified with the struggle some of the young characters were going through…It was important for them to see that not all teachers are there just to tell you off but often teachers are there to help…after all, they have a duty of care!
What was it like working with such a large teenage cast?
They were all wonderful..very disciplined and focused…unbelievably hard working when you remember that they not only had to work hard as young actors but they also had to do all their school work on top of a full days work at the studios. I was full of admiration for them.
Yes, we all got on very well, both adults and children….Lee, who played Zammo was great to work with so too was Jonathan who played Danny…obviously there was a great difference in age but it was never “them and us” ….Lee and Erkan, who played Roly, I have seen in the last couple of years. Gwyneth Powell I have stayed in touch with and see fairly regularly. I also had a lovely dog who had a litter of puppies and the father of them was a dog who was owned by Michael Sheard, ….we made an appearance with both dogs and puppies on Blue Peter which was quite an experience.
Did you get much reaction to your character from the public?
Inevitably….super markets were always a challenge….kids stopping in amazement that Miss Booth needed to go shopping!!!
At times Grange Hill was very shocking and quite controversial. Do you ever think it went too far?
No…it was an issue based series and dealt seriously with many of the problems young people experience. It would have been very valuable for some of its viewers to help them feel that they were not alone and indeed to help them see that they had options.
You were quite involved in parts of Zammo’s drug addiction storyline; What were your thoughts about this hard hitting storyline?
I thought that was the best series ever produced over the 7 years that I was a part of it. I was very proud to have played such an important part in it. Sadly drugs then and now, were and still are, a big problem and I thought it was very courageous of the BBC to try and take it on. I hope, and do believe, it would have helped someone out there.
Grange Hill won a BAFTA during the 1986 series, and for many this is regarded as the golden era of Grange Hill. Why do you think this series was so successful?
The Bafta was richly deserved. I believe it was so successful because it was the first time a children’s drama programme was made with “real” children….not “nicely spoken” middle class children but kids who spoke and behaved just like the kids watching it…It was up to date and dealt with real issues that the viewers could relate to….it was the first of its kind.
There are a huge number of people who grew up watching you on Grange Hill; how do you feel about being so well remembered for playing this part? And has it ever been a help or a hindrance to your career?
It’s nice to think I may be remembered…I hope so. I don’t think it’s had any effect really on my career.
What are your favourite memories from your time on Grange Hill?
Numerous. Filming on The Isle of Weight….filming on the narrow boats…the intense scenes in series 9 with Zammo and Danny….the Christmas special…the fancy dress fun run . . . .friendship…feeling I belonged.
Do you have a favourite episode / storyline and a least favourite?
Favourite was, of course, series 9; the drugs/smoking series…I can’t really remember a least favourite.
You left Grange Hill after 7 series; what lead to you leaving?
The BBC was making cut backs.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from your time on Grange Hill?
As mentioned previously…Gwyneth….and Erkan is good a trying to keep us in touch with each other on Face Book…just that I am rubbish at face book!!!…But some of us met up at the NEC memorabilia event.
Does it surprise you that Grange Hill still has a big following today, with particular interest in the earlier years?
I think that is testimony to the fact that the series was so relevant at that time. Anthony Minghella was the script editor in those days…we couldn’t have had better.
Do you think the episodes from your time on the show still stand up today?
How do you look back on your time there?
With great affection and pleasure….a wonderful 7 years.
What have you done since leaving Grange Hill?
I was in the very first series of Holby City playing the mum of the girl whose storyline started in Casualty then carried over into Holby…the original idea for the series. Episodes of Emmerdale , Doctors but mostly a lot of theatre work….doing some wonderful plays, for example..Festen which I did at Theatre Clwyd….toured in Turn of The Screw…and several others tours in the last few years…currently The Woman in White…
Do you have a message for the thousands of Grange Hill fans out there?
Thanks for all your support and do let me know if you happen to come to one of the theatre shows I am in…I would be delighted to meet you.
Thanks to Karen Ford.
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