STEVEN ‘BANKSIE’ BANKS
Ex-Brookdale rebel, Steven Banks arrived at Grange Hill following the merger of the three schools. Keen to fly the flag for Brookdale and impress Jackie Wright, Banksie regularly clashed with Zammo and staff and often found himself on the wrong side of authority. However, as time passed, Banksie showed a softer side, leaving Grange Hill to work as a carer. Actor Tim Polley talks exclusively to Grange Hill Gold from his home in Tenerife, about his time at Grange Hill.
What lead to you going into acting?
I was 5 years old. My mum and dad signed me up with an agent, who was Sylvia Young. I went to her theatre school.
What roles had you played before joining Grange Hill?
Grange Hill was my first character work as such. The rest of my work had been adverts or background/extra work in different TV shows or projects. The part in Grange Hill was my first speaking part.
No, the part I originally auditioned for was Loop, Banksie’s side-kick. When I first went for the audition they wanted me to read for Loop, so that’s what I did. After a couple of visits of reading for Loop, somebody decided they wanted me to read for the part of Banksie instead. So I started reading for him and I got the part.
How similar was the character to your own personality?
My Mum does! But as far as I’m concerned, no I’m not! Nothing like him! My Mum likes to say ‘There you are; you’re not acting!’
Who did you get on well with in the cast?
Everybody really. The lad who played Ziggy (George Christopher) I got on really well with. I also got on quite well with Erkan who played Roland. Everyone got on fine.
How did you get on with the adults in the cast?
The adults were easy to get on with. They were very professional. Michael Sheard (Mr Bronson) was extremely professional ; you couldn’t play around when you were doing a scene with him. He was almost like a director, although he wasn’t directing. I can’t remember what went wrong, or what the scene was, but the directors were talking to the assistant directors and whilst we were hanging around waiting, us being kids, just went into that normal chit-chat mode. Michael suddenly lost it and started bellowing at all of us. We all knew what hit us!
Was it hard working on a TV series alongside your own school work?
It was. Unfortunately, at first, you can’t quite believe you’re working on a TV show, and your schooling becomes back-shelf. It’s not quite so important for you as a person, although it shouldn’t have been. It made it that much harder. You had to do your school work, and when you weren’t filming you had to sit in a class room. Of course it was all work that was pre-prepared by your school, but you weren’t anywhere near as interested as you might have been if you were actually at school. That was a downside to it and it is one thing I do regret; my schooling did actually go down the pan.
The character of Banksie developed quite fully, eventually becoming a carer for handicapped children. Were you pleased to see how the character developed?
To be honest, I’d rather the character got nastier! I’d liked to have been more hated. I loved the character of Gripper, and would have liked to have seen Banksie being more like Gripper. Unfortunately because Gripper was the way he was, and the way that some of the public acted towards Mark Savage who played him, he did have a bit of a hard time of it. So when my character came along, they decided to loosen him up a bit and make him not so nasty. When I first came on the screen I was a bit of a bully-boy, but as time went on, and especially when Zammo had started to hit the drugs, they made my character a bit more likeable. I regret that personally; I’d rather he’d been more like Gripper.
Did you get much reaction to your character from the public?
Yeah, I still do today sometimes. Various reactions; sometimes not so pleasant, but most of the time it was pleasant.
For many your time at Grange Hill is regarded as ‘a golden era’. Why do you think these series were so successful?
I think the storyline with Zammo on drugs gave it a hell of a boost. It made adults sit up as well as the kids. I think that’s the main reason that our era did quite so well.
I’m quite bitter about it. For some reason, and to this day we don’t know why, Lisa York (Julie Marchant) and I were suddenly dropped from the campaign at the last minute. We were as involved as everybody else. At the last minute, we both got a telephone call. I’ll never forget it: it was one of the worst calls I’ve had in my life. We suddenly got dropped and had no specific reason to be dropped, we also were dropped from going over to visit the President of America. When that happened me and Lisa felt like committing harikari. We couldn’t quite believe it had happened; and to this day we still have no idea why. What really annoyed us was that there were kids who were only background parts, they didn’t even have proper characters and yet they ended up in the United States shaking hands with the President! And yet Lisa and I were two main characters and we got dropped! The sickening thing about it was that it was one of those opportunities that wasn’t going to come up again. So, yeah, (laughs) I’m still quite bitter about that campaign.
Did you expect your role in Grange Hill to be remembered 20 years later?
No, to be honest. The fact that it was a children’s TV programme, even though it was the longest running children’s TV drama, I didn’t expect to still get reaction today. Because I live in Tenerife now, things have quietened down a hell of a lot for me when it comes to walking the streets. Back in the UK especially, people still recognise me today, though I’ve not changed a lot I must admit. Little bit older, little bit uglier!
What have you been doing since you left Grange Hill?
As far as acting is concerned I haven’t done a lot at all since Grange Hill. It wasn’t my choice at all. I did a pantomime with Melvyn Hayes, shortly after Grange Hill, in which I was advertised as ‘Banskie’. I was going for different parts and you’d walk into the room and some of them would immediately say ‘Grange Hill’. It was like being typecast; they didn’t want to associate their programme with that programme, so you wouldn’t get the part. You weren’t even being looked at in some cases. That’s a bit of a regret; that I was typecast to Grange Hill.
I’ve been in Tenerife for 12 years and so I’ve come out of the acting in that respect. I’m not in touch with my agent anymore, though she did get in touch not long ago. I like to carry on with the acting if I can. I’m in a drama group and we do a lot of plays. Out here I clean swimming pools for a living, which is completely different!
Do you keep in touch with anyone from your time on Grange Hill?
What are your favourite memories from your time playing Banksy?
One of my favourite times was when we all went to Coventry and we were filming up there for about two weeks on the canals. That was really good fun.
I used to like the scenes where I would lair up as well, because I could really get my teeth into them! There were quite a few of those the first year I was in it.
Do you have any bad memories of your time there?
No, not really no. They were some of the best years of my life. I earnt very good money and had extremely good fun. I still say today, if you can be an actor and make it work, then its got to be one of the best jobs on Earth. I don’t have any regrets. It was great fun.
Thanks to Tim Polley.
Interview (c) 2013 Grange Hill Gold