ALAN HUMPHRIES (1978-1984)
In the beginning, there was Alan. Alan Turner, Alan Hargreaves and finally Alan Humphries. Despite three name changes, alongside Benny and Tucker, Alan Humphries became one of Grange Hill’s key original characters. Played by George Armstrong from the first episode until Series 5, the character joined Todd Carty’s Tucker Jenkins for three series of the spin-off ‘Tucker’s Luck’. Grange Hill Gold was fortunate enough to chat to George about early auditions, on set friendship, favourite moments and much more, in this exclusive interview.
What lead to you going into acting?
My brother was the one who was interested in going into acting. We’d actually got into a really good school down on the south coast. I wanted to be an accountant; I would have been a horrible accountant! I had no idea what we were turning up to do, but they said the experience would do me good. My brother auditioned and at the same time, so did I. I failed my audition; I did a singing audition which, if you’ve ever heard me sing, you’ll know that was a mistake! I sang ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ by Glenn Campbell – badly; I’m tone deaf when it comes to singing. They said I wouldn’t work; but I didn’t stop working for ten years!
What roles had you played before joining Grange Hill?
Commercials, Just William and bits and pieces in various shows.
Did you audition specifically for the part of Alan?
I don’t know if when we auditioned the characters were that well defined. When they started they had an idea of the script, but were probably still working on it. I didn’t have specifics around the character. I knew it was for one of the ‘gang’.
Was there any similarity between yourself and Alan?
After the first series very much so. A lot of the characteristics of Alan, the things we did, the script was sort of written around us; Todd in particular of course. He was the central character. We had six main characters, but the lead one was Todd.
Did you get on well with Todd Carty (Tucker) and Terry Sue Patt (Benny)?
It was a friendship that started from the very first day. We clicked, hence the reason everything on screen looked as natural as it was. We enjoyed working together, playing together. We played football, we had a kickabout, we spoke. As time went on we’d do more socialising outside. Terry, bless his heart, was somebody I used to see, for one reason or another, at least once a year. We’d bump into each other on trains or at Tottenham Hotspur.
What were your favourite storylines?
For my character, the judo stuff was great. The French trip was a fun one for us. We spent an afternoon in France, but we were on the ferry from Portsmouth to St. Malo for a week! Because most of the episode was filmed on the ferry we were just backwards and forwards with one afternoon in St Malo.
Do you have any bad memories of your time there?
It was pressured, of course it was; it was a job. Particularly series 3 and 4. Because Todd and I were adults (16+), it meant that we could work every day. It meant that for studio time you had to be there at ten in the morning. When the ‘kids’ leave at four or five o’clock, up until ten at night it is only really the adults who are working. It was a pressured environment, but a fun one.
How did you get on with the adults in the cast?
We were very lucky with the adults in the cast and crew at the time; it was like a family. Gwyneth Powell (Mrs McClusky) is a friend. We greet each other with a hug because of that family atmosphere we developed there. Everybody was always talking and supportive, having fun and enjoying themselves. I think that’s what made Grange Hill the thing it was. The characters you saw on-screen, the relationships were good off the screen, which allowed us to have the fun, do the acting stuff, but still enjoy working together, whether it was good or bad.
Your character (along with all your peers) just disappeared from the series. How did you feel about that?
For us it was really interesting because we were the first ones who had people come in after us. So when all of a sudden Mark Baxter, Paula Ann Bland and Mandy Mealing came in and other people started appearing I was thinking ‘I’m really not sure’. By the time we got to the fifth series, which is where we finish and Erkan (Roland) and Lee (Zammo) came in, it was like ‘Here come another lot’ and we knew we were on our way out because how do you keep three years going? For me it wasn’t that bad, because Tucker’s Luck was already under discussion at that stage, so we were already thinking about the next step. I know because Terry was still going through his education and his parents were very keen on it, we’d have loved him to have been in Tucker’s Luck as well but unfortunately his education came first and it never happened.
You then progressed to Tucker’s Luck. How did that compare to Grange Hill?
‘Tucker’s Luck’ was an interesting show. Originally it was designed as an after the watershed show, so we had lots of ideas about character development, relationships and some hardcore issues we’d liked to have covered. When they moved it to 6 o’clock, I think it distilled it a little bit, which is probably why it wasn’t as successful as it might have been. We couldn’t cover the stuff that probably needed to have been covered moving on from Grange Hill. It wasn’t much of a drama if that makes sense. There were some lovely characters and I made some great friends from that ; Peter Macnamara, who played Ralph Passmore, used to live round the corner from me. We’d bump into each other outside Safeways!
How do you look back on your time playing Alan?
It’s an interesting one. Obviously as a start to your working life; you’re 14 when you start and earning very nice money, so in terms of a financial start to your life it’s very nice. I made some fantastic friends and it was a wonderful experience. Maybe because we were the ground-breakers it has that different feel because we know we started something that was fairly unique in terms of children’s television. From that point of view Grange Hill was a great experience for me. I learnt a lot and that was key.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from your time on Grange Hill?
It’s your childhood. If you look back at your school, you’ll always look fondly back at your best friend at school. My best friend, because we were 14 and I was mainly at school at Grange Hill, was Todd, and Terry, and Paul (McCarthy). Those are relationships that just carry on. At the time, and you think about the characters and who was friends with who on the series, probably my best friend at the time we were filming was Robert Craig Morgan (Justin Bennett). Robert and I used to do silly films together when we were off set, play golf and all those sorts of things you do. I’d consider them all life-long friends. If we see each other the bond is still there. Until I saw Todd in panto this year, I hadn’t seen him for 18 years. We sat in the pub for an hour and a half afterwards having a really good friends chat; like we’d seen each other last week.
Did you expect your role in Grange Hill to be remembered years later?
Oh lord no! When they finished the series back in 2008, 31 series later, you kind of go ‘how did it run that long?’ Because I know in my time, I started three fires at Grange Hill – how do you keep the storylines going? There are only so many things school kids can do! It started to repeat itself. But the amazing thing for me, which is a mark of the work that went into the show from the very beginning until the end, was that it remained popular and it remained successful. The characters kept growing. Although there is lots of focus on the ‘Early Years’, the actors who came after us, long after us and all the way to the end, all made their mark on the show that probably will be the longest running children’s drama there ever was. That’s something to be very proud of.
© 2018 Grange Hill Gold – Not to be reproduced without permission
Thanks to George Armstrong