CLAIRE SCOTT (1981-1985)
Paula Ann Bland
Anyone watching Grange Hill in the early 1980s couldn’t fail to notice Claire Scott. Played by Paula Ann Bland, Claire became the strong minded but level headed voice of the school. Becoming involved in a range of highly controversial storylines for the time, Claire’s five years at Grange Hill were anything but quiet. In this exclusive interview, Paula Ann Bland talks about life at Grange Hill and the happy memories it evokes.
What lead to you going into acting?
I danced from when I was a four year old. My mum took me to a dance class and I loved it. I started entering competitions and from that started singing. I was born in Blyth, a small town just north of Newcastle, where there was a very famous local comedian called Bobby Thompson. He was nicknamed ‘The Little Waster’ and at eight I was his female vocalist when he went on tour! So it was my love of dancing that lead to doing shows; and that was all I wanted to do.
I’d done commercials and things like that, but I’d also done musicals; not TV acting, just on stage. Show-business was a thing that I absolutely ate, drank and slept. The thought process of being famous hadn’t entered my head either.
My parents were wonderful and supported me. My whole family moved from Newcastle to London and I went to Italia Conti. I think I’d only been there about a term maximum and I got the part on Grange Hill.
Did you audition specifically for the part of Claire?
We weren’t told. There were several auditions; we kept being called back. At no point were we told we were auditioning for the part of Claire Scott. I think they probably didn’t know themselves – they just wanted a group of characters who would work together on screen. Grange Hill was so forward thinking and the script writers took so many chances, but in order to make it realistic, they did pitch it to all walks of life; not necessarily drama trained or stage school kids. If they had, it just wouldn’t have worked.
How did you feel when you got the part?
I was so excited and overwhelmed about getting the part. I’d watched Grange Hill and had loved it, but I was so young the fear factor didn’t really come into it. When you’re that age, you tend not to be frightened at all, which was a good thing. It was a strange thing; we were totally aware we were on TV and filming, but we really were a little family. One day I’d be at school, Italia Conti, doing my normal lessons, then the next day I’d be filming. It was just the norm; it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for us; which is very weird talking about it now!
Did you get on well with from the cast?
The adults were very aware that the kids were the reason people watched it; not really to see the teachers. We all got on really well. When I was at the last Grange Hill Reunion and I saw Gwyneth (Mrs McCluskey) and I had my daughter with me, she went up to Isabella, grabbed her face and said ‘Oh my gosh, you are just a little Paula!’. It’s not just a case of ‘Oh, I worked with that person 40 years ago’, there’s a love there; a really deep connection between all of us. I think that’s why there is a group of us who remain such good friends. I was at Erkan (Roland)’s wedding two weeks ago. Lisa York (Julie) and I were at Italia Conti together and see each other all the time. Alison Bettles (Fay) was at my wedding and vice versa. We partied together in our teens as we left Grange Hill! I had coffee with Mark Baxter (Duane) last week. Some people go off and do their own thing, but the people I’ve mentioned are really part of my extended family. I think part of it is that we were all part of the same boat, and that boat was a very unusual one and not one every kid could either cope with or understand. When we ventured out of our little clique and you realised how famous you were, and how the general public would treat you, you were quite taken aback really. It wasn’t lonely because of our bonds of friendship, but that’s the reason we stay in touch; because we were in this unreal situation at such a young age. We all get where we come from; we’ve grown up together!
Did you get much reaction to your character from the public?
Yes we did. I think that was probably the toughest part of it, and being so young the part you didn’t expect. Most people mean well, they just want a photograph, an autograph or to talk to you; it goes with the territory. But, there are certain circumstances where it was just overwhelming and you do feel very alone. I went from drama school to a convent school; my mum and dad decided I should do that for my O-Levels. I remember my first day there and I was in a biology lab with glass windows all around. 99.9% of the school had their noses up against the windows staring at me. Grange Hill was a very secure environment where were all in the same boat. Being a teenager, you still go through all the teenage things; thinking ‘How am I going to do this? / Nobody’s going to like me!’
We do laugh about a Grange Hill curse! This whole thing of coming down to earth with a bang; coping with life outside that little Grange Hill family and when it all ends, where do you fit in? I think it was a lot to deal with at such a young age.
The older you get, you look back on your life especially when you have kids that pass that age boundary and think ‘When I was your age, I was meeting a chaperone at 7 in the morning and going to TV Centre five days a week!’ I have used that on my kids when they are trying to tell me how tired they are!
Why do you think Grange Hill was so popular?
We spoke about what the real kids were doing. We brought a lot of subjects to the forefront which in those days people didn’t talk about. I think Grange Hill was a kind of pioneer of showing kids’ problems and everyday life, and that’s why parents got such a fright. They thought little Johnny was going off to some sort of Victorian school and really it was all having a fag behind the bike sheds and snogging in the broom cupboard!
Claire went on to have a long standing romance with ‘Stupot’ (Mark Burdis) – was it embarrassing as a teenager having to act out a romance on screen?
Romance wasn’t the problem. It’s the whole fact of being a teenager! Having to kiss someone in-front of 30 people was what was scary and embarrassing.
You were heavily involved in Gripper’s racism storyline, with Claire ending up being attacked with a mop, before Gripper was expelled. Did you realise quite how ground breaking the racism storyline was for children’s television?
We did realise what we were doing and that is was quite a difficult subject. However, Grange Hill, being the beast it was; taking kids from all walks of life and shoving them in a TV show together, helped parents realise that Britain was multicultural. Grange Hill highlighted the problems that came along with that. We didn’t have a problem with racism on set; we all felt really strongly about it. We were a multicultural cast who were all very fond of each other. Without sounding political, I don’t believe that kids are born racist; it’s what you hear at home or are brought up with. It was tricky, you had adults writing from a kid’s perspective about what adults were thinking. It was excellent writing and it was the one thing we didn’t appreciate at the time was the talent we had in the writers. We had the best! I remember reading my scripts and thinking blimey this story-line was not way out of my depth, but that it was unbelievable that they were writing about it for kids TV.
Do you have a favourite episode?
My favourite episode by far is when we filmed the United Nations episode in Regents Park. We had so much fun. Of course we had plenty of ‘new talent’; plenty of dishy boys for the girls, and lovely girls for the boys too. It was very exciting for all of us! We got sick of the sight of each other and all of a sudden there’s all these new people! We got to wear nice clothes as well; we were out of uniform. Well, I wouldn’t say they were nice clothes but my father thought they were OK!
Were there any storylines you would have liked to have covered as Claire?
For the time I think we covered quite a lot. It would have been wonderful to stay ageless and to have covered things like the AIDs epidemic and things like that. In the press there is quite a lot of coverage about kids’ sexuality and if we were on Grange Hill now, we’d have been talking about that and the whole issue of gender. That would have been amazing to do. There’s no programme where kids can watch their own issues. In today’s context Grange Hill was like a scripted reality TV show, where kids could identify with the people they were watching and think ‘Hey it’s not just me who has those problems.’ At that time it was hush hush about girls having periods – we had one scene about it. There were so many letters; I think people could identify with the characters.
Whilst at Grange Hill, you also released your version of ‘The Locomotion’ as a single. How did this come about, and would you have liked to have pursued music further?
I danced and sang before I acted. My voice isn’t as bad as it sounds on that – trust me! I’d have loved to have continued. I did quite a bit more music as I got older, but not releasing records. My agent wanted me to sing at the end of the pier and things like that and as I really didn’t want to be a cabaret singer in a diamante evening dress! There is nothing like a live audience. I was offered a play last year, but I have kids. I don’t want to go off and leave me daughter to do a play; that and I like to get to bed early!
Your last episode was the 1985 Christmas Special. What lead to you leaving? Would you have been happy to stay for longer?
We got to school leaving age and organically we had to leave. I think at the time we were probably all excited about what we were going to do, but the reality is that it would have been wonderful to stay. As much as the cast embraces the 40th anniversary next year, I hope that the BBC do as well. My episode of Only Fools and Horses is shown all the time, but Grange Hill is never rerun. For something that was so massive, I wonder what has gone wrong and why it hasn’t had the backing. From my point of view, I feel a little bit let down that the BBC haven’t really supported a show that made them a lot of money at the time. We certainly didn’t make a lot from it; 2 shillings and a bag of crisps; or the equivalent! We got the tube there and back; we didn’t have cars. They would never get away with it now. It was like cattle! If anything my sadness comes from the powers that be not really respecting the show, the cast and the fans. Hopefully that might change for the 40th.
After Grange Hill, you appeared in a lot of film and television roles. Are there any that stand out?
My part in ‘The Fruit Machine’ where I had to learn to train dolphins. I had to spend two weeks somewhere in Norfolk I think, living as a dolphin trainer, cutting up fish and looking after them for two weeks. I had to put bleach in the bath after two weeks to get rid of the smell! That was really exciting to do.
It coincided with the time that I got married and had kids. The one thing I was fed up with was being typecast as the ditzy blonde. I definitely wanted and needed to have the break. When I was pregnant with Dan, my son, my agent went into liquidation and I just thought I’m not trawling around, pregnant, looking for another agent. I hadn’t given it another thought for years, but lately I have felt there is something missing in my life. I would be nice to do something that I find fulfilling. I’m not sure I’d like to be famous again but I’d love to act again. For me it would be wonderful just to receive a great script and get totally immersed in that character.
You also made the headlines when you appeared in ‘Mayfair’ magazine; how do you look back on this experience?
I look back on it the same as I look back on everything; I did it. There’s no point in me trying to say I didn’t do it, or be embarrassed about it. It was part of my life. I made a decision I wanted to do it; right or wrong. If I had my time again, would I necessarily do it? I’m not sure. It was the era when everybody was doing it; a completely different time to now. I’ve been very open with my kids about it. My son finds it quite embarrassing. I don’t think that it was awful. Had I been completely nude, I think I would have locked myself in a dark room and never come out! Either that or banished to a dark room! I was young, I decided to do it, it really wasn’t that bad and it’s there; it’s out there. It really doesn’t bother me.
What did you do after you decided to stop acting?
When I first got married we had a restaurant and a delicatessen in Richmond. When Dan was born, we sold that and had three shoe shops selling designer ladies shoes; one on the King’s Road, one on Walton Street in Knightsbridge and one in Hampstead. When we sold the shoe shops, I had done all the PR and that lead me into doing various PR campaigns. I had my own PR company when we moved to LA, and then later moved back. Unfortunately I was quite ill for about eighteen months and that made me think about my life and my priorities and what I hadn’t done. I came to the realisation that I don’t want to get any older and not be doing what I love doing. Hence my thoughts about going back into acting. It’s for purely selfish and personal reasons; it’s something that makes me tick. I thought I don’t want to ‘never’ act again. I won’t lose any sleep if it doesn’t happen, but I’d be happy if it did! I will make it onto Strictly one of these years ; that’s on my bucket list!
How do you look back on your time in the series?
I’ve always been very proud of what I’ve done. I didn’t always find it easy to deal with or cope with. Growing up in the public eye; all your bad moments, your spotty moments, your bad hair decisions are all recorded for everybody to see! You’ve either got to shy away from it or embrace it. I hope that the people who haven’t got involved with Grange Hill reunions etc before, really do embrace it and get involved next year for the 40th anniversary. I think there is a wrong perception that if you get together for a Grange Hill reunion or press or tv show, that you’re a has-been or whatever. From my point of view it’s not that at all. It was such a massive programme and how wonderful that 40 years later, people are still interested in it and I’m able to talk about it. To not want to talk about it, or treat it like some kind of disease that you had is disrespectful to everybody that watched it. For me it is there to embraced. I can’t believe it’s 40 years ago; that’s the only thing – I wish we could say it was only 20 years ago and we were all a bit younger!! Anyone who views their little condensed tribute to their character at a reunion, can’t failed to be moved by looking back at what they did. It is an achievement, not a bad thing.
For the fans it must be very odd to see us all as adults! It’s like when you see someone’s kids after a long time and you expect them to be the same age as when you last saw them!
What do your children think about your part in Grange Hill, or do they just see you as ‘Mum’?
It’s interesting that you say that. It’s not like I talked about it with the kids a lot. They’ve seen me in Fools and Horses. I remember Dan saying ‘Mummy’s on TV!’ and wondering how I could be there and sitting next to him at the same time. As far as Grange Hill, because of the lack of it being shown, I think I’ve forgotten. Certainly when Isabella came along and saw the reunion, I think she was amazed. I’ve started getting out my old photos, and have been sharing my memories with my kids.
A friend of mine from Italia Conti died recently, and before she died we put on a little concert at the school and my son came with me. First of all he was amazed by watching us all sing, but secondly, he said I can’t believe how people treat you and look up to you. Part of me thought; I’m pleased you saw that. I was somebody once – not just your mum! If anything it will teach my kids to follow their dreams and be what they want to be.
What do you think Claire Scott is doing now?
She’s probably been married about seven times. Probably perma-tanned and lives in Marbella. Likes a gin and tonic at 6 o’clock every night!
© 2017 Grange Hill Gold – Please do not use without permission.
Huge thanks to Paula Ann Bland.
If you want to hear more from Paula, you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @paulaannbland