Dizzy Science teacher Miss Terri Mooney joined Grange Hill in Series 3 and quickly became embroiled in a staff room romance with Mr Sutcliffe. Kind and caring, but easily deceived, Miss Mooney was popular with staff and pupils alike.
Sadly, Lucinda Gane, who played Miss Mooney, passed away on October 6th 2005 as a result of cancer. This interview is one of the last things she did at home, and remains here as a tribute to Lucinda.
How did you get into acting?
I acted at school and studied Speech and Drama at University, in Durban, South Africa. I had thought I might become a radio actor, but I found stage acting so exciting I decided to pursue it as a career. After saving some money, I came to this country to audition for RADA in 1970. I was accepted and my time there was the most enjoyable part of my entire education.
What roles had you played before joining Grange Hill?
In television, I appeared in various costume dramas, such as Anna Karenina and Lorna Doone. My first professional stage role was Rose in Graham Greene’s The Living Room, at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury. I was a member of the Chorus in T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral in York Minster, and Anya in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at The Theatre Royal in York. I played Young Urse in Peter Nicholls’s Forget-Me-Not Lane at The Palace Theatre, Westcliff-on-Sea, and Alice Fitzwarren in Dick Whittington at the same theatre, where I first met Gwyneth Powell (who was Fairy Bow Bells). I was delighted when we came to work together again on Grange Hill. After Westcliff, I joined the company at Chichester for R Loves J, The Seagull and Dandy Dick (with Alistair Sim). The last of these transferred to The Garrick Theatre, in the West End.
How did you get the part of Miss Mooney?
What did you think of the character of Miss Mooney? And was she in anyway similar to yourself?
I think she was rather silly – but it seems to me the writers changed their minds about her in the course of the series. She began as a science teacher, but ended up doing all sorts of unlikely things – marking Engllish prep, etc.
Did you have any input into the way the character progressed?
She was initially love interest, until her fiance left the series, and apart from a crush on one of the instructors on the Outward Bound programme, she didn’t seem to have much of an emotional life.
Miss Mooney was well liked by the pupils. Did you get on well with the ‘junior’ cast?
I got on very well with most of them. As a general rule, they were very nice kids. But I remember getting rather impatient with unprofessional behaviour from some of them.
Was it difficult being part of a mainly junior cast?
Who did you get on well with from the cast? A lot of your scenes were always with James Wynn, who played Mr Sutcliffe, did you two get on well?
I got on very well with Gwyneth Powell and we are still good friends. James Wynn was only in one series with me.
You worked on Grange Hill during one of its most popular periods and Miss Mooney taught many of the ‘legendary’ GH characters such as Roland, Tucker, Trisha, Zammo and Fay. Why do you think the programme was so popular?
No other programme was interested in this aspect of young people’s lives. In particular, kids who weren’t yet at Secondary School were eager to learn what it would be like.
Yes, I used to be shouted at in the street. And my husband was very impressed when he heard someone exclaim, ‘Look, there’s Mrs Mooney from Thingy.’ My hair style and my glasses made me easily recognisable. For years afterwards, people would come up and ask ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’ – and it always turned out that they were recognising me from Grange Hill.
Grange Hill was at times seen as being quite controversial. Do you ever think it went too far?
No. It was very careful not to overstep any mark. There was a huge fuss when an episode about sex education was mooted, but there was absolutely nothing in the programme itself to offend anyone. The press was just trying to stir things up. I was always very irritated by the number of middle-class mothers who used to come up and tell me how they wouldn’t allow their children to watch Grange Hill. When asked why, they would say something like ‘bad language’, ‘bad behaviour’ or ‘violence’ – but could never come up with any specific instance. The prohibition didn’t seem to work anyway.
Why did you decide to leave Grange Hill?
There is a cruel saying, ‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.’ I have enormous respect for teachers who have the hardest, most valuable and most thankless job in our society. I didn’t want to change the saying to ‘Those who can’t act, play teachers.’ And anyway, my first love is theatre. Grange Hill had given me some interesting work, well-paid work, which allowed me to take on more varied, but less well-paid work. I have never regretted doing Grange Hill, but I think I left at the right time.
Does it surprise you that Grange Hill still has a big following today, with particular interest in the early years?
No. It probably has period charm now.
Do you think the episodes from your time on the show still stand up today?
I have only ever seen them once, so am not qualified to judge.
What are your favourite and least favourite memories from your time playing Miss Mooney?
I enjoyed the Outward Bound episode very much, and have always liked working in unusual locations, so it was a refreshing contrast with being in the school. I didn’t enjoy the last series as much as I had done the earlier ones.
How do you look back on your time at Grange Hill?
With gratitude, because it allowed me to do work I enjoyed more.
Has Grange Hill been a help or a hindrance to your career?
Certainly not a help, but it’s still a privilege to have been part of it.
What have you done since leaving Grange Hill?
Aside from the many acting roles I have had, I have recently gone into theatre production. Some years ago, I was in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, at The Swan Theatre, Worcester. I was playing the middle-class mother, while Kay Adshead played the working class one. She had also been to RADA, but after me. We became good friends. She is not only a very good actress, but an outstanding playwright as well. She asked me to help her start up a new theatre company. Mama Quillo began life in 2000, when we co-produced Kay’s play The Bogus Woman, a one-hander about a woman asylum-seeker in this country. We had our first independent production earlier this year, with Bites at the Bush Theatre, London, and our next, Bones, will be premiered at The Leicester Haymarket Studio, in early October. Kay wrote a part for me, which I shall not be able to play, but I think it will be a wonderful production and should find a London venue after Leicester.
What do you think Miss Mooney is doing now?
I think she has probably left teaching, moved to Ireland, has married a poet, and runs a bookshop and tea-room on the Dingle Peninsula. She has three children.
Recently there have been suggestions of a Grange Hill reunion and/or a TV special. Would you be interested in appearing?
No. I don’t like going back.
Many thanks to Lucinda for participating in this interview
Interview © 2006 Grange Hill Gold