THE CURTAIN COMES DOWN - CLOSE UP SPECIAL ON THE END OF GRANGE HILL
Overview > How we reported the news > Reaction > Grange Hill axe timeline

In 1998, Grange Hill was on a high as it celebrated its 20th birthday. Though not attracting the same media attention as it had done ten years earlier, it was still getting 3-4 million viewers and Phil Redmond said at the time there was no reason why Grange Hill couldn't go on for as long as people were going to school. Ten years on, and sadly the school bell has now rung for the last time at Grange Hill after exactly 30 years. CBBC controller Anne Gilchrist announced the series was coming to an end after Series 31, which will be shown in the summer. So what ultimately killed the show?

Anne GilchristCHILDRENS' LIVES "HAVE CHANGED"
"The lives of children have changed a great deal since Grange Hill began and we owe it to our audience to reflect this," Ms Gilchrist told the press on Wednesday 06 February - just two days before Grange Hill's 30th birthday. "We're actively seeking out new and exciting ways of bringing social realism to the CBBC audience through drama and other genres." Ms Gilchrist went on to say that children no longer saw themselves as exclusively schoolchildren, and that serious issues such as divorce and knife crime would continue to be covered in other CBBC programmes such as Newsround.

INTERNAL POLITICS
Grange Hill's very survival always depended on it fitting into how television operates at any given time. In recent years children's BBC has undergone radical changes in the way it operates and the audience it serves. Grange Hill, in order to continue, had to adapt to CBBC's remit or die. Around 2005, "extensive market research" determined that CBBC should focus on the 6-12 age range, with a new multimedia strand set up for over-12s. Thinking shifted towards the CBBC Channel being the main focus of CBBC's output, rather than the BBC1 and BBC2 slots. The result of this was that viewers were warned to expect Grange Hill to concentrate on "the lower years of secondary school" from 2008 onwards.
Newsround
Newsround: The end of Grange Hill (RealPlayer required)
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There were also signs the BBC viewed Grange Hill as an albatross around its neck in recent years. In 2007, Grange Hill was broadcast on the CBBC Channel only, the first time Grange Hill had never been shown on BBC1. Makers Lime Pictures commented at the time: "We're extremely disappointed as it will mean less publicity for the series". But controller of BBC Children's, Richard Deverell, hit back: "We are always trying to attract viewers to the CBBC channel and making Grange Hill exclusive content helps us to do that," Mr Deverell explained. "Over 80% of viewers of CBBC channel age have access to the channel and so the number of viewers who are disadvantaged by keeping the show off BBC1 is negligible." Lime Pictures creative director Tony Wood, speaking to The Guardian, admitted the BBC was not happy with Series 30, and hinted that it was an issue for the Corporation that Grange Hill had "30 years of history".

So for Series 31, the BBC decreed that Grange Hill was to be reworked to be suitable for a 6-12 audience. This went completely against plans Phil Redmond had for a hard-hitting storyline to mark the series' 30th anniversary. "We were all prepared to bring it right back to its original hard-hitting social edge for its 30th anniversary because we knew it should have got a lot of publicity and a lot of interest,' he explained. 'It was at the very first storyline conference that we were told there'd been an editorial shift, so that went down like a lead balloon." All a far cry from the Grange Hill which until 2002 dealt with truanting, racism, suicide, playground knifings, sex, teenage pregnancy and drugs.

Phil was so angry with the enforced changes, he even called for Grange Hill to be axed in an interview for The Observer newspaper. "I don't like to keep things going when the point has been lost," he said, "I do now think the point has been lost, and 30 years is a nice time for it to hang up its mortar board." In spite of this, Phil Redmond "reluctantly" signed off the new lighter storylines for Series 31. Phil thought these had been "pretty well done, but that it wasn't his show any more," Tony Wood added.

THE PARTY NEVER GOT STARTED
Phil was also critical of the BBC's handling of the show's 30th anniversary celebrations. In 2006 the BBC announced plans for massive celebrations to mark Grange Hill's birthday in 2008, not wanting ITV to steal their thunder as they had done for the show's 20th anniversary in 1998. But in the event, nothing ever happened. "I think the BBC are downplaying the 30th anniversary of the hard-hitting, socially relevant, rites-of-passage teenage show. That's the brutal reality. It will be a different beast. My preference would be for it to have a new name because it is a new show and a new format." Lime Pictures also had plans for their own celebrations, which were "put on hold" after the planned February showing of Series 31 was delayed.

A CONFLICT OF OPINION
In the days that followed the announcement that Grange Hill was to end, Anne Gilchrist swiftly proclaimed her young audience was backing her decision to end the show. But a straw poll of Newsround viewers conducted on Friday 08 February painted a different picture, with most of the respondents saying they were disappointed the series was ending. On the Newsround website, 13-year old Jill from East Kilbride, comments: "Aww, I really like it, especially Tanya and Togger. The storylines are more mature than the other CBBC shows that I've grown out of." Ms Gilchrist even suggested older fans of Grange Hill wanted the show saved out of nostalgia for their own childhoods - "We have to not confuse our own nostalgia for something that we loved for something that children will want nowadays," she told BBC News.

Lee MacDonaldHowever, one of Grange Hill's most iconic figures supported the decision to wield the axe. Writing in the Daily Mirror, Lee MacDonald, aka Zammo Maguire, said "Grange Hill no longer has a place in society. Someone using drugs is no longer a big issue for schoolchildren. They don't need to see Zammo overdosing to put them off using drugs - they see it all around them. If it were really to reflect what was going on, Grange Hill would have to be shown after the 9pm watershed.

WHAT NOW FOR TEENAGE DRAMA?
Even before time was called on Grange Hill, there was widespread concern about the lack of television provision for older children and younger teenagers on television. In recent years, ITV has abandoned children's programmes for business reasons while the publicly-funded BBC has made CBBC into a teen-free zone. Save Kids' TV, a pressure group founded by industry professionals including former BBC Head of Children's Anna Home, is now urging government action to stop the decline.

Phil Redmond has angrily condemned the BBC for abandoning its responsibilities to older children: "While society at large is looking for cultural role models for our children, underpinning growing concern about the lack of home-grown children's programming, shouldn't the BBC, our primary public service broadcaster, be doing more, not less, to plug this cultural gap? Is setting the age of 12 as the end of childhood a sociological reality or simply a response to falling ratings following the usual failure to keep engaged with and serve a changing audience adequately?"

THE FINAL VERDICT
Despite the irony that news of the show's axing should come in the week it celebrated its big birthday, creator Phil Redmond conceded the show had "not a bad innings. Still, as any school report would say, must try harder next time to reach its full potential!" Does that mean Grange Hill might return some time in the future? As Phil retains the rights to the format, he could always take it to a rival broadcaster. So who knows?

EXTERNAL LINKS: MEDIA GUARDIAN
BBC expels Grange Hill
Grange Hill creator criticises BBC
Grange Hill Producer is "disappointed"