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> 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
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.
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.
The end of Grange Hill (RealPlayer required)
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
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.
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.
WHAT NOW FOR TEENAGE DRAMA?
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
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.
THE FINAL VERDICT
EXTERNAL LINKS: MEDIA GUARDIAN
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?
expels Grange Hill
Hill creator criticises BBC
Hill Producer is "disappointed"