‘Grange Hill’ was probably the one of the most important and influential British children’s television programmes ever. Beginning in 1978, it was every ordinary child’s dream: here were kids just like us who went to a school just like ours and had the same fears and worries and got into the same scrapes and trouble as us. There was instant uproar from the usual suspects: busybodies who kidded themselves that what they saw on television encouraged bad behaviour when, in fact, the truth of what went on in schools didn’t come anywhere near what could be depicted in the show.
This was 1978 and I was 10 and I loved school almost as much as I loved ‘Grange Hill’ and this book (which, at the time, was shockingly expensive at 80p. To put it into context, a Doctor Who paperback at the time was around 60p) just makes my heart leap at the happy memories it evokes. But more than that, it depicts the boundless energy of ordinary kids whose lives revolved around towns and bikes and concrete, where adventures could be had which didn’t rely on being whisked away in a wardrobe or having homemade lemonade on a permanent holiday with queer relatives. Of course, there is nothing wrong with escapism: I loved Enid Blyton and CS Lewis as much as the next child and there had been a strain of working class realism in children’s fiction if you cared to look for it: ‘Gumble’s Yard’; ‘Widdershins Crescent’ and ‘Hell’s Edge’ by John Rowe Townsend; The ‘Sadie and Kevin’ series about life in modern day Belfast by Joan Lingard; ‘A Pair of Jesus Boots’ by Sylvia Sherry or ‘Break in the Sun’ (and others) by Bernard Ashley to name but a few. But what we needed was a balance: imagination to stretch the soul and support to feed it. That support came from these books and ‘Grange Hill’. These were stories for the generations of kids who needed to be told that they mattered and to make them matter their stories needed to be told: those who were shocked by ‘Grange Hill’ were shocked not because of what they saw but because they didn’t want to comprehend that such lives existed and such things happened.
‘Grange Hill’ was revolutionary, allowing more than one generation of kids (it lasted until 2008) to see themselves in what they watched and what they read, to understand their lives a little bit more, and to help them see that their lives mattered and that there was a whole lifetime of adventures ahead of them. And to see that in this cover is what makes it so, so beautiful.