THEY SAID IT WOULD NEVER LAST. Children would never want to come home from a hard day at school only to watch a programme about - being at school. But they did, and in 2008 Grange Hill celebrates its official 30th anniversary with a brand new (and sadly final) series. Series 31, a record for a children's drama series, will air Mondays on BBC1. But we don't have to wait until then for some hints about the latest school year...


MEET THE NEWCOMERS
Big changes are afoot at Grange Hill this year. For the first time, the school welcomes a regular Year 6 presence who come to Grange Hill from their primary schools to use the IT facilities. Among them is Serena, an introverted, dyslexic Asian girl who gets through each day by keeping her head down but soon she finds a friend. The new Year 7 intake includes Abel's little brother, Theo and tall sci-fi enthusiast Gyngell, while in Year 8 Bryn gets a new best friend Ducket who's as random as he is. Some more detailed info on selected newcomers:

Kate DeakinKATE DEAKIN
plays Miss Bettany

Another first for Grange Hill as it welcomes its first regular teaching assistant among the staff. Miss Bettany, in her mid 20s, develops the nickname "betterthanme" because she is always intefering in other people's business. She is also not happy that as a mere teaching assistant, she doesn't command the respect of a fully qualified teacher. And she has a crush on one of her colleagues!

Kate Deakin has previously appeared in Lime Pictures stablemate Hollyoaks for two episodes, has played a victim in a Crimewatch reconstruction and will soon be appearing in ITV1's The Royal Today. There's more about Kate at her agency page: http://www.limemanagement.tv/actor_profile/cv.asp?id=67

Tom StottTOM STOTT
plays Kevin "Laxo" Archer

Where does the name Laxo come from? Apparently, from his relaxed attitude to the female sex and there are plenty of amusing episodes as he fancies his chances with girls, including a sixth former! Sounds a bit like Josh Irvine when he was in Year 7!

The grandson of former Wigan MP Roger Stott, Tom Stott, 12, was selected from the Willpower Youth Theatre in Standish, and got the part after a series of auditions with Lime Pictures. Tom said: "I am thrilled to be part of one of the BBC's longest-running and most popular children's programmes. "I hope I can be in it for a few more years to come." Tom's dad Andy says his grandfather would have been "very proud of him".

Wenona Armstrong-LoweWENONA ARMSTRONG-LOWE
plays Megan Williams

For the first time, Grange Hill will have a troupe of Year 6 characters in its regular company and among these is Bryn's sister, Megan, played by 11-year old Wenona Armstrong-Lowe (pictured). Like her brother, Megan has been home-schooled until now so the playground experience is new. However, Megan is confident and knows how to handle herself, and becomes firm friends with Serena, another Year 6.

Wenona, from Wetherby, is no stranger to television, having previously appeared as an extra in My Parents Are Aliens. Speaking on wetherbynews.co.uk, Wenona's mother, Emma Lowe, said she is thrilled with her daughter's achievements: "When she found out she had got the part it was like letting a balloon go. She was all over the place, just whizzing around the playground.

Dequaine BrowneDEQUAINE BROWNE
plays Theo Benson

It's been a while since Grange Hill introduced a new Year 7 two years in a row but with Grange Hill's planned shift towards a younger audience, it seemed pretty inevitable this year. Abel's little brother starts at Grange Hill this year! Whether he is as football-mad as his brother though we'll have to wait and see.

Theo is played by Dequaine Browne, 12, who attends Stagecoach in Chesterfield. He got the part after two screen tests and reading from two different scripts. More here: http://www.stagecoach.co.uk/stagecoach/html/
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Sammy and Georgia welcome disabled extras to Grange HillKATHY COMES HOME - TO GRANGE HILL
Last year wasn't the best A-level year Kathy McIlroy could have hoped for - losing one of her classmates, and coming under extreme pressure to do well from her parents. Kathy simply could not cope and turned to the bottle, which was the last thing anyone expected of her.

As a result Kathy scrapped her university plans and has instead taken a job at her old school, Grange Hill, as a liaison officer working with the Year 6 pupils. It's an ideal job for caring Kathy - the young Year 6s will surely warm to her but could they end up taking advantage due to Kathy's ex-pupil status, as Taylor Mitchell found when he became the school caretaker?

Sammy O'Grady and Georgia Foote (Alison) welcomed disabled youngsters onto the set of Grange Hill to be extras in the show. The children got to appear in Grange Hill through the charity Whizz-Kidz, which helps disabled children and teenagers to lead more independent lives. Kathy's continued presence at Grange Hill means the series ends with one remaining link to the show's London days - when Kathy joined the Grange Hill as a year 7 in 2001, the show was still being filmed at the BBC's Elstree studios.


ALEX FIGHTS THE BULLIES
Having endured three years of hell at the hands of Max and Mooey Humphries, Alex Pickering can hopefully enjoy a more relaxed Year 10 with his tormentors now gone. But he's determined that some good will come of his anguish, as he becomes a mentor (or "buddy") to the Year 6 pupils. Alex is determined they won't suffer in the same way as he did and that Grange Hill will be, for them, a happy experience.


A puppy like LennyPUPPY LOVE IN SHORT SUPPLY
Animal-loving Lucy Johnson allows one of her furry friends to cause chaos for a second time at Grange Hill! This time it's her new puppy, Lenny, who runs riot in the school and the golden labrador soon re-enacts a very famous toilet roll commercial after getting loose in the store cupboard. Unfortunately for Lucy, Lenny soon goes missing - will she get him back?


BrynA WINDOW ON BRYN'S WORLD
With his sometimes erratic behaviour last year, one sometimes wondered what caused Bryn to act the way he does. This year we find out that prior to Grange Hill, Bryn had never been to school because he and sister Megan were taught at home by their gran. That explains why Bryn didn't know quite how to behave at secondary school and often had to rely on pal Ali to bail him out. This year he finds a new friend, Ducket, and also has family issues.


SERIES 31 DELAY HITS BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS
Grange Hill's 31st series has been delayed until the summer, it has been confirmed. Anne Gilchrist, speaking on behalf of CBBC, has confirmed the later showing but no reasons for the delay have been given. The new series had been expected to air originally in February.

Lime Pictures, makers of Grange Hill, have confirmed that plans they had made to celebrate the series' 30th anniversary have been put on hold due to the shift in broadcast time. "We did have a lot of stuff planned for the 30th Birthday and have now put things on hold due to the shift in TX date. We are currently discussing how we should progress with our strategy", a spokesperson told GH Online.

CBBC have refused to confirm or deny that Series 31, when it does air, will again be confined to the CBBC Channel only.


EMMA AND TAYLOR WON'T BE BACK
While older fans of Grange Hill may rejoice at the news that Tucker Jenkins is returning next year, it's not such good news for fans of some current favourites! GH Online has exclusive information to confirm that neither Daniella Fray nor Reece Noi will be returning to Grange Hill next year. The departure of Dani almost certainly means that Emma Bolton would have not been able to return to school following the birth of the baby she was pregnant with last year. Reece - assistant caretaker Taylor Mitchell - has been busy working on other projects including the BBC soap Doctors in which he played dying teenager Sam, who formed an unusual friendship with spiky receptionist Vivien. He also played Cathy Tyson's screen son for a time in Emmerdale.

Some good news however - Kirsten Cassidy will make a limited number of appearances in the new series but no word as yet on Chris Perry-Metcalf. Sammy O'Grady's return is also confirmed, with the suggestion she might be "on the other side of the fence" at Grange Hill.


Todd CartyTUCKER'S BACK FOR GRANGE HILL SPECIAL
Todd Carty is to reprise his role as Tucker Jenkins once again next year. It is unclear at this stage whether or not he will appear in the main series or "a one-off special", as is being reported by Digital Spy.

He said he has enjoyed his renewed involvement, telling the Daily Mirror: "It's been hugely nostalgic and quite emotional. I was sitting having lunch in the canteen with all the kids and getting a little misty-eyed. "I was one of them 30 years ago. I'd wake up every morning excited about going to the studio. That was the best time of my life." the best time of my life. Before Grange Hill kids' TV dramas had all been jolly hockey sticks and Billy Bunter," he explained. "No one had been brave enough to try anything different.

Since leaving Grange Hill Todd has never been out of work - in 1990 he became the second actor to play Mark Fowler in EastEnders, replacing David Scarboro who committed suicide two years beforehand. Todd finally left EastEnders in 2003 when he shed his "good guy" image to play evil PC Gabriel Kent in ITV's The Bill. More recently Todd turned his hands to directing and presided over three episodes of BBC1's daytime soap Doctors, and is due to return to the show next year, this time in front of the camera once again.

Regarded by many as the face of Grange Hill, Todd even got his own spin-off series, Tucker's Luck, when he finally left in 1982 but Tucker has already made one return visit to Grange Hill - in the first episode of series 26 in 2003. Since that time viewers have seen his nephews Togger and Tigger Johnson progress through the school, joined last year by niece Lucy


ORIGINAL THEME BACK, CAST CULLED
Further details have been emerging of major changes to Grange Hill for the new series which will see the show reworked for an 8-12 year old audience. These changes, announced earlier in the year by GH Online, will ensure Grange Hill fits in with CBBC's new brief of being suitable for children aged 6 to 12.

An article in Broadcast magazine reports (as earlier confirmed by GH Online) that the new series will focus on characters aged 8-14 and will dispense with the continuous narrative in favour of a more episodic structure. Fantasy sequences will also be introduced, including one where a child becomes a skateboarding superhero and is filmed like a graphic novel.

Broadcast also reports that almost two thirds of the existing cast have been axed to bring about the changes, although favourites Ed, Tigger and Alex will be back as will possibly be Alison and maybe even Kathy (Sammy O'Grady), despite the latter having apparently left the series last year. Younger characters will be introduced when primary school-age pupils come to work in the school's Creative Learning Centre.

Lime Pictures creative director Tony Wood said the BBC's request posed major challenges. "Since the early 1980s, the show has drifted towards the sixth form," he said. "It has tackled difficult issues. It follows a rite of passage for its adolescent characters as well as its audience." But in this new Grange Hill, Wood has also promised sensitive issues such as child abuse would still be tackled. We didn't want to move too far away from the programme's intentions and will still cover things like teenage pregnancy and losing your virginity, but these will have to be told through the eyes of younger characters and usually within a comic framework," added Wood.

Ironically, Grange Hill's original theme tune "Chicken Man" is being brought back for the new series, spelling the end for Pete Moss's current tune which has been used since 1990. It says that it's bouncy and jaunty in ways that subsequent themes weren't, which fits the new tone," said Tony Wood. There will also be an updated take on Grange Hill's original comic book title sequence. The BBC says it will be closely monitoring reaction to the show's changes before making decisions on the show's future beyond the new series.

Download the original theme, Chicken Man, here (right-click and "Save Target As")


Miss Gayle is now headmistressNEW HEADMISTRESS FOR GRANGE HILL
2008 welcomes Grange Hill's latest head teacher - but you already know her. Miss Gayle is the new woman at the top following the departure of Mrs Bassinger, and she as good as ran the school last year in every practical sense. Now, Miss Gayle has fulfilled her ambition and worked her way to the top. Expect more of her no-nonsense approach as she sets her own mandate for the school...

Cathy Tyson is one of the highest profile actresses to play a Grange Hill head teacher. Her career was already well-established with blockbuster drama Band Of Gold, the daytime soap Night And Day and a movie with Michael Caine. Most recently she appeared in Emmerdale as Andrea, Duke Woods' love interest, with Reece Noi (Taylor) playing her son. In most cases, it's being in Grange Hill which establishes an actor's career. But Cathy proved an asset to the show and we look forward to seeing more of her?


The Cavern ClubYEAR 10 AT THE CAVERN CLUB
Not only is 2008 Grange Hill's 30th anniversary year, it is also the year in which its home city, Liverpool, becomes Capital of Culture. So what better way of combining the two celebrations than for Grange Hill to include a storyline about a school trip to the city?

"We thought it would be appropriate that as part of the plot the kids should win a trip to Liverpool as part of Capital of Culture year," said its writer/producer David Hanson. In the episode, Year 10 scamps Tigger, Ed and Alex find themselves banned from the trip but somehow manage to stow away on the coach and perform on the stage that launched The Beatles to global stardom.Whether the trio will quite achieve the success of the Fab Four remains to be seen - but they relish the challenge! More details, and a pic of our heroes here: http://www.liverpool.com/news/icons-merge-as-grange-hill-meets-the-cavern.html