From the bodies of brookside under the patio across the Emmerdale plane crash at Luke Morgan’s Rape at Hollyoaks, Phil Redmond has always been able to frame a story. Sitting in his home office, the flowing gray locks now clearing a bit, the 72-year-old scouser who orchestrated them all gestures over Zoom to a wall with a homepage of the Daily Star 2019 hung. : “Bring back Grange Hill to save Britain.” Beside it is a copy of the opening credits of the comic still so revered that in May Richard Osman got “Grange Hill sausage” (who appeared, to dismay, in a picture of them) trending on Twitter. Two sheets of paper, but is a testament to the show’s enduring popularity 13 years after its cancellation – hence why Redmond has just completed a script for a Grange Hill film slated for late 2022.

“It’s amazing how many people tell me it was their favorite program. Especially politicians, ”Redmond said, before laughing out loud. “David Cameron told me that his favorite character was [school bully] Stebson pliers. It breaks the ice when you try to get them to do things.

Redmond – Sir Phil since last October – has spent much of his time since the sale of his production company Mersey Television in 2005 as Professor of Media Studies at Liverpool John Moores and Chairman of the National Museums of Liverpool and the UK City of Culture Expert Advisory Board. But the urge to tell stories has never given up: Highbridge, the first in a proposed trilogy of state of the nation novels, emerged in 2016, but only partially scratched the itch. And so he returned to his first and greatest creation.

David Cameron’s favorite character… Gripper Stebson (Mark Savage) bullies Roland (Erkan Mustafa) in Grange Hill. Photography: BBC

Angered by an article speculating – wrongly, according to him – about the likely careers of Grange Hill alumni including Zammo McGuire (Lee MacDonald) and Tucker Jenkins (Todd Carty), but delighted with the show’s second life on social media (a meme splicing Beyoncé’s Single Ladies video on the topic went viral), he reunited with former collaborators last February to take a look at what really happened at the school, its current enrollment, and its alumni. The casting will begin soon, and he hopes members of the old guard return to play parents and grandparents alongside a new generation of students.

“We have had four school rebuilding programs in my life, but it’s not about bricks and mortar, it’s about getting the best out of every student. How will ripping schools from communities solve anything? Or make catchment areas so big that kids have to travel for miles to be with their friends? This is the thesis of the film: it was decided that the school is too expensive to maintain, so it should be demolished, the land sold and the proceeds used to build a new one and replenish the local coffers.

The battle between parsimonious authorities and students troubled by the school’s uncertain future allows Redmond to voice its long-standing concerns about left-behind communities clinging to schools as rare poles not yet under. -financed until extinction. The film will also show how children deal with grief (it will take place in a post-Covid Britain, with many students having lost elderly parents), discuss social media and the purpose of education itself, so as the aging head fights a losing battle against one MP is considering a promotion to lead the proposed “super-school”.

How would a new generation of Grange Hill students react to all of this? “I have always believed that children have the same emotions, fears, aspirations and phobias as everyone else. All they need is the experience of life. Rather than riots in the dining room, this time their voices are heard on social media, a rebuttal unit led by the school geek against council propaganda.

Redmond is suspicious of other details, but promises the film will reflect the judicious balance between punchy humor and serious, problem-oriented drama that made the show work. Putting it on TV, however, was never an option: TV has “lost its great ambition,” with a prospect likely too thorny for mainstream broadcasters (although the BBC is relaunching another school drama, Waterloo Road, next year) and too parochial for streaming services.

Will Grange Hill still reflects the concerns of children today. “I’m going to give the same answer I gave when I was asked that at 29: I had one!” Childhood doesn’t really change. What is changing are fashion, hairstyles and slang. Once you have the theme and the tone, it’s all about the casting – the actors bring you what’s right at the time, you just have to let them be natural.

This commitment to naturalism underpins Grange Hill’s appeal: The relationships between children and adolescents were written with candor and honesty, told literally from the children’s perspective (cameras filmed from the children’s perspective) and performed by popular and versatile school children using their own accents. The approach was as revolutionary as the problems it tackled when Redmond worked alongside editor Anthony Minghella during the program’s heyday in the mid-1980s.

Alongside the stories of smoking and sexual arousal, there were social commentaries. Benny Green’s (Terry Sue-Patt) footballing skills couldn’t cover the scruffy uniform his family could barely afford. Gripper Stebson (Mark Savage) picked a Sikh student and mixed in with skinheads. Importantly, there was Zammo’s descent into drug addiction, which sparked questions in the House of Commons and tabloid headlines warning of potential copiers; he also took the cast to the White House to meet Nancy Reagan and in the Top 5 with the single Just Say No.

Tim Polley as Steven Banks, Melissa Wilks as Jackie Wright and Lee MacDonald as Zammo Maguire in Grange Hill Series Eight.
Tim Polley as Steven Banks, Melissa Wilks as Jackie Wright and Lee MacDonald as Zammo Maguire in Grange Hill Series Eight. Photograph: BBC / PA

The show retained its advantage in the ’90s: actress Francesca Martinez played a character with cerebral palsy who refused to be treated any differently from her peers; homophobia, teenage motherhood and suicidal thoughts were also addressed with care and conviction, before they wandered off and audiences shrank.

The current descendants of Grange Hill are legion. Ackley Bridge series and Jamie johnson Sex Education and Skins owe him a huge debt for redefining how ambitious, daring and accessible television could be for young viewers. “The difference is that these shows watch the characters on the precinct, not the influence of the wider community,” says Redmond.

Born and raised in the Liverpool suburb of Huyton, the son of a housekeeper and bus driver, Redmond drew inspiration from his own disappointing experiences at St Kevin’s, one of Liverpool’s largest resorts, for Grange Hill resolutely without sentimentality. After studying sociology at the University of Liverpool, he embarked on screenwriting in his early twenties after a stint as a quantity surveyor which, a decade later, would give him the financial and logistical sense to buy and fit out the cul-de-sac that has become Brookside. Close.

Redmond has always been about the long haul: Zammo’s heroine story took two years to figure out, the Jordaches’ domestic violence story at Brookside took three. And while he’s happy to criticize Cameron, he’s too astute to pass judgment on someone he’ll surely have to deal with – even Nadine Dorries, now DCMS secretary and not, dare I risk, the biggest. advertisement for Merseyside. “I think you’re a little unfair,” he laughs. “She’s an unknown quantity in this position – maybe she makes the right sounds, but not in the way people want them to be said.”

He’s already written to her about Channel 4, which he still blames for Brookside’s mismanaged demise in 2003. Dorries’ understanding of C4 funding may have seemed shaky during a recent select committee, but Redmond is knowledgeable and opinionated enough for both. of them.

Susan Tully and Paula Ann Bland as Suzanne and Claire.
Susan Tully and Paula Ann Bland as Suzanne and Claire. Photography: BBC

“What is Channel 4?” It’s no use, but rather than whip it for a devalued price, why not keep the mandate, sweep the costs of transmission, management and buildings and give the advertising revenue to the BBC so that we have a great broadcaster? sustainable public service? “

He also has ideas on the BBC. “It belongs to the people, so you have to keep them on board and be prepared to pay for it. The license fee should be replaced by a cultural precept on every landline and mobile phone contract: the more content you use online, the more you will contribute to the BBC. “

Dorries can expect a pugnacious encounter with a man whose disillusionment with the central government is utter: the phrase “leveling up” elicits a mocking snort.

“I’ve been in the leveling program since I got on TV – that’s why I set up Brookside in Liverpool. Like “big corporation,” this is a great idea with a crappy slogan. There is no north-south divide, it’s just London against everyone. The people of Cornwall or Hereford have the same basic problems as the people of the big cities, but they cannot be heard and the communities are dying. Most people didn’t believe in HS2, but they reacted to the cancellation of the northeast leg because at least it was something. You cannot be surprised when people lose faith.

Perhaps Grange Hill – the Movie will touch regions and generations. I’m asking questions about the legacy of the series. He mentions a recent Guardian interview with Garbage’s Shirley Manson, which credits credit for saving her life when bullying at school caused her to self-harm. “She said what I said during all the big controversies,” says Redmond. “Grange Hill never claimed this would solve your problem, but it was a touchstone – something to guide people through the rites of passage and tell them, ‘You are not alone. “”