(Series 9, Ep.10) I’ve absolutely loved this term at Waterloo Road. There were so many barking mad highlights – the magic mushrooms, the Mandarin teacher who spoke Mandarin less well than Kevin Chalk, Grantly Budgen being poetried to death, Kacey’s boxing ambitions, Verruca’s unfortunate selfies, Barry keeping Sue Spark’s pupils in check… it’s been eventful. I even forgot to miss Tom Clarkson most of the time.
Christine Mulgrew has been an excellent head, partly because she’s a rubbish head (if she was really good at it, half the mad incidents would never occur), but mainly because I look at her and I actually believe in her as a head teacher in a way I haven’t believed in a Waterloo Road head teacher since the sainted Jack Rimmer. George Windsor and Nikki Boston have been an excellent support, and I’ve enjoyed the story arc that’s seen Simon go from being a creepy, careerist little worm to being a more humble team player.
And above all else I’ve loved the Barrys: matriarch Carol marching up the slope at the front of the school to shout at people; Dynasty with her kind heart and performing eyelashes; Kacey and her beautifully expressive, vulnerable face; and Barry, the petty criminal whose arrogant swagger is mainly front.
This end-of-term episode saw Kacey about to set forth to America to spend a term at boxing camp, all paid for by the school’s fundraising efforts. But all the money mysteriously vanished and Kacey’s dreams were in tatters. Barry was there with a comforting shoulder to cry on. “You can’t trust this lot here, Kace, they’re full of it,” said Barry, but he’s never going to be a criminal mastermind because he let slip that he knew the money had gone – before Kacey had told him. Continue reading
(Series 9, Ep.9) Being Halloween and that, this week’s episode had a sinister turn. Guest artiste Duncan Pow (Holby’s tragic Dr Linden Cullen, who lives on in the form of a memorial shrubbery) played supply teacher Frankie McGregor. Only he wasn’t really a supply teacher, and he wasn’t really Frankie McGregor. Obviously with the water-tight policies and procedures in place at Waterloo Road this was spotted at once, wasn’t it?
Erm… no. The kids spotted something was wrong when “science teacher” Frankie knew so little about Physics that he made Sue Spark look like Stephen Hawking, but Sue didn’t notice because she was immersed in wedding plans.
Frankie took a bit of a Special Interest in lonely, isolated young Lenny Brown, and that should perhaps have rung alarm bells, particularly when Frankie offered to take Lenny fishing to a remote spot. Christine wavered about giving permission for about five seconds, then decided it would be a bit of fun for the lad and gave them the go-ahead. Continue reading
(Series 9, Ep.8) With this episode, Waterloo Road gave up any pretence of being a “contemporary drama series set in a challenging comprehensive school” as the BBC website describes it, and went for full-on, hallucinogenic craziness. It was absolutely brilliant.
The teacher with the pointy face, Audrey McFall, had hatched a scheme to get everyone interested in history and put Waterloo Road on the educational map by having everyone spend a week pretending it was the Second World War. This involved a lot of dressing up (Simon, George, Audrey and Christine all dapper in military uniform; Nikki Boston in a boiler suit; and everyone else in a range of vaguely 40s costumes). Audrey apparently had a bottomless dressing up box – anyone not in period costume was told to see Audrey “and she’ll sort you out.”
Digging for victory was also on the agenda, with the students pretending to grow their own food. Audrey “planted” carrots she got from the supermarket to make the garden look good for visiting education supremo McBain. And she also borrowed a goat. The goat’s name was Wally – officially named after Wallis Simpson, it was actually so someone could say “Where’s Wally?” when the goat inevitably disappeared. Continue reading
(Series 9, Ep.7) Grantly was given a fitting and dignified send-off, which would have been slightly less dignified if Harley had dropped his side of the coffin. Luckily Nikki Boston was on hand to help, because it could have been nasty. It wasn’t really fair to ask upset schoolboys to carry the precious remains anyway. Harley would have been better deployed giving an emotional reprise of his deadly poem from last week. As it was, the only speech was delivered by Maggie, who proudly announced that she and Grantly had been blessed with a wonderful family consisting of Harley, Verruca Salt and Tariq, who’d turned up to pay his respects and do some PE coaching. He’s a multi-tasker, that lad.
As soon as the crematorium curtains closed it was back to school and business as usual. It’s what Grantly would have wanted, because he wasn’t lazy and feckless at all – at least, not during his last day at work.
And it was definitely looking like a routine sort of day when a never-seen-before Troubled Teen peered through the school railings. This happens practically on a weekly basis and sometimes their problems are dealt with in one episode and they’re never seen again, and sometimes they get moved into the school-house and stay for a while. Eve, however, was not looking for Education, she was looking for her mother. Nikki Boston. Yes, I was shocked too, but not as shocked as Nikki was (though Nikki wasn’t as shocked as Tom Clarkson was when he heard his sperm had been stolen and Our Josh was the result – at least Nikki had been aware of Eve’s conception and birth). Eventually it came out that Nikki had been all in favour of having an abortion, and only agreed to go through with the birth on the understanding that Eve’s father would bring her up (this, coincidentally, also happens in my novel Two’s Company, though obviously not to Nikki Boston).
I’ve got to give massive praise to Heather Peace for the way she acted the scenes with Eve, and especially the scene in the car after Eve had left. I’m always amazed when an actor can show such massive vulnerability as to be able to snot-cry on camera. I also have to say that Nikki looked really pretty in this episode, despite the purple sports/leisure wear. Continue reading
(Series 9, Ep.6) I suspected Grantly’s days were numbered as soon as I heard that Philip Martin-Brown and Melanie Hill were pitching up on daytime TV. It’s almost always a bad sign. Then Grantly turned up for his first day back as a teacher, looking apprehensive at first but quickly morphing from being a feckless, feet-up-on-desk, Racing Post-reading curmudgeon to being the kind of inspirational mentor figure that people fondly remember in their later years. Like Sidney Poitier in To Sir With Love, or Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. Actually, that one is particularly apt because it was a very poetical episode – in the sense that there was a lot of poetry in it.
Tom Clarkson’s legacy to Waterloo Road was, apparently, that he’d set up some kind of poetry competition. I can’t imagine Tom Clarkson would have had time for such a thing, what with running up and down corridors with his eyes filled with tears and coaching the football team and that. Anyhoo, now all that was required of Grantly was to get the kids producing a few poems and to announce a winner.
Harley, who has a bond with the miserable old git for some reason I can’t quite remember, produced a few lines which rhymed, scanned and made sense, so Grantly jumped to the reasonable conclusion that he must have copied it from th’internet. Harley went huffy and threw his masterpiece in the bin and tricked Grantly into putting a bet on Kacey Barry’s boxing prowess as revenge. Continue reading
(Series 9, Ep.5) Is Audrey the worst teacher in the history of Waterloo Road? I know there’s stiff competition from the likes of Steph Haydock, Grantly Budgen and Cesca Montoya, but Audrey is in a league of her own. She’s a perfect storm of hand-wringing sincerity, gullibility and a total inability to predict the consequences of her own actions.
She worked out last week that her online friend Moira was none other than Lisa Brown, out to get revenge after Audrey caused her brother Larry to get banged up. Cheerfully disregarding Lisa, Lenny and Larry’s troubled upbringing and the fact that Lisa and Lenny are officially in the care of some kind of Social Services/Waterloo Road deal because they had no one who could take parental responsibility for them, Audrey gave their grandfather a call.
Grandad was played by Clive Russell, who’s been in nearly everything (including Game of Thrones as Brynden Tully), but I’ll always think of him as Phil Nail, AKA Phil the Foot Fiddler, Gail Platt’s reflexologist boyfriend in Coronation Street. As far as Gail’s boyfriends go, Phil was only mildly psychopathic, but he was one of the few people I’ve seen scare the crap out of David Platt. So I wasn’t expecting him to be all cuddly and loveable. He was actually a lot more interesting than he could have been – one of these types who’s left the army, but the army’s never left him. He thought he could bring a bit of old-school discipline to new-school Waterloo Road. Let’s face it, someone had to now that Nikki Boston has her hands full coaching Kacey and doing spot checks for indecent images on mobile phones. Continue reading
(Series 9, Ep.4) Dynasty Barry’s makeup skills are legendary. She once made Emo Imogen look a bit less emo and a bit more like she had a circulatory system, just with the judicious application of a spot of blusher. Week in, week out she flies the flag for the Superdrug makeup counter by wearing the entire range of Girls Aloud false eyelashes, from the Cheryl to the Nicola, at the same time.
So when Verruca Salt wanted a makeover for a party, who was she gonna call? Dynasty did her best, she really did, but at the end of her efforts the Great Reveal revealed – Verruca looking more or less the same as she had five minutes earlier, but a bit more thrilled.
This was the cue for possibly the most ludicrous scene I’ve ever seen on Waterloo Road (and that’s saying a lot) as Verruca sashayed down the corridor with people swooning to the left and the right like she was in some kind of musical theatre production.
Are we supposed to like Verruca? I think the writers want us to like her (they give her a lot of screen time), but she just doesn’t project any likeability at all. This meant that the storyline of her being tricked into taking “candid” selfies for a boy who took an interest in her only moments before and then finding them turning up on every phone in the school fell completely flat. It’s a real issue – something similar happened at PLA Jr’s school – and I should have felt sympathy for Verruca, but I just wanted to give her a slap. Continue reading
(Series 9, Ep.3) Last week, Christine Mulgrew cruelly snatched the sixth form’s trip to see A Streetcar Named Desire from under their quivering, culture-starved noses due to budget cuts. As part of Simon’s appeasement attempts, he offered them the fun of doing an Apprentice-style activity.
This week, Christine tried to take that away from them, too, because there was no money to pay for it, what with spending money on a classroom assistant for a Mandarin class where only one of the pupils is learning any Mandarin (but more of that later). Luckily before the sixth form went on strike again and holed up in the canteen and pelted the teachers with statues of oversized broccoli, Simon stepped in with a generous offer of putting up the “seed money” himself. He’d gone to all the trouble of bringing a smoke machine to school (goodness knows why he had one of those knocking around indoors), so he was obviously keen.
Christine was supposed to be the Alan Sugar figure, but she was too busy getting excited about George being asked to roll out Mandarin across the whole area (but more of that later) to bother about growing a grizzly beard. So Lord Sugar’s role was taken by Simon, who was also playing the part of Karren Brady to George’s Nick Hewer. Nicely unbiased there. Continue reading
(Series 9, Ep.2) I was very disappointed to learn that the theatre trip to see A Streetcar Named Desire has been cancelled. There’s no better excuse for mayhem than taking the Waterloo Road pupils en masse out of school to a public event.
I wasn’t as disappointed as the sixth form were, though, and they were probably feeling the pain more acutely because they were hungry, what with breakfast club having been cancelled too.
Without the Lorraine Donnegan fortune behind it, Waterloo Road is now having to make cutbacks. So breakfast club (proven to improve results and make for happier, healthier, more settled pupils) has been binned off in favour of a Mandarin assistant (proven to be essential to Kevin Chalk, the only pupil who seems to speak Mandarin). Good decision-making, Christine Mulgrew. Or “Hatchet” Mulgrew, as she suggested we might call her.
If only cutbacks and a revolting sixth form (they had a wee sit-in in the school-house) were Christine’s only problem. She also finds herself with the most useless teacher since the last useless teacher, in the form of Sue Spark. Despite (or because of) being the daughter of the Director of Education and the fiancée of deputy head Useless Simon, Sue is absolutely rubbish at her job and found herself at one point locked in a cupboard during a fire alarm. There wasn’t an actual fire – it was a lot of smoke in a beaker caused by Verruca Salt and some jelly babies – but it was enough to give Imogen a panic attack. This led to Christine suggesting Connor might have started the fire (“It’s not like he hasn’t got form”), which made him – quite understandably – go all sulky. Sulky is Connor’s default setting, but prior to that he’d been defending his mum against all the grievances against her by moaning, “She’s in a difficult position!” every five minutes. Continue reading
(Series 9, Ep.1) Ring the bells! The school bell, anyway. It’s another new academic year at Waterloo Road and another series of barking-madness for us.
They didn’t try and brush Tom Clarkson under the carpet, though. Even before the title sequence rolled we’d been treated to a flashback of a Mulgrew’s-eye-view of him plummeting from the roof. Grantly gave a speech at assembly, to his credit not even appearing bitter and twisted about his promised kidney being dashed on the playground surface. There was a minute’s silence, and Kacey Barry (my gosh Brogan Ellis is a good actress) ran from the room, as no amount of silences (with added sniggering) will bring back the man who gave her the confidence to be proud of herself.
Nikki Boston is attempting to fill the Tom gap in Kacey’s life by giving her boxing lessons, and repairing the wee shrine that Kacey lovingly built out of candles, a photo of Tom and some wood.
The shrine needed fixing because it was shattered by Lenny, a new pupil and twin brother of Lisa, another new pupil. These two were familiar faces to the teacher with the pointy face (for convenience I might have to start calling her “Audrey,” like everyone else does), who’d taught them at her previous school. It was her birthday, and in the absence of any cards, gifts or acknowledgements (how soon Ndale has forgotten her), she needed a hobby. So her hobby became helping Lenny and Lisa, who were a tad unwashed, hungry and uncared for. Continue reading