THE GRIPPER STEBSON YEARS
Like any school, Grange Hill has always had a resident bully - many have come and gone over the years. But none epitomised Grange Hill more than Norman "Gripper" Stebson, who terrorised the school between 1981 and 1985. And today, some seventeen years after his final appearance in the series, Gripper remains the best-known Grange Hill bully.
So who was this Gripper Stebson, and what made him so notorious? Well, basically a screwed-up individual never happy unless he was making someone else's life a misery. Initially he worked alone, but in series 5 gained two henchmen, Denny Rees and Georgie Smith. Gripper, played by Mark Savage, first appeared in episode 4 of Series 4, stealing a book from the local newsagents. Stewpot and Duane caught him in the act, and were warned off saying anything. Later in the series, Pogo was running a homework cash enterprise and Gripper forced Pogo to do his homework for free. A furious Pogo deliberately did the work wrong - and the pair rioted and smashed up the common room. Mrs McClusky suspended Gripper for the rest of the term.
In Series 5 (1982), Gripper found a new victim. He and Denny pursued Roland Browning, whom they cruelly called "Gutsy", extorting money from him and making Roland's life a misery when they discovered their victim was seeing an educational psychologist. So desperate to escape his torment was Roland that he constantly skipped school, and was later mown down by a car. But Gripper's evil interests extended beyond poor Roland. One night he sent henchmen to the school to steal the sports trophies. But Fay, Annette and Belinda were in the school overnight and disturbed the raiders. The girls trapped them in the basement and called the police!
Off-screen, Mark Savage found his on-screen persona a nightmare. Wherever Mark went, people challenged him to fights and at a football match supporters told him: "Oi Gripper, you're gonna get your 'ead kicked in!" To make matters worse, there was a wave of copycat bullying sweeping the nation. "It was open season on Gripper", Mark told Now magazine in 1998. "People really thought I was Gripper and pulled knives on me and all sorts."
Just when you thought Gripper couldn't get any worse, in Series 6 (1983) he excelled himself. Stebson turned to hardcore racism and picked fights with black and Asian pupils. In particular he'd delight in making life a misery for Randir Singh and made whites "swear allegience to the British People". Stewpot refused to comply. In Episode 12, Gripper incited a race riot which Messrs Hopwood, Baxter and Keating broke up. Gripper was suspended, but he would have one final fling which would become his downfall.
On his final day at Grange Hill, Gripper continued to harass Randir and attacked Claire Scott with a dirty mop, after she dared to speak her mind about him in an underground school magazine. At this point, Stewpot teamed up with Glenroy and ethnic pupils to "lynch" Gripper in the toilets at breaktime. However, Bullet Baxter got wind and stormed the toilets in time. "I'm sorry lads, I can't allow vigilantes," he proclaimed. "Doesn't matter how justified you may feel." With that, Gripper was told to "say goodbye to his friends" before being led away to Mrs McClusky to be formally expelled. The boys cheered as he walked off.
But was that the last of Gripper? Of course not. In 1984 he returned as a butcher's boy, on the day of the sponsored walk. Jimmy McClaren stole Gripper's bike so he could fix the outcome (he was running a book on it). For once, Gripper wasn't causing any trouble. But the following year, Gripper was exposed as the school thief after Gonch bugged the staffroom - recording Gripper and Denny as they stole equipment. Gripper's final stand came in the 1985 Christmas special, when he relished throwing a wet sponge at Mr Baxter.
Since Gripper's departure, many bullies have passed through the gates of Grange Hill. With the noteable exceptions of Sean Pearce (1998) and Ozzie Osbourne (2001), none came close to ruling the school underworld with such an iron fist. Imelda Davis' friends turned on her; Mauler McCaul was more stupid than nasty; and the cigarette gang were stubbed out by Justine and Alice. So where would Gripper be today? Probably an activist for the National Front, in between spells in prison.
After Grange Hill, the years went by unnoticed for Mark Savage, until he came out of hiding in 1998. So what had Mark been up to? "I've been in various movies and a few years ago I did a play with Ray Winstone," Mark informs us. "I'm now concentrating on independent films but what I'd quite like to do is play a really interesting bad guy in EastEnders!"
"Grange Hill was an excellent learning curve," he says of his time with the show. "It was a fantastic opportunity for a young man." But Mark does not enjoy the high profile that former co-stars such as Todd Carty have. A shame really; there's a huge acting talent going to waste.
GRIPPER'S PICTURE GALLERY
Click here for screen grabs of Gripper at his worst!
All pictures from the Webmaster's video library.
Laura Sadler - from Grange Hill to Holby City
Francesca Martinez - comedy sensation
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