Timed, I’m sure, to coincide with the end of my Eighties Week, comes the DVD release of series 3 and 4 of BBC school drama Grange Hill, which features the caning of Cathy Hargreaves.
I don’t know how you regard hand caning – I’ve never written about it before on here I don’t think.
You certainly get a good look at the facial reactions if nothing else. But the fact is, for girls, that’s mostly how it was done. Although there seems to be unanimous agreement that a caning on the hands is more painful than a caning on the bottom.
Grange Hill was notorious for the gritty reality of its portrayal of school life, and the caning scene is no exception. So if you want to know what it was really like to be caned in a British school in 1980, just six years before the ban, this is a good a place to start.
It’s textbook stuff: the offer of expulsion or caning – parental agreement – punishment book – cane fetched – senior female teacher to carry it out – two strokes on the upturned palm of the hand. WHACK! pause WHACK! Job done.
Credit to the show, for not exaggerating or giving it a negative slant, but not shying away from showing the full reality either. This is what makes this scene so rare and special: it’s unbiased neutrality and honesty.
Even if you’ve already seen the clip; with the DVD you can get to know more about the character of Cathy, played by Lindy Brill, and see the build up to her punishment.
She’d had it coming for a long time, with storylines showing her going off the rails. An earlier episode had her bunking off school and being caught shoplifting, unlike her former best friend Trisha who took a more mature approach to school life as the two gradually grew apart.
As Cathy is waiting with her mother, Trisha emerges from the headmisstress’s study.
An exchange of glances says it all. The two are now bitter enemies. We know that Trisha knows what is going to happen to Cathy. She must be thinking that it could so easily have been her facing the shame and pain of a caning from Mrs. McCluskey.
And we know that Cathy is thinking “trust her to be there, just at that moment.”
Cathy’s humiliation is now complete, but Trisha is somber rather than triumphant.
Once inside Mrs. McCluskey’s office Cathy has to sit and listen whilst her mother tries to talk the head into caning her rather than expelling her:
“Are you suggesting I cane her?” asks Mrs McCluskey.
“Yes, if that is what it takes.” replies Mrs Hargreaves.
“Very well. Cathy?” Mrs McCluskey looks towards Cathy as though seeking her acceptance.
Cathy’s nod of agreement is so reluctant and unenthusiastic, that it is barely noticeable!
The whole rich psycho-drama in the background of a scene such as this adds so much more to the enjoyment. Much is lost if you just watch the actual beating. In a really good scene, the build up and afters are just as important.
In the early nineties, Grange Hill was repeated on Sunday mornings. As I wasn’t sure which episode the caning occurred in, I recorded it most weeks.
Each week it was introduced by Phillipa Forester (left), one of the hottest young female presenters around at the time.
She would always make some jokey comments about the plot or the characters afterwards. And as the week of the caning episode approached, I became fascinated by whether or not Phillippa would say something about it.
Of course, she couldn’t help herself. The poor girl was visibly reddening with embarrassment and righteous anger at what she had just witnessed.
“Did you see the caning?” she gasped, with jaw dropping to the floor, “Wasn’t it HO-RR-IB-LE!”
She screwed up her eyes as she emphasised the word – as if she was imagining the pain of the cane across her own palms.
Perhaps she’d have preferred it on her well-padded bottom. It’s less painful you know.