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Cracker's Dare


Series 20 (1997)

Mrs. Maguire put the phone down and said: "Mr. McNabb says he'll be back tomorrow, and he hopes the supply teacher he organised was okay."

Mr. Robson gave a pained look.  "Apart from driving half the staff round the bend, he's fine.  Still at least the Head will be back - do you know, he's been away so many times lately that I can't remember what he looks like?"

"So what's wrong with this Mr. Errol?"

"He's like another teacher we used to have - Mr. Bronson."

"Before my time, I think!"

"Hmm. Yes, you're right - you're lucky too.  This Mr. Erroll goes round barking orders at the kids, and arranging detentions all over the place."

"A bit strict, then," said Mrs. Maguire, feeding paper into her electric typewriter.

"Strict! Strict's not the word.  Do you know he put little Tracy Long in detention because he thought she was being cheeky in Religious Knowledge."

"What happened?"

"Mr. Errol asked her who Noah's wife was, and she told him it was Joan!"

"Eh?  Oh I see, Joan of Arc, very good."  Mrs. Maguire laughed.

"Yes, but she really wasn't being cheeky - I caught her crying in the corridor, she didn't want to have to tell her parents she had detention."

"Oh well, he's only with us for a while, until Mrs. Holmes comes out of hospital."

"You know what's odd - I keep hearing people say now how much they miss Mrs. Holmes, since she's been away.  Can you imagine it!"

"I guess we'll have to live with him," said Mrs. Maguire.

* * *

Down in the boiler room, Lisa West had a surprise for the other three members of the Double Dare Gang - a policeman's helmet, which she held out with a little triumphant smile on her face. Matt Singleton's jaw dropped in astonishment. 

"That was a deliberately impossible dare.  I never expected you would do it, Lisa," he said, with admiration.

"You stole a policeman's helmet," said Tom "Speedy" Smith his shoulders rising and falling as he laughed.

"Fantastic!" said Sam "Cracker" Bacon, wide eyed.

"Who said I stole it - the dare didn't say I had to steal it. It just said to get one," said Lisa.

"So where did you find it then?  Lying in the road?  In the school dustbins?" asked Speedy.

"Hardly.  No, it was in a boy's bag.  I've just borrowed it, I'll return it later.  Kevin Something-or-other he is.  I overheard him talking about how his father is a policeman - he'd brought it in for a drama piece, and when his back was turned I grabbed it.  Simple."

"Well - time for another one - and we have the perfect container to use.  Have we all got one ready?"  asked Speedy.

"Sure," said Cracker, putting a folded slip of paper in the hat.  Lisa followed suit, Cracker smiled his broad grin and put his own in, and so did Matt and Speedy.

"Now to find the operator of this new dastardly daring dare," said Speedy, holding out the "straws" - a set of lolly sticks half concealed in his fist.

"Ladies first," said Lisa.

"Where?" asked Cracker facetiously, pretending to look around for one. Lisa ignored him and took a stick - it was long.  She smiled and raised her eyebrows.  Matt followed cautiously: he was the least comfortable risk-taker out of them all, but he need not have feared. 

"You next, Cracker," said Speedy, and Cracker slowly extracted one of the two remaining "straws", his mouth open slightly.  When he saw that he'd pulled the short stick, he raised his eyes to heaven.

"Aha the next victim," said Matt, relieved that the selection process had finished.

Speedy shook the policeman's helmet around to mix up the papers. "No peeking," he said to Cracker, who took a folded piece of paper out at arm's length. 

Cracker opened the dare and read it to himself.

"Don't keep us in suspenders," said Lisa.  "What does it say?"

"I have to seriously wind up either Mr. Erroll or Mr. McNabb.  Not sure what that means exactly."

Lisa's eyes sparkled, giving away that she was the one who'd written the dare. "Make one of them extremely annoyed so that smoke rises from his ears, well almost.  He deserves it - Mr. Errol I mean, but you'll take your life in your hands.  You could always do Mr. McNabb instead - that's the choice."

"Oh right, wind up the Headmaster - and get myself permanently excluded!" said Cracker, and groaned. "I can see many nights of detention ahead."

"Ah don't be such a pessimist. You could always do a forfeit instead..." countered Speedy.

"No thank you - I know all about your forfeits.  I'll do it... but I need to think about it first."

"Good lad," said Speedy, patting him violently on the back, and Lisa and Matt followed his lead.

* * *

Cracker spent the rest of the day thinking about the dare.  He spent a history lesson with the temporary teacher, but he could think of nothing obvious that he could do to make Mr. Errol annoyed.  He daydreamed while the lesson continued wondering if there was something he prepare for Mr. Errol for next time - he could write something on the board, or tamper with the...

"You lad, Bacon isn't it?"

Cracker jumped on hearing his name.

"Yes Sir."

"Perhaps you can enlighten us what happened in 1605?"

"Was it the Boston Tea Party?"  Cracker did know the correct answer, but he was wondering if he could meet the dare with some deliberate ignorance.  Mr. Errol, though, was made of sterner stuff. He closed his eyes for a few seconds.

"No, that's what we were talking about yesterday.  It's just the sort of answer though I'd have expected from someone at this school."

In the back row, Gemma muttered something under her breath about tarring the class with the same brush.

"You, lass, what did you say?"

"Nothing sir.  It was the Gunpowder Plot - Guy Fawkes.  We've already covered it with Mrs. Holmes."

To Cracker's annoyance, the temporary teacher resumed his normal tone.  "Very good - Gemma isn't it?  If you've covered the topic, perhaps you can tell us some more - and Bacon, you can see me afterwards."

Cracker turned round briefly and gave an annoyed glance at Gemma, but not really bearing her any ill-will.  Gemma gave a fair summary of the attempted destruction of parliament, and then the bell sounded, and everyone started packing up.  Speedy gave a mute expression of helplessness as he left, leaving Cracker and Mr. Errol alone.  While the temporary teacher busied himself picking up his papers, Cracker was deep in thought: Curse you, Mr. Errol with your silly bow tie, and large ears. Errol with the earholes.  Mr Earhole, you should be called...

Mr. Errol gave a sheaf of papers to Cracker.

"Here's something I've prepared - it's some extra notes for you to read, and a quiz to test you at the end, to make sure you read it.  Give it back to me tomorrow, during break.  I'll be at the Staff Room."

Cracker nodded.

"Don't look so glum, lad.  It's for your own good you know."  Mr. Errol seemed to be in quite a jovial mood - quite the opposite effect that Cracker had to achieve somehow.

"Yes, Sir."

Mr. Errol rocked backward and forward on his feet.

"Mr. McNabb, your esteemed headmaster will be back tomorrow, I shall look forward to meeting him.  I have in mind to get a permanent position here at Grange Hill."

Cracker's eyes widened in horror. "But Mrs. Holmes..."

Mr. Errol made a peculiar noise in his throat, which Cracker realised was supposed to be a laugh.  "It's a large school, there's room for more than one History teacher, and I also teach Mathematics and Religious Studies."

Cracker's mind raced.  He saw Lisa and Matt just outside the door gesticulating for him to hurry up.  He thought about Mr. Errol being there permanently... Then an idea popped into his head, like light that had been switched on in his brain.  "There's something about Mr. McNabb you should know, sir," he said.

"What's that then, lad?"

"He's hard of hearing, but doesn't realise it.  He gets angry when people don't speak loudly enough to him, and because he can't hear properly, he shouts too."

Mr. Errol shrugged.  "Fine.  Okay lad, you can go now.  Don't forget to do that work"

"I won't sir."

* * *

The next day, the four members of the Double Dare Gang entered the playground together.

"McNabb's back," said Lisa indicating the headmaster's drab black car.  "So no excuses, or you'll forfeit the dare."

"You're a hard taskmaster... task mistress, a tasktress... is that a word?" said Cracker.  "Anyway, it's all in hand."

"Is it?" said Speedy, surprised.

"Yes, but I do need to do something on my own, in preparation.  Be near the Staff Room at morning break," said Cracker.

"Oh yes, what's going to happen - are you going to blow up Mr. Errol?  Set fire to the Staff Room?" asked Lisa.

"Just wait and see."

"Well I suppose it doesn't really matter, Mrs. Holmes will be back next week, I would think, and so that will be the end of the supply teacher." said Matt.

"Don't be so sure, " said Cracker.  "He said he's going to try to stay here permanently."

"Oh no," groaned Speedy.  "Can you imagine having both him and Holmes here!"

The four walked inside the building.

"I'll see you at registration," said Cracker, walking purposefully and rapidly in the other direction.

"Wonder what's he's up to," said Lisa.

* * *

Summoning up his nerve, Cracker knocked at the door.


Cracker turned the handle, and walked into the lion's den - or rather the Headmaster's office.  Mr. McNabb sat at his desk which was awash with weeks worth of paperwork from his long absence.  He wore a pristine dark suit that complemented his pale complexion. Sunlight came through the window and shone prettily on his bald head. 

"Yes?" barked the voice of the Headmaster.

Cracker remained at the door, keeping an escape route open.  "Sir.  I just bumped into  the supply teacher, Mr. Errol and he asked if you could go and see him in the Staff Room at Morning Break."

"Most irregular, it's he who should be coming to me, but, okay, very well. Thank you, err..."

"Sam Bacon, sir."

"Thank you, Bacon. "

"And Sir..."


"I think you should know, Mr. Errol - he's a little deaf.  He doesn't realise he is deaf, and so he shouts himself.  I just thought you ought to know."

Mr. Robson appeared at this point, and walked into the office.

"Hmm, okay Bacon - Peter, good morning, Bacon was telling me about Mr. Errol.  There's a chance he might be joining us, and he's got excellent references, so it'll be a good idea to keep him happy."

"Keep him happy, I see, yes, right," said Mr. Robson uncomfortably, and then noted Cracker still standing there.  "All right, Sam, that door doesn't need propping up - you can go now."

Cracker gratefully departed.

The time to morning break simply could not go quickly enough, and he kept glancing at his watch all though Miss Carver's English lesson.  His neighbour, Matt,  gave him a puzzled look.

"Sam, Are we keeping you from an urgent appointment?" said Miss Carver

"No, Miss."

"Then can you pay attention please!  You'll never learn about alliteration otherwise, and that would be a truly terrible tragedy."  Miss Carver laughed shortly at her own joke, but none of the class had noticed it, and she continued writing lines from Tennyson on the board.

And so the minutes dragged by, Cracker feeling like the Lady of Shallot, stuck in his own version of the "four grey walls and four grey towers that overlooked the space of flowers".

Finally, the bell rang and Cracker packed his books away as quickly as possible.

"So what's the deal?" asked Lisa as everyone started to leave the classroom.

"Come on, off to the Staff Room," said Cracker, and waved his homework in front of her.

"What's that?" asked Speedy.

"It's my homework for Errol, I'm taking it to the Staff Room."

"And we need to come with you while you hand it in - because?" said Lisa.

"Because there's going to be some fun.  But we'll miss it unless we hurry."

Speedy shrugged, and Cracker led the way to the Staff Room.

Mr. Hankin answered the door when Cracker knocked on the door.  He was holding a cup of coffee in one hand and wore his usual white lab coat.  The other Double Dare Gang members lurked nearby, out of sight.

"Is Mr. Errol in there, sir?"

Mr. Hankin pushed his glasses up further on his nose.  "I'm afraid not - do you want to leave that with me?"

"I'd rather hand it personally - he said I was to," said Cracker, not wanting to lose his reason for being in the area.

"If you don't trust me, fair enough, I suppose" joked Mr. Hankin. "Oh - problem solved, here he is now."

Sure enough, fast-paced footsteps announced the arrival of the supply teacher.

"What are all you lot doing here?" asked Mr. Errol to the Double Dare Gang, rocking back and forth, in his usual way.

"I've brought you my work sir, like you asked," said Cracker, offering it over.

"Ok good, good," said Mr. Errol, shortly as he took it.  Cracker stepped away from the Staff Room, but didn't actually walk away.

Then, coming from the other direction, Mr. McNabb arrived on the scene.  Mr. Hankin smiled at the Headmaster.  "Hello, Mr. McNabb," he said brightly. "Welcome back."

"Ah Mr. McNabb!" said Mr. Errol, and then in a much louder voice shouted:  "Headmaster, good to meet you at last."

Cracker smiled, and silently indicated to his friends (who were growing mightily impatient in spending their break watching members of Staff) that they should watch the proceedings.

The headmaster frowned at Mr. Errol's volume of speech, and then smiled remembering the advice from that Year Seven boy.

"Ah Mr. Errol," he bellowed back.  "Nice to meet you too. "

Mr. Hankin grimaced, somewhat bemused by the conversation's volume, and retreated further into the Staff Room.

Mr. McNabb continued, raising his voice a little: "Perhaps we should have a little talk about the idea of you being here permanently."

"Yes, of course.  Tell me - what are your music facilities like at Grange Hill.  I am something of an amateur conductor you know."

Mr. McNabb's head reeled with the sheer volume of Mr. Errol's voice, and then he thought about what Mr. Errol had said.

"Music?" he roared back.  "Conducting eh?  Like Beethoven did towards the end of his life?"

Mr. Errol put his hands to his ears, which rather puzzled the headmaster.  "I don't think I'm quite in Beethoven's league," he shouted, his voice beginning to quaver.  In his mind, he began to have second thoughts about a school where he'd have to shout like this in the headmaster's presence.

"Perhaps you can come to see me in my office later,"  shouted Mr. McNabb, and his voice too began to falter.  I don't think I could put up with too much of this man, he thought to himself - heaven knows how the rest of the school have coped with him.

"Agreed," yelled Mr. Errol, nodding, and walked off down the corridor.  When he was gone, Mr. McNabb clutched his head, and withdrew into the Staff Room.

"Well done," said Speedy to Cracker.

"Well and truly wound up, I'd think," said Matt.

"Both of them too!" agreed Lisa.

"I like to give value for money," said Cracker proudly.

No more was ever said about Mr. Errol joining Grange Hill full-time, but the victory was countered by the return of Mrs. Holmes the following Monday morning!

The End



(c) Geoff Phillips (c) BBC, Grange Hill characters.