“Come on, give us a try at Degrassi Junior High!”

Whilst nosing around on YouTube earlier, I discovered that it’s possible to watch every single episode of the 1980s school drama Degrassi Junior High!

Around 1988, the BBC bought this Canadian show and showed most, but not all, of the first series. Aged 14, I was a huge fan and lapped it all up. I contacted the BBC at the time to find out if it was available on video. They told me that they’d bought the second series, but it never got shown over here.

According to Wikipedia, the UK was Degrassi Junior High’s most popular market and got very high viewing figures, but the BBC weren’t willing to show episodes covering Spike’s teenage pregnancy. As this was a major and long-running storyline, it effectively ended the show’s run after the first season. It does seem a bit strange that this plotline was a dealbreaker – the BBC had form for hard-hitting storylines in our own school drama Grange Hill. Zammo’s drug habit was particularly memorable. That said, we did have a Conservative government at the time that was well-known for being very puritanical.

Some people in the UK didn’t like Degrassi Junior High, and compared it unfavourably to Grange Hill, but it appealed to me for several reasons. First off, it was well-written and exciting, second, it was funny and entertaining, and third, being set in Canada made it very different to my rather boring life in suburban London. I went to a brutal all-boys’ grammar school that I absolutely hated, and I’d have killed to have gone somewhere like Degrassi, that actually seemed to have some life to it. As someone who felt marginalised and excluded by a horrible traditional school culture that was almost laughably Victorian, DJH felt like it had actually entered the twentieth century.

The character everyone remembers, of course, is Stephanie Kaye, who famously showed off rather a lot of cleavage for a girl of fourteen, but the less obvious always appealed to me, and the object of my teenage desires in the show was LD, a tomboyish and not massively prominent character who seemed very endearing. She was always seen wearing a baseball cap, an affectation I took on for a while until I felt massively self-conscious about it, and stopped. It didn’t really suit me.

I can’t comment about how realistic this show is, of course, given that I can’t travel to 1980s Canada to see what it was really like, but it was enough to make me want to go there at the time! Of course, in some ways it’s aged very badly, and the opening titles are about the most 80s thing ever, but I’m looking forward to rewatching the episodes I remember, and seeing the ones the BBC didn’t show for the first time.

It doesn’t look like many of the actors are still performing these days, but apparently the production company was well-known for recruiting non-professional people from everyday life to star in their shows. It does show occasionally!

Does anyone else remember this show? I’d love to hear your memories if you do.

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