IT COULD be a nationwide turn-off, or turn-over: dreary decor and frowning neurosis. Yet the makers of the BBC's Hope and Glory, a new television drama about a failing school, are convinced they are sitting on a pot of gold to rank with Casualty. To be screened later this year, it stars Lenny Henry as a hero head brought in to turn around Hope Park school.
The script, structured around three teachers who struggle with idealistic zeal against the odds, was written by Lucy Gannon, responsible for hits including Soldier Soldier and Peak Practice.
The result, says producer Mal Young, is an "intimate epic" with scarcely a classroom scene. The series is said to be quite different from the gritty realism of Hearts and Minds, the school drama screened on Channel 4.
But it will touch a nerve or two: at least one character is cast as the failing teacher who no longer cares about doing a good job.
"That might upset people. But we have to show things as they are," says Mr Young. "It might piss people off. It might piss parents off to think teachers really do talk like that. These teachers are not goody-goodies by any stretch."
But teachers, he says, have only their chains to lose: their reputation as the country's biggest whingers could be obscured in the glow of reflected glory.
Although the series focuses on the characters and their personal relationships, programme-makers called on the head of a school released from special measures only a month ago to vet the script for factual accuracy.
Richard Warne, head of Ashburton High School in Croydon, gave advice on everything from HM inspectors to the decor. He joined as head in September 1997, three months after it was placed on a "hit list" of 18 schools.
Lenny Henry visited Ashburton in early January to talk to Mr Warne about the skills and management style needed by a headteacher. Mr Warne said the main character was not based on himself but touches of his personal style might be perceptible. In one scene a box of baseball caps sits in the head's office - a detail taken directly from Mr Warne's own room, where he keeps caps confiscated during school hours.
Mal Young was inspired by the advertising slogan: "You Always Remember a Good Teacher".
"So many people care about education; why wouldn't they care about a drama about education?"
TEACHERS ON TV
Teachers' on-screen fortunes have been, well, mixed. 'Chalk', a 1997 comedy from the BBC, was blasted by the press and teaching unions.
The same year saw Channel 4's drama 'Hearts and Minds'. Star Christopher Ecclestone won a BAFTA nomination for his portrayal of a young teacher's growing disillusionment in an inner-city comprehensive.
Jimmy Corkhill, anti-hero of Channel 4's Brookside is still a teacher, but only just. He has been rumbled after forging his application to train.
Pop icon Noddy Holder of Slade fame has probably suffered enough. An inspired casting, Holder wears lurid lime green and teaches music in ITV's 'The Grimleys', a West Midlands sitcom set in the 1970s.