The late, great, Michael Sheard was a terrific bloke. Not that I ever met, but the reports of the numerous fan conventions he attended were pretty much unanimous: he was one of the best.
Granted, his appearance at the fan conventions was primarily down to his Star Wars work (and, of course, his appearance as Hitler in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, a role he visited numerous times throughout his career). But the reason he’s appearing as a Den Of Geek 80s icon was for his work as Britain’s scariest school teacher, Mr Maurice Bronson. Grange Hill, even before Mr Bronson turned up, had had more than its fair share of legendary teachers: ‘Hoppy’ Hopwood, ‘Scruffy’ McGuffy and Mr Baxter all spring to mind. But no member of staff has ever had quite the impact of that ultra-strict disciplinarian Mr Bronson. He put legions of kids off going to secondary school, and became one of the finest villains of any genre throughout the entire 80s. Never mind The Terminator, Hans Gruber, The Joker or an army of Gremlins: Bronson was the most feared by the youth of the day. They should have made him a Bond villain, as far as I’m concerned.
He came to Grange Hill in 1985, courtesy of the merger with Brookdale and Rodney Bennett, and for the first few years, he was utterly reviled. Barking “You boy!” down corridors, his ambitions for the top job were never hidden, and pretty much everyone at the school hated him. Even the bacteria around the sink would shudder when he walked past.
Several people, inevitably, crossed his path. He basically bullied Ant Jones out of the school (but then Ant Jones was always a bit shit), had little regard for some of his fellow staff, but he did help Roland Browning with his French exam. And, of course, he had his toupee nicked. Comedy gold, every time.
But the story that most remember Mr Bronson for was the Danny Kendall saga. To say that Bronson had little time for Danny Kendall was a horrible understatement. In the pivotal series where the clash between them really came to a head, Bronson wrecks a work experience assignment that Danny Kendall desperately wanted. And then, the already-ill Kendall dies in Bronson’s car. It was one of the most memorable moments ever in the show, before it went all namby pamby and crap.
Inevitably, the character was never the same afterwards, and by the end of that series – which was to prove Bronson’s last – he’d mellowed down and was seen falling for a woman he meets on a school trip. And once he moved on, the show was never really the same. It’s become very much an overt issue show, and rather than letting its morals bubble under the surface, it got to the point where they smacked you with all the subtlety of a large Wellington boot being thrust into your nethers. That’s when I stopped watching. Grange Hill always worked best when the characters were strong, and few on the teaching staff ever reached the heights of Mr Bronson. On a personal note, he also scared the living bejesus out of me.
As an example of his majesty, instead of digging out a clip of him in the show, here’s a great snippet of Bronson in action, as he joined Andy Crane in the BBC Broom Cupboard. And with that, we induct the late, great Michael Sheard as Mr Bronson into the Den Of Geek hall of 80s icons…