Michael Sheard

Versatile television character actor
Click to follow

Although known to younger viewers as the tyrannical deputy headteacher Mr Bronson in Grange Hill, the school serial set in a London comprehensive, the prolific character actor Michael Sheard had an even scarier claim to fame - on screen, he played Hitler five times and Himmler three times. He also took 13 different roles in the much-loved police series Dixon of Dock Green.

Born in Aberdeen in 1940, the son of a church minister, Sheard trained at Rada and gained his early experience in repertory theatre, in Perth, Carlisle and Bromley. He made his television début in the BBC thriller series Suspense (1962) and was soon appearing in many of the most popular programmes of the 1960s, from Softly Softly and Z Cars to The Likely Lads and The Troubleshooters.

His first film role was as a German officer in the Second World War drama The McKenzie Break (1970), but he switched to comedy to play the depot manager in Holiday on the Buses (1973), one of the big-screen versions of the popular television sitcom and a role he had taken in the sitcom for six episodes that year.

Sheard first acted Hitler in the television film Rogue Male (1976), the writer Frederic Raphael's adaptation of Geoffrey Household's 1939 novel about a failed attempt to assassinate the Nazi leader in Austria. He returned to the role in two further television dramas, The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission (1985) and Hitler of the Andes (2003), the children's series The Tomorrow People (1978) and the major feature film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

He was also in demand as Himmler, playing Hitler's head of the SS on television in The Death of Adolf Hitler (1973), The Bunker (1981) and Space (1985). In lighter vein, he acted Goering's double in an episode of the sitcom 'Allo 'Allo! (1992).

Over 22 years, Sheard became a favourite with Doctor Who viewers through taking six parts in the series (1966-88), in stories such as "Remembrance of the Daleks" and "Pyramids of Mars". He was also popular at sci-fi fan conventions after his appearance in the film The Empire Strikes Back (1980, since retitled Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back) as Admiral Ozzel, who was choked to death by Darth Vader.

For an actor who darted in and out of different television programmes, it was not surprising that he appeared in several of the soaps - playing Albert Ede in Crossroads; Nikki Zaharoff, a Russian double agent sent by MI6 to Sir John Ross-Gifford for vetting, in Take the High Road; and Arthur Dabner, who had a short friendship with Emily Bishop but eventually returned to his wife, in Coronation Street.

Sheard had a rare regular screen role when he joined Grange Hill (1985-89) as Maurice Bronson, the toupée-wearing French teacher who became deputy head and was a strict disciplinarian, ruling the school with a rod of iron. Sheard relished playing the part, saying:

Everybody had a Mr Bronson at school. I get a lot of mail from people in their early twenties who say that, with hindsight, they learned more from that teacher than all the other teachers put together. I wouldn't have missed dear old Bronson for anything.

Michael Sheard wrote four autobiographies about his long and varied screen career, Yes Mr Bronson: the memoirs of a bum actor (1997, with a foreword by Roger Moore), Yes, Admiral (1999), Yes, School's Out! (2001) and Yes It's Photographic: the party goes on (2004).

Anthony Hayward