A BULLYING thief with a disdain for homework and a penchant for racism is hardly the most appropriate role model for a Prime Minister in waiting.
• 'Gripper' Stebson - Eton-educated David Cameron 'admired' the state school bully. Picture: BBC/Complimentary
Yet David Cameron has revealed that his favourite character on the popular children's television show Grange Hill was the sinister Gripper Stebson.
While he could have plumped for Tucker Jenkins, the nation's favourite errant schoolboy since Billy Bunter broke into the tuck shop, the Prime Minister preferred to be a little more extreme when he joked yesterday that not only was he a fan of show but: "Indeed Gripper Stebson was one of my role models in life".
As young master Stebson, of form H1, graduated from casual bullying and blackmail to hardcore racism, this may yet prove an interesting point of discussion with US President Barack Obama whom Cameron will meet today in Washington.
Mr Cameron made the claim as he promoted his "Big Society" initiative yesterday at Liverpool Hope University alongside the creator of Grange Hill Phil Redmond. The exploits of the pupils and staff of the working-class comprehensive was clearly popular among the pupils of Eton, the private boarding school where Mr Cameron was educated.
He and Gripper Stebson, however, took radically different career paths.
While Mr Cameron successfully completed his A levels, won a place at Oxford University and graduated with a First, Stebson was finally expelled from the fictional London comprehensive after inciting a race riot by forcing white pupils to "swear allegiance to the British people".
He was last seen working as a butcher's boy. Mark Savage, who played Gripper, is still an actor, has starred in a Morrissey video and has had roles in short films.
Norman "Gripper" Stebson was not without his abilities. Unfortunately, he was ahead of his time in his passion for Space Invaders.
Today, pupils with the manual dexterity Stebson displayed could make a career out of playing games professionally in tournaments, but in 1981 Stebson had no such opportunity and had to bully pupils out of their lunch money to feed his arcade habit.
If there are parallels to be drawn between Mr Cameron and Gripper Stebson it is in their views on man management. Gripper realised that extorting money from an entire school was more than a one-man job and so enlisted the support of Denny Rees as his accomplice. Mr Cameron has Nick Clegg.
In the children's show, which ran on BBC 1, Gripper moved from tormenting Roland, a portly pupil with glasses, to inciting racism.
Fortunately for the school, the black and Asian pupils united to fight back against him, but just as they were about to administer their own brand of punishment, a teacher stepped in and Gripper was expelled.
Grange Hill became a huge hit with its young viewers when it was launch more than 32 years ago.
But after three decades on our screens it was finally axed in 2008 amid claims it no longer accurately showed what life is like for children in the 21st century.
Based in a fictitious London school, Phil Redmond's series - with its gritty storylines of drug use, teenage pregnancy, knife crime and racism – were a "must see" among youngsters.
The show's most controversial story was in 1986, when pupil Zammo Maguire began taking drugs. It led to the Just Say No campaign and a top-ten single. More recently the show's makers were forced to comply with BBC policy that any afternoon programmes must be suitable for young children and the content was toned down accordingly.
Last night a Downing Street spokesman said of Mr Cameron's remark: "It was just meant as a joke."
While there are those who would argue that the Prime Minister's choice deserves six of the best in the headmaster's study, it was left to Margaret Curran, the Labour MP, to administer a stiff reprimand.
"This joke was in very poor taste," she said.
"Mr Cameron occupies high office and should behave in a more responsible manner."