Michael Sheard

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Michael Sheard

Actor

Born: 18 June, 1938, in Aberdeen.

Died: 31 August, 2005, on the Isle of Wight, aged 66

HE FAMOUSLY played Hitler on four occasions, Himmler twice and Goering's double once but Michael Sheard is known to generations of school children as the fearsome Maurice "Charlie" Bronson the strict and over bearing French master in Grange Hill. The afternoon soap opera brought Sheard a huge following and as he explained once "most schools have a Mr Bronson - pupils identified with the character immediately". In fact Sheard had a lengthy career on television and movies before he came to Grange Hill and had been seen in four films directed by George Lucas and one by Spielberg. Sheard was an actor who assumed a wide range of roles as he demonstrated when he played Nikki Zahroff a Russian agent in Take the High Road.

Michael Lawson Sheard (born Perkins) was the son of the manse and did national service with the RAF. He trained in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. In fact, he had gained a taste for the stage when, as a youngster, he appeared in many of the local church productions in Aberdeen but was to gain his first professional experience at Perth and Carlisle repertory theatres.

Sheard's first TV role was in Dr Findlay's Casebook in 1961 and was soon being cast as policemen and authority figures in numerous TV dramas (Z Cars, Softly Softly, The Likely Lads, The Troubleshooters etc). In 1962 he was in his first film (The McKenzie Break) and then deftly switched to comedy in the film version of Holiday on the Buses.

In 1976 he was cast as Hitler in Frederic Raphael's TV drama Rogue Male, which concentrated on a failed assassination attempt on the Fhrer in Austria. Sheard was also seen again on TV as Hitler (The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission, 1985 and Hitler in the Andes, 2003). He brought out the demagogue in the character but always added a sense of distraught loneliness that invested the character with an extra and meaningful depth. In the 2003 version the drama was based on FBI files that suggested Hitler had escaped and was in a remote country retreat in the Andes.

But it was Sheard's brief but telling appearance as Hitler in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which many will remember with particular pleasure. The blockbuster was a boy's own yarn with Sean Connery and Harrison Ford in search of the Holy Grail. They land up at a Nuremberg rally and bump into the Fhrer as he is leaving. To Connery and Ford's amazement Hitler quietly gives them his autograph: executed by Sheard with a chilling gravity.

He played Himmler three times - notably to Derek Jacobi's Hitler in The Death of Adolf Hitler (1973). Then with much style - and much humour - Sheard was Goering's double in an episode of 'Allo Allo (1992)

Apart from Take the High Road Sheard was seen in Crossroads and then as Emily Bishop's suitor in Coronation Street. But it was Grange Hill that brought him national television fame. He joined the cast in 1985 as the disciplinarian with a toupee (always at a rather jaunty angle) and a flashy bow tie. The character yearned for advancement and had his eye on the headmastership. But Bronson ("he was scary" Sheard once admitted) became a popular character in the soap and his no-nonsense style of teaching (he shouted: "You, boy" with such a venom across the classroom it became a catch phrase) won loathing and admiration in equal amounts.

It was a dramatic period for the soap as not only did the very presence of the strict Bronson open up numerous story lines about discipline in the class room the drama also dealt with drugs which were being widely used by a popular character called Zammo.

As if to demonstrate his flexibility as an actor, Sheard was careful never to become type cast. His range of character acting ensured he was seen in several major movies. Most memorable, perhaps, was his wonderful death scene as Admiral Ozzel in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) when he was choked by Darth Vader. The director, George Lucas, came up to Sheard and announced, rather unexpectedly after that scene: "You were brilliant: I couldn't stop laughing."

Sheard was a prolific and enchanting writer. He wrote four autobiographies that centred on his varied career. The most widely read is Yes, School's Out (2001), which was much read by the fans of Grange Hill who had created a fanzine magazine called You, Boy around his character. Sheard often attended Grange Hill conventions where he spoke of his happy memories on the set of the soap opera.

Sheard married Rosalind Moir in 1962. She, their two sons and a daughter survive him.