Grange Hill's Mrs McClusky actress Gwyneth Powell dies aged 76

6 months ago 512

Gwyneth Powell

Image caption,

The actress appeared as Mrs McClusky in 11 series between 1981 and 1991

Actress Gwyneth Powell, who played head teacher Mrs McClusky in teen soap opera Grange Hill, has died aged 76.

The Manchester-born actress loomed over the series for 10 years from 1981, as the stern-but-fair headmistress.

She also played Greg Davies' mother Polly in the Channel 4 sitcom Man Down, and appeared in shows like Holby City, A Touch Of Frost and Heartbeat.

Her representative Matthew Lacey said Powell had died "of complications following a major operation".

He said she "passed away peacefully" with her husband, actor Alan Leith, and niece at her bedside last Thursday.

"Gwyneth will be greatly missed by her adoring family and friends along with her many fans from multiple TV appearances," he added.

Appropriately, given her most famous role, Powell initially trained as a teacher before throwing herself into repertory theatre in the late 1960s.

She landed her first television role in the 1971 London Weekend Television drama series The Guardians - "which was lucky because I'd just got married", she later said.

"We'd bought a house but we had no way of paying the first month's mortgage, or indeed buying a wedding ring," she told the Grange Hill podcast Sausage On A Fork.

"I wore my mother's wedding ring to our wedding... And then I got The Guardians and we were secure."

She continued to secure regular work in the 1970s, with recurring roles on shows like Z Cars, Dixon of Dock Green and Emmerdale - but her career accelerated after being cast in Grange Hill, about life in an inner city comprehensive school.

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Grange Hill's willingness to tackle issues like bullying and drug use made it stand out from other children's programming in the 1980s

"At first, Mrs McClusky was written as a 'twin set and pearls' role, but I was quite young at the time and didn't want to play it like that," she later told the BBC.

"We started with the clothes and she was quite fashion conscious and chic. I was told by lots of people she was a great fillip to young women teachers who started applying for headships. The show had repercussions in all kinds of ways, and the character did too.

"My period did coincide with the Thatcher years. I think Mrs McClusky became memorable because we had a prime minister like that."

She stayed in the role for 11 series before asking to be written out, and always remained proud of its impact.

"It was the first series that dealt with real problems in a real way without being patronising," she said. "I'm not saying it would change society, but maybe it helped a lot of young people."

After leaving the show, she bought the rights to EM Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady novels - which explore the life of an upper middle-class Englishwoman during the Great Depression - and adapted them into a series of successful one-woman shows.

Paying tribute to Powell, Patricia Hidalgo, director of BBC Children's and Education, said: "We are very sorry to hear of the passing of Gwyneth Powell.

"Her famous portrayal of Mrs McClusky is one that will be fondly remembered by all those that grew up watching Grange Hill.

"Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this sad time."

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