Headteacher Mrs McCluskey ruled Grange Hill between 1981-1991, and whilst appearing hard on the surface proved herself to always have her pupils’ best interests at heart. Grange Hill Gold was lucky enough to interview actress Gwyneth Powell about her time playing a TV legend.
I was always the instigator of “Let’s pretend” games as a child, but when it came to the point of deciding on a career, I chose teaching! Having qualified at Goldsmiths College, London, I then went straight into repertory theatre where I did my apprenticeship for three years, firstly in Worthing and then at the Bristol Old Vic.
After Bristol I was cast as the female lead in a new series for London Weekend T.V. called The Guardians. This lead to a string of T.V. parts in series such as Z Cars, Dixon of Dock Green, Squadron, Accident, People Like Us, Coronation Street, and The Enigma Files. It was after a transmission of The Enigma Files (in which I played a murderess!) that I was asked to play Mrs McClusky. I accepted because of pressure from my nephew and neices who were fans of the programme, and also because it has always been very nice to be offered a part without having to audition.
Mrs Thatcher and Mrs McClusky held office for the same length of time, and both were power dressers. I was conscious of some of the similarities, and I think her role definitely reinforced my own! I was determined that Mrs McClusky should be real and contemporary and not a tweed wearing, old school version of Margaret Rutherford in St Trinians. The writers were great in that respect, and gave me opportunities for humour and compassion as well as authoritarianism.
I loved the kids, and relish my meetings with some of them even after all these years. All the adults got on well, and some became my great friends, like Lucinda Gane (Miss Mooney), whom I much miss, and George A. Cooper (Mr Griffiths), who I see as often as possible. It was like a family unit.
Even now, I don’t think a day passes without someone telling me how much they loved the programme. It affected a whole generation, and apart from the children, many women teachers have told me that my role encouraged them to apply for headships, which is great.
The impact of the series around the mid eighties, with the drug storyline, was amazing, and hopefully other social issues were equally well handled, such as bullying, teenage pregnancy etc., but where Grange Hill scored over the adult soaps, was the balance of material. The humour was always there too, and rich characters.
I left because I felt the time was right to go back to grass roots and do more varied work. At the time I don’t think Grange Hill had much impact on the work that followed, but strangely enough, as some of those fans who watched the programme in the 80’s grew up and became writers, directors etc., I do find that I’m being asked to play versions of Mrs McClusky in all kinds of programmes, like Ashes to Ashes, Little Crackers, A Touch of Cloth, Matt Lucas Awards etc etc. and that’s fine by me!
I haven’t watched the series since it first went out, but think it might look dated now, though the writing and the characters would still be vibrant.
The last twenty years have been full of interesting work and projects, with lots of variety, and in addition to acting and writing, I now travel a great deal working with drama students all over the world. I was in China and India last year and am just off to Dubai, so my teaching experience, real and imaginary, has come in very useful!
For those involved in Grange Hill, it was a very happy, never to be repeated time for all of us. I think the public feel that way too, and that is what makes it so special.
Thanks to Gwyneth Powell
(C) Grange Hill Gold – Not to be used without permission