Voices: Terrence Hardiman terrified an entire generation of children in The Demon Headmaster. What an icon

Hardiman scared the living daylights out of younger viewers in the late 1990s (BBC)
Hardiman scared the living daylights out of younger viewers in the late 1990s (BBC)

There are few TV stars that unite an entire generation. But Terrence Hardiman, famous for his reign of terror as the villainous Demon Headmaster in the CBBC children's show of the same name, did just that. We were one nation, hiding under a sofa pillow.

Hardiman has died aged 86. He may have haunted my nightmares for decades, but I feel oddly bereft at the loss of one of the great bogeymen. Many my age will feel the same – for Hardiman scared the living daylights out of younger viewers in the late 1990s, simply by taking off his glasses.

“Funny you should be so tired, so early in the morning,” he would say, as dodgy special effects caused green rings to ripple from his eyes. “Your eyelids are getting heavy … you … are … asleep.” And with that, victims were under his spell.

I tried not to be one of the hapless legions. Every time he took off his spectacles and the plucky schoolgirl Dinah Glass, his arch nemesis, would try to avert her eyes (and she could never could …), I would also wrench my peepers from the screen. I would stare at my floor and become obsessed with my shoes.

“Look into my eyes,” he would say. “No!”, I would yell back. Such is the power of childhood telly. It glued you in place.

I could simply not have watched. But this was an era of television where you hardly had options. There were only two places to watch kids' TV: CBBC or CITV. Programmes were only on for a few hours of the day (let the record show that I still remember the schedule off by heart, right up until The Simpsons at 6pm).

Being terrified of a villain was one thing, but being out of the loop in the school playground because you hadn’t followed the latest plotlines was somehow worse. Even if you quaked in your boots, you toughed it out to stay relevant.

The magic of Hardiman’s acting lay in the way he relished making your worst nightmare feel like a reality — a waking horror grasping through your TV set into your living room.

Headteachers, to children at that age, are already an unsettling presence. Holed up in a foreboding study at the top of the school all day. Only visible if you’ve done something disruptive or have been kicked out of class. Hardiman leant into it.

He was the epitome of everything you most feared. The monotone voice he would speak to the students chilled me to my core: “idle chatter is an inefficient use of energy”.

Then there was the fact that you weren’t able to win him over with good grades; that he relished in setting difficult exam questions; that he delighted in watching children fail. Who among us has not thought that our teachers are out to get us? In the Demon Headmaster, the rot went right to the top.

In tributes to Hardiman following his death, those who have worked with him have highlighted how his good natured and kind character was a complete juxtaposition to the person he was playing. He was a man of many masks.

In an interview with Digital Spy he recounted being approached for the role for the first time. "I thought, 'What a horrible character. How lovely. A real villain of a piece.’ Why not?”

What a legacy. You couldn’t take your eyes off him, and you couldn't get him out of your head, which feels like the truest tribute of all. After all, all these years later, it’s what he would have wanted.