The death has been announced, on Thursday, of Bernard Cribbins, one of Britain’s finest character actors. In his long career he was also a comedian and a children’s TV presenter.
Bernard Joseph Cribbins was born at Oldham, Lancashire on December 29, 1928. Oldham is a town that has always punched well above its weight, in the entertainment stakes being the birthplace of Sarah Lancashire, Eric Sykes, and Barclay James Harvest.
Like Roy Hudd who died 2 years ago, Cribbins was a massive star in Britain but virtually unknown outside these islands. After leaving school at 13, something that was far from unusual at that time, he worked for the Oldham Repertory Theatre. Although too young to serve in the Second World War, he couldn’t avoid National Service and served in what was then Palestine.
His name first appeared in the London Times on November 23, 1955 when a critic reviewed Mayor’s Nest, which was performed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch the previous day: “Mr Bernard Cribbins manages to find a coolly earnest fecklessness for the veterinary English mayor”.
The following year saw the first of his many entries in the Internet Movie Database. He appeared in two TV series: The Black Tulip and David Copperfield. A number of bit parts in films followed, some uncredited, followed by regular work in both TV and cinema.
His first leading role, as it were, came in 1962 when he recorded a number of comedy songs including Gossip Calypso and Right, Said Fred. The latter, about three workmen trying to move a piano, reached number 10 in the UK singles chart and its title, sans comma, was purloined by brothers Fred and Richard Fairbrass in 1989 as their band name.
Although he would never have been considered for the role of James Bond, Cribbins played a taxi driver in the 1967 Bond film Casino Royale, and he was never short of work. His autobiography (written with James Hogg) recognised this in its title: Bernard Who? 75 YEARS OF DOING JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING; he did though have his own brief TV series in 1969-70; called simply Cribbins. Bob Todd, another fine character actor, appeared alongside him in all 12 episodes.
In the 1970s, he worked as a narrator, including on The Wombles, a children’s TV series.
In 1983, he co-starred with Richard Briers in the Whitehall farce Run For Your Wife. Briers played a bigamist who having been the victim of a violent crime, saw his life unravelling due to the police investigation; Cribbins played what the Financial Times critic described as “a gullibly co-operative neighbour”.
After that he did a lot more TV, including appearing in ten episodes of Doctor Who between 2007 and 2010. He had actually appeared in a Dr Who film in 1968. Lately he had moved into podcasts; his last IMDb entry being for Dr. Who & The Daleks: The Official Story of the Films, this year.
In 2009, he received a special BAFTA award and in 2011 he was awarded the OBE.
Bernard Cribbins was married to the same woman for over sixty years. His wife, Gillian, died in October last year.