Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Late Great Bernard Cribbins

Prolific character actor and singer Bernard Cribbins appeared in everything from feature films to television. He appeared in such films as The Mouse on the Moon (1963) and The Railway Children (1970). He was a regular storyteller on Jackanory and the narrator on The Wombles. He appeared on TV shows from The Avengers to Doctor Who. He even recorded hit singles ("A Hole in the Ground" and "Right Said Fred"). Sadly, Bernard Cribbins died on July 27 2022 at the age of 93.

Bernard Cribbins was born on December 29 1928 in Oldham, Lancashire.  He grew up in poverty during the Depression. His father was a plumber's mate and "jack of all trades" and his mother was a corduroy weaver and both had difficulty finding work. With money tight in his family, young Bernard Cribbins went to work at the Oldham Coliseum in 1943. It was the theatre's director, Douglas Emery, who took note of his talent and thus launched his career in entertainment. With the exception of his national service in 1947 with the Parachute Regiment in Aldershot, Hampshire and later Palestine, Bernard Cribbins remained with the Oldham Coliseum for years.

In 1949 Bernard Cribbins left the Oldham Coliseum and played seasons with the Piccolo Players at Weston-super-Mare, Somerset and later played at Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester and the new Queen’s theatre in Hornchurch, Essex. In 1956 he made his debut on the West End in a musical version of The Comedy of Errors at the Arts theatre. That same year he made his television debut in the mini-series David Copperfield. In the late Fifties he guest starred on the TV shows The Vise, Theatre Night, The Army Game, Interpol Calling, International Detective, and ITV Play of the Week. He appeared in the TV movie Return to the Sea. He made his film debut in 1957 in Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst. He appeared in the movies Davy (1958), Dunkirk (1958), Make Mine a Million (1959), Tommy the Toreador (1959), Two Way Stretch (1960), The World of Suzy Wong (1960), and Visa to Canton (1960).

In the Sixties Bernard Cribbins began his long stint appearing as a storyteller on the BBC children's show Jackanory. From 1969 to 1970 he had his own TV show, Cribbins. He guest starred on the shows Winning Windows, BBC Sunday-Night Play, Drama 61-67, The Troubleshooters, Mr. Aitch, Theatre 625, Armchair Theatre, The Avengers, Comedy Playhouse, and It's Tommy Cooper. He appeared in the movies The Best of Enemies (1961), Nothing Barred (1961), The Girl on the Boat (1962), The Fast Lady (1962), The Wrong Arm of the Law (1963), The Mouse on the Moon (1963), Carry On Jack (1964), Carry On Jack (1965), Crooks in Cloisters (1964), Allez France! (1964), A Home of Your Own (1965), She (1965), Cup Fever (1965), You Must Be Joking! (1965), The Sandwich Man (1966), Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966), A Ghost of a Chance (1967), Casino Royale (1967), Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River (1968), and The Railway Children (1970). During the Sixties Bernard Cribbins also recorded a series of singles for Parlophone, including "Folk Song," "The Hole in the Ground," "Right Said Fred," and "Gossip Calypso."

In the Seventies Bernard Cribbins was the narrator on the children's TV show The Wombles. He continued appearing frequently as a storyteller on Jackanory. He starred on the series Get the Drift. He appeared in the mini-series Arrivano i mostri. He guest starred on the shows Ooh La La!, Fawlty Towers, The Sooty Show, Jackanory Playhouse, Space: 1999, BBC Play of the Month, and Once Upon a Classic. He appeared in the TV movies The Confederacy of Wives, Great Big Groovy Horse, James and the Giant Peach, The Plank, and Dangerous Davies: The Last Detective. He appeared in the movies Frenzy (1972), Picassos äventyr (1978), and The Water Babies (1978).

In the Eighties he continued to appear as a storyteller on Jackanory. He was the narrator on the show Bertie the Bat. He starred on the TV shows Cuffy, Moschops, Langley Bottom, High & Dry, and Edward and Friends.He guest starred on the shows Shillingbury Tales (on which he originated the role of Cuffy), Worzel Gummidge, Tales of the Unexpected, Alice in Wonderland, Super Gran, and The Rus Abbot Show. He appeared in the TV movies It's Your Move and When We are Married.

In the Nineties Bernard Cribbins continued to appear as a storyteller on Jackanory. He guest starred on the shows Tonight at 8:30; I, Lovett; Noel's House Party; and Dalziel and Pascoe. He was a guest voice on the animated shows Dennis the Menace and The Canterbury Tales. He appeared in the movie Christopher Columbus (1992).

In the Naughts Bernard Cribbins had recurring roles on Coronation Street, Down to Earth, and Doctor Who. He guest starred on the shows Last of the Summer Wine, Barbara, and Catching the Impossible. He appeared in the movie Blackball.

In the Teens he played the title role on the children's TV series Old Jack's Boat. He also appeared as Old Jack on its spinoffs Salty's Waggy Tales and Old Jack's Boat: Rockpool Tales. He guest starred on Midsomer Murders, New Tricks, and a new version of The Wombles. He appeared in the TV movie A Midsomer's Night Dream. He was The Voice in the movie A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012) and appeared in the movies The Bed-Sitting Room (2016) and Patrick (2018). In 2021 he appeared in the podcast series The Jungle Book: The Mowgli Tales.

For people in the United Kingdom of a certain age there was a time that Bernard Cribbins was very nearly ubiquitous. In any given year he might appear on several television shows, not to mention a movie or two. Americans of a certain age had to be familiar with much of his work as well, given how the many movies in which he appeared in the Sixties. On either side of the Pond, Bernard Cribbins was then something of a comforting figure. People (particularly my fellow Americans) might not remember his name, but they knew they would be treated to a great performance.

And Bernard Cribbins gave many great performances, so many that to single out only a few, while necessary in a blog, doesn't seem fair. In The Mouse on the Moon he played the Prime Minister's son, educated in England and determined to become an astronaut. In Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., he played Tom Campbell, the police officer who finds himself face to face with Daleks. In The Railway Children he played the station porter Albert Perks. Of course, Bernard Cribbins appeared frequently on television. Among his best performances was The Avengers episode "The Girl From Auntie," on which he played Arkwright, a man who has formed a group of old ladies into a knitting circle. On a memorable episode of Fawlty Towers, he played a finicky spoon salesman. One of his best remembered roles was on Doctor Who. He played Wilfrid Mott, the grandfather of The Doctor's companion Donna Noble. Wilfrid was a bit eccentric, but also brave (once he took on Daleks with a paintball gun) and devoted to those he loved. Of course, in addition to Bernard Cribbins's acting career, he also recorded novelty songs. "The Hole in the Ground" and "Right Said Fred" remain classics to this day.

Bernard Cribbins was very prolific and he had a career that lasted decades. He was a talented actor with a gift for comedy, but who could also play drama very well. There can be no doubt that he will be remembered for years and years to come.

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