Bernard Cribbins is a legend. You may now be thinking I’m prone to hyperbole but I’m not. There is simply no other word to describe him.
Look – he was the voice of The Wombles, the singer of ‘Right Said Fred’ (that’s the bouncy little 1960s tune about moving a piano, not the PVC-trouser wearing, muscle bound brothers gyrating to ‘I’m Too Sexy’) a spoon salesman in Fawlty Towers and he appeared in two completely different eras of Doctor Who. You can’t disagree with me, can you?
Born in Derker, Oldham in December 1928, Cribbins’ career has been going strong ever since he started acting at the age of 14, beginning in repertory theatre in his home town. He had become a successful stage actor by the time he was in his twenties and began appearing in films in the 1950s. His first television performance came in 1960 – an episode of black and white crime drama Interpol Calling.
In 1962 Cribbins teamed up with prodigious record producer George Martin (his later work with a fairly famous UK band gave him the honorary title ‘the fifth Beatle’) to release two singles: ‘The Hole in the Ground’, which told of an angry road worker who ends up filling said hole with a man who is complaining about it and the aforementioned ‘Right Said Fred’ which I defy anybody not to sing along to (‘And so we had a cup of tea…’). Both ditties made the top ten. One further track ‘Gossip Calypso’, which was also released in the same year, made number 25.
Three top thirty singles in the 1960s – it was a bold move then, I feel, to release an album called ‘The Best of Bernard Cribbins’ in 1970, but as the man can do no wrong in my eyes I am sure that the other eleven tracks that feature on it are all marvellous. Plus, Bernard is wearing a lovely pair of all-in-one long johns plus some stout walking boots on the cover of the record. The man is a genius.
After many minor film roles, Cribbins made his debut in that most British of institutions: the Carry On series. He played Albert Poop-Decker in Carry On Jack in 1963, the first one to be filmed in historical costumes, but one that most of the main Carry On crew (with the exception of Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey) were absent from. The following year he took on the guise of Agent Harold Crump in Carry On Spying and 28 years after that, in 1992, he took part in the final film in the collection: Carry On Columbus. He may have wished he hadn’t, of course, when it was voted the worst British film ever in a 2004 poll conducted of film actors, writers, directors and technicians.
He appeared in The Avengers in both 1966 and1968 and he also began a long-standing relationship with children’s story show Jackanory in 1966, appearing as the storyteller in 114 episodes. This was more than anybody else notched up over the programme’s run.
In 1966 he appeared in the less-than-catchily-titled Doctor Who film ‘Daleks – Invasion Earth: 21.50 A.D.’, playing Tom Campbell, a companion to Peter Cushing’s Time Lord. Bernard got to travel in the TARDIS and get captured by a squad of Robomen as well as save the Earth from the Daleks’ dastardly plan to control it; far more fun back then when the special effects were created out of plastic bottles and tissue paper as opposed to today’s CGI…
41 years later he was again to bump into the Gallifreyan space traveller, playing Wilfred Mott in the 2007 Christmas episode ‘Voyage of the Damned’, before becoming a more permanent character (still as Mott) in the series that was broadcast in 2008. For the Christmas and New Year special that spanned the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 Mott became David Tennant’s Doctor’s companion before he regenerated into Matt Smith.
Between 1969 and 1970 Bernard starred in 12 episodes, over two series, of his own comedy sketch show Cribbins, but moreover, around this time he became the narrator for The Tufty Club road safety adverts which are still remembered and well-loved today. He was also the voice of Busby, the Post Office mascot and appeared as a tiny version of himself in advertisements for Hornby toy trains.
The 1970s were a busy time for Cribbins and these are just some of the highlights: a part in 1970’s The Railway Children, playing station porter Albert Perks and in 1973 Elisabeth Beresford’s delightful books about a band of furry recyclers on Wimbledon Common were adapted for our screens, with Cribbins’ distinctive voice fitting the Wombles’ eccentric lifestyle perfectly.
1975 saw the hapless Mr Hutchinson being victimised by the one and only Basil Fawlty in the Fawlty Towers episode ‘The Hotel Inspectors’ whilst from ’76 to ’78 he became a famous face as well as a voice on children’s television, by hosting panel games Star Turn and Star Turn Challenge. In 1978 he took the role of Jolly Jack in series four of scarecrow tragi-comedy Worzel Gummidge.
Skipping through the years and Bernard isn’t letting his advancing age stop him adding to his CV. In the past decade or so he’s been part of popular shows such as Last of the Summer Wine, Coronation Street, Down to Earth and Midsomer Murders amongst others, as well as releasing yet another compilation album, ‘The Very Best of Bernard Cribbins’…ahem.
Cribbins has been (and still is) such a familiar part of British television, stage and film, for both children and adults alike, that it’s only right he has been awarded for his work to both audiences. In 2009 he was given a Special Award at the British Academy Children’s Awards; this was presented to him by the actress who played Wilfred Mott’s granddaughter in Doctor Who, Catherine Tate. Two years later, in the 2011 Birthday Honours List, Cribbins was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his services to drama.
Bernard Cribbins has now had over 70 years in the entertainment business. Phew.