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Cribbins, Bernard (1928-)

Actor, Presenter

Main image of Cribbins, Bernard (1928-)

Born in Oldham on 29 December 1928, Bernard Cribbins was a student player in Oldham Rep aged just 14 and stayed there for eight years, becoming established in theatre and variety. He made his West End debut in A Comedy of Errors in 1956 and by the late 1950s was taking small, varied roles in films like musical farce Tommy the Toreador (d. John Paddy Carstairs, 1959) and war picture Dunkirk (d. Leslie Norman, 1958). Early television appearances included Play of the Week: 'The Night of the Big Heat' (ITV, tx. 14/6/60) and minor guest spots in popular series like Interpol Calling (ITV, 1959-60). A succession of novelty hit records, written by friend Ted Dicks, made him a nationally-known star and he had three records in the pop charts in 1962; Hole in the Ground, Right Said Fred and Gossip Calypso.

Soon Cribbins was in great demand. There were starring roles in a succession of entries in the BBC's Comedy Playhouse anthology; 'Visiting Day' (tx. 2/2/62), 'Impasse' (tx. 15/3/63), 'Here I Come, Whoever I Am' (tx. 11/6/65) and 'Judgement Day For Elijah Jones' (tx. 7/6/66). Big series of the day included The Avengers (ITV, 1961-9), where he guested twice ('The Girl from Auntie' and 'Look - Stop Me...'). British cinema was swinging and Cribbins starred in various big screen entertainments including two mid-60s Carry On instalments, Carry On Jack and Carry On Spying (both d. Gerald Thomas), at a time when the series still demanded a modicum of acting ability. Other comic romps included Two Way Stretch (d. Robert Day, 1960), The Mouse on the Moon (d. Richard Lester, 1963) and star-studded 'modern silent' The Sandwich Man (d. Robert Hartford-Davis, 1966). Comedy aside, there was Hammer's remake of H. Rider Haggard's She (d. Robert Day, 1965), co-starring with Peter Cushing. They were reunited in juvenile adventure romp Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD (d. Gordon Flemyng, 1966), Cribbins playing comic policeman hero Tom Campbell beside Cushing's Doctor Who. Star status was underlined at the end of the decade with television sketch show Cribbins (ITV, 1969-70), written by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke.

The start of the 1970s brought a BAFTA-nominated film role, as genial station porter Perks in children's classic The Railway Children (d. Lionel Jeffries, 1970), cementing an association with children's entertainment in this decade. His first reading on Jackanory (BBC, 1965-96) had been 'Harlequinade' in 1966 and he went on to become the storytelling series' most prolific reader, with 111 appearances to 1993. Best known were Joan Aiken's tales of Arabel and pet raven Mortimer (who knew just two phrases: "Aaaaak!" and "Nevermore!"). Jackanory made Cribbins a BBC Children's face and voice. He narrated The Wombles (BBC, 1973-5), hosted the first three series of charades-style celebrity game Star Turn (BBC, 1976-81), appeared in the Helen of Troy musical The Great Big Groovy Horse (BBC, 1973?), was the Centipede in panto James and the Giant Peach (BBC, tx. 28/12/76) and regularly featured in Christmas jamboree All-Star Record Breakers (BBC, 1974-81). On commercial children's television he narrated animations Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings (ITV, 1976) and Moschops (ITV, 1983) and was Jolly Jack in Worzel Gummidge (ITV, 1979-81). In a similar line he voiced the animated Tufty road safety adverts, was British Telecom's chirpy cartoon advertising mascot Buzby and appeared shrunk to 00 gauge in adverts for Hornby trains.

Outside children's television he fronted sketch show Get the Drift (BBC, 1971; 1976), appeared numerous times in The Good Old Days (BBC 1953-83) and took guest parts in series including Space:1999 (ITV, 1975-77). His most repeated performance has to be the spoon salesman Hutchinson in Fawlty Towers 'The Hotel Inspectors' (BBC, tx. 10/10/75).

Cribbins confirmed his acting credentials with a number of comedy lead roles in the 1980s. He was Cuffy the tinker in pastoral comedy drama The Shillingbury Tales (ITV, 1980-81) and the character spun off into his own series, Cuffy (ITV, 1983). There was also a straight title role in television crime feature Dangerous Davies: The Last Detective (ITV, 1981). Two more sitcom leads followed - he played Seth Raven, village odd job man in Langley Bottom (ITV, 1986), a part very similar to Cuffy, and was Ron Archer, a man renovating a derelict pier in High and Dry (ITV, 1987).

Into his sixties, he continued to be a popular entertainer on stage, made television appearances in the likes of Noel's House Party (BBC, 1991-99) and became a leading name in audiobook readings. In recent years he's kept busy with semi-regular television guest roles as cantankerous sorts like Wally Bannister in Coronation Street (in 2003), Gavin Hinchcliffe in Last of the Summer Wine (BBC, 1973- ) and Frank in Down to Earth (BBC, 2000- ), plus a film appearance in 2003 comedy feature Blackball (d. Mel Smith).

Alistair McGown

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Crooks in Cloisters (1964)Crooks in Cloisters (1964)

Light-hearted comedy in which a gang of thieves pose as monks

Thumbnail image of Cup Fever (1965)Cup Fever (1965)

A boys' football team triumphs over adversity

Thumbnail image of Railway Children, The (1970)Railway Children, The (1970)

The definitive version of E.Nesbit's classic novel

Thumbnail image of Tufty: Ice Cream Van (1973)Tufty: Ice Cream Van (1973)

Road safety advice courtesy of Tufty the squirrel

Thumbnail image of Wrong Arm of The Law, The (1962)Wrong Arm of The Law, The (1962)

Imaginative crime comedy with Peter Sellers in his last wholly British film

Thumbnail image of Fawlty Towers (1975, 79)Fawlty Towers (1975, 79)

John Cleese as manic hotelier Basil Fawlty in Britain's greatest sitcom

Thumbnail image of Good Old Days, The (1953-83)Good Old Days, The (1953-83)

Vintage variety show, with even the audience in Edwardian dress

Thumbnail image of Jackanory (1965-96)Jackanory (1965-96)

Long-running BBC children's story-telling series

Thumbnail image of Wombles, The (1973-75, 1998-99)Wombles, The (1973-75, 1998-99)

Much-loved animated series about the tidy creatures of Wimbledon Common

Thumbnail image of Worzel Gummidge (1979-81)Worzel Gummidge (1979-81)

Children's series with Jon Pertwee as the living scarecrow

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