Born in 1928 Bernard Cribbins career has spanned over 70 years. A career that has seen him appear alongside Peter Sellers, become part of the Carry On team, become a hero to Whovian’s, the voice of children’s television to a generation and have two top ten hits.
Starting his career on the stage in London’s West End he soon became a popular comedic performer in plays such as Not Now Darling and Run for Your Wife. He also became a regular in the revue And Another Thing. This would lead to him releasing a number of songs into the UK Chart. These included Hole in the Ground and Right Said Fred that both went top 10 in the UK and were popular in Australia and Canada. Hole in the Ground even went on to be the favourite song of playwright and songwriter Noel Coward who partially praised Bernard’s performance.
In film Bernard appeared in three of the Carry On film series. His last being the ill fated reboot Carry On Columbus. He became a regular fixture in British film often providing a comic relief. He particular praise for his role as station porter Albert Perks in the 1970s film The Railway Children. He also appeared alongside Peter Sellers in both 1963s The Wrong Arm of the Law and 1967s Casio Royale; both times Sellers had requested that Bernard be given a role in these films. For a long time one of his most famous roles would be Tom Chappell in the 1966 non-cannon Doctor Who movie Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD. Despite negative reviews at the time it has since found a fan base amongst hardcore Doctor Who fans and gave Cribbins a chance to act alongside Peter Cushing.
Throughout the 1970s Bernard was one of the voices of Children’s Television. Narrations of The Mousehole Cat and Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings gained him new fans, whilst his performance as the Water Rat in the BBC radio adaptation of The Wind in the Willows earned him praise. It would as the voice of The Wombles Cribbins would be best remembered for. He’s years in comedy gave his performance a charm and sense of fun that even adults enjoyed. Between 1966 and 1991 he also made 114 appearances reading stories on the BBCs Jackanory. It was noted he was so successful as he was one of the first Children’s Television actors not to talk down to the children. Amongst his many fans were Mark Radcliffe and Marc Riley, who gave Bernard a regular slot on their 1990’s BBC Radio 1 show where he would explain fake folk traditions made up by both himself and the two Mark’s.
A regular since the early 1960s Bernard appeared as both a guest star and regular in a number of TV shows. Despite a few more serious roles such as in an episode of The Avengers these were mainly comedic roles. He earned praise for his performances in Shillingbury Tales, so much so he would a spin-off series called Cuffy. Appearances in Worzel Gummidge, Star Turn, Great Big Groovy House, Dalziel and Pascoe, Last of the Summer Wine, Coronation Street and Old Jack’s Boat, in which in starred, kept him a almost fixed presence on our screens. One of his most notable guest appearances was as Mr Hutchinson in Fawlty Towers, sharing a considerable amount of screen time with John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty. Cleese later admitted struggling to keep a straight face during recording as he found Cribbins performance hilarious and beyond what had been written.
After a brief appearance in the 2007 Doctor Who Christmas special show runner Russell T Davies decided to expand Bernard’s role making him the granddad of companion Donna Noble. Cribbins character Wilfred Mott is well loved amongst Whovian’s. This has led to Bernard becoming a major draw at Comic Cons worldwide. Bernard even had input into the character. Proud of the fact he had never fired a gun in anger during his national service Bernard asked for this to be represented in an episode of Doctor Who. As Wilfred is almost mocked for being a solider too late for the war and one that had never even fired a gun he replies ‘there’s no shame in that’.
In 2009 he appeared on a Doctor Who special of the long running music panel show Never Mind the Buzzcoks. This memorable appearance saw Cribbins hold his own against comedians and team captains Phil Jupitus and Noel Fielding; so much so that at one point Noel offers a writing role to Bernard on his surreal show The Mighty Boosh. In a later interview Noel stated that although he was joking, part of him really did want Bernard to come and write for the show.
Bernard Cribbins will be 91 this year and he is still working. In November of last year it was announced that he would portray Private Godfrey in the re-creations of the lost Dad’s Army episodes. He has also stated he would love to see Wilfred return to Doctor Who. Now who wouldn’t want to see that?