Marking the passing of British acting legend Bernard Cribbins, RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES highlights some of his work from the spookier side of film and TV.
The surprising thing in looking back on Bernard Cribbins’ career is that, unlike so many of his British contemporaries his feet never really strayed into the great British horror tradition as such. More’s the pity as he would have been a great addition to any Amicus anthology, although he did provide solid support in Hammer’s She (1965) and a memorable turn as pub landlord Felix in Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972).
That said, Cribbins notched up a 50-plus year association with that great British institution of sci-fi, horror and various points beyond, Doctor Who. He was an important link between the character’s big-screen incarnation, played by Peter Cushing (Cribbins co-starred in Cushing’s second outing, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966)), and David Tennant’s tenure for the BBC, playing Wilfred Mott between 2007 and 2010.
Even this year, Cribbins had been a participant in a podcast series looking at the production of the Doctor’s two 60’s cinema outings, cementing his place in the ongoing saga’s lore.
Cribbins also held the distinction of being the most heavily featured storyteller on the BBC’s Jackanory (1965-96), notching up 112 credits. It’s safe to say that a large number of those reading this right now will have kicked off their formative love of literature with Cribbins spinning a captivating tale.
Also worth a mention here is the Childrens’ Film Foundation production, A Ghost Of A Chance (1967), in which Cribbins was part of a crew employed to demolish an historic building – a group of children enlist a group of friendly ghosts to help them stop the wreckers.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Cribbins’ brilliant work narrating The Wombles (1973-75), which continues to entertain almost fifty years after its original broadcast debut. Of particular note in these parts is one particular episode which left quite an impression on this writer, Orinoco And The Ghost (first broadcast 21 June 1973), in which our daydreaming hero, unnerved by Uncle Bulgaria reading out a ghost story, is afraid to go out onto the common at night to retrieve his tidy bag – Quite right too, as Wellington takes advantage of the situation to creep-out poor Orinoco.
Sadly, an intriguing item from Cribbins’ filmography is languishing in the missing-presumed-wiped files: He took the lead role in a BBC adaptation of The Canterville Ghost, broadcast in the run-up to Christmas 1962. With support from Fay Compton, Ruth Dunning, Derek Francis, Fabia Drake and Samantha Eggar, this sounds like a real festive treat, and we can only hope that a copy might be lying undiscovered in an archive somewhere.
There’s a sad, somewhat poignant timing in his passing just as the follow-up to one of his biggest film successes, The Railway Children (1970) is released. It would be fair to say that British film and television will be just that bit less fun without Bernard Cribbins around.
Bernard Cribbins, 29 December 1928- 28 July 2022