Bernard Crib­bins

YOURS (UK) - - Contents - By Katharine Wootton

On the re­lease of his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, we chat to the won­der­ful Bernard Crib­bins about his leg­endary ca­reer, ap­proach­ing 90 and bal­let fun on the set of The Rail­way Chil­dren

Lis­ten­ing to Bernard Crib­bins talk about his life is just like sit­ting back in front of the telly on our mother’s knee hear­ing him read a story for an episode of the BBC chil­dren’s show, Jack­anory. A mas­ter sto­ry­teller who feels like a great friend or a kindly un­cle from the mo­ment he opens his mouth, it’s no won­der he’s made his name play­ing some of the most love­able act­ing roles, go­ing from friendly Mr Perks, of The Rail­way Chil­dren, to the voice of the en­tire Wombles fam­ily.

Speak­ing to us as he re­leases his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Bernard Who? 75 Years of Do­ing Just About Ev­ery­thing, Bernard is full of mem­o­ries and anec­dotes from a jam-packed ca­reer.

From a work­ing-class up­bring­ing in a two-up, two-down in Old­ham with a tin bath and out­side loo, Bernard made his way into stage man­age­ment as a young man – where he met his wife of 63 years, Gil­lian – and even­tu­ally into act­ing. With a brief stint as a record­ing

‘I’ve loved the va­ri­ety of my life – that was al­ways the great ap­peal of be­ing an ac­tor’

artist too, mak­ing the hits Right Said Fred and Hole in the Ground, hun­dreds of roles on stage, TV and film fol­lowed. He worked with the big­gest stars in the busi­ness, form­ing life­long friend­ships with the likes of Lionel Jef­fries, Barry Cryer, David Niven – “a lovely, lovely man” he says – and Peter Sell­ers, of whom he does a great Goon im­pres­sion as we chat.

“I’ve been very lucky,” he says. “I’ve loved the va­ri­ety of my life – that was al­ways the great ap­peal of be­ing an ac­tor.” With a CV brim­ming with all kinds of roles, se­ri­ous, comic and oth­er­wise, he ad­dresses the fact he is per­haps best known for his per­for­mances aimed at chil­dren.

“That was some­thing that just hap­pened, but I’m very glad about it as they’re a won­der­ful au­di­ence.

“The on­go­ing ap­plause, though, is when some mid­dle-aged gen­tle­man comes up to me and says ‘I loved the Wombles’, which is lovely and still some­times hap­pens to­day.

“Back when the show was on we also used to have chil­dren knock­ing on our front door say­ing please could you do Orinoco or Tober­mory and I’d do the voices for them.

“When I was asked to do The Wombles I had no idea of the enor­mity of what I was get­ting my­self into, but I re­ally have to give ev­ery credit to the writer El­iz­a­beth Beres­ford who’d writ­ten the char­ac­ters so beau­ti­fully, the voices I gave them just fell into place as I read them.”

The suc­cess of The Rail­way Chil­dren, too, took ev­ery­one by sur­prise as he says “you had a rookie di­rec­tor [Lionel Jef­fries] mak­ing a film with some pals, ba­si­cally. Or, at least, that’s how it started out.”

But Bernard has many happy mem­o­ries from his time film­ing that now iconic movie, our favourite, ref­er­enced in the book. “The lovely Jenny Agut­ter was not long out of bal­let school, so when she was stand­ing around wait­ing to film a scene she’d al­ways stand with her feet point­ing out­wards in the sec­ond po­si­tion. When­ever I saw her do­ing this I’d run up, stand be­side her and do the same.

‘A lot of the stuff I’ve done has al­ways been with a smile and if I make other peo­ple happy, then I’ll be very happy’

‘Ready for a pas de deux, Miss Agut­ter?’ “Ab­so­lutely Mr Crib­bins. Ready when you are. And a-one, a-two, a-three, a-four.”

Jack­anory was the other set­ting where we lost our hearts to Bernard’s unique charm, and he had a spe­cial tech­nique of help­ing this hap­pen. “Chil­dren like sto­ries in the first place and if they don’t, they love to have a story told to them. I’d al­ways look into the cam­era lens and imag­ine just one child sit­ting there wait­ing pa­tiently and ex­pec­tantly for a story and then I’d beckon them in and in agree­ment with the crew, the cam­era closed up a bit, draw­ing the child into the con­ver­sa­tion and then I’d say some­thing like ‘do you know what hap­pened last Tues­day? Where were you last Tues­day? Oh never mind. What hap­pened was…’ and we’d be off, the child sit­ting there re­ally ready to lis­ten.”

As Bernard ap­proaches his 90th birth­day this Christ­mas, I ask how he’s feel­ing about it. “I think I might just have to slow down a bit,” he says be­fore my very doubt­ful “re­ally?” makes him burst into a laugh and say, “ac­tu­ally, no I prob­a­bly won’t.” Re­veal­ing he’s still as busy as ever with work, he also says his big am­bi­tion is to be in a West­ern.

“I’m def­i­nitely not re­tired, it’s a dirty word and, be­sides, I’m fit and healthy, apart from a bit of back surgery I had last year which may have had some­thing to do with the parachut­ing I did dur­ing my Na­tional Ser­vice!”

All in all, though, at this re­flec­tive time of his life with the book out and his up­com­ing land­mark birth­day, he says what he hopes for most of all is that when peo­ple think of him they smile. “That might sound rather trite, but a lot of the stuff I’ve done has al­ways been with a smile and if

I make other peo­ple happy, then I’ll be very happy.”

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