Bernard Cribbins was one of the most versatile and popular entertainers of his generation, managing to be a favorite on children’s television while also starring in the bawdy Carry On films.
He could turn to virtually any aspect of show business, from Shakespeare to pantomime, from soap operas to pop music.
His varied talents meant he was always in demand whether the role called for a straight or comedic performer, and during the 1970s and 1980s he was never far from the television screens.
Cribbins, who died aged 93, was particularly known for his work on The Railway Children and Jackanory.
Dame Floella Benjamin, a dean of children’s television, described him as a “treasure for the children of our nation”.
Bernard Cribbins was born in Oldham in December 1928, to a World War I veteran father, John Edward, and mother Ethel.
After leaving school at the age of 13, he entered the world of showbiz and joined the Oldham Repertory Theatre, where he remained for eight years, during which time he entered his National Service with the Parachute Regiment.
After more repertoire work in London, Liverpool and Manchester, he made his West End debut in 1956, playing both Dromios in A Comedy Of Errors.
This paved the way for more comedic roles on stage, while Cribbins flexed his creative muscles in other areas as well.
His film work during this time includes 1963’s The Wrong Arm Of The Law, which also starred Peter Sellers, as well as two Carry On films – Jack and Spying, the latter marking Dame Barbara Windsor’s first entry into the franchise.
Cribbins also appeared in Carry On Columbus in 1992, the final film in the series.
And he proved that acting wasn’t his only talent.
His comedy singles Hole In The Ground and Right, Said Fred both made the top 10, while Gossip Calypso was another top 30 hit.
He was eternally proud of his musical output and in 2009 told the PA News Agency: “Hole In The Ground…here’s a little story for you – Noel Coward chose it as one of his Desert Island records. .
“He chose it as his only record if he could only have one.”
Cribbins had a small role in the 1967 Bond parody film Casino Royale before landing the role for which he is perhaps most famous.
In 1970 he starred in the film adaptation of The Railway Children, playing station porter Albert Perks.
On television, he narrated all 60 episodes of The Wombles and made no less than 111 appearances on the children’s storytelling show Jackanory.
While becoming a well-known face to young viewers, Cribbins continued to appear regularly on more adult-oriented shows.
His later roles include Dalziel And Pascoe, Last Of The Summer Wine and Coronation Street.
And in 2006 came a return to the Doctor Who universe, having played a companion to the Time Lord in the 1966 film Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD.
He played Wilfred Mott in the 2007 Christmas special alongside David Tennant as the doctor and Kylie Minogue as the companion.
Another appearance came in the Doctor Who two-part specials of 2009-10.
There was talk that he had been overlooked as a possible doctor in his youth, but when asked, he deflected the question with his typical wit.
He said, “I think I wasn’t tall enough. That was it. I would have tripped over this scarf the whole time.
Cribbins, who played a spoon salesman opposite John Cleese in Fawlty Towers and worked with Alfred Hitchcock on the 1972 thriller Frenzy, was made an OBE in 2011 for his services to the theatre.
Three years later, he received the JM Barrie Award for his work on children’s television.
Joe Godwin, then director of children’s programming at the BBC, said: “Bernard played a big part in so many of our childhoods.”
Cribbins returned to the storytelling format with the preschool series Old Jack’s Boat in 2013, giving a new generation the gift of their storytelling skills.
The actor was cast in a remake of Dad’s Army, to play the role of Private Godfrey, but was replaced by Timothy West when Cribbins left the role for personal reasons.
Working well into his 80s, Cribbins said, “I love it. I can not stop. Why should I?”
Cribbins married his wife Gill in 1955 but, for a man loved by generations of children, it was a painful twist of fate that the couple could have none.
“We lost one quite early on and that’s the only time we’ve come close,” he told the Mirror in 2018.
“That was a long time ago now. It’s just one of those things and I consider myself very lucky to have gotten a job like Jackanory, which has been wonderfully popular and gives you a very warm feeling to think about. everyone who looked at him as a child.
In May, reports surfaced that the actor was seen on set alongside David Tennant and Catherine Tate for Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary celebrations next year.
Cribbins’ wife of 66 years, Gill, died in 2021.