He was a beloved figure of children’s TV, notably narrating the original Wombles series in the 1970s.
28 July 2022
Children’s TV star and entertainer Bernard Cribbins has been remembered as a “creative genius” and a “legend” by those who worked with him following the news of his death aged 93.
The death of the veteran actor, who starred in the Carry On films, Doctor Who and the 1970 film The Railway Children, was announced on Thursday in a statement from his agent, Gavin Barker Associates.
Following the news, leading figures from the television industry, including Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies and Baroness Floella Benjamin, were among those paying tribute to the revered actor.
Davies wrote on Instagram that he was lucky to have known him Cribbins, saying the actor had “loved being in Doctor Who”, adding: “He said, ‘Children are calling me grandad in the street!’
“His first day was on location with Kylie Minogue, but all eyes, even Kylie’s, were on Bernard. He’d turned up with a suitcase full of props, just in case, including a rubber chicken. And what an actor. Oh, really though, what a wonderful actor.
“We once took him to the TV Choice Awards and sent him up on his own to collect the award, and the entire room stood up and cheered him.
“That’s a lovely memory. He’d phone up and say, ‘I’ve got an idea! What if I attack a Dalek with a paintball gun?!’ Okay, Bernard, in it went!
“He loved Gill with all his heart; he mentioned her in every conversation we ever had. A love story for the ages. I’m so lucky to have known him. Thanks for everything, my old soldier. A legend has left the world.”
Born in Oldham, Cribbins was revered for his versatility and became a favourite with young audiences all over the country as the narrator of The Wombles, as well as for more than 100 appearances on the children’s favourite, Jackanory.
After appearing on stage for many years, Cribbins made his film debut in 1957’s Davy, before going on to work alongside some of British cinema’s biggest names in films such as Two Way Stretch, She, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD and the 1967 version of Casino Royale.
In 1972, he played barman Felix Forsythe in director Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Frenzy, which revolved around the hunt for a serial killer in London.
He also starred in several Carry On movies and had roles in TV favourites Coronation Street and the revamped Doctor Who.
He went on to appear regularly in the Doctor Who TV series as Wilfred Mott, the grandfather of the Doctor’s companion Donna Noble, played by Catherine Tate.
Voyage Of The Damned, which was broadcast on Christmas Day in 2007, saw 13.3 million people tune in to watch the then-Doctor, David Tennant, battle to save the crew of a luxury space liner called the Titanic.
Cribbins featured in the episode alongside special guests including Kylie Minogue, Geoffrey Palmer, Clive Swift and Russell Tovey.
More recently, reports said he had been spotted on set alongside Tate and Tennant for Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary celebrations.
Fellow children’s TV presenter Lady Benjamin said she had “adored” working with Cribbins in the 1980s and described him as a “creative genius” who leaves a “lasting legacy”.
Off-screen, Cribbins enjoyed a successful musical career and had a number of hit records including 1962 comedy songs Hole In The Ground and Right Said Fred, both of which reached the UK singles chart top 10.
Hole In The Ground, about a dispute between a workman digging a hole and a busybody in a bowler hat, was one of playwright and actor Sir Noel Coward’s musical choices when he appeared on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs in 1963.
Arguably one of the roles he is most famous for was as station porter Albert Perks in The Railway Children, released in 1970.
The film adaptation of E Nesbit’s book chronicles the adventures of three children forced to move from London to Yorkshire after their father is imprisoned for being falsely accused of selling state secrets.
The film also starred a young Jenny Agutter and famously featured the tear-jerking moment at the film’s climax when Agutter’s character cries “daddy, my daddy” as they are reunited on a train platform.
In 2011 Cribbins received an OBE for services to drama for his long career.
The statement from Gavin Barker Associates said of Cribbins: “His career spanned seven decades with such diverse work ranging from films like The Railway Children and the Carry On series, hit 60s song Right Said Fred, a notorious guest on Fawlty Towers and narrating The Wombles.
“He worked well into his 90s, recently appearing in Doctor Who and the CBeebies series Old Jack’s Boat.
“He lost his wife of 66 years, Gill, last year.
“Bernard’s contribution to British entertainment is without question. He was unique, typifying the best of his generation, and will be greatly missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing and working with him.”
Musical theatre star Elaine Paige tweeted that she was “so very sad” that her “dear pal” had died.
She added: “We met on Anything Goes & kept our ‘Friendship’ for over 33 yrs. A very special man of many talents.
“Funny, kind, genuine, always had a smile on his face & a quip. One of the good guys. I will miss him so very much. RIP.”
Among Cribbins’ other credits were the lead role in CBeebies show Old Jack’s Boat and in the 1960s he narrated the Tufty Fluffytale series of public information films about road safety.
Sherlock and The League Of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss said in a tweet tribute of Cribbins that he was “a gifted comic actor with an incredible seam of pathos and real heart”.