THERE HE WAS, A-DIGGING THIS HOLE…
National treasure Bernard Cribbins has died aged 93, causing unanimous mourning in a way very few achieve. With a 70-year career spanning everything from comedies to Doctor Who to children’s TV, he became an omnipresent legend with generations of fans. It is a testament to his stature that the death of a nonagenarian could inundate Twitter to the point that the Tory race-to-the-bottom was secondary news.
Born to a working-class family in shoddy living conditions, his mother was a factory worker and his father settled debates by kicking people in the shins. Cribbins Sr. inspired young Bernard to try out acting, and he soon discovered a taste for the stage as a teenager playing bit parts with the Oldham Rep. His appetite was so strong that not even witnessing a fatal accident during a reprisal of the Macbeth swordfight (they used real swords back then instead of costlier props) could stop him!
His fast-rising career took a brief hiatus due to conscription, where he served in Palestine. Once back home he made his West End debut, honing his craft with Shakespeare and various comedies. This soon translated into a fruitful comedic career that included various Peter Sellers and Carry On films. His guest appearance in Fawlty Towers as a cheese salad-hungry spoon salesman who P-Offs Basil Fawlty (who mistook Cribbins’s character for a hotel inspector) was so hilarious that a take was ruined by John Cleese’s laughter! He recorded three charting novelty hits – “Hole in the Ground”, “Right Said Fred”, and the Trevor Peacock-penned “Gossip Calypso” – which were produced by George Martin, who later worked with another band IIRC. Cribbins left the music business by choice, not feeling novelties were a sustainable career, but did perform “Hole in the Ground” at Martin’s memorial service.
Cribbins wasn’t limited to comedy – he was practically everywhere, and always brought his A-game no matter the product. He did more serious roles with aplomb, including appearances in The Avengers, Corrie, and penultimate Hitchcock film Frenzy. Most prominent of all was his association with the Doctor Who franchise. He debuted in 1966 in the second and final Peter Cushing film, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., where he played Tom Campbell, a policeman who mistakenly stumbles into the TARDIS and helps Dr. Who free Earth from the Daleks. 41 years later, Cribbins regenerated to the Tennant-era Doctor Who world as Wilfred Mott, the loyal optimist grandfather to companion Donna Noble and a father figure companion to the Tenth Doctor. Wilfred was initially planned as a one-off character before the cancer death of Howard Attfield, who played Noble’s father, and Cribbins’s own wartime history was incorporated into the WWII veteran character. David Tennant, who was born after Cribbins’s Doctor Who debut, later named his son Wilfred. Just months ago Cribbins was spotted on the Doctor Who set, reprising Wilfred one last time for the upcoming 60th anniversary.
Fully cementing his beloved status was his ever-present role in children’s media. He played a station porter in popular family drama The Railway Children and was present in its emotional reunion scene. He voiced and narrated the fuzzy, environmentally-conscious Wombles in their stop-motion show, as well as road safety squirrel Tufty Fluffytail and post office bird Buzby. His 114 appearances as the narrator reading a children’s story in Jackanory were a series record. An adept fisherman in his spare time, his last recurring role was appropriately nautical as the titular captain in CBeebies programme Old Jack’s Boat. This gained him another generation of young fans in the mid-2010s. And really, if a half-century’s worth of people have fond childhood memories of you, then you know you’ve lived a good life.
Cribbins was so cherished that even a “he’s doing OK” tweet could bring applause, so recent news he was hospitalised was naturally cause for concern. Multiple players were on record as refusing to pick him, though he was nevertheless a popular pick, with 21 team selections. And I mean I picked Trebek two years ago so I can’t really judge. Those who opted for him include comedy/Who/TV theme teams, the crafty Pelican, Dead Weight, The Anfield Iron, and joker points for Permanent Kip and Pop goes the Wurzels.
29 December 1928 – 27 July 2022, aged 93
21 TEAMS (💀💀💀💀💀 5 POINTS, 🃏 (x2) 10 POINTS)