When last night’s BAFTAs ceremony paid tribute to the film figures we lost in the past year, there was one name that was conspicuous by its absence. “Where the hell,” a thousand voices suddenly cried out on Twitter, “is Bernard Cribbins?”
And it’s a good point. The hugely loved actor, whose death in July of 2022 prompted an outpouring of affection, absolutely should have been recognised. When questioned about the omissions a representative from BAFTA tweeted: “With limited time in our broadcast it isn’t possible to honour all those who have sadly passed away. Bernard features in our online records and given his influential work in TV, he will be considered for inclusion in the next Television Awards broadcast”.
Fair point. Bernard Cribbins probably is best known for TV. Modern viewers will know him for his role as Wilfred Mott, the grandfather of Catherine Tate’s Donna in Doctor Who, a part in which he was absolutely magnificent – the moment he begs David Tennant not to die in 2010’s The End of Time is as powerful as anything nominated for this year’s movie gongs. But his career reaches back far further than noughties sci-fi, and it included several notable movie appearances.
Most famously, Bernard Cribbins appeared as the loveable Mr Perks in the beloved 1970 classic The Railway Children; probably the most memorable character in the film. He’s wonderful – heartbreaking and funny and mischievous. He’s the heart of that piece. Years before he was cast in modern Doctor Who he was marvellous in the non-canon 1966 big screen outing Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D, playing opposite Peter Cushing’s Doctor (check his comic timing in this scene).
He was in the surrealist James Bond comedy Casino Royal in 1967, was an occasional part of the Carry On Team (Carry On Jack, Carry On Spying and Carry On Columbus, though the less said about that one the better), and starred in a slew of great British comedies – opposite Diana Dors in The Counterfeit Constable, alongside Barbara Windsor in Crooks In the Cloisters (a Carry On in all but name). Cribbins continued to have small movie roles for the rest of his life, most recently in Mandy Fletcher’s British Pug comedy Patrick.
The latter half of his career focused more on television, that’s undeniable true, but in those roles he was so good. His rheumy-eyed, brilliantly funny and brilliantly sad performance in Doctor Who is the highlight, but he was memorable every single time he was on screen, from narrating The Wombles to guest spots in everything from Tales of the Unexpected to Midsomer Murders to Coronation Street. Always likeable. Always funny. He charmed you.