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Bernard Cribbins
Photograph: BBC

5 Bernard Cribbins moments that will melt your heart

The late Doctor Who star was an actor and storyteller supreme

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

When word came through that Bernard Cribbins OBE had died, it felt like we’d all lost a kindly uncle. The Oldham-born actor and one-time Time Lord has left a legacy of roles that acted as waypoints for whole generations of Brits growing up. He was the voice of road safety icon Tufty Fluffytail in the ’70s, helping keep unwary Gen Xers safe from random lorry squishings; he voiced ‘The Wombles’ (if you know, you know) and read more than 100 stories on the BBC’s teatime staple ‘Jackanory’.

Older readers may remember him in three ‘Carry On’ films or via a brief pop career that yielded singalong 1960s hit ‘
Right Said Fred’, while Millennials will know him as Doctor Who’s companion Wilfred Mott, and younger Zoomers have had the benefit of his storytelling chops as a salty seaside raconteur in CBeebies ‘Old Jack’s Boat’.  

However old you are, there’s something to treasure from his life as a performer. Here’s five we’ll be holding close.

1. ‘I'll look up at the sky and think of you’ in Doctor Who

In one of the most heartbreaking scenes not just in ‘Doctor Who’ history, but of all British TV, Cribbins’ loveable grandad Wilfred Mott gives the nation’s heartstrings a great big yank. After his granddaughter Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) saved the universe, her memory had to be erased, leaving The Doctor (David Tennant) as a lone traveller once more. ‘Every night, Doctor, when it gets dark and the stars come out, I will look up on her behalf. I will look up at the sky and think of you,’ Wilf tells the Doctor. Cue torrents of tears. 

2. Station Master Perks receiving his gifts in The Railway Children

The Railway Children
Photograph: StudioCanal

Which other actor could have made Albert Perks, the harried station master of Oakworth railway station, so loveable? A proud, occasionally grumpy fellow with a heart the size of a steam engine, he’s an early obstacle to the temporarily parentless children in their adventures, but softens to become their friend and then staunch ally. The bit where he realised that the whole village has cobbled together to give him birthday presents and tears well in his eyes is just glorious. ‘We love you quite as much as if you were an uncle of our,’ says Jenny Agutter’s Bobbie, articulating how pretty much all of us feel about the actor.

3. Reading The Hobbit on Jackanory

The greatest Bilbo Baggins the screen never saw, the actor breathed so much life into the doughty little hobbit in this 1979 ‘Jackanory’ special that it’s easy to imagine him in Peter Jackson’s sandpit, toiling with the emotional burden of the One Ring or fussing about in the Bag End kitchen. We’ll have to make do with his heart-filled embodiment of the character in one of his hundred ‘Jackanory’ appearances instead.

4. As Old Jack on CBeebies

Running in the mid-2010s, and with contributions from Bernard Cribbins’ old ‘Doctor Who’ mucker, Russell T Davies, ‘Old Jack’s Boat’ was the kind of timeless children’s telly we thought had died out when they put Bagpuss down. The CBeebies show had Cribbins playing Old Jack, a kindly gentleman who’d be there to embroider your youngster’s teatimes with tall seafaring tales with his trusty pup, Salty, at his side. His gift for storytelling gently talked a million seven-year-olds out of fishfinger-related standoffs.

5. Sharing The Snowman with David Bowie 

Cribbins narrated the first adaptation of Raymond Briggs’s classic Christmas tale – alongside David Bowie, no less, who famously popped by to introduce it in a scarf, and Aled Jones who sang festive banger ‘Walking in the Air’. There’s been other narrators since this 1982 version, including Stephen Fry, Mel Smith, and, of course, Briggs himself, but we like Bernard’s the best.

And one moment to put fire in your belly...

As a raging Fawlty Towers diner

One of the few ‘Fawlty Towers’ guests to out-outrage even Basil Fawlty, Cribbins played Mr Hutchinson, a spoon salesman who Basil mistakes for a hotel inspector. And the actor gives it some serious welly, particularly in a scene where he loses his rag with the hotel’s dining service (‘I’ve had the omelette, a prawn cocktail with a bloody silly name, then I had a plate of stew and then the bloody omelette again!’). In customer services move you won’t thing in any hospitality industry handbook, Basil ends up choking him out, leaving him passed out in a cheese salad. The actor loved his stint on the iconic BBC sitcom and this scene, a thing of furious comic brilliance, is why we do too. 

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