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Bernard Cribbins, star of The Railway Children and Doctor Who, dies aged 93

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Children’s TV star and entertainer Bernard Cribbins has died aged 93, his agent said.

The veteran actor starred in the Carry On films, Doctor Who and the 1970 film The Railway Children.

A statement from Gavin Barker Associates said: “Beloved actor Bernard Cribbins OBE has passed away at the age of 93.

“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.”

During the filming of The Railway Children with actresses, Sally Thomsett (left) and Jenny Agutter in 1970 (PA) (PA Archive)
During the filming of The Railway Children with actresses, Sally Thomsett (left) and Jenny Agutter in 1970 (PA) (PA Archive)

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 A 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.

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.

Bernard Cribbins with fellow Doctor Who cast June Whitfield, Barry Howard and David Tennant in a scene from Doctor Who The End of Time, Part One (Adrian Rogers/BBC) (PA Media)
Bernard Cribbins with fellow Doctor Who cast June Whitfield, Barry Howard and David Tennant in a scene from Doctor Who The End of Time, Part One (Adrian Rogers/BBC) (PA Media)

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. Cribbins played the station porter Albert Perks.

In 2011 he received an OBE for services to drama for his long career.

Bernard Cribbins is made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) during an Investiture ceremony from the Princess Royal at Windsor Castle. (PA Archive)
Bernard Cribbins is made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) during an Investiture ceremony from the Princess Royal at Windsor Castle. (PA Archive)

He went on to regularly appear in the Doctor Who TV series as Wilfred Mott, the grandfather of the Doctor’s companion Donna Noble, played by Catherine Tate.

Musical theatre star Elaine Paige was among the people paying tribute to Cribbins, saying on Twitter 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.”

Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies wrote on Instagram that he was lucky to have known him.

Alongside a picture of Cribbins, Davies said 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.”

Voyage Of The Damned, which was broadcast on Christmas Day in 2007, saw 13.31 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.

He also had the lead role in CBeebies show Old Jack’s Boat and in the 1960s narrated the Tufty Fluffytale series of public information films about road safety.

Fellow children’s TV presenter Dame Floella Benjamin said she had “adored” working with Cribbins in the 1980s and described him as a “creative genius” who leaves a “lasting legacy”.

More recently, reports said Cribbins had been spotted filming alongside Tate and Tennant for Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary celebrations.

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