Saturday, 11 June 2016
Remembering Bernard Bresslaw
Today marks twenty three years since that acting giant and Carry On star Bernard Bresslaw sadly passed away at the absurdly early age of just 59. Bernard had been about to perform as Grumio in the New Shakespeare Company's production of Taming of the Shrew at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park when he collapsed and died from a heart attack in his dressing room.
I remember hearing the news come through on the television that evening and it was shocking, even to the 11 year old boy that I was at the time. It seemed and indeed really was no age at all. Bresslaw had continued to forge a hugely successful career as a respected straight stage actor following his departure from the Carry On series in the mid 1970s. The actor had moved away from the pigeon-holed role of dim-witted Bernie in the likes of Carry On Camping and At Your Convenience to show the world just what a gifted performer he really was.
Only the year before Bernard had returned to the world of Carry On, joining Barbara Windsor for an end of the pier revue at Blackpool. I had been visiting the seaside resort at the time with my parents and was really disappointed that there were no tickets left to see these legends live on stage. Sadly, it would be the last chance I'd get to see Bernard and I regret that it didn't work out.
As with all the Carry On team who are no longer with us, Bernard leaves a huge and lasting body of work for fans to enjoy. His performances in 14 Carry Ons over a ten year period never disappoint. Forever either the slow, trusting side-kick to the likes of Sid James or the terrifying fiendish villain or accomplice to Kenneth Williams, Bresslaw took each and every one of his roles in the series seriously and thoughtfully. The quality of his work shines through. Away from the camera and the limelight, Bernard lived a quiet life with his wife of many years, former dancer Betty Wright and their three sons, James, Mark and Jonathan. He briefly saw James Bresslaw in the Carry On Forever documentary last year where he spoke about his famous dad with great affection.
1993 was a major watershed for Carry On. The previous year had seen an infamous attempt to relaunch the series with the somewhat less than successful Carry On Columbus. 1993 would not only see the untimely passing of Bernard but also, much later in the year, the deaths of stalwart actor Kenneth Connor and legendary director and all round driving force for the series, Gerald Thomas. I remember it being a particularly sad time for this fledgling Carry On fan.
So being more positive for a moment, why not celebrate Bernard's towering achievement to British film comedy today by raising a glass to the wonderful man and watching some of his finest Carry On moments.