Monday 6 July 2015

The Brilliant Bernard Bresslaw

Bernard Bresslaw, a bit like Kenneth Connor and Peter Butterworth, is one of the regular Carry On actors who can sometimes be taken for granted. They were often part of the Greek chorus in the these films, providing support to the likes of Kenneth Williams and Sid James.

What wonderful support that was though! Perhaps the reason actors like Bernard Bresslaw have never been appreciated as much as they should have been is because they are frustratingly normal. Bresslaw, just like Connor and Butterworth, were all regular family men. Each of these actors could just as well have been bank managers, instead of being part of such a famous, madcap team of comic performers. Connor liked his boat, Butterworth his naval history and Bernard was incredibly well-read, never being far from a bookshop. 

When the Carry Ons became popular again in the 1990s, television companies ran a series of muck-raking documentaries in an attempt to probe the private lives of a generation of comedy heroes. Many painted the Carry On team as a bunch of actors at war with each other, deeply unlikeable and full of woes. Perhaps the reason Bresslaw, Butterworth and Connor didn't feature prominently here is because there was quite simply no muck to rake.

It was a joy to see Bernard's son James, Kenneth's son Jeremy and Peter's son Tyler all reminisce about their famous, talented fathers in the recent Carry On Forever series on ITV3. It was heart-warming to see how proud these men are of their dads and something that was well over due.

Bernard spent his Carry On career providing valuable support in fourteen films over a ten year period. He nearly always played either the scary villain (Follow That Camel; Up The Khyber) or the daft, gormless mate (Camping; At Your Convenience). It's a shame he was limited to these parts as Bernie was obviously a highly intelligent man with a wonderful talent for acting. My own favourite of Bernard's Carry On roles is his role in Carry On Doctor. As Ken Biddle, he gets to play out a touching romance with fellow hospital patient Dilys Laye. They share several tender little scenes which give Bernard a chance to show a different aspect to his usual bumbling characters.

Bernard devoted much of his later life to working on the stage. He loved appearing in the works of Shakespeare, however sadly he died far too young at the age of 59 in 1993. I am quite sure he would have risen up the ranks and be seen as a highly respected Shakespearian stage actor if he was still around today. He was often to be found reading off set at Pinewood or completely the crossword with Kenneth Williams. Everyone describes him as a gentle giant and true gentleman. 

I think that's a pretty nice legacy. 

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