Tuesday 24 October 2017

Life After the Carry Ons ... Bernard Bresslaw


This is part of an occasional series of blogs in which I will look at the careers of each of the main Carry On team players once they left the series. Some would go on to appear in many other productions over the years while others would sadly not be so fortunate. Today I am looking at the later career of Bernard Bresslaw.

Bernard was an integral part of the Carry On team for ten years from his debut in Carry On Cowboy in 1965 until his farewell in 1975's Carry On Behind. In between these appearances Bresslaw played up on his Army Game dimwitted "I Only Arksed" persona, often as the simple sidekick to a wily Sid James or alternatively provided villainous support as many a horrible historical baddie. His towering stature only added to the comedy and he definitely stood out from the crowd. As I've written before, Bernie is probably one of my unsung heroes from the Carry Ons as he always provided unflinching support but gained few headlines due to his uncluttered private life as a well-regarded family man. He didn't have the larger than life personality off camera that perhaps the likes of Kenneth Williams or Barbara Windsor had. 


Although Bernard's career came to be dominated by the fourteen Carry Ons, the Carry On London stage show and the countless television episodes of Carry On Laughing and Carry On Christmas in which he appeared, there was much more to his working life than that. And never more so than once he decided to part company with the series after his role as Arthur Upmore in Carry On Behind. I have no idea why Bernard didn't make any further films with the gang as he was still a relatively young man at the time. Perhaps he was busy working when England went into production or just did not want to appear following his friend Sid James' sad death early in '76.  

Anyway, the next eighteen years would see Bernard take a very different path with his career. He never achieved the same level of fame the Carry Ons brought but perhaps that suited him. There were some films and guest appearances on television, but mostly Bernard was to be found on the stage in legitimate theatre. 

Let's start with film though. In the years following his departure from the Carry Ons, Bernard popped up in cameos and supporting roles in films such as Joseph Andrews (which also featured Carry On co-stars Jim Dale and Patsy Rowlands) and as the Landlord in the Terry Gilliam fantasy film Jabberwocky, both in 1977. In 1980 he starred opposite Jack Palance in the fantasy film Hawk the Slayer while three years later he turned up in Krull as Rell the Cyclops. As the 1980s drew to a close Bernard made fewer screen appearances, with his last as Rabbi Hartmann in the 1992 comedy film Leon the Pig Farmer, which co-starred Janet Suzman, Brian Glover and Connie Booth.

On television, Bernard never regained his immense 1950s popularity thanks to his starring role in the Granada sitcom The Army Game. That series, in which he appeared as Private Popplewell, led to several hit novelty records and even a big screen spin off. On the small screen he guest starred opposite two former Carry On colleagues, Terry Scott and June Whitfield, in a 1982 episode of the BBC comedy series Terry and June. In 1985 he co-starred in six episodes of the Fulton McKay series Mann's Best Friends. Bernard also made a number of appearances on children's television during the 80s, with credits including guest spots on The Sooty Show, T-Bag, Emu's Wide World and The Book Tower. Bernard's last appearances on the small screen came in the early 1990s with guest turns in Virtual Murder and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.


Bernard also popped up on television in a series of commercials for British Telecom, starring Maureen Lipman as the unforgettable Beattie Bellman. Bernard and Miriam Margolyes played nervous couple Gerald and Dolly who dropped in unannounced on Beattie and her hsuband Harry.

Away from these appearances, Bernard's true love was the stage. He always worked in theatre, but the late 1980s saw him hit his stride with several impressive turns with the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and the Open Air Theatre at Regent's Park. Bernard was as much at home in the classics as he was in broad comedy. His dramatic credits included Quince in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' with Frank Dunlop's Company; the professor in Ionesco's 'The Lesson'; a sixteenth century monk in 'Rabelais' at the Round House and the lead role in the Old Vic's production of Oblomov. He also played Malvolio in Twelfth Night at Regent's Park and Mephistopheles in the 1987 Oxford Stage Company's production of Dr Faustus. 


There was one final Carry On job though. In 1992, while Jim Dale was gamely attempting to Carry On in Columbus at Pinewood, Bernard joined up with Barbara Windsor for the broad, saucy musical end of pier show, Wot a Carry On in Blackpool. Sadly, although I was visiting Blackpool at the time, the ten year old me didn't get to see these legends on stage as the performances had sold out! 

The following year, aged just 59, Bernard suffered a fatal heart attack in his dressing room at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. He was due to go on stage to play Grumio in a production of Taming of the Shrew. The nation was robbed was a delightful, unassuming man with a great talent. 

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