Sunday 8 April 2018

The late, great George Woodbridge

I was watching the classic war time murder mystery film Green For Danger the other evening, starring amongst others Alastair Sim and Trevor Howard, when I spotted a familiar face. That of the portly, amiable character actor George Woodbridge. Sadly George passed away a long time ago, way back in 1973 to be exact, however his countless appearances in the very best of British film mean that he pops up on our screens often to this day. 

Woodbridge made several brief appearances in the films of Peter Rogers in the early 1960s, including one Carry On. In 1963 he popped up in the role of Ned in the nautical comedy, Carry On Jack. First seen in the aptly named DIrty Dicks, he enjoys some fruity banter with Juliet Mills' Sally. He then reappears later on in the picture for some more japes on board. George had already worked for Peter Rogers Productions in the 1961 music school comedy Raising The Wind, in the small role of the Yorkshire Orchestra Leader. And the following year he took on the role of Mr Ludge in the Michael Craig comedy The Iron Maiden. Finally, probably George's biggest role for Peter and Gerald came the following year when he played the bed bound Mr Beacon in the charming district nurse comedy Nurse On Wheels, again starring Juliet Mills. Here George was blessed with a screen wife in the wonderful Renee Houston, herself a veteran of several Peter Rogers Productions.

By the early 1960s, George Woodbridge had been appearing regularly in films for over twenty years. With credits dating back to the late 1930s, George, who was born in Exeter in 1907, found a niche in both straight and comedy roles. He was possibly best known for comedy performances but he also carved out a career in horror pictures such as Dracula (1958), Jack The Ripper (1959), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) and Doomwatch (1972). More dramatic roles also included the role of the Sergeant in The Fallen Idol (1948), Stanley, the fish and chip shop owner in the Alastair Sim film An Inspector Calls (1954) and the 1955 film Richard III.

However, for me, George's physical characteristics and jaunty, rosy cheeked charm lent themselves best to comedy. One of his best film roles was as kindly Prison Warder Jenkins in the Peter Sellers film Two Way Stretch in 1960. Another great film was the comedy horror, What A Carve Up in 1961. George played Dr Edward Broughton in the film which co-starred Sid James, Kenneth Connor, Esma Cannon and Shirley Eaton. Casting very much playing on the success of the early Carry On films! And in 1963 George played the Bishop in the classic Boulting Brothers' comedy Heavens Above, again starring Sellers. Later roles on the big screen included that of the Publican in the 1970 film Take A Girl Like You and a Fat Bather in the brilliant 1971 big screen adaptation of the Frankie Howerd series Up Pompeii. 

As his popularity grew and his career progressed, the world of television also came calling. Later in his career, George became a regular fixture on the small screen. Having initially debuted in very earliest days of the new medium just before the Second World War, by the 1960s George was appearing in guest roles in the likes of Dixon of Dock Green, Softly Softly, The Forsyte Saga and the Benny Hill Show. 

Woodbridge gained popularity late in his career as the title character, the puppet maker in the children's TV show, Inigo Pipkin. Sadly, George died five weeks into the filming of the second series, an occurrence which was dealt with in the programme's storyline. The series continued on for another seven years however under the revised title of Pipkins. Suffering from ill health by the early 1970s, George continued to act right up until the end. He died from kidney failure in Barnet, North London on 31 March 1973 at the age of 66.

George Woodbridge was one of those brilliant British character actors who always added an extra special something whenever he appeared. Another actor who could create an awful lot from sometimes very little. Never a star, he won over 180 screen roles during a forty year career. I enjoyed his brief, yet memorable roles in all his films for Gerald and Peter however I only wish he'd managed to notch up a few more Carry On credits. 

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  1. Lovely summary of a lovely man. He also appeared in a lot of (serious) stage productions early in his career.

  2. After 55 years I am re-watching The Forsyte Saga (1967 version) on YouTube. He is wonderful in it, particularly Episode Five.