“Bernard’s contribution to British entertainment is without question,” his agency said in a statement to CNN. “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.”
Cribbins’ acting career spanned six decades, much of it spent in children’s entertainment in the 1960s and ’70s. His role as Wilfred Mott on the long-running British series “Doctor Who,” as an ally to David Tennant’s time-traveling Doctor, reintroduced him to viewers who grew up with him.
“Doctor Who” showrunner Russell T. Davies paid tribute to Cribbins in a post on Instagram Thursday.
“I’m so lucky to have known him. Thanks for everything, my old soldier. A legend has left the world,” Davies wrote.
From the British army to a BAFTA award
Before he was an actor, Cribbins was a Private in the British Army’s Parachute Regiment. In 1947, still a teenager, he spent time in Palestine, where he recalled seeing gunfire and fireworks. He was touched to find that Davies later incorporated Cribbins’ memory into a scene in “Doctor Who.”
“It was almost verbatim of what I’d said, two or three months before,” Cribbins told Den of Geek in 2013. “That’s Russell putting his finger on things.”
His role as Wilfred, which he played between 2007 and 2010, marked the second he’d appeared in a “Doctor Who” project: In 1966, he appeared as a companion to the Doctor, then played by Peter Cushing, in a movie adaptation .
Earlier in the 1960s, he made his mark in music, recording novelty songs like the comedic “Hole in the Ground” (sung partly in a Cockney accent) and “Right Said Fred.”
Though he made memorable appearances in adult works, such as a John Cleese sitcom
and Alfred Hitchcock’s second-to-last film, he more often lent his expressive voice to media for children, notably the 1970s series “The Wombles,” for which he served as narrator of the lighthearted adventures of the doglike puppet Wombles. He told fans his favorite Womble is Orinoco, the lead singer of the Wombles’ music group.
“Children are a very good and very perceptive audience,” he told the British tabloid Daily Mirror in 2018. “It’s extremely gratifying — if you can shut them all up.”
He also appeared in the film “The Railway Children,” a film voted one of the 100 best in British film history, per the BBC, and the “Jackanory” series, in which he read books to young viewers.
All you have to do … is look down the lens, find one child and just talk to that child,” he said in 2009 of his “Jackanory” job. And it works!”
For his work in children’s media, he received a BAFTA Special Award in 2009. He called the statuette “frightfully heavy.”