Saturday, December 3, 2011



"The Curse Of Steptoe"

Phil Davis

From Wikipedia:
Henry Wilfrid Brambell (22 March 1912 – 18 January 1985) was an Irish film and television actor best known for his role in the British television series 'Steptoe and Son'. He also performed alongside The Beatles in their film "A Hard Day's Night", playing Paul McCartney's fictional grandfather.

It was this ability to play old men that led to his casting in his most famous role, as Albert Steptoe, the irascible father in 'Steptoe and Son' (his son Harold being played by Harry H. Corbett). Initially this was a pilot on the BBC's 'Comedy Playhouse' anthology strand: but its success led to a full series being commissioned, which lasted throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. A constant thread throughout the series was Albert being referred to by Harold as a "dirty old man", particularly, for example, when he was eating pickled onions whilst taking a bath, and retrieving dropped ones from the bathwater. There were also two feature film spin-offs, a stage show and an American re-make entitled 'Sanford and Son', based on the original British scripts.

The success of 'Steptoe and Son' made Brambell a high profile figure on British television, and earned him the major role of Paul McCartney's grandfather in the Beatles' first film, "A Hard Day's Night" in 1964. A running joke is made throughout the film of his character being "a very clean old man", in contrast to his being referred to as a "dirty old man" in 'Steptoe and Son'. In real life however, he was nothing like his Steptoe persona, being dapper and well-spoken. In 1965 Brambell told the BBC that he did not want to do another 'Steptoe and Son' series, and in September of that year he went to New York to appear in the Broadway musical "Kelly" at the Broadhurst Theatre; however, it closed after just one performance.

After the final season of 'Steptoe and Son' was made in 1974, Brambell had some guest roles in films and on television, but both he and Corbett found themselves heavily typecast as their famous characters. In an attempt to take advantage of this situation, they undertook a tour of Australia in 1977 with a 'Steptoe and Son' stage show. On one occasion, Brambell used bad language and was openly derogatory about New Zealand cathedrals in an interview. Despite this, Brambell did appear on the BBC's television news paying tribute to Corbett after the latter's death from a heart attack in 1982. The following year Brambell appeared in Terence Davies's film "Death and Transfiguration", playing a dying elderly man who finally comes to terms with his homosexuality.

In 2002, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary film, entitled "When Steptoe Met Son", about the off-screen life of Brambell and his relationship with Harry H. Corbett. The film claimed that the two men detested each other and were barely on speaking terms after the Australia tour, caused in part by Brambell's alcoholism, which led to the pair leaving the country on separate aeroplanes. This claim is disputed by the writers of 'Steptoe and Son', Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who were unaware of any hatred or conflict. Harry H. Corbett's nephew from his second marriage also released a statement which claimed that the actors did not hate each other. "We can categorically say they did not fall out. They were together for nearly a year in Australia, went on several sightseeing trips together, and left the tour at the end on different planes because Harry was going on holiday with his family, not because he refused to get on the same plane. They continued to work together after the Australia tour on radio and adverts."

Brambell was also a closet homosexual at a time when it was almost impossible for public figures to be openly gay, not least because homosexual acts were illegal in the UK until 1967. In 1962 he was arrested in a toilet in Shepherd's Bush for persistently importuning and given a conditional discharge. Earlier in his life he had been married, from 1948 to 1955, to Mary "Molly" Josephine but the relationship ended after she gave birth to the child of their lodger in 1953.

Brambell died of cancer in Westminster, London, aged 72. He was cremated on 25 January 1985 at Streatham Park Cemetery, where his ashes were scattered.


(It was after watching the season - series? - finale of 'Whitechapel' that I realized how much I've come to enjoy the acting of Phil Davis, now one of my favorite current British actors. This showcase on his role as one of the more famous TV actors from Great Britain is my way of tipping my hat to Davis' work........)

1 comment:

Joe B. said...

He has been great in Whitechapel. I still have the second set of three to watch.

I had to look up "persistently importuning." What a sophisticated term for gay public restroom sex.

Mine's two syllables shorter.