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A message from the Corbett family

BBC4 are broadcasting a documentary drama about the lives of Wilfred and Harry. What do you think ? Please let us have any comments about this programme

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A message from the Corbett family

Postby Albie » Tue Mar 25, 2008 5:57 pm

Thought i would post this just incase any of you had not seen this yet.

This message was pasted from ’s message board.

Hello everyone.

Firstly may I introduce myself. Harry was my uncle (through his second marriage to Maureen), and he was also my godfather. It is fair to say that Harry’s family have watched events unfold over the past few weeks with bewilderment. It seemed like the magazine articles, TV interviews and the ’Curse of Steptoe’ programme broadcast on Wednesday were telling the story of people from another planet. We have read all the comments posted to the notice board, and are saddened that people have felt upset or depressed by the contents of the programme, or had their impressions of the actors influenced by the storyline. However, please will everyone take a deep breath and put a smile back on your face. There’s no need to be depressed. The programme simply wasn’t true!

Although Harry’s daughter talked to the writer, Brian Fillis, for several hours about how it really was, we suspect there was pressure to spice up the drama. Even with a drama purporting to be factual, we have absolutely no say in the final script. To use a Steptoe cliché: we have right on our side, but the BBC have the knobs on theirs! Harry’s first wife, Sheila Steafel, and the writers, Ray and Alan, were also apparently interviewed for the programme, although we don’t know to what extent their opinions were included either.

We have not spoken out about inaccurate reporting before, but feel some of the allegations are so defamatory a response is now required. Let’s start with a list of specific corrections:

· Harry’s eyes were blue (there was no need for brown contact lenses)

· He lived with his parents in Burma until he was about two until his mother died, so of course he met his Dad

· The episode ’The Piano’ was part of series 1 (although is depicted in rehearsals for series 2)

· The Variety Club Awards were in 1963, not 1962.

· Events after the second series are completely out of chronological order: Wilfrid got the role on Broadway before series 3, not series 6. Harry was not devastated that Wilfrid returned, on the contrary he was not happy with the idea of killing Albert off and preferred to leave the door open for Wilfrid to return, which he did before Ray and Alan had even begun to write the script. The first colour episodes began in series 5 (not series 6). That series began with the death of Hercules (’A Death in the Family’), which came before ’Live Now PAYE Later’ (series 7). Incidentally, Harry and Wilfrid did not sit in the BBC bar wearing their drag costumes!

· Harry met his second wife, Maureen, on the set of Joey Boy (1965), not Ladies Who Do (1963), by which time he had already separated from Sheila Steafel (they were divorced in 1965, the reasons being adultery, but not on the part of Harry!). Harry and Maureen’s first meeting is described in detail by Maureen in the interview available on this website, and was very different from that depicted.

· Harry’s children were born in 1966 and 1968, long after Harry’s divorce and while Harry and Maureen were living happily together. The drama would have us believe that Maureen turned up unexpectedly on his doorstep, and that his first child was born during filming of the last episode (presumably in 1974, which in any case was not ’A Star Is Born’).

Although many of the above errors are relatively minor, they are incontrovertible, and indicate that the accuracy of much of the rest of the drama cannot be relied upon. We cannot comment on Harry’s life with Sheila Steafel, or Wilfrid’s private life, and without facts these events should be just that – private. We can only comment on his life after 1964, which was an extremely happy one with his wife, Maureen and two children. Steptoe brought him fame and fortune, he was well liked by fellow actors and the public, won numerous awards for his work, including a BAFTA, and was honoured with an OBE. Steptoe and Son still has the record for the largest television audience for a comedy programme in this country. His life certainly wasn’t miserable!

We can definitively say that Harry and Wilfrid DID NOT hate each other. Again, interviews with Ray, Alan and Maureen made over a decade ago, before the recent controversies (available on this website), make this clear. Harry and Wilfrid got on well together. Harry and his wife and other family members often had drinks in the BBC bar with Wilfrid after the show. The only specific allegations of hatred between them that we can find were made by the promoter of the 1977-78 tour of Australia (3 years after the TV show finished) who apparently witnessed several arguments. We can categorically say they did not fall out. There 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.

Finally, the suggestion that Steptoe ruined either actor’s career is nonsense. Both were kept very busy during and after Steptoe. Harry made numerous films and TV programmes, and the money he made from Steptoe allowed him to take less lucrative roles in the Theatre which he otherwise would not have been able to do. For instance, he completed a long run in ’Last of the Red Hot Lovers’ in the late 1960s, which also toured Australia for nearly a year. Steptoe will always be his best known role, although we’ll never know what he would have gone on to do had he not died at the age of only 57. So many actors today reinvent themselves later in life in completely different roles. If there is any tragedy in the story, then surely this must be it.

Our wish is for people to remember Harry and Wilfrid for the work they did and not for speculation about their lives off-screen. As it happens, today is the 26th anniversary of Harry’s death. He, like Wilfrid and the other subjects of the ’Curse of Comedy’ season, are not alive to defend themselves (and you cannot libel the dead). Similarly, Harry’s wife, Maureen, is also no longer alive to give her views, nor to defend accusations that her interview was anything other than totally correct (which it was!). We would be very interested to know how ’Sloany Tom’ claims that "there is not a single incident in the film that cannot be sourced by witnesses". OK, Tom, let’s start with the witness that said Harry had brown eyes…

We are now considering what steps need to be taken to set the record straight. As a start, I am happy to answer any queries people may have on this website, and if I don’t know the answer I will endeavour to find a family member who can.

Yours Sincerely

The Corbett Family
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Postby bob » Wed Mar 26, 2008 7:28 am

Thank you Albie

I did notice this on the other website, I didn't want to post it myself as I didn't want Ron to think I was pinching his scoop.

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Postby Ron » Wed Mar 26, 2008 11:56 am

Hi Bob

Whats a scoop between friends :wink:
The Daily Express also published an article on the corbett notice.

As i understand it, its not just the corbett family who are unhappy.
The remaining shows i'm sure will lead to more complaints.

Websites looking well Bob.

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Postby Graham_S nli » Wed Mar 26, 2008 3:58 pm


Thanks for the post and a very big thank you to Ron for being so magnamimous about his "scoop" being posted here, this only shows how all Steptoe fans feel about "The Curse" and the way it's sullied the reputations of two dead people unable to defend themselves....
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Postby bob » Wed Mar 26, 2008 6:25 pm

It's been a really nice topic and great to have a message from Ron.

I agree that there has undoubtedly been a bit of creative writting taking place, that would be fair enough, but what upsets me is the actors going on TV, radio and in the press stating "It's all based on fact".

It will be intersting to see how Hancock comes out of it tonight.
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Postby Ron » Wed Mar 26, 2008 7:58 pm

***** Comments Amendment *****

Dear Bob and all visitors.

I must firstly apologise for some of my comments regarding that the rehearsal scenes are most likely true, i was WRONG!!
That damm writer Brian Fillis has pulled the wool over my eyes also.

Please refer to the book written by the brilliant and trusted Robert Ross, the book titled "Steptoe & Son".
The book was also part written by Galton & Simpson.

In curse of steptoe, at their first rehearsal Harry is portrayed as the professional actor, having learnt his lines and reading in character, while Wilfrid is portrayed as extremely wooden, unable to remember lines or get into character.
However, if you read the Steptoe and Son BBC book (the one compiled by Robert Ross), Alan Simpson, who was actually at that rehearsal, writes the following: "The most memorable thing about that first rehearsal for me was the sight of Wilfrid Brambell turning up for work.
He was in the full old actor gear : beautifully dressed, cut-glass accent, expensive cigarette case, immaculate manners.
Of course, when he started reading the old man dialogue was hilarious.
This wonderful contrast between man and the part - this was real acting!".
So the scene depicted in The Curse of Steptoe is completely
Wilfrid wasn't a bumbling fool, unable to put on the accent and
struggling even to read the lines.
In reality Wilfrid, like Harry, was headhunted for the role, having been an experienced actor with a history of playing parts for old men.
He would never have been successful if he had really been as wooden as he appears in the programme. In the programme
it only serves to make the actors look as different as chalk and cheese.

So as you can see, not even the Rehearsal scene is true in the curse of steptoe!!

The whole programme is fiction, 1 hour of deliberate fantasy.

I have no interest in seeing this programme again.

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Postby charlie » Wed Mar 26, 2008 9:35 pm

What an interesting post from Albie, just confirms all our suspicions,that the show was cruelly doctored to create controversy.I bet the writer's never had so much publicity...!
Let's just remember Harry and wilfred for their Comic genius and Ray and Alan for making it possible....
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Postby Graham_S nli » Thu Mar 27, 2008 12:12 pm

I watched Hancock & Joan on BBC4 last night with quite some relish wondering if it was to be another hatchet job...

A totally different writer, a longer programme (90 mins), a timespan of only 1 year and from what I could see a strong basis on fact (two books were used including Joan Le Mesurier's own written story of her affair).

The performances of Ken Stott and Maxine Peake were outstanding as the key players and I was surprised to find out what a decent bloke John Le Mesurier was in his handling of both of them at the time (I'm not sure I would have been so sympathetic to either if it was my wife involved)...

This shows similar to the previous "Fantabulosa" how "The Curse..." failed misrable in it's adaptation.... (Inaccurate, Too short and totally unbelieveable leads....).

I looked at the writers website (of The Curse....) and on a reply to a kind review from a friend said he wished he could have put some more "graphic" material in the production regarding Willy....
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Postby PhilGlass » Thu Jun 26, 2008 6:40 pm

How wonderful to hear from somebody who siply wants us to know the truth.

That's why they call it a dramatization I guess, that's BBC slang for bullsh*t.

I bet the wouldn't have made the film if either were alive!!
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