Steptoe and Son

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Wilfrid Brambell


Wilfrid was born on 22 March 1912, in Dublin, Ireland. It must be assumed that he got his love of theatre and the arts from his mother who was an amateur opera singer.

He claimed his first acting experience when he was aged just two, as he happily entertained wounded soldiers returning from action during the First World War.

His first real acting break came at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. He appeared in several productions and was paid the princely price of 10 shillings per week. Whilst working at the Abbey, Wilfrid had the good fortune to meet Fred O’Donovan who was to soon make a name for himself as a TV director. At O’Donovan’s request Wilfrid and many others of the Abbey cast were to make the trip to Alexandra Palace to begin work on a television version of a play called “Happy as Larry”



During the War he toured with ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association), which the troops soon came to know as Every Night Something Awful!!! On his return Wilfrid picked up his acting carrer performing with various repertory companies across the UK. He also begun to break into movies and starred along side such names as James Mason and Stanley Holloway.

He begun to get regular TV work and seemed happy to turn his hand to whatever came his way. This may have caused some resentment with those less fortunate actors who were still looking for a break, who christened him “Old Neverstop”. The old element of this name may also have come from the fact that while still the right side of 50; he seemed excellent at playing old man roles.

Wilfrid was just 49 when he embarked upon his most famous role of all ............. Albert Steptoe. This role immediately launched Wilfrid to wider fame and notoriety as old man Steptoe was to become a national figure. For a man who may have considered that his best opportunities lay behind him, this success must have come as a welcome bonus.

This new found fame also paid dividends with Wilfrid’s general acting career and he was offered many film roles including several for Disney. It was also the case that the Beatles were great fans of Steptoe and they wasted no opportunity in offering him the role of Paul McCartney’s granddad in A Hard Day’s Night. Wilfrid managed to amaze his four new fans by continually failing to remember his lines.

With Steptoe and Son becoming a national icon Wilfrid found himself in regular demand. There does not appear to be any hard evidence of him trying to get away from the role.

Towards the end of the TV series there were a number of cracks appearing in the relationships of all the main players in the Steptoe series. Not only was there a difference in acting style between Harry and Wilfrid, but also in their approach to the work. Wilfrid would often be in the habit of having a drink too many during rehearsals, which again cased him to forget lines and irritate Corbett.

His personal life was also beginning to feature in the Sunday papers and following an acrimonious separation with his wife rumours begun to circulate about a relationship with his male oriental acupuncturist. Whatever the truth of these rumours Wilfrid was a man from a less enlightened age and this must have caused him serious concern. Even in the 1970’s rumours of this nature could stop a career.

Despite the TV life of Steptoe coming to an end in 1974, both actors continued to revive the characters for special one off performances and events. In 1977 they toured Australia in a show written for them by Galton and Simpson featuring typical Steptoe dialogue and knees-up songs. Whether Wilfrid was becoming tired of the whole Steptoe thing, or whether he just wasn’t hitting it of with Harry, a moment of total disaster arrived when they appeared on Australian Breakfast TV. In apparent frustration at a fairly tiresome question Wilfrid let rip with a true old man Steptoe expletive. The station immediately cut to a commercial break and Harry left the studio vowing to never work with Wilfrid again.

Back in the UK Wilfrid still picked up the odd film role and cameo TV part.

On 18 January 1985 after a battle against cancer, Wilfrid died at his home.



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