actor Wilfrid Brambell became nationally famous late in his career
as Albert Steptoe in the BBC's most popular and successful sitcom,
Steptoe and Son, although the character he played, as often
throughout his career, was considerably older than he was. He was
never one for starring roles, but supplied reliable support in a
variety of stage, screen and television roles before Albert Steptoe
thrust him into the limelight. Television appearances included a
variety of parts in adaptations of classic texts, including The
Government Inspector (1958), Bleak House (1959) and
Our Mutual Friend (1959), all for the BBC.
Galton and Alan Simpson wanted to use straight actors, rather than
comedians, when casting the leads for their new BBC comedy Steptoe
and Son in 1962. Harry H. Corbett was cast as Harold Steptoe
and Wilfrid Brambell given the role of his father Albert. Over the
years to follow, the actors and writers were together to develop
characters which found their way into the national consciousness.
is an old-time rag-and-bone man who inherited the family business
of the title from his father and now runs it with his son, Harold.
Harold goes out on the cart to collect the junk, while Albert remains
at home, ostensibly to run the administrative side of the business,
but, in reality, to take it easy or go out to the cinema. Albert
is a widower. He still has an eye for the ladies, and for the main
chance, though generally espousing an old-fashioned morality. He
is a veteran of the Great War and bemoans declining standards, but
his own behaviour is often gross and earthy in the extreme. He rarely
washes and, when he does, is liable to eat his evening meal in the
bath. His language and behaviour are, in Harold's eyes in particular,
uncouth, prompting the description, "You dirty old man!", the series'
played Harold Steptoe as a grumpy old curmudgeon, capable of resorting
to the most pathetic pleading to get his own way. The role of the
scruffy old man could not have been further from the rather suave
and cultured person Brambell was in real life.
Son ran for four series between 1962 and 1965. It regularly
attracted audiences of over 20 million, from all sectors of society,
and in 1963 a Steptoe and Son sketch was performed by Brambell
and Corbett as part of that year's Royal Variety Performance. Between
series and after Galton and Simpson brought it to an end, both Brambell
and Corbett were in demand for movie parts because of their great
popularity. Amongst Brambell's roles was that of Paul McCartney's
grandfather in the Beatles film A Hard Day's Night and the
White Rabbit in Jonathan Miller's 1966 television version of
Alice in Wonderland.
Son was revived, in colour, by the BBC in 1970 and ran for another
four series between then and 1974. There were also two spin-off
feature films. The characters and situations had not changed--nor
had the quality of writing and performance or the popularity of
Photo courtesy of the British Film Institute
BRAMBELL. Born in Dublin, Ireland, 22 March 1912. Attended schools
in Dublin. Married Molly (divorced 1955). Stage debut as a child,
entertaining troops during World War I, 1914; began professional
acting career as an adult at the Gate Theatre, Dublin; toured with
ENSA during World War II; first appearance on London stage, 1950;
single appearance on Broadway, 1965; played character parts in theater
and films before achieving fame as Albert Steptoe in long-running
Steptoe and Son comedy series, 1964-73. Died in London, 18
1964-73 Steptoe and Son
39 Steps, 1935; Odd Man Out, 1946; Another Shore,
1948; Dry Rot, 1956; The Story of Esther Costello,
1957; The Salvage Gang, 1958; The Long Hot Summer,
1958; Serious Charge, 1959; Urge to Kill, 1960; The
Sinister Man, 1961; Jack's Horrible Luck, 1961; Flame
in the Streets, 1961; What a Whopper!, 1961; The Grand
Junction Case, 1961; In Search of the Castaways, 1962;
The Boys, 1962; The Fast Lady, 1962; The Small
World of Sammy Lee, 1963; Crooks in Cloisters, 1963;
The Three Lives of Thomasina, 1963; Go Kart Go!, 1963;
A Hard Day's Night, 1964; San Ferry Ann, 1965; Alice
in Wonderland, 1966; Where the Bullets Fly, 1966;
Mano di Velluto, 1966; Witchfinder-General, 1968;
Lionheart, 1968; Cry Wolf, 1968; The Undertakers,
1969; Carry On Again, Doctor, 1969; Some Will, Some Won't,
1970; Steptoe and Son, 1972; Steptoe and Son Ride Again,
1973; Holiday on the Buses, 1973; The Adventures of Picasso,
1978; High Rise Donkey, 1980; Island of Adventure,
1981; Death and Transfiguration, 1983; Sword of the Valiant,
1983; The Terence Davies Trilogy, 1984.
Man's Buff; Stop It, Whoever You Are; The Canterbury Tales; The
Ghost Train; Kelly; A Christmas Carol.
Above Board (autobiography), London: Allen, 1976.
Michael. "You Dirty Old Man!" The People (London), 9 January
We Met: Ray Galton and Alan Simpson." The Independent (London),
11 June 1995.