Bernard Cribbins: This is when he visited Chichester Festival Theatre and why he was such an important star of stage and screen

The death of Bernard Cribbins at the age of 93 will be met with immense, heart-felt, genuine sadness the length and breadth of the country.

Bernard Cribbins
Bernard Cribbins

What makes it so personal is the fact that we have lost a part of ourselves with his passing.

Yet another piece of our childhood has slipped away.

Cribbins appeared at Chichester Festival Theatre just twice, on just two one-off occasions – in Old Tyme Music Hall on 29 January 1984 and Hiss & Boo Music Hall on 16 October 1994.

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    I interviewed him for the latter. He was every bit as charming as you would imagine – a host of stories and a great willingness to chat.

    But maybe it is the screen appearances we will remember him for most.

    Cribbins gave a glorious performance when he played a grumpy guest mistaken for a hotel inspector in Fawlty Towers; Doctor Who aficionados will mourn his significant contribution to TV history.

    But maybe the warmest glow will be as we remember Cribbins the station master and Cribbins the… well… Womble.

    It seems particularly poignant that Cribbins should have died so soon after the release of the excellent The Railway Children Return – a film which was absolutely a delight in its own right, but a film which perhaps above all reminded us just how much we loved the original.

    Cribbins was the station master Albert Perks in 1970 film The Railway Children, and what a performance that was – a performance that seemed to sum up just how baffling grown-ups could be through our child’s eyes.

    He was the fussy frosty figure of authority, terribly proud and maybe a bit crotchety – but it didn’t take much for the kindness and the sensitivity of the man to shine through in Cribbins’ adorable performance.

    But for me, he will always be the voice of the Wombles.

    Do you remember how exciting and quirky those first Wombles stories were from the pen of Elisabeth Beresford? The fact that she was Elisabeth with an s added to the quirkiness of it all.

    And what a truly bizarre concept – years and years ahead of its time. You’ve just got to love that wishful thinking which conjured up furry little animals which came out at night to tidy up after us – and did so uncomplainingly.

    Before The Good Life did something similar with self-sufficiency a year or so later, The Wombles shone a light on how we all ought to live our lives years and years ahead of it ever occurring to us…

    And Cribbins, of course, was their voice. Absolutely their voice. No one else could have done the job in the beautiful way he did.

    His mantra was "Do your best and be grateful for every single job.” You sense that that was precisely how he lived his life.