Wilfrid Brambell

Wilfrid Brambell

72 (passed away Jan. 18th, 1985)
Mar. 22nd, 1912
Born in
Dublin, Ireland
5' 2

Wilfrid Brambell's Main TV Roles

Show Character(s)
Steptoe and Son (UK) TV Show
Steptoe and Son (UK)
According To Dora (UK) TV Show
According To Dora (UK)
Armchair Theatre (UK) TV Show
Armchair Theatre (UK)
Never Say Die (UK) (1970) TV Show
Never Say Die (UK) (1970)

Main Movie Roles

Guest TV Roles

[none found]


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 starred alongside The Beatles in their film A Hard Day's Night, playing Paul McCartney's fictional grandfather.

Early life
Brambell was born in Dublin. His father worked at a Guinness Brewery and his mother was an opera singer. His first appearance was as a child, entertaining the wounded troops during the First World War. On leaving school he worked part-time as a reporter for The Irish Times and part-time as an actor at the Abbey Theatre before becoming a professional actor for the Gate Theatre. He also did repertory at Swansea, Bristol and Chesterfield. In World War II he joined the British military forces entertainment organisation ENSA.

Acting career
His television career began during the 1950s, when he was cast in small roles in three Nigel Kneale/Rudolph Cartier productions for BBC Television: as a drunk in The Quatermass Experiment (1953), as both an old man in a pub and later a prisoner in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954) and as a tramp in Quatermass II (1955). All of these roles earned him a reputation for playing old men, though he was only in his forties at the time. Brambell hardly ever stopped working in his 36-year career.

Brambell also starred in the original soundtrack of The Canterbury Tales, which was one of the quickest selling West End soundtrack albums of all time. He also released two 45-rpm singles, Second Hand b/w Rag Time Ragabone Man which played on his Steptoe and Son character, followed in 1971 by Time Marches On, his tribute to The Beatles with whom he had worked in 1964 (and met many times). It featured a Beatles-esque guitar riff with Brambell reciting words about The Beatles splitting up, b/w The Decimal Song which, at the time of Britain adopting decimal currency, was politically charged.

In 1965, he appeared on Broadway in the show Kelly which closed after just one performance.

He featured in many prominent theatre roles. In 1966 he played Ebenezer Scrooge in a musical version of A Christmas Carol. This was adapted for radio the same year and appeared on Radio 2 on Christmas Eve. Brambell's booming baritone voice surprised many listeners: he played the role straight, true to the Dickens original, and not in the stereotype Albert Steptoe character.

In 1971, he starred in the Premiere of Eric Chappell's play The Banana Box in which he played Rooksby. This part was later renamed Rigsby for the TV adaptation called Rising Damp which starred Leonard Rossiter.

Steptoe and Son
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.

In 1971 he was due to play the role of Jeff Simmons, bass guitarist with The Mothers of Invention, in Frank Zappa's film 200 Motels (a bizarre piece of casting, since the real Simmons was young, long-haired and American) but left the production after an argument with Zappa.

Although best known for Steptoe and Son, he achieved international recognition in many films. His performance in The Terence Davies Trilogy won him critical acclaim, far greater than any achieved for Steptoe and Son, yet although appearing throughout the full 24-minute piece, Brambell did not speak a single word.

  • In _A Hard Day's Night (1964)_ (qv), sings a few bars of "A Nation Once Again," an Irish folk song, in the police station.
  • Was considered for the role of the grandfather in _"Only Fools and Horses" (1981)_ (qv).
  • He divorced his wife, Molly Josephine, after she had a child, Michael, in 1953, by the Brambells' lodger, Roderick Fisher.

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