In Lionel Jeffries’ film of The Water Babies (1978), Bernard Cribbins plays Masterman, the hapless, put-upon assistant to James Mason’s master chimney sweep, Mr Grimes. Their relationship on camera was hilarious, poignant and filled with music-hall knockabout. And, as the costume designer Phyllis Dalton told me in an interview in 2017, their comedy act continued off screen, keeping the crew amused throughout a damp shoot. Alexander Ballinger
In 1964, Bernard Cribbins played the lead in an extraordinary ATV play, a black comedy about young man suffering from a unique disease that was causing his chest to turn slowly into steel. A film crew was following the man’s extraordinary – albeit short – life, while editing the results scene–by-scene in such a way as to make their drama-documentary “nicer” for popular consumption than the reality. I thought it interesting enough for a possible updated screenplay, so in 1998 I wrote to Cribbins to ask if he knew of an available script.
He was delighted that someone recalled the play, reminded me of its title, The Close Prisoner, and suggested I write to its author, Clive Exton. He replied to lament that he had lent his only copy of the play script to a research student and never got it back – one of many excellent TV plays from the 1950s and 60s now lost.