Bernard Bresslaw (1934-1993) b. Stepney, London, England.
Bernard Bresslaw was born in Stepney, London, on 25 February 1934. He attended the Coopers’ Company’s School in Tredegar Square, Bow, London. His father was a tailor’s cutter who nurtured Bernard’s fascination for acting by regularly taking him to the Hackney Empire. London County Council awarded him a scholarship to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where he won the Emile Littler Award as the most promising actor and came to the attention of Laurence Olivier, who took him under his wing and helped his transition into a stage and screen performer.
His first main role, however, was in Educating Archie on radio, which led to his first TV role in The Army Game and the spin-off in which he coined his catchphrase, later used in many of the Carry-On films, ‘I Only Arsked!’
His first film was an uncredited appearance in the 1954 The Men of Sherwood Forest and several more similar roles followed until in 1959 when he secured his first substantial part in Too Many Crooks. All the while, he continued to appear on stage, mainly in Shakespearean roles and in a variety of TV parts, including roles in Meet The Champ, Our House, Z Cars and Dangerman, until 1965 when he got his big break, being cast as Little Heap in Carry on Cowboy. In all he was to appear in 14 of the archetypal British comedies.
He was a very tall man, 6 ft 7˝ in to be precise, which put him in the running to play the part of the Creature in Hammer’s Curse of Frankenstein (eventually given to Christopher Lee). Interestingly, Bresslaw later starred in The Ugly Duckling, Hammer Films’ comedy version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
When the Carry-On films came to an end, Bernard returned mainly to his first love, the theatre, although he did continue working in television, in particular making a series of adverts for BT with Maureen Lipman and Miriam Margolyes. In addition, he further expanded his all-round repertoire with a privately published volume of poetry, entitled Ode to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
He had recently completed what was to be his last film, Leon The Pig Farmer and was enjoying something of a revival of his stage career, getting back into his love of Shakespearian roles, when, on 11th June 1993, just before a performance in “The Taming Of The Shrew” in Regent’s Park, London, he had a sudden heart attack and died at the age of 59.
Bernard was married, in 1959 to, and survived by, Betty Wright and their three sons, James, Mark and Jonathon.
Compiled by Clive Saunders.