David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Culture
Say "Right Said Fred" and most people will start talking about shirts and sex appeal. Not so Bernard Cribbins. He has just opened at the National, but exactly 23 years ago he was climbing what was then called the Hit Parade with the song of the same name. It lasted nine weeks in the top 30, nothing new for Cribbins (right), who only months earlier had managed 10 weeks with "A Hole in the Ground", possibly the only hit single to feature a pneumatic drill. Cribbins has clearly retained a fondness for children's work over the years. This is the actor who got to stand on the station platform with Jenny Agutter as she hurtled towards the dark-coated figure standing amidst the clearing smoke crying "Daddy, my Daddy" at the climax of The Railway Children, which just happens to be Tony Benn's favourite film.

Not content with such cornerstones of the national psyche, he also holds the record for Jackanory storytelling with an enviable 49 appearances. More famously, he characterised Great-Uncle Bulgaria, Madame Cholet and the entire Womble ensemble. Sadly, we were denied his voice on Mike Batt's singles which, as I'm convinced many readers will recall, included "The Wombling Song", "Super Womble", "(We Wish You) A Wombling Merry Christmas", and "Wombling White Tie and Tails".

The National Theatre recognised his vocal talents when they cast him as Nathan Detroit in Richard Eyre's sensational Guys and Dolls, one of the finest productions of a musical ever seen in this country. He is back in Eyre's latest Eduardo de Filippo revival La Grande Magia, together with the production team that made his Napoli Milionaria such a success in 1991. Given a career ranging from Ray Cooney to The Comedy of Errors, the versatile Cribbins should have no difficulties playing "Professor" Otto Marvuglia, Master of Occult Science and Celebrated Illusionist. His co-star, Alan Howard, had better watch out.

'La Grande Magia' is at the National Theatre, London SE1. Bernard Cribbins is in conversation at the Celebritea on 28 Jul at 3.30pm (further details: 0171-928 2252)