Childhood & Early Life
Henry Wilfrid Brambell was born on March 22, 1912, in Dublin, Ireland, to Edith Marks and Henry Lytton Brambell. As a two-year-old kid, Brambell entertained wounded soldiers during the ‘First World War.’ He was raised along with his older brothers Frederick Edward Brambell and James Christopher Marks Brambell.
He started working as a part-time reporter for ‘The Irish Times’ after leaving school. He also worked as a part-time actor at the ‘Abbey Theatre’ and eventually became a professional actor at the ‘Gate Theatre’ in Dublin.
During the ‘Second World War,’ he became part of the ‘Entertainments National Service Association’ (ENSA), an organization which was set up to entertain the British armed forces during the war.
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Brambell started his film career in 1947 when he played a minor role in the Carol Reed-directed British and Irish film ‘Odd Man Out.’ In the same year, he was also seen in a TV movie titled ‘The Cherry Orchard’ which marked his television debut.
He landed his first prominent role in 1948 when he was cast to play Arthur Moore in the Charles Crichton-directed comedy film ‘Another Shore.’ He landed his first television series role in 1953 when he played a minor role in one of the episodes of the long-running series ‘The Quatermass Experiment.’ In the same year, he was also seen in a TV mini-series titled ‘The Rose and the Ring.’
His roles in television programs, such as ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and ‘Quatermass II’ stereotyped him as an actor who could play older men with ease. In 1956, he played Yokel in three episodes of the television series ‘The Black Brigand.’ The following year, he was seen in seven TV series, namely ‘The Adventures of Sir Lancelot,’ ‘The Adventures of Peter Simple,’ ‘Aggie,’ ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood,’ ‘The Buccaneers,’ ‘Mister Charlesworth,’ and ‘Sword of Freedom.’
From 1958 to 1959, he played a recurring role in a TV series titled ‘Our Mutual Friend.’ In 1959, he was seen in many television movies and series, such as ‘William Tell,’ ‘World Theatre,’ ‘The Torrents of Spring,’ ‘The History of Mr. Polly,’ ‘Bleak House,’ and ‘A Christmas Journey.’
Brambell landed his breakthrough role in 1962 when he was cast to play Albert Steptoe in ‘Steptoe and Son.’ He played Steptoe from 1962 to 1974, appearing in 57 episodes. Meanwhile, he played John McCartney in the 1964 musical comedy film ‘A Hard Day's Night.’ The film, which starred ‘The Beatles,’ increased his popularity as it was a major critical and commercial success.
Brambell started appearing in stage plays throughout the mid-1960s and early-1970s. In 1966, he was seen playing Ebenezer Scrooge in the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel ‘A Christmas Carol.’ In 1971, he played Rooksby in Eric Chappell’s stage play ‘The Banana Box.’
He continued playing various film and TV roles throughout the 70s. In 1970, he played the recurring role of Albert in six episodes of the popular TV series ‘Never Say Die.’ In 1972, he reprised his role as Albert Steptoe in the Cliff Owen-directed comedy-drama film ‘Steptoe and Son.’ The following year, he played Steptoe again in the Peter Sykes-directed sequel ‘Steptoe and Son Ride Again.’
In 1977, he played Mr. Buttermere in one of the episodes of the television series ‘Just William.’ The following year, he played Alice B. Toklas in the Tage Danielsson-directed Swedish comedy film ‘The Adventures of Picasso.’ In the same year, he was also seen in a TV series titled ‘All Creatures Great and Small.’
In 1980, he played Ben Foxcroft in a family drama titled ‘High Rise Donkey.’ The following year, he was seen in a couple of episodes in the long-running television series ‘The Little World of Don Camillo.’ In 1982, he played Uncle Jocelyn in the Anthony Squire-directed adventure film ‘The Island of Adventure.’
He played his last television role in 1983 when he was cast to play a minor role in the long-running horror series ‘Spooky.’ In the same year, he was also seen in a short film titled ‘Death and Transfiguration.’ He played Porter in the 1984 Stephen Weeks-directed drama-fantasy film ‘Sword of the Valiant’ which turned out to be his last film role.
Family & Personal Life
Wilfrid Brambell’s father Henry Lytton Brambell worked as a cashier at a local brewery, while his mother Edith Marks was an opera singer. Though Wilfrid Brambell’s family surname was initially spelled ‘Bramble,’ it was later changed to ‘Brambell’ by his grandfather Frederick William Brambell.
Though Brambell was homosexual, he married Mary ‘Molly’ Josephine Hall in 1948. Josephine Hall had an extra-marital affair with her lodger and gave birth to his child in 1953. Subsequently, Brambell and Josephine Hall parted ways and their marriage ended in divorce in 1955.
Since homosexual acts were illegal in England until 1967, Brambell was arrested in 1962 for importuning a man near a toilet in Shepherd’s Bush. He was later given a conditional discharge. 27 years after his death, he was accused of abusing two boys in the 1970s in Jersey.
Brambell passed away on January 18, 1985, after losing his battle to cancer. His body was cremated at ‘Streatham Park Cemetery’ on January 25, 1985. Actor Phil Davis played Wilfrid Brambell in a ‘BBC’ TV play titled ‘The Curse of Steptoe’ which was broadcast on March 19, 2008.