Norman Bird

Norman Bird

A character actor who had appeared so often as a henpecked husband, sales clerk or other minor official that his body of work was described as portraying "a wonderful gallery of under-achievers", Norman Bird was a well-known 'man with the cardigan' (his own description of himself), in over 200 film and television productions from his debut in 1954 until his last role in 1996.

Born in Coalville, Leicestershire on 30 October 1924, to John (a farmer) and Winifred Bird (nee Shaw) John George Norman Bird left school to work in an office before landing a place at RADA, where he formed a lifelong friendship with Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes. After graduating he went into Rep where he met his wife, Nona Blair, later to be the voice of Joan Hood on The Archers.

In 1950 Bird joined John Gielgud's company to be an understudy in Christopher Fry's The Lady's Not for Burning, and he toured the United States with the play. The following year he made his West End debut in Peter Brook's production of The Winter's Tale at the Phoenix Theatre.

Norman Bird
An Inspector Calls

He made his first appearance on screen in 1954 in An Inspector Calls, playing a factory foreman. His first television role was as S.A. Smallpiece in the Jimmy Edwards sitcom Whack-O! From that role onwards, Bird established himself as one of the country's most reliable character actors - appearing variously as a clerk of the court, a castle usher, a landlord, a constable and a hotel manager.

Norman Bird
League of Gentlemen

In 1959, he starred in Attenborough and Forbes’ production League of Gentlemen, portraying a former bomb disposal officer. This character was burdened by the guilt of causing the deaths of four men in his unit while intoxicated on duty. Now, living with a nagging wife, he willingly joins a team of former military men who employ their wartime expertise to execute an intricate heist.

Norman Bird
The Hill

Bird played in several other films directed by Forbes, including The Angry Silence, Whistle Down the Wind, The Wrong Box, The Raging Moon and The Slipper and the Rose. He was also in Attenborough's Oh! What a Lovely War and Young Winston and his last screen role was that of a taxi-driver in Attenborough's Shadowlands. Other films included The Hill (starring Sean Connery), The Punch and Judy Man (starring Tony Hancock) and Ooh… You are Awful (starring Dick Emery).

Norman Bird
Worzel Gummidge

Bird's television roles included Z Cars (five episodes), The Saint (four episodes), The Avengers, The Baron, Department S, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Dixon of Dock Green, Steptoe and Son, Coronation Street, Fawlty Towers, Yes, Minister, and Boon. He appeared in all seven episodes of the wartime sitcom Yanks Go Home and twenty-three episodes of Worzel Gummidge as Mr Braithwaite. He was Mr Jenkins in Look and Read, a children's anthology that mixed stories of adventure, sci-fi and horror with educational segments aimed at improving children's literacy skills.

In 1990 he claimed that Stay Lucky, a comedy series with Dennis Waterman, provided his 200th TV appearance. His last television role was that of a grandfather in the political drama, Crossing the Floor.

Norman Bird

In 1992 Bird and his wife moved to Bridgnorth, Shropshire, to be near their two daughters and five grandchildren. He passed away on 22 April 2005, aged 80. Leaving behind a huge body of work, Norman Bird was one of those unsung heroes whose work formed the backbone of the British entertainment industry for over 50 years.

Published on May 19th, 2024. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

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