The Shillingbury Blowers, written by British television and stage producer, author and composer Francis Essex, debuted on ITV on Sunday 6 January 1980, and ATV quickly commissioned a series of six episodes titled The Shillingbury Tales. Cuffy, actor Bernard Cribbins' character, a scruffy rather mischievous tinker who lives in a shabby caravan, was the brainchild of Bob Monkhouse, who was a close friend of Essex, and gave it to him to include in the series. Although he only appeared in two episodes, it was deemed that there was more mileage to be had from the character. Shillingbury Tales ended when ATV lost its franchise licence to broadcast and its replacement, Central, declined to continue production of the series. However, on 13 March 1983, this spin-off sequel series appeared on our screens.
Also reappearing were some of the residents of the small idyllic English village of Shillingbury that had been introduced in the original series. Jack Douglas appeared as local farmer Jake and Linda Hayden played his daughter Mandy. Nigel Lambert returned as Reverend Norris and Diana King stayed on as local spinster Mrs Simkins. The main characters from The Shillingbury Tales, Peter and Sally Higgins (Robin Nedwell and Diane Keen) did not return. Guest stars included Gareth Hunt (The New Avengers) and Beryl Reid.
The light-hearted series is set in a nostalgically simpler bygone era with a definite feel-good factor, but it failed to capture the viewers interest and after the first 6-episode 25-minute series it left our screens never to be seen again. Cuffy's problem was that it was billed as a sitcom and to be perfectly frank it was not particularly funny. Whereas The Shillingbury Tales was a 'delightfully amusing' 60-minute tale of country folk, the central character of Cuffy, with his raggy image of a flat cap, grubby coat and stubble, who has a tendency to get into all sorts of mischief, despite having a heart of gold, was no more than an amusing diversion and not really a character on which to base a series.
If anyone could have made a success of it, Bernard Cribbins would have been your man. A much-loved light-entertainer, novelty records recording artiste, narrator, comedian and character actor, Cribbins had been proving his talent on stage, film and television since 1956. Two of his movies, Two-Way Stretch and The Wrong Arm of the Law, both starring Peter Sellers and Lionel Jeffries, are classic British comedies that stand the test of time. It led to him getting his own comedy special (Cribbins - 1965 and another series 1969-70). As a character actor he shone in The Railway Children (1970) and his appeal knew no age boundaries. His records, Right Said Fred and The Hole in the Ground (which was picked by Noël Coward as one of his Desert Island Discs) are as funny today as they were originally and when he wasn't telling stories on Jackanory you could hear him providing the narration for The Wombles. Guest appearances included Fawlty Towers, Worzel Gummidge, Super Gran and Last of the Summer Wine.
In 1966 he began a long association with Doctor Who when he appeared in the second Dalek film The Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. before returning to the television series 41 years later as the semi-regular Wilfred Mott. The modern Doctor Who series was, sadly, his last performance. Cribbins passed away at the age of 92 in 2022.
Recognised for his work in children's television with a Special Award at the British Academy Children's Awards in 2009, and honoured by The Queen in 2011 for his services to drama with an OBE, was just reward for a much-loved performer who had a lengthy and prestigious career and was more than deserving of the title ‘National Treasure.’
Published on July 28th, 2023. Written by Marc Saul for Television Heaven.