Best Film Carry On Up The Khyber
Best Character Ken Biddle in Carry On Doctor
Silliest name Bungdit Din In Carry On Up The Khyber
Films 14 - Cowboy, Screaming, Follow That Camel, Doctor, Up The Khyber, Camping, Up The Jungle, Loving, At Your Convenience, Abroad, Matron, Girls, Dick, Behind, That's
Best Line "I only arsked"


At 6 foot 7 inches Bernard Bresslaw is by far the tallest of the Carry Oners, and he is head and shoulders above Barbara Windsor at 4 foot 10 inches.  It is his height that he thought would be his disadvantage when he took up acting, but it has served him well, winning him his first stage role when Laurence Olivier was looking for someone to play an Irish wrestler for his production of MacRoary Whirl, and the Carry Ons have always made the most of his size.

Ironically his first character was named Little Heap in Cowboy, where he towered over his father, Big Heap, Charles Hawtrey.  In Screaming we see him playing a Lurch-type character from the Addams Family called Sockett and this, along with Matron, are perhaps his smallest roles in the series, really just cameos.  He dominates the desert in Follow That Camel as the powerful Sheik Abdul Abulbul with lines like, "The behaviour of the white infidel is like blood coming from a stone - a bleeding mystery!", another of Talbot's classic retake on popular sayings.  In Up The Khyber, as the Burpa tribal leader Bungdit Din, his height is used to create that sense of power and when he attacks the British Residency, he throws a hand grenade over the wall and shouts, "That'll teach them to ban turbans on the buses!"

We see him frightening the life out of Joan Sims when playing Gripper Burke, an insanely jealous prize wrestler, when she is entertaining her would-be lover Sid James.  Again we see the other side of Bernie's persona playing a more vicious character than he is perhaps remembered for.  We see that he can perform with his variety of carefully thought out characterisations, for example the gormless bewilderment of an innocent caught up in someone else's manoeuvres.  In Camping Sid James invites him to share in his scheme for luring their two girlfriends, Joan Sims and Dilys Laye into what he believes is a nudist camp.  The indecision and conflict between his loyalty to Sid and his respect for the girls can be seen all over his face.  There is gentle tenderness in his romance with Dilys Laye, whom he also pursued in Doctor, and a great deal of charm in the contrast between his big frame and her petite figure.  

Carry On Girls sees him playing a mainly straight part as a beauty contest publicist who dresses up as one of the contestants to create extra publicity.  Bernie dressed in a white frilly girdle with long hair and make-up contrasts with his straight character to great comic effect.  Another Carry On which involves a drag role is in Matron.  As a member of a pill-thieving gang, he gatecrashes a maternity hospital as an expectant mother who keeps forgetting that he is not, in fact, pregnant, and his large stomach merely conceals his safe-breaking gear. 

Bernie was born in 25th February 1934 in Stepney, in London's East End and remained proud of that fact. "I am the son of a poor East End tailor's cutter", he says recalling the first fruits of his labour, "I had seen my mother forced to take in sewing to help with the household bills, and it made me feel good to be in a position to help them".

His English teacher at school encouraged him to take the drama path and he won one of the only two annual London County Council Awards to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he gained the coveted Emile Littler Award for the Most Promising Actor.  He toured smaller venues like army camps, prisons and hospitals for a while, playing the lead in The Hasty Heart.  His London debut, a juvenile lead in Bachelor's Honeymoon was a disaster.  It opened on Thursday and closed on Saturday.  "For a while," he says, "it held the record as the shortest run anywhere".

He first came to public prominence as Sergeant Popplewell, the gawky thick-headed 'Popeye' in the original TV Army Game series.  He also gained fame at this time as a recording artiste when he made 'Mad Pashernate Love', originally recorded as a joke and reached number 4 in the UK charts.  

For a while his 'Popeye' personality and his associated catchphrase, 'I Only Arsked!', was so well known that they were something of an embarrassment.  But Rothwell did write them in to some of his lines, for example in Camping.  He was aware of the perils of typecasting and refused a number of 'Popeye' type roles, and this is when he went through a very quiet period work-wise.  Eventually, he started playing a variety of Shakespearean roles and won the Variety Club of Great Britain's Most Promising Newcomer Award.

Bernie is as much at home with the classics as he is with comedy and his dramatic credits include Quince in A Midsummer's Night Dream and the Professor in Ionesco's The Lesson, where he plays a 16th Century monk, and also the lead role in the Old Vic's production of Oblomov.

Another turning point in his career is when he got a part in TV's Z Cars, but what brought him to the forefront of the British public's affections was his work with the Carry Ons.

In addition to his TV and film work, he was also a great lover of pantomimes and revues in which he regularly appeared, such as Wot A Carry On in Blackpool, in which he appeared with Barbara Windsor.

Bresslaw died of a sudden heart attack on 11 June 1993. He had collapsed in his dressing room at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, London, where he was playing Grumio in the New Shakespeare Company's production of Taming of the Shrew.


 Chronologically (except Carry Ons)
Externally linked to IMDB

Leon the Pig Farmer
Mann's Best Friends (TV)
Hawk the Slayer
Fifth Musketeer, The
Joseph Andrews
One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing
Clochmerle (TV)
Up Pompeii
Spring and Port Wine
Moon Zero Two


Mum's Boys (TV)
Amerika (TV) Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment
Midsummer Night's Dream, A (TV)
It's All Happening
Our House (TV)
Ugly Duckling, The
Blood of the Vampire
I Only Arsked!
Too Many Crooks
Army Game, The (TV)
High Tide at Noon
Between Heaven and Hell
Up in the World
Men of Sherwood Forest


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