I once was walking under the walls of Cardiff Castle with Bernard Bresslaw; we spent a lot of time together before he became ‘starry’ and began to ‘hold court’. Bernard was six feet five. Suddenly he dived violently away from the wall, almost into the traffic. All along the top of Cardiff Castle walls there are sculpted animals, slightly over life size. Hounds, boar, wolves, leopards, right up there, facing the street. In the fading light, Bernard had glanced up and thought he was being leapt on by slavering beasts.
Bernard was a proper cockney – I met his family – and he held to the view that he didn’t need to iron out his way of speaking and ever talk posh off stage. He wouldn’t be told at RADA, said ‘received pronunciation’ was just another accent and he could turn it on whenever it was wanted. Bernard had one of the sharpest minds of anyone I ever knew; he was really witty. But when he was cast to play dim, he went dim. In The Army Game he was meant to be extremely dim; but then he went dim in real life. Weird. Perhaps it was the food, the high life and the money.
His new handlers arranged for him to receive associates at the Dorchester and, because I was a close friend, I was invited to join the queue. He was closeted for hours with handlers and lawyers and promoters – I shall never know who, but it felt like the antechamber of Louis XIV, except that we were in a hotel corridor, not Versailles. Ken Cope and Norman Rossington were in line there, also. I almost left after several hours, but I did get in – and charming as he continued to be, and apologetic, he looked drugged, tired out and was semi-coherent.
His short-lived fame rested on a slogan. They put him on at the Palladium and it made one cringe with pity and embarrassment. He never convinced me when he tried, for the classics – before his ‘success’ – to put on his ‘proper English’. Fortunately for Bernard, he had a wonderful wife and half-recovered from the spurious stardom he was propelled into. The males in his family all keeled over with dicky hearts incredibly early and so did he. Sad. Lovely guy.