Harry H. Corbett 1925 – 1982
He’d have been 97, if he was still here and it’s 40 years ago today since we lost him!
Harry H. Corbett will forever be remembered for his starring role alongside Wilfrid Brambell in Steptoe and Son, during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Despite this he enjoyed a long and successful career with some sections of the British press dubbing him “the English Marlon Brando” during his early career.
Born Harry Corbett in Burma, then a province of the British Indian Empire, 0n 28th February 1925.
His father was a British Army officer stationed in the country as part of the Colonial defence forces. Aged three Corbett’s Mother died and he was sent back to England, where he was raised by an Aunt in Wythenshawe, Manchester. He served in the Royal Marines during the Second World War, following which he trained as a radiographer, before taking up acting as a career, initially in repertory.
Corbett, like his Steptoe character was a Labour Party campaigner, Harold Steptoe had been Labour Party secretary for Shepherd’s Bush West in the sixth series episode, “Tea for Two”.
In 1969 Corbett appeared as Harold Steptoe in a Labour Party Political Broadcast, where Bob Mellish had to defend Harold Steptoe’s accusation that all parties are the same. This was not in any way affiliated with Galton and Simpson who wrote Steptoe.
As Prime Minister, Wilson wished to have Corbett awarded an OBE, but the middle initial “H” was lost in the process and the award went to the Sooty puppeteer, Harry Corbett, instead. Both were eventually included the same New Year’s Honours list on 1 January 1976.
Corbett was married twice, first to the actress Sheila Steafel, they divorced in 1964 and then to Maureen Blott, with whom he had two children.
Harry H. Corbett was a heavy smoker and had his first heart attack in 1979. Within two days of leaving hospital, he appeared in pantomime at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley. He was then badly hurt in a car accident. Shortly afterwards he appeared in the BBC detective series Shoestring, his facial injuries obvious.
On 21st March 1982, at the age of 57, Harry H.Corbett suffered a fatal heart attack and died.
His early career started in 1956 when he appeared on stage in “The Family Reunion” at the Phoenix Theatre in London. From 1958 he began to appear regularly in films, coming to public attention as a serious, intense performer in contrast to his later reputation in sitcom. He appeared in television dramas such as The Adventures of Robin Hood (as four different characters in four different episodes between 1957 and 1960) and Police Surgeon. He also worked early with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal in Stratford, London.
It was a chance meeting with writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who had been successful with Hancock’s Half Hour, that would change Corbett’s life. And so in 1962 he appeared alongside Wilfrid Brambell in “The Offer”, an episode of the BBC’s anthology series of one-off comedy plays, Comedy Playhouse, written by Galton and Simpson.
He played the part of Harold Steptoe,
the rest was history.
The Downside was that he would struggle to shake off the Steptoe role in the eyes of the public.
Other work included films such as Carry On Screaming in 1966,
Pantomime, Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky (1977), the David Essex movie Silver Dream Racer in 1980 and he also appeared in the controversial movie Hardcore in 1977.
On TV Corbett played Harry Tooms in series 2 of Potter alongside Arthur Lowe in 1980
He did four episodes of Jackanory and played the leading roles in Mr Aitch in 1967 and Grundy in 1980.
And an appearance in Shoestring