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When Steptoe Met Son

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steptoe and son wilfrid brambell harry h corbett

At its peak Steptoe and Son pulled in 28 million viewers on British television. The two stars of the show, Wilfred Brambell and Harry H Corbett, were both household names adored by the British public. On screen father and son hated each other. Off screen, their relationship went from bad to worse culminating in a nightmare tour of Australia.

From the outset, actors Brambell and Corbett were like chalk and cheese; Brambell loved fine clothes and was a bit of a dandy whilst Corbett came from a working-class Manchester background. As Steptoe and Son grew in popularity the men became bound together by their own fame. Whereas Brambell spent his fortune on fine clothes and jewellery, Corbett splashed out on holidays in the south of France. Once accustomed to their lavish lifestyles, neither man could walk away from the show.

Brambell was an excessively private man. However, in November 1962 he was arrested for “importuning for immoral purposes” in a London park. Brambell pleaded guilty and was given a conditional discharge. Humiliated by the scandal Brambell grew increasingly dependent on alcohol, turning him into an awkward and erratic actor. Brambell took solace in his regular trips to Hong Kong, where according to several accounts, he confessed to being gay.

Harry H Corbett heavily resented having to carry Brambell’s drunken performance and their working relationship became tense and cold. Corbett grew disenchanted with his acting career, frustrated at being typecast and disappointed that he had never achieved his potential as a serious performer.

In 1974 Steptoe filmed its last episode. Corbett and Brambell were eager to escape each other after 12 years locked in the sitcom. However, within three years the pair were forced by a lack of finances to reunite for a five month tour of Australia. It became a tour of hatred: resorting to sleazy league clubs, both men despised the tour and each other. Brambell drank continually and Corbett threatened to walk out. The final straw came in New Zealand when Brambell offended the entire nation by uttering rude abuse about the country during a live television interview.