BRYAN PRINGLE 1935-2002
Bryan Pringle, actor, was born at Glascote, Staffordshire, on January 19, 1935. He died on May 15, 2002, aged 67.
Character actor who was equally at home in television's The Dustbinmen and Pinter's The Birthday Party. The actor Bryan Pringle became a household name through his portrayal of Cheese-and-Egg, the rascally foreman of a group of refuse collectors in Jack Rosenthal's 1969 television comedy series The Dustbinmen. The leader of a gang of unruly and vulgar binmen who ignored the rules and alarmed residents, Pringle's character enlivened the show as he tried to keep his men happy while appeasing both householders and bosses.
He was in the right place at the right time. Since the beginning of the 1960s there had been a constant demand for working-class actors -"I was all right as long as I kept quiet about the minor public school," he quipped - and Pringle, with his dry humour, long face and pitiful looks, found himself frequently called upon to play these realistic and often gritty roles. "I don't particularly like playing nasty characters," he explained, "I was just born with a face that nobody would think well of."
The Dustbinmen was a classic example of his ability to adapt to the stereotype, and after six shows had topped the viewing figures a second series was commissioned. But the director of public cleansing in Salford, where the series was based, did not share the enthusiasm, claiming that the cast bore no relation to real-life dustmen. "The majority are far more intelligent," he said. "I personally don't think it's funny, and it makes dustmen out to be complete clots." Pringle was unapologetic: "It shows that people who are working on a bloody awful job are human beings."
He went on to star as the tough and unorthodox Sergeant Flagg in The Growing Pains of PC Penrose, supervising a young police officer (Paul Greenwood) as he experiences life as a new boy in the force; and a collection of other parts that included publicans, child abusers, policemen and prisoners.
His television plays included On Giant's Shoulders (1979) with Judi Dench, a powerful tale of the thalidomide son of black-Jamaican and white-British parents who is dumped in a home for unwanted children. A local couple - Pringle and Dench - try to adopt him, which in turn leads to the involvement of an endless parade of bureaucrats.
But the small screen was merely one, albeit extremely important, outlet for Pringle's talent. Almost invariably his work included an element of socio- political comment. He undertook his fair share of work for the Royal Shakespeare Company, which included playing in The Birthday Party (1964), with Pinter himself directing, and spending his evenings in a dustbin as Nagg in Beckett's Endgame (1964). Both were staged at the Aldwych. One critic referred to The Birthday Party as "a night to remember with the maddest, saddest, greatest performances by Brewster Mason, Patrick Magee and Bryan Pringle".
Bryan Pringle was the son of an itinerant working-class vicar. His relationship with his mother was a difficult one, and from a young age he was brought up largely by a family friend. He was educated at St Bees in Cumbria, where a hopelessly traditional English master told him that as he had "not a hope in hell of any O levels" he had better become an actor. He went to Eric Capon's preparatory school for RADA and then on to the academy itself, part of the vintage 1954 intake that included Peter O'Toole and Brian Bedford.
But it wasn't all plain sailing. "After three terms I got slung out for being such a terrible actor," he recalled in a Times interview 20 years ago, "but my father wrote them a stiff letter signed 'Rev C. Pringle' all about the godly virtues of giving young people a second chance in life, and so they took me back in and at the end of the last term I got the gold medal for my Abraham Lincoln."
From there, Pringle entered the Old Vic as a spear carrier in the dying days of Michael Benthall's five-year plan. He followed it with a long run of repertory work. "But with a beaten-up face like mine, and H. M. Tennent still filling the West End with upper-class classics, there didn't seem much point in hanging around London, so I went up to Sam Wanamaker's theatre in Liverpool and we did One More River."
He moved over to the Nottingham Playhouse, playing Private Smith in Willis Hall's Boys It's All Hell. He was the only survior of the original cast to reach London, where it was renamed The Long and the Short and the Tall at the Royal Court.Along the way he had, he admitted, a reasonable share of flops, including Close the Coalhouse Door. "It was a wow in Newcastle," he recalled, "and apparently incomprehensible further south."
Similarly, a farce that played for two years in Paris - in which Pringle, Brian Murphy and Jane Asher appeared as cats - ran for just two nights in London. "It had played at the Theatre de la Poche," he explained, "and nobody ever told me that poche meant pocket and they'd only 13 seats to fill at each performance."
His long list of credits extended to the stage as Michael Crawford's father in the West End musical Billy (1974); television, in a range of popular shows including All Creatures Great and Small and Casualty; and film, not least Twiggy's father in Ken Russell's The Boy Friend (1971) and the raunchy part of Jake alongside the actress Jane Gurnett in the 1988 cult movie Drowning By Numbers. The film opens with them making love in a tin bath but the fun comes to an end when his wife storms in and drowns him.
Like many of his characters Pringle was a down-to-earth individual. "What I enjoy are things like drinking pints with the boys and going to rugger matches," he told readers of TV Times in 1964. "I'd much rather watch than play. I'm dead lazy. Apart from acting I don't really do anything. I don't want to. It suits me fine just sitting around doing nothing."
Bryan Pringle was married to the actress Anne Jameson, who died in 1999.
He is survived by a son and a daughter.