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Harry H. Corbett: The Front Legs of the Cow [Hardcover]

Susannah Corbett
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
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Book Description

20 Mar 2012
Harry H. Corbett rose from the slums of Manchester to become one of the best-known television stars of the 20th century. Having left home as a 17-year-old Royal Marine during the Second World War, he fought in the North Atlantic and the jungles of the Pacific and witnessed first-hand the devastation wrought by the Hiroshima bomb. On his return home he wandered into the local theatre company and landed a starring role – The Front Legs of the Cow. Soon becoming a leading light in Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop and a widely-respected classical stage actor, his life was changed forever by the television comedy Steptoe and Son. Overnight he became a household name as the series drew unparalleled viewing figures of over 28 million, with fans ranging from the working classes to the Royal Family. Naturally shy and a committed socialist, fame and fortune didn’t sit easily on his shoulders, and for the next twenty years, until his untimely death at the age of only 57, he had to learn how to be ‘’Arold’. Written by his daughter, Susannah Corbett, an actor herself, this is the first biography of Harry H. Corbett, the man who was once described as being ‘the English Marlon Brando’.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: The History Press (20 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0752476823
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752476827
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 111,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


At long last, the tale of Steptoe and daughter. Susannah Corbett has written a revealing biography of her father, a TV comedy legend. For those who only ever saw him as Harold Steptoe, the rag-and-bone man trapped in a stifling relationship with his 'dirty old man' of a father, Albert (Wilfred Brambell), it might seem unlikely that Harry H Corbett was once a highly regarded 'method' actor described as 'a British Marlon Brando'. As part of the legendary Joan Littlewood's troupe, and in various other plays and British films of the 1950s, Corbett - who died in 1982 at 57 - seemed destined to join Richard Harris and Stanley Baker as one of the new breed of working-class men...... from the slums of Manchester, through wartime action with the Royal Marines - including hand-to-hand combat in the jungle and witnessing the devastation at Hiroshima - to becoming a leading light in Littlewood's Theatre Workshop. --The Independent

Hidden story of the tempestuous ties that bound Steptoe and Son. Harry H Corbett's daughter tells how the two comedy stars became a real-life double act. Has only now been fully documented, in a biography of her father by actress Susannah Corbett. Herself a star of long-running TV hits, including Dalziel and Pascoe and Peak Practice, Corbett is uniquely placed to describe the tension and the grudging admiration between the two men. --The Observer

If ever there was an actor who agonised over the price of fame it was Harry H Corbett. Before Steptoe and son carved him forever in the role of a put-upon carer, he had risen through the ranks of the Joan Littlewood Theatre Company to become a respected classical actor. Daughter Susannah Corbett presents a sympathetic portrait of a committed socialist uneasy with success, whose untimely death at 57 robbed the world of an unheralded genius. --Belfast Telegraph

Steptoe and.......daughter. Thirty years on, his memory is still synonymous with 'Arold - one half of the TV comedy partnership he formed over two decades with Wilfred Bramble. Yet both his personal life and career were far richer and more varied than his reputation suggests. Now his daughter Susannah has written has written a biography that attempts to give a more rounded picture of her adored father. ....While she offers some poignant personal insights, much of it is too detailed for all but the most avid of student of theatre history. Other facets of Corbett's life, such as his first marriage to actress Sheila Steafel, are dealt with in a few perfunctory paragraphs.The result is a book that at times feels more like a tribute than a biography. Perhaps Corbett is best summed up by the actress Lynda Baron: 'He was madly in love with the business and madly in love with his family. He was a lovely bloke.' --The Mail On Sunday

If ever there was an actor who agonised over the price of fame it was Harry H Corbett. Before Steptoe and son carved him forever in the role of a put-upon carer, he had risen through the ranks of the Joan Littlewood Theatre Company to become a respected classical actor. Daughter Susannah Corbett presents a sympathetic portrait of a committed socialist uneasy with success, whose untimely death at 57 robbed the world of an unheralded genius. --Belfast Telegraph

About the Author

SUSANNAH CORBETT is an actress and author. She has worked on Radio, the West End stage, Television and Film, and has leading ongoing television roles in Dalziel and Pascoe and Peak Practice. As a children s author, she has written Dragon s Dinner (Hodder, 2009) and the forthcoming One Cool Cat (Egmont), which is due for release in 2012.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sets the record straight....... 18 Mar 2012
By Big Si
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In recent years it has become fashionable to have a pop at Harry H Corbett: both a recent documentary and TV drama suggesting that he hated his Steptoe and Son co-star Wilfrid Brambell and that he was a serious, straight actor frustrated having to play situation comedy. Given that the aforementioned documentary stated that Corbett died in 1985 when it was actually 1982 (unbelievable that this is now 30 years ago), that the TV drama cast an actor wearing brown contact lenses when in fact Corbett's eyes were blue, and that I distinctly recall Brambell being very upset on TV's Nationwide on the day that Corbett died, I have always felt that the true story of Harry H Corbett and Steptoe and Son had not yet been told.
Happily this book, written by Corbett's daughter, herself an established writer and actor, puts the record straight. Whilst it's clear that Corbett and Brambell were never bosom buddies (Corbett was heterosexual, a socialist and a method actor, Brambell was homosexual, a Tory and an actor of the `old school') there was never the sort of blind hatred between the pair that the recent documentary and TV drama would have us believe. Rather, Corbett emerges as a remarkably un-cynical and self-effacing individual: serious about his profession but content to take what life throws at him.
This long-overdue book is a highly readable account of one of Britain's much-loved and now largely-forgotten actors; an actor who, had he lived, would probably have slipped back into serious roles in the 1990s (like David Jason eventually did). Whilst the book is prone to some extraneous detail (the plot synopses of Steptoe episodes drag a little) this should not detract from its overall impact. One senses that the author is attempting to set the record straight: in this she succeeds admirably. Forget what you have been told about Harry H Corbett over the last 10 years or so; you've been misinformed. A highly recommended book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By David
An important point to bear in mind when taking on this book is that it is written by Harry H Corbett's daughter. And, as such, it suffers from the inevitable perspective that a loving daughter can't help but bring to the story of a father she understandably adored. Indeed, in the 'Epilogue' of the book Susannah concedes 'It is a curious thing to tell the story of a person while walking the tightrope between sentiment and impartiality. Knowing that for some you will always be too sentimental, for others not enough.'

Well, whilst I'm dubious about the likelihood of someone being accused of not being sentimental enough, there can be little doubt that this book, far from being written with a neutrality which allows for neither emotional attachment or spiteful bias, is the product of someone for whom no bad word about its subject could ever be entertained. If evidence of this is required then I defy anyone to find within the entire 450 pages of this tome, a negative criticism of either Harry H, the man, or Harry H, the actor. Yes, there's mention of bad reviews of productions he's appeared in. But even in these, invariably the root cause of the failure (at least by the no doubt carefully selected critics quoted) cannot be attributed to Harry. In most instances, the production was dire despite Harry's excellent contribution, or else he was the exception in an otherwise dud of a play - or, at the very worst, Harry was 'miscast'.

This relentless glorification is also to be found in the plethora of tributes paid by countless actors, directors, producers, writers, and Uncle Tom Cobley, all of whom have nothing but good things to say about this undoubtedly fine actor who was also, by all accounts, a very decent and genuine man.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 10 Jan 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Bought for my father in law. He said it was very good. A bit slow at the beginning but he persisted and thoroughly enjoyed it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Insight 22 Oct 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Like many I had been taken in by the inaccuracies of the BBC4 drama which seemed to be portraying itself as a documentary. This is a great way to explore the truth of the situation, Whilst never close friends (they came from different backgrounds and had very different political views) Harry & Wilfrid clearly respected each other professionally.

Written lovingly and respectfully by his daughter, Susannah, it certainly does not attempt to be a whitewashing of the truth or a re-invention of history. It does demonstrate what a great actor he was and how had Steptoe not happened he would still have been remembered as a gifted stage performer. A very pragmatic person, he did what he thought he needed to do to pay the bills, even if some of the projects he was involved with were not so good with the benefit of hindsight. There was certainly no hint that he regretted his time with Steptoe, which is another miss-truth often quoted as an easy headline.

The only reason I didn't give it a full five stars is that a quarter of the book relates in detail with Harry's professional relationship with Joan Littlewood and his time at the Theatre Theatre Workshop. Whilst fascinating to see how both helped to shape Harry's professional and personal life, some may consider a little too much detail is covered on Joan's relationship with the Theatre Workshop and her relationship with Ewan MacColl. I found myself wanting to get back with Harry's fascinating life even though it was interesting in it's own right.

All in all, a very accomplished first biography - perhaps Ms Corbett could turn her skills to restoring the reputations of other 60 & 70s small screen stars whose reputations have been historically tarnished?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as I thought it would be
It was interesting but far too long-winded. As a result it got pretty boring at times Not a book I would recommend
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars great
Great seller prompt and product arrived as intended

I wouldn't think twice about recommending this seller or the products they sell
Published 4 months ago by David
2.0 out of 5 stars Steptoe And Daughter, With No Warts
A daughter isn't the best person to write a biography. Susannah loved her Dad, that much is plain, and in her eyes he can do no wrong. Read more
Published 8 months ago by AK 1957-05
5.0 out of 5 stars good read
Great book, arrived quickly and in great condition. An excellent read by Harry's daughter and great photos too. I would recommend it to any fan.
Published 9 months ago by francesca
5.0 out of 5 stars present for a friend
This was a birthday present, and very well received . . . . . . . . . . .
Published 12 months ago by kml
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it
It was really a good read.To see his up bringing and struggles and to understand that Harry was a really nice bloke and very talented actor. Read more
Published 13 months ago by D & D
1.0 out of 5 stars Dissapointing
Very disapointing. This is not a biography about 'Harry'. There is a lot of it about other people, a lot of it wasnt even written by the author, she uses so many quotes from other... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Alan Brown
4.0 out of 5 stars So much more to this actor than being known as a Rag & Bone man.
Written by the mans daughter, she paints a loving picture but pulls no punches & perhaps dispells a few myths aloong the way - Mentioned within are many things that the viewing... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Shane Blackwell
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good read
Bought this for my moms kindle.True life story of a fantastic actor who sadly died to young.Its a very good read
Published 14 months ago by Purpleman
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable story of a private man
I can understand why some of the reviews express disappointment about the lack of an in-depth assessment of Harry H Corbett in this book, but I think the reader needs to understand... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Retriever470
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