Brian Hibbard

Brian Hibbard
Brian Hibbard

Brian Hibbard was the lead singer with the brilliant 1980’s pop group ‘The Flying Pickets’ who had a Christmas Number One Hit with “Only You” in 1983.  They made beautiful cover versions of “I Heard it Trhough the Grapevine”, “Buffalo Soldier” and “Ziggy Stardust” amongmany others.    Her also acted and appeared in “Coronation Street” as mechanic ‘Doug Murray’ who had a romance with Deirdre Barlow.   He also featured in “Emmerdale” and in the film “Rancid Aluminum”.   He was born in 1946 in Ebbw Vale in South Wales and died in 2012.

Anthony Hayward’s “Guardian” obituary:

Brian Hibbard, who has died of prostate cancer aged 65, first found fame as a member of the Flying Pickets, a group of actors who left the socialist playwright John McGrath‘s 7:84 theatre group to woo audiences through their a cappella singing. They topped the pop charts in 1983 with a cover version of Only You, trumping Yazoo, the duo of Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke, who had reached No 2 with their original recording. This Christmas No 1 single and the group’s flamboyant look – gaudy suits, large hats and Hibbard’s massive sideburns – led to brief stardom for the Flying Pickets, a name coined because some of them had supported the miners during their strikes of 1972 and 1974. They hit the Top 10 again with another cover, When You’re Young and in Love (1984), but only scraped into the lower reaches of the chart with their third single, the Eurythmics song Who’s That Girl (1984).

Stardom coincided with the 1984-85 miners’ strike, so the group staged benefit concerts and picketed pits, coke plants and power stations, leading one record chain to refuse to stock their albums. With the novelty act wearing thin, Hibbard returned to acting full-time and carved out a screen career in which he was rarely out of work.

His first significant role was as the slovenly, unemployed Chunky – reprising the 1950s haircut and sideburns, along with leather jacket and skull-and-crossbones motif on his T-shirt – in Making Out (1989-91), the first of Debbie Horsfield’s comedy-dramas centred on groups of women. Chunky was married to Margi Clarke’s fiery Queenie, ringleader of the employees facing workplace and personal crises at an electronics factory outside Manchester.

Hibbard then enjoyed a run in Coronation Street as Doug Murray (1992-93), a mechanic at the garage – then owned by Mike Baldwin – who had a relationship with Deirdre Barlow and stole his boss’s beloved Jaguar, swapped it for a Mercedes and did a moonlight flit to Germany.

Eventually settling down to regular work as a character actor, Hibbard flitted between productions, most noticeably in his native Wales, where he is particularly remembered as Dai Reese, the self-styled karaoke king, in the cult film Twin Town (1997), and as another layabout, the racist Tony in Little White Lies (2006), which won him a Bafta Cymru best actor award.

Hibbard, the son of a steelworker, was born in Monmouthshire and brought up in Ebbw Vale. He grew his trademark sideburns during the early days of rock’n’roll, and longed to see the world beyond his valley. On leaving school, he flitted between jobs as a steelworker, bartender and chimney sweep, before training as a teacher. Motivated by the political uprisings of the late 1960s, he then began acting with companies whose productions addressed political issues of the time.

In 1980, Hibbard and his fellow actors in a 7:84 production of One Big Blow, John Burrows’s play about the daily hazards endured by miners and the escape they found by playing in colliery brass bands, mimicked the sounds of the instruments because they could not afford to hire musicians. Soon, as the Flying Pickets, they were being asked to sing a cappella at events, appearing in cabaret and at festivals, and were offered a record deal.

After leaving the group in 1986, Hibbard and his fellow Flying Picket Red Stripe (originally named David Gittins) teamed up as Brian & Stripe, but their only single, the Yazoo song Mr Blue, failed to chart.

Concentrating on acting, Hibbard appeared as the alien bounty hunter Keillor in the Doctor Who story Delta and the Bannermen (1987) and was cast in both comedies and dramas, from Birds of a Feather (1991) and Murder Most Horrid (1994) to Minder (1993) and Dalziel and Pascoe (1999). He returned to soap opera briefly as the ageing Romeo Bobby-John Downes in Emmerdale (2003, 2006) and the former social worker Henry Mason in EastEnders (2011), as well as rough diamond Johnny Mac in the Welsh serial Pobol y Cwm (2005-2008). For more than 20 years, he also relished playing pantomime villains on stage.

Hibbard is survived by his wife, the actor Caroline Bunce, whom he married in 1996, and their three children, Lilly, Cai and Hafwen.

• Brian Lewis Hibbard, actor and singer, born 25 November 1946; died 17 June 2012

The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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