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English actor and comedian, Harry H. Corbett (1925-1982), grew up in kinship care. 

Harry Corbett was born in Rangoon, Burma where his father was serving in the British Army. Harry was just eighteen months old when his mother died. The child was sent back to Britain and grew up in “deep poverty” in Manchester. 

“We laughed a lot”, Harry Corbett said in 1975. “There was nothing they could do about [the poverty] so they just laughed… The only thing that saved us was the war… it gave people money… that’s the tragedy of it” (Corbett). 

Corbett served during the Second World War with the Royal Marines. He then began acting with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in London, “the leftwing school of method acting,” in plays about the British working class. 

From 1962 to 1974, Harry Corbett (who added an H to his name in the 1950s to distinguish himself from puppeteer, Harry Corbett) starred with Wilfrid Brambell in what is generally regarded as the first British sitcom, Steptoe and Son. 

 At its peak, the programme commanded an audience of 28 million viewers. Brambell played dirty old rag-and-bone man Albert Steptoe, a festering, fly-blown Tory who lazed about the yard all day, drank distilled paraffin and couldn’t care if he dropped a denture in his homemade steak and kidney pud. 

Corbett played Albert’s son. By day, Harold Steptoe bought and sold antique junk from a horse-drawn cart. By night, he prepared for the socialist revolution by reading books by Marx and Shaw (Barrie). 

His role as Harold Steptoe turned Harry Corbett into a star and he was awarded an Order of the British Empire medal in 1976. 


Barrie, David. The dirty truth. The Guardian, 19 August 2002. 

“Harry H Corbett interview.” Youtube, posted by Thames Television, 1975. 

Stevens, Christopher. “Steptoe and Son: the tempestuous ties that kept them together.” The Guardian, 18 March 2012. 

Wintle, Angela. Interview with Susannah Corbett: Writing Steptoe and Son’s Harry H Corbett’s biography. Sussex Life, 3 August 2012. 

 Image available here.