Obituary: Brian Hibbard, singer and actor
Born: 26 November, 1946, in Ebbw Vale. Died: 18 June, 2012, in Cardiff, aged 65.
Brian Hibbard combined a singing career with the pop group the Flying Pickets and acting. He took important roles in several soap operas and appeared in many drama and comedy series. The latter included Making Out, Minder, Doctor Who and The Amando Ianucci Show.
Hibbard formed the Flying Pickets with a group of other actors who worked with a radical theatre group.
As they travelled between shows they practised a capella singing and in 1983 had a number one hit with their first single – a cover version of Yazoo’s Only You. It spent five weeks at the top of the charts and was the surprise number one Christmas song that year.
Hibbard, however, never lost sight of his Welsh roots and formed a picket line outside the BBC studios, which were about to transmit Top of the Pops during the 1984 miners’ strike.
After attending the local school Brian Hibbard was employed in the Ebbw Vale region as a teacher, steel worker, barman and chimney sweep. He joined the challenging and politically orientated John McGrath’s 7:84 Theatre Group, which toured widely, performing new plays with mostly left-wing themes.
Hibbard and some of the members formed an a capella group to provide background music for the 1981 production of One Big Blow.
The group chose the name The Flying Pickets as the band had played a part in the UK miners’ strikes of 1972 and 1974. The Flying Pickets came up with the original concept of transferring the complexities – requiring a strong sense of harmonic rhythm – of a cappella to the charts.
The group rapidly built up a reputation for their flamboyant appearance with colouful clothes and dramatic stage personalities. Their Top of the Pops appearances are remembered as wonderfully extravagant and typical of the era.
Hibbard was very much in the vanguard of creating this very definite identity for the band. He sported extravagant sideburns, a large ear ring, gaudy hats and, perhaps, the occasional touch of eye-liner.
They built up a loyal and enthusiastic following.
Only You spent five weeks at the top of the charts, establishing the group both commercially and with a wide range of music lovers. It was a considerable vocal achievement; the group preserved the serious underlying nature of the harmonies yet added – partly through their dead-pan delivery – a certain panache and energy to the song. Hibbard sang the lead vocals with much style but without any wild popstar-like gestures.
Only You brought the group a strong following in the pop world and their musicianship gained a wider – altogether more serious – audience among the more middle-of-the-road music lovers.
Despite his well-known left-wing views Hibbard was much amused when he heard that the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, proclaimed that Only You was her favourite record.
The group enjoyed further success. When You’re Young and in Love got into the top ten but it was the lengthy 1984 miners’ strike that brought the group back into prominence.
They supported the strikers whenever possible and even had major disagreements with their record producers, Virgin Records, when they joined the pickets at the Drax Power Station in Yorkshire.
That did not deter the Pickets, who gave free concerts for the strikers and that, in turn, further alienated certain of their fans.
The Pickets’ popularity certainly waned in the mid-1980s and in 1986 Hibbard and another member of the band left. The two tried to form their own act but that did not work out and Hibbard returned to acting.
In 1986 he was seen in the Doctor Who serial, Delta and the Bannermen, and that led to a lengthy appearance in 1992 as the mechanic Doug Murray in Coronation Street. He played a central character in the street and was one of Deirdre Barlow’s many lovers.
Thereafter Hibbard was in Emmerdale, playing Bobby-John Downes in 2003 and as recently as last year in EastEnders, as the former social worker Henry Mason.
In between the soap appearances Hibbard worked on such television favourites as Casualty, Heartbeat, The Bill and Holby City. Hibbard also starred in the cult film Twin Town, based in Swansea and the Welsh language drama Pam Fi, Duw alongside Rhys Ifans in 1997.
Hibbard was a popular figure in Wales. He appeared on stage in several theatres and gave exuberant performances in many pantomimes over the past decade.
Hibbard is survived his wife Caroline and their three daughters.
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