If there was one thing Humphrey B Bear understood it was conserving his energy. Luvvies with a fraction of his 40-year reign as ursine uber-icon would whine about the size of their dressing room or their position in the parking-spot pecking order, but Humphrey went about his job with quiet authority. He never complained, he never explained, and he never ever apologised. He kept a cool head. And he kept it on.
Cynical observers would contend that this was because Humphrey was mute. But any actor worth his – whatever it is they feed actors – can express raw emotion through his instrument, without recourse to rhetoric.
There will be some who would argue that the impediment of an immobile face is that it denies the performer his most important organ of communication. That would also be a pretty valid point.
What Humphrey will be remembered for is his arm work. The simple thumbs up for “yes” – the hands over the eyes for “no” – the “beckon”, the “halt”, the “he’s behind you”. As Russell Crowe is to glowering and Nicole Kidman is to ambition so is Humphrey to the “up yours”.
This Noh-like economy of expression cannot be learned at the academy. There is no unit in bear suits at NIDA. What Humphrey has learned through the hard grind of fete opening and eisteddfod, bringing understanding to dribbling and uncomprehending whelps, may now be sadly lost.
It is interesting to consider if one would be comfortable with a person of uncertain age and predilection frolicking with one’s children while wearing an all-enveloping disguise.
I once appeared alongside “Humphrey”, as we called him, on a television entertainment. The voiceover man, in parody of the Play School theme song, started to sing, “there’s a man in there”.
I find it a lot less unnerving to think of him as a “bear”.