Actor Brian Hibbard, who will probably be best remembered as the frontman of 1980s a capella pop group The Flying Pickets, has died aged 65 after losing a battle with cancer.
Having been a teacher, steel worker, barman and chimney sweep, Ebbw Vale-born Hibbard turned his hands to acting as a member of John McGrath’s left-leaning political theatre group 7:84. It was for a 7:84 production in 1981 that Hibbard and some of his fellow actors first started performing a capella music, and after continuing to sing that way while travelling from performance to performance with the theatre company, the idea of forming a full fledged a capella group emerged.
Despite being somewhat out of sync with the popular music of the day, The Flying Pickets soon proved popular, with their cover of Yazoo’s ‘Only You’ going to number one in 1983 for five weeks, including occupying the Christmas number one spot. Iconic performances on ‘Top Of The Pop’s further expanded the group’s profile and appeal, and further chart success was achieved with songs like ‘When You’re Young And In Love’.
The group’s moniker referred to its members’ involvement in the miners strikes of the early 1970s and, despite Margaret Thatcher revealing she was a fan of their rendition of ‘Only You’, when the miners unions took on the UK’s then PM in 1984, The Flying Pickets became vocal supporters of the striking miners, performing for them, joining their protests, and even staging their own picket line outside a recording of ‘Top Of The Pops’ to communicate their support.
Such proactive support for the miners probably lost The Flying Pickets some of their newly found fans, and certainly any supporters in the right wing press, and the group’s mainstream popularity started to wane in the following years. Though that may well have been simply because the novelty of having a capella pop songs in the chart wore off. That said, the group continued to record and successfully tour, albeit with a revolving line up, and, indeed, continues to perform to this day.
Hibbard, however, departed the Pickets in 1986 and, after a brief and generally unsuccessful attempt at forming another musical act, returned to acting. Over the years he popped up in numerous long running UK drama series, including ‘Casualty’, ‘Heartbeat’, ‘The Bill’, ‘Holby City’, ‘Emmerdale’, ‘Eastenders’ and Welsh-language soap ‘Pobol y Cwm’, and played a key character for a while in the early 1990s in ‘Coronation Street’. He also had a role in the 1997 cult film ‘Twin Town’.
Hibbard also appeared regularly on stage, especially in Wales, where he also performed in a number of pantomimes over the years. Paying tribute yesterday, Clare Hudson, Head Of BBC Wales Productions told reporters: “Brian Hibbard was passionate, talented, and utterly unmistakeable. His wonderful voice was well known to viewers and listeners of broadcast drama across Wales, in programmes such as ‘Pobol Y Cwm’ – as well as in the theatre. His quirky performances helped bring many a drama to life. He will be greatly missed, as an actor, and as someone who cared deeply about the creative health of drama in Wales”.
Hibbard is survived by his wife Caroline and their three daughters.