Sunday, May 4, 2014

Bob Hopkins: Played an early role in helping adults learn to read

British actor Bob Hoskins, who recently died aged 71, was the star of several big-screen blockbusters movies as a mobster or as the sidekick to Roger Rabbit but his early role in a BBC adult education series made a different kind of impact.

"On the move, on the move, we're on the move again," crooned 1970s cabaret-poppers The Dooleys over the opening credits.

There followed 10 minutes of clips and sketches aimed at helping adults overcome literacy problems. It was an unlikely setting from which to launch a Hollywood career.

But each episode of the 1976 BBC series On the Move featured a running storyline in which the late Bob Hoskins appeared as Alf Hunt, a furniture removal man who had difficulty reading and writing.

A proud but sympathetic character, Alf would open up to his friend Bert, played by Donald Gee, about his fears and frustrations.

His progress, as he sought help, attracted a huge following well beyond the show's target audience.

Up to 17 million people watched the Sunday tea-time programme, according to George Auckland, who would subsequently take charge of the BBC's adult education programming.

It was Alf's human drama and, specifically, Hoskins's captivating performance that drew them in, said Auckland.

A national campaign to tackle illiteracy was boosted by the series. On the Monday after each episode, says Auckland, "there would be queues around the block" at adult literacy centres.

"There's a strong argument that this makes Hoskins the best educator Britain has ever produced" but this is an exaggeration and Hopkins motive for joining the programme may have more to do with trying to get on the ladder to fame and fortune, which he eventually managed to do.

What we can say is that the broadcasting and media services can go a long way to normalising and helping to overcome the difficulties that some adults have when reading.

The media can also push forward willing celebrities who can captivate audiences and in doing so encourage the expansion and development of adult education in everyday life.

We are sadden by the death of Bob Hopkins as we are saddened by the passing of all men /women. We congratulate and celebrate his success in the film industry and we thank him for the part he played in helping adult education.

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