Bernard Fox

Calling Bernard Fox

by james w thomas

“Calling Dr. Bombay. Emergency! Come right away!” And Bernard Fox, the family witch doctor was on his way again to the Stevens household on Thursdays on ABC-TV where Elizabeth Montgomery, aka Samantha of Bewitched, was waiting. “I thought of the most brilliant scientific mind of the age.” The warlock physician said, “Thank you,” to which she replied, “But he died a year ago so I decided to call you.” She called on him 18 times between 1967 and 1972. Alas, the good doctor can be called no more. Fox, a Welsh character actor famous for playing Englishmen died on 14 December 2016.

In Bewitched, no matter what he had been doing, or trying to do with his sexy nurse, he always showed up – in costume. There he was, once in a towel and once in a robe, because, of course, Bombay was about to bathe, then once in a toga with a lyre, as he was re-enacting the burning of Rome. Leaving a dolphin race in a wet suit or an ostrich race as a jockey was normal. But, failing to find peace on the ocean floor, there he was again in a ripped wet suit after getting into a shark fight. And, no, he did not jump the shark.

There were odd visitors and strange symptoms of unearthly diseases at the Stevens home. He did misdiagnose Samantha’s Primary Vocabularitis, speaking in rhyme, originally as the more common and prosaic Secondary Vocabularitis. There was the time Mother Endora and Aunt Clara got their powers switched briefly due to an allergy to the extinct Macedonian Dodo Bird, which was nothing like Bruce, the Loch Ness Monster. Ah, but soothingly, Dr. Bombay did have “the bedside manner of an orangutan.”

Thanks for the above to IMDb, the Internet Movie Database, and Paul at Bewitched@Harpie’s Bizarre (named for the favorite magazine of Samantha’s mother Endora, aka Agnes Moorehead – part Welsh on her mother’s side from her great-great-grandmother Susanna Griffith Forsythe).

Bernard Lawson, born in Port Talbot on 11 May 1927, was a fifth-generation performer, the son of English actors Queenie and Gerald Lawson. After a short stint in the Royal Navy in World War II, he resumed his theatrical career as Bernard Fox and also appeared in 33 movies from 1956 to 2004. He even sailed the Atlantic twice.  In Titanic (1997), he played Colonel Gracie, the last survivor to leave the ship, and in A Night to Remember (1958) as Frederick Fleet (uncredited), said “Iceberg dead ahead, sir.”

Fox was “uncredited” in several other movies, from his first, Soho Incident (1956), to Blue Murder at St. Trinian’s (1957) and The Longest Day (1962) to The Million Dollar Duck (1971). At least he had fun.

Television made him famous, playing variations on the stiff-upper lip Englishman or the bumbling Brit, often in uniform. Early in his TV calling, he appeared on the Danny Thomas, Andy Griffith, and Dick van Dyke shows. His military career included Twelve O’Clock High (serious) and F Troop (not). Fox combined the stereotypes as Colonel Crittenden and Sir Charles in a two-parter on Hogan’s Heroes in 1970. He was villain Brutus Thor in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in 1966 and entitled Sir Twiggly in a 1968 episode of The Monkees. And he was serious in a comedy as Major Ross in a 1978 M*A*S*H episode.

But Dr. Bombay in Bewitched was his most popular. He reprised the role in the 1977 spinoff Tabitha and the soap opera Passions in 1999. Dr. Jinga-Janga the “wish doctor” showed up when called on Pee-wee’s Playhouse in 1989. The television writers came up with the character and Fox over-puffed him with his own inspiration, from an off-beat naval officer he knew during the war. Fox also wrote his own puns. His “real” first name, Hubert, was only revealed in the final episode of Tabitha. He reveled in the silliness.

Bernard Fox retired in 2004 with his wife Jacqueline, his gardening, and his landscape painting. As a longtime member of Hollywood’s Magic Castle, he had his personal magic show. And he liked to end his British music hall show with his line, “Don’t forget. If you’re ever down by the ocean, please drop in.”