British Actor Bob Hoskins Helped Thousands Learn to Read in On the Move, a 1970s “Sesame Street for Adults”

British char­ac­ter actor Bob Hoskins has been remem­bered for “play­ing Amer­i­cans bet­ter than Amer­i­cans,” as USA Today wrote when Hoskins passed away in 2014. Char­ac­ters like Who Framed Roger Rab­bit?’s Eddie Valiant, Nixon’s J. Edgar Hoover, and The Cot­ton Club’s Owney Mad­den stand out as some of his best per­for­mances in Hol­ly­wood. But he began his career in British film and tele­vi­sion, play­ing cops and gang­sters. Helen Mir­ren, who starred oppo­site him in his first major role, The Long Good Fri­day, and onstage in The Duchess of Mal­fi, penned a glow­ing trib­ute for The Guardian. “Lon­don,” she wrote, “will miss one of her best and most lov­ing sons, and Britain will miss a man to be proud of.”

Mirren’s sen­ti­ments were echoed by British actors every­where. Shane Mead­ows called him “the most gen­er­ous actor I have ever worked with.” Stephen Wool­ley described Hoskins as a work­ing-class hero. “With his tal­ent, Bob gate­crashed the world of celebri­ty, and made all of us ordi­nary peo­ple feel a lit­tle bet­ter about our­selves.” It was a role he was seem­ing­ly born to play, despite his range. Hoskins was “a great actor,” writes Wool­ley, “yet unlike many actors he was first and fore­most a cour­te­ous, sweet and car­ing human being. He could make mon­sters human and wring a smile out of any sit­u­a­tion with­out a whisker of embar­rass­ment.”

Those are the very qual­i­ties that endeared view­ers to Hoskins’ first break­out char­ac­ter, Alf Hunt, a fur­ni­ture removal man who strug­gled with read­ing and writ­ing in On the Move, a kind of “Sesame Street for adults” that ran in 1976 on the BBC. The 10-minute shorts ran on Sun­day after­noons “as part of the BBC’s adult edu­ca­tion remit,” Mark Law­son writes at The Guardian. Hoskins’ per­for­mance brought to life for view­ers “a proud man who has des­per­ate­ly dis­guised his learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.” It met a seri­ous need among the nation’s pop­u­lace.

“The show attract­ed 17 mil­lion view­ers a week, (way beyond the size of its tar­get audi­ence),” notes a MetaFil­ter user. On the Move “helped make Hoskins famous. It was also respon­si­ble for per­suad­ing 70,000 peo­ple to sign up for adult lit­er­a­cy pro­grammes.” Hoskins trea­sured the let­ters he received from view­ers who decid­ed to change their lives after see­ing the show. They may well have done so because he gave his all to the char­ac­ter, as Law­son writes:

Hand­ed a work­ing-class stereo­type (not for the last time in his career), Hoskins gave Alf a vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and poignan­cy far beyond the require­ments of a pub­lic infor­ma­tion short. Apart from its intend­ed audi­ence of adults strug­gling with read­ing and writ­ing, On the Move gained a large sec­ondary fol­low­ing among lit­er­ate view­ers because, even then, Hoskins’ expres­sive face and grow­ly voice made you want to watch and lis­ten.

In each episode, Alf revealed his strug­gles to his friend Bert, played by Don­ald Gee. The show also fea­tured inspir­ing inter­views with adults who had tak­en adult lit­er­a­cy class­es and appear­ances by spe­cial guest stars like Patri­cia Hayes and Mar­tin Shaw (who both appear in the episode at the top). While oth­er famous actors may dis­own ear­ly tele­vi­sion work, Hoskins nev­er did. On the Move “shared the qual­i­ties of his best stuff. Where­as most footage in Before They Were Famous type shows is cal­cu­lat­ed to be bathet­ic or embar­rass­ing,” Hoskins’ ear­li­est work does quite the oppo­site, explain­ing why he “went on to become the star he did.”

On the Move may also have earned Hoskins anoth­er title, one he might have cher­ished as much as any act­ing plau­dit. George Auck­land, who lat­er direct­ed the BBC’s adult edu­ca­tion pro­gram, called him “the best edu­ca­tor Britain has pro­duced” because of his wide reach among adults strug­gling with lit­er­a­cy in 1970s Britain. See an episode of On the Move at the top of the post and hear what com­menters call “the catchi­est theme song ever” just above.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How to Read Many More Books in a Year: Watch a Short Doc­u­men­tary Fea­tur­ing Some of the World’s Most Beau­ti­ful Book­stores

Grow­ing Up Sur­round­ed by Books Has a Last­ing Pos­i­tive Effect on the Brain, Says a New Sci­en­tif­ic Study

Take The Near Impos­si­ble Lit­er­a­cy Test Louisiana Used to Sup­press the Black Vote (1964)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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