Fred Dibnah (28 April 1938 6 November 2004) was born in Bolton, Lancashire and established a career as an industrial steeplejack and demolitions expert. After a local BBC station made a documentary following him working on the iconic roof and tower of Bolton Town Hall, the BBC realised it had a rough diamond in the making and followed his life and work. This made for visually exciting television, and made the wryly funny Northerner into something of a national celebrity. Dibnah's philosophical asides on life tended to be delivered, in a distinctive Bolton accent, from several hundred feet up the side of a factory chimney or other normally inaccessible architectural feature. Whilst primarily employed to maintain large structures, as the decades turned into the 1980's, Dibnah's job became more one of demolition. Employing low-tech methods for bringing down chimneys and eschewing the use of explosives, his spectacular demolitions also made for enthralling television. Dibnah was aware that his livelihood now depended on the arguably un-necessary demise of British heavy industry, and could get thoughtful and sad about this.
Always interested in steam engines and the machinery that powered the British Industrial Revolution, his hobby was restoring and displaying the old steam-engines of times past. These were generally road engines, although he also had an interest in steam-powered rail. As he got too old for steeplejacking, the BBC began to commission series dealing with Dibnah's love of steam and heavy machinery and the history of Britain's steam-powered heavy industry - which by the 1990's was becoming not much more than history, a thing Dibnah acknowledged with a hint of uncharacteristic bitterness.
TV Documentaries and Series'
- Fred Dibnah: Steeplejack (1979)
- Fred (1983)
- Fred A Disappearing World (1983)
- A Year with Fred (1987)
- A Year with Fred New Horizons (1991)
- Life With Fred (1994)
- The Ups and Downs of Chimneys (1994)
- The Fred Dibnah Story (1996)
- Fred Dibnah's Industrial Age (1999)
- Fred Dibnah's Magnificent Monuments (2000)
- Fred Dibnah's Victorian Heroes (2001)
- Fred Dibnah's Getting Steamed Up (2001)
- Fred Dibnah's Building of Britain (2002)
- Fred Dibnah's Age of Steam (2003)
- Dig with Dibnah (2004)
- A Tribute to Fred Dibnah (2004)
- Fred Dibnah's Made in Britain (2005)
- Fred Dibnah's World of Steam, Steel and Stone (2006)
Tropes ascended, repaired, knocked down or coaxed into full steam by Fred include:-
- Busman's Holiday: his first divorce was prompted when, after much pleading from his then wife, he reluctantly booked a seaside holiday in Blackpool. When they arrived there, he told her to take the kids to the beach and then he went off to do a demolition and a couple of steeplejacking jobs in the town. His wife was not happy.
- Eccentric Townsfolk: Fred was loved by the people of Bolton, but at the back of their minds he was one of these.
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": He went for his final ride in a casket on a freight wagon, towed by his steam traction engine (driven by his son), at the head of a parade of steam-powered vehicles, all puffing and tooting their way slowly through Bolton.
- Homage: Fred was written whole and entire into Terry Pratchett's Raising Steam as steam-engineer Dick Simnel.
- Oop North: The distinctive Bolton accent and most of the locations.
- Dying Town: The North of England - including Bolton - pretty much became a Rust Belt in the 1980's. Fred was aware of this and was bittersweet about his livelihood being at the expense of others.
- Mr. Fixit: Each and every one of his restoration jo— loves proved it no end. And, more than a few that didn't start out as restoration.
- Take That!: After the Miners' Strike and the destruction of the British coal industry, Fred very pointedly began constructing a replica pit-head and a representative mine-shaft to commemorate all that was passing away. A BBC series documented his struggles to get planning permission. An accident whilst building this contributed to his early death.
- Wrench Wench: His last wife note got heavily involved with the steam engines, figuring this was the only way she'd get to see anything of him. She became quite knowledgeable in her own right.Gradely, lad! Gradely!