Arts and Culture

‘I would kill for Mr Tumble’: Rob Delaney gives moving talk at Manchester Literature Festival

Actor and comedian Rob Delaney visited the Royal Northern College of Music as part of the Manchester Literature Festival earlier this week.

The Catastrophe star recently published his memoir, A Heart That Works — a tribute to his son Henry, who died at just two years old. 

Henry had been treated for brain cancer at Great Ormond Street Hospital before passing away at home, surrounded by his parents and two older brothers. 

In conversation with author Erica Wagner, Delaney recalled fond memories of his son, who loved watching Something Special on CBeebies. 

Mr Tumble, a character on the TV show, uses Makaton — a British mode of communication that combines sign and spoken word. It is mainly used by young children with speech difficulties.

Delaney was grateful to the character for the communicatory gap he bridged between him and his son.

He said: “He literally unlocks communication between parents and children and siblings and nurses.

“I would kill for Mr Tumble.”

The talk was also, in part, a celebration of the NHS. This audience cheered in agreement. 

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, the actor has experienced models of healthcare from either side of the pond. Henry was cared for in England, but Delaney’s father is currently undergoing treatment for leukaemia in the US, a country without a public healthcare system.

On the benefits of our National Health Service, Delaney reflected: “One of them that was really beautiful, and really human, and that I’m very grateful for, is the time with my son, who is dead.

“Not using private health insurance, we gained hundreds of hours…There wasn’t a big stack of hours or days that I had to spend with the bureaucrat or the insurance company who didn’t know him.”

Delaney left his audience with one vital message: the importance of sharing grief. He does not want people to shy away from it or feel awkward about bringing it up. 

Rather, he implored the RNCM Theatre: “Acknowledge what happened, and sit with that.” 

“Ask me, I would love to tell you and talk about him.” 

A Heart That Works is published by Hodder & Staughton. 

Manchester Literature Festival continues until 23 October. More information can be found here:

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