Eric Robertson Cullen and Adoption

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Scottish comic actor

Cullen was adopted and had achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism. (He was adopted at birth because his mother was unmarried and unable to care for him; his achondroplasia was not diagnosed until he was seven.) He was a child star but when work dried up in his teens, instead of becoming depressed he went back to school and college, graduating from Glasgow College in social sciences. Soon after finishing his course he landed the part of Wee Burney, the younger son in the immensely popular British television series Rab C. Nesbit, and then in the Scottish series Wemyss Bay 902101.

But behind this lay the tragedy of a child who was sexually abused over a long period, beginning when he was 13, first by an uncle in his extended adoptive family and then by other child abusers (his immediate family was not involved in the abuse and his relationship with them was loving and happy). When he became professionally successful his abusers turned to extortion. He became clinically depressed and in 1993 he was arrested for possession of child pornography. Although the prosecution accepted that the material belonged to his abusers and that he was storing it for them under duress, he was still sent to prison. Following his release on probation his true rôle as their victim became public knowledge.

Before his abuse became public knowledge he had traced and met his birth mother, but after she sold her/their story to a tabloid newspaper their relationship ended.

He became involved in helping other sexually abused children expose their abusers, but in August 1996 he died two days after an operation in hospital. The surgery was to correct a dangerous sudden kink in his intestine, but he died of a massive heart attack and the post mortem revealed long-standing advanced heart disease.


Roberts, Yvonne. "Justice at Last for Wee Burney," The Guardian [London], 1 April 1998, pp. 6-7 Kearney, Charles. "Tragedy of the Child from Hell," The Guardian [London], 17 August 1996, p. 28 McGarvie, Lindsay. "Eric Cullen: The Last interview," The Big Issue Scotland, 30 August 1998; also published in an edited version in The Big Issue [London] "Sold Short," The Mail on Sunday, Night & Day section, 24 November 1996 Jordan, Claire M. "Theatre of Cruelty: The True Story of Eric Robertson Cullen (a.k.a. Wee Burney, Younger Son of Rab C. Nesbitt), 12 July 1965-16 August 1996." [Includes portrait and the text of The Big Issue article cited above]. Available at: [1] Personal correspondence