The actor Geoffrey Bayldon has died aged 93. The actor who starred in the much-loved 1970’s television series Catweazle, was partly brought to his most famous role by the chastening experience of rejecting the chance to be the first Doctor Who. Bayldon, was approached to play the Doctor in 1963. But the Time Lord was scripted as an eccentric old man, and Bayldon, then in his late 30’s, was wary of being typecast in such roles, even though he was exceptionally good at them. With no inkling of the success Doctor Who would turn out to be, and put off by the punishing filming schedule, he turned the offer down after only 10 minutes’ consideration.
He later admitted to regretting the decision, and when another high-profile TV role – to play the even older and markedly more eccentric Catweazle – came his way in 1969, he had no second thoughts. The character of Catweazle – a wild-eyed 11th-century magician transported into the modern world – suited Bayldon to a T, and in fact the creator of the series, Richard Carpenter, had written the script with him in mind. Bayldon took on the part enthusiastically, creating one of the most instantly recognisable and enchanting TV characters of the era.
In a Sunday afternoon slot on ITV, Catweazle’s 26 episodes drew audiences of many millions as they charted the light-hearted adventures of the ragged-cloaked, pointy-bearded hero and his “familiar’, the toad Touchwood. Inadvertently thrown through time by his own inept sorcery into the bewildering landscape of 20th-century England – where he saw magic in everything, including the “electrickery” of lightbulbs and the amazing “tellingbone” that allowed people to communicate with each other – Catweazle muddled his way through misunderstandings and escapades as he attempted to find the magic spell that would return him to his own era.
The programme ran from February 1970 to April 1971, and its gentle humour and Bayldon’s star quality made it immensely popular with children and adults alike. It generated spin-offs such as Christmas annuals, books and a series of comic strips. The two series, preserved on DVD, still have a cult following and even today there is a large and active Catweazle fanclub… I still have a Catweazle Annual from he early 70’s.
Bayldon put his heart and soul into the series, not least in the makeup department, where he would spend an hour and a half each day transforming his appearance. He invested Catweazle with much of his own engaging personality and animated him with mannerisms, tics and catchphrases.
Catweazle became Bayldon’s lead into dozens of other TV roles, including the equally crusty Crowman in the late 1970’s Worzel Gummidge series, alongside Jon Pertwee and Una Stubbs. But he had originally set out as a theatre actor and initially paid little attention to the small screen.
Bayldon was born in Leeds, his father a tailor and his mother a head teacher. Although neither parent had any noticeable acting talent, Bayldon inherited his mother’s flair for narration, and traced his love of the stage to a debut at the age of four in a school play, in which he portrayed a robin.
After spending three quiet second world war years stationed at Yorkshire airfields with the RAF, during which time he appeared in many revues, he began training as a professional actor in 1947 at the Old Vic theatre school in London.
Bayldon spent two seasons as a successful Shakespearean actor at Stratford, playing alongside John Gielgud in Measure for Measure and Julius Caesar (both in 1950). For a further two years, he was with the Birmingham repertory theatre, with whom he appeared as Caesar at the Old Vic and, to rave reviews, in Paris.
Eventually, however, he felt he should be making concessions to the popular new medium of television, and he moved to London. There he took roles in a number of live BBC Wednesday plays, and began to appear in episodes of series including The Avengers and The Saint.
His triumph as Catweazle sealed his TV reputation, drawing him into countless series and dramas including All Creatures Great and Small, The Tomorrow People, Tales of the Unexpected, Blott on the Landscape and Rumpole of the Bailey. In three 1979 episodes of Doctor Who he was Organon the astrologer – during the Tom Baker era – and even played an alternative version of the Time Lord in two audio versions of Doctor Who stories released in 2003 and 2005.
Bayldon made numerous film appearances, rubbing shoulders with greats such as Sidney Poitier (To Sir With Love, 1967), Peter Sellers (Casino Royale, 1967, and The Pink Panther Strikes Again, 1976), Albert Finney (Scrooge, 1970) and Vincent Price (The Monster Club, 1981).
His TV acting continued well into his 80s, when he noted that he was still well qualified to play old men, and he had credits in Midsomer Murders, Heartbeat, Casualty, New Tricks and My Family in more recent years. He would attend the annual gathering of the Catweazle fanclub with enthusiasm, and in 2005 revealed that he had finally been able to watch the show with a sense of detachment. “I turned it on and I was sitting back watching myself without being conscious at all that it was me,” he said. ‘“And I was jaw-dropped. I suddenly thought: ‘This fella’s bloody good.’”
I also thought he was great in Born to Boogie (1972) but that may be because I was a huge T-Rex fan as a kid.
Rest in Peace Geoffrey.
The grand façade of the Customs House at Circular Quay will feature a visual feast of 3D-mapped projections of the Doctor and some of his greatest enemies, NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Stoner, announced today.
The spectacular celebration of Doctor Who will be staged for fans as part of Vivid Sydney, on Saturday, 1 June. The soundscape with the projections will feature music from the TV show including I am the Doctor and the iconic theme tune.
Developed, owned and managed by the NSW Government’s tourism and major events agency Destination NSW, Vivid Sydney is an 18-day festival of light, music and ideas. It is the biggest festival of its kind in the southern hemisphere and will take place in Sydney from 24 May to 10 June.
Destination NSW has collaborated with BBC Worldwide Australia and New Zealand to ensure local fans of Doctor Who can celebrate this major Anniversary through an evening of entertainment, featuring amazing light projections and a special cinema screening of two episodes from the series.
“This collaboration sees Australian creative innovators, The Spinifex Group, working with the Doctor Who team to create projections that will deliver a worldwide unique birthday celebration for the shows legion of fans, and our own Vivid Sydney is the perfect environment for this experience,” Mr Stoner said.
Customs House, 31 Alfred Street Sydney
Times: 6.50pm; 8.50pm, 10.50pm & 11.50pm
Ray Cusick, the British TV production designer best known for his work on Doctor Who, passed away Thursday night after a short illness. He was 84. In 1963, Cusick, a staff designer at the BBC, was asked to give form to the race of aliens created by screenwriter Terry Nation for nascent sci-fi series Doctor Who. Cusick came up with the design for the Daleks, mutants encased in studded metal shells who appear to glide over the ground as they move. The villains became emblematic of Doctor Who, continuing to appear throughout the series’ life including in its current incarnation and in other films and TV shows. They’re also well-known for their catchphrase, “Exterminate!” It is often thought that Cusick’s design was inspired by a pepper shaker. He recently said the detail came during a lunch with the special effects expert who would make the Daleks. At the meal, Cusick picked up a pepper shaker and moved it around the table, to show how the Daleks would move. “Ever since then,” he explained, “people say I was inspired by a pepper pot, but it could have been the salt pot I picked up.” Current Doctor Who series actor and writer, Mark Gatiss, tweeted: “Farewell to the great Ray Cusick. His passing is especially sad in this anniversary year but his creation remains immortal. Daleks forever!”