Wednesday 22 January 2020

Obituary: Terence Bayler

New Zealand actor noted for saying the immortal line 'I'm Brian, and so's my wife' in Monty Python's Life of Brian

IMPOSING: Bayler appeared in films that inspired passionate devotion from fans. Credit: Pat Larkin/ANL/REX/Shutterstock
IMPOSING: Bayler appeared in films that inspired passionate devotion from fans. Credit: Pat Larkin/ANL/REX/Shutterstock newsdesk

Terence Bayler, the actor, who has died aged 86, appeared in small but pivotal parts in a number of films and television programmes noted for the passionate devotion of their fans.

The small role that brought him the biggest post box involved him flying around and looking ethereal - as the ghost of the "Bloody Baron" in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001), which introduced him to a new generation of admirers.

He had by then featured in two Doctor Who stories in the 1960s, played Macduff in Roman Polanski's blood-soaked Macbeth in 1971, and been Leggy Mountbatten, the one-legged chemist from Bolton who managed the Rutles spoof pop band in Eric Idle's television film All You Need Is Cash (1978). He also had some of the most memorable lines in Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979).

Bayler, moreover, belonged to a select band of actors who have appeared on postage stamps: he featured on one in 1996 commemorating the centenary of cinema in New Zealand, where he began his acting career.

The son of a lorry driver and part-time theatre player, Terence Bayler was born at Wanganui, North Island, on January 24, 1930. He made his film debut there in 1952 in the low-budget inter-racial romantic drama Broken Barrier.

The cast and crew consisted of four people; he was paid £6 a week, plus food and tobacco, and had to help carry the camera equipment.

He was at Rada when the film opened in London and he went to see it at the Ionic Cinema in Golders Green. He pointed out at the box office that he was the man on the poster, but they still made him pay to get in.

Bayler honed his craft in repertory. Meeting a fellow graduate, he asked what the other man was doing and was told he was acting in rep too but was also writing plays. The man was Harold Pinter.

In the 1960s Bayler appeared in Lady Windermere's Fan at the Phoenix with Coral Browne. He also delivered monologues in music hall and was a reliable supporting player in television dramas, among them Upstairs, Downstairs in the 1970s and Lipstick on Your Collar in the 1990s.

Despite his working-class background, on-screen Bayler was often cast as officers or aristocrats. Tall and imposing, he played Macduff in Macbeth, shortly after Polanski's wife Sharon Tate and unborn child were murdered. It was a notoriously bloody production, and Bayler needed five stitches in a cut above his eye sustained in the final sword fight. "Don't worry, Terry," Polanski reassured him. "It will make you more attractive to women."

Bayler first worked with Eric Idle of Monty Python in the mid-1970s on Idle's Rutland Weekend Television comedy series; it was light relief after Macbeth. The two became friends and he got to know the other Pythons too.

In Life of Brian, Bayler played the patrician character Gregory, who finds himself at the back during one of Jesus's sermons, where one pronouncement is misheard as "Blessed are the cheese-makers". Gregory, an educated man, explains: "Obviously it's not meant to be taken literally - it refers to any manufacturer of dairy products." At the end of the film he is among the prisoners awaiting crucifixion when it is announced that the prisoner called Brian is to be freed. Everyone starts claiming to be Brian, and Gregory chips in: "I'm Brian ... and so's my wife." In 2002 it came 10th in a poll of viewers' favourite funny film lines. There was some suggestion that Bayler had been ad-libbing, though that may be apocryphal.

He also had small parts in Terry Gilliam's films Time Bandits (1981) and Brazil (1985). Gilliam had produced the arty interludes in Python before going on to become a director. Bayler was also keenly interested in art and produced work using "found objects". On Harry Potter, he was reunited with Monty Python's John Cleese, who also played a ghost.

Bayler's first wife was Bridget Armstrong, an actress. The marriage ended in divorce. He married, secondly, Valerie Cutko, also an actress, whom he had met when they both appeared in a production of My Fair Lady. She survives him with a son and a daughter from the first marriage. Terence Bayler died on August 2.

© Telegraph

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