Monday 11 December 2017

Obituary: Geoffrey Bayldon

Actor who starred in Worzel Gummidge and Catweazle but turned down Dr Who

Magic: Bayldon as Catweazle
Magic: Bayldon as Catweazle
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Geoffrey Bayldon, who died last week, aged 93, was an austere-looking actor with a penchant for absent-minded or eccentric types, none more so than Catweazle, the bungling medieval wizard he played in the children's television series of the same name, which ran on ITV from 1970 to 1972.

Bayldon also delighted young viewers as the Crowman in Worzel Gummidge (ITV, 1979-81).

In the first episode of Catweazle, the deliciously bewhiskered and bedraggled old magician (played with convincing battiness by the 46-year-old Bayldon) has time travelled from the 11th to the 20th century after jumping into a moat to escape Norman invaders.

Having woken up in a pond, he finds himself on a farm and is soon befriended by a teenage farmer's son, Edward "Carrot" Bennett (Robin Davies). Part of the appeal of the series lay in the gentle friendship forged between Catweazle and Carrot, but Bayldon, a fine stage actor, stole the show as the eccentric and endearing wizard.

At a time when, as Bayldon later observed, "everything was serious, working-class" Catweazle had "magic, comedy and a little tinge of tragedy".

More than 40 years on Catweazle continues to have a cult following and a loyal and active fan club.

The son of a tailor and a headmistress, Geoffrey Bayldon was born in Leeds on January 7, 1924 and educated at Bridlington School and Hull College of Architecture.

He began acting in amateur theatricals, and spent his war years stationed with the RAF in Yorkshire before moving to London in 1947 to train at the Old Vic Theatre School. His first professional role was in C B Cochran's last production, Tough at the Top (1949).

By the late 1950s, he was working regularly in television and he had roles in the ITV Play of the Week, as well as in The Avengers (1961, 1967) and Z-Cars (1963, 1968). In 1963 he was offered the role of the first Doctor Who, but turned it down thinking - erroneously, as it turned out - that he was not suited to playing an eccentric old man.

After the success of Catweazle, he was offered the part of the mysterious Crowman, the scarecrow maker in Worzel Gummidge. This time Bayldon was the straight man to Jon Pertwee's delightfully bonkers Worzel.

Bayldon continued to work regularly on the small screen in shows such as Tales of the Unexpected (1980 and 1983), All Creatures Great and Small (1983), Blott on the Landscape (1985), Rumpole of the Bailey (1987) and The Chronicles of Narnia (1989). He was also involved in a number of BBC Schools programmes.

He played memorable character parts in countless films, including Dracula and A Night to Remember (both 1958), To Sir, with Love (1967), Casino Royale (1967, in which he played "Q", opposite Peter Sellers), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), Porridge (1979) and Bullshot (1983).

His later theatre work included, in 1986, a performance described by critic John Barber in the Telegraph as "beautiful", opposite George Cole in Bob Larbey's A Month of Sundays.

Bayldon played one of two old codgers manfully resisting dehumanisation in an old people's home.

In 1986, he recorded the vocals for the synth-pop composer Paul Hardcastle's The Wizard.

Among his later television appearances were the role of the Professor in the Channel Five game show Fort Boyard (1998-2001), and in Waking the Dead (2004), Heartbeat (2004) and several episodes of Casualty. He recorded a number of audiobooks, including Doctor Who, and worked on several radio plays.

Geoffrey Bayldon never married and is survived by a brother.

He died on May 10.

Sunday Independent

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