Bill Kerr, RIP

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Bill Kerr, veteran of radio, stage, and screen in Britain and Australia, died on August 28, 2014, at his home in Perth, at the ripe old age of 92.

His son Wilton Kerr told ABC (Australia) News: "He said he wasn't feeling too well quite recently and he was just quietly watching television in his room. Mum ... said she could hear him laughing to Seinfeld, and that was one of his favourite shows."

Kerr debuted as a babe-in-arms on a vaudeville stage in South Africa, grew up in Wagga Wagga, Australia, where he enjoyed what he described as a "Huckleberry Finn" childhood. Starting at the age of 7, he appeared in several movies and radio. After serving in World War II, he left for London in 1947. His stand-up act as a bleak Australian pessimist got him into British radio, where he won fame as Tony Hancock's sidekick on all six seasons of Hancock's Half Hour, from 1954 to 1959. At the same time, he branched out to movies and the West End stage.

In the late '70s, he returned to Australia and continued to perform:

When Kerr returned to Australia he built a reputation as one of our finest character actors, most notably appearing in Peter Weir's Gallipoli (1981) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982).

When he settled in Western Australia he became a stalwart of the local industry, doing sterling work in TV series such as Ship to Shore (1993-94), Minty (1998), The Shark Net (2003) and the feature film Let's Get Skase (2001).

Associates described his later career to WAtoday.com:

Storyteller Digital managing director Mike Searle said Kerr continued to appear on screen in his later years and described Kerr as "the Frank Sinatra of voice over artists".

"Frank Sinatra could deliver a song like no one else with the right feeling and Bill would do the same when he was voicing a documentary - an amazing talent," he said.

"I was working with him up until last year. We were working on a project recording a series in which he recited from memory classic poems.

"Bill is arguably the only actor that has been in every medium, from music hall or vaudeville through to YouTube."...

Perth film producer Paul Barron worked with Kerr on a number of children's television series, including Clowning Around and Ship to Shore.

"He was a true gentleman, and was very gracious and good to the kids on these shows. He had no pretentions but he was truly an actor of world standard," Mr Barron said.

"He did his homework, arrived on set on time, all of that kind of thing, but equally gracious and forgiving of mistakes others may make and meanwhile would turn in an excellent performance."

Here's a YouTube playlist featuring Kerr. It begins with a series of five classic poems recited by Kerr last year for Storyteller Media, then an early stand-up routine, three Hancock's Half Hour episodes that spotlighted Kerr in a variety of roles, Kerr singing "Modern Major General" in The Pirate Movie, and, finally, Kerr's radio interview with Ed Doolan.

Read more:

Bill Kerr obituary in the Daily Mail (photos of Bill with the Hancock's Half Hour cast)
Bill Kerr obituary in the Telegraph
Bill Kerr obituary in BBC News
Bill Kerr obituary in the Mirror (more photos)
Bill Kerr obituary in the West Australian
Bill Kerr obituary in WAtoday.com

Bill Kerr obituary in the Guardian

In a television interview years after Hancock's death, it was Kerr who pointed out the similarity between the great comedian and Mr Toad: "The bluster, the pomp, the dignity, the frailty."...

The comic chemistry, with Moira Lister, Andrée Melly and then Hattie Jacques added to the mix, was potent and the generosity of the ensemble playing impeccable. Recordings were joyous occasions; Kerr and James can sometimes be detected laughing helplessly along with the audience during Hancock's diatribes. According to Kerr, the producer regularly had to halt the recording because the cast was laughing so much.

Kerr was second-billed for the first couple of series, but in later episodes the role of James as the star's shady sidekick was expanded and he took lower billing. His character also changed, becoming more blatantly dim-witted, the constant butt of Hancock's derision. When the show moved to television, it did so without him. Kerr, a down-to-earth professional not given to temperament, took it all in his stride, and found plenty of other work in stage and television, and in films.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 31, 2014 4:26 PM.

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