Men of Character: Geoffrey Bayldon

February 15, 2020

Only a few actors have the power to create an indelible moment on television, one where their voice becomes an essential aspect of a childhood memory that abides for years. There is Brian Cant announcing the roll call for the Trumpton Fire Brigade, Eric Thompson and Fenella Fielding in Dougal and the Blue Cat, and Geoffrey Bayldon on two occasions. His first came with The Trickery Lantern episode of Catweazle, when the eponymous wizard finally succeeds in returning home.

Richard Carpenter, the programme’s creator, thought ‘the heroic figure is the man who takes on the world alone’, and perhaps that lesson has been passed to Carrot (Robin Davies). But for now, summer and his childhood seem to be fading. The cantankerous figure so confused by the 20th century was his guide into the uncertainty of adolescence and even adulthood. Bayldon later reflected that the final moments were when Carrot finally understands that Catweazle ‘was real. I was wrong”.

Such is Bayldon’s performance, constantly fulminating about ‘the tellingbone’ and ‘electrickery’ that it is near impossible to believe he was aged just 45 when London Weekend began filming Catweazle. He was born on the 7th January 1924 and after war service in the RAF, trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Bayldon often appeared as characters far older than his years, and in 1949  a review of The Clandestine Marriage in The Stage praised how ‘Chief satisfaction was derived from Geoffrey Bayldon’s vastly amusing portrayal of senile vanity as Lord Ogleby’.

Bayldon’s screen characters often seemed to have overtones of The White Knight – a part he played in the BBC’s The Adventures of Alice in 1960 – and the actor seemed ideal to portray a certain adventurer in space and time. However, he spurned the chance to become the First Doctor on the grounds he did not wish to play another ‘old man’, a decision Bayldon subsequently regretted. The actor also specialised in depicting patrician coldness; Q in the 1967 Casino Royale, Weston, the disillusioned teacher in To Sir, with Love, or the courteous but dismissive Industrial Psychologist cross-examining  Joe Lampton in Life at the Top.

Bayldon died on 10th May 2017, his stage, film and TV career spanning six decades. Thousands will forever remember him as Catweazle, and thousands more will always regard him as The Crowman – wise, apparently all-seeing, and with the power to have recalcitrant scarecrows thrown on the compost heap.  Few could ever forget the conclusion to The Return of Dolly Clothes Peg, where The Crowman dispatches the shop mannequin and Aunt Sally in opposite directions. Worzel Gummidge must exercise his free will and choose between ‘happiness’ and ‘total misery’.

And so Worzel inevitably totters after the latter, so, wordlessly, The Crowman expresses his pain and frustration that he has gifted his charges the power to make the wrong decisions. Some programmes are forgotten despite running for several years – but with an actor such as Geoffrey Bayldon, a few minutes on screen last forever.

Film Historian Andrew Roberts MA PhD FRSA

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Comments:12

  1. David Manning Reply
    20/02/15

    Hi sorry voucher working ok Dave

  2. Andy Marriott Reply
    20/02/15

    It would be lovely to see this restored to the same level as The Professionals and released on Blu-Ray…

  3. Simon Hart Reply
    20/02/15

    It’s such a superb and delightful series.

  4. Nigel Phelan Reply
    20/02/15

    As it was made known that ITV were creating new HD masters of Catweazle early last year it’s disappointing for the anniversary to be passing without the announcement of a Bluray restoration.

    • Andrew Denyer Reply
      20/02/18

      Here, here – would love to see a fully restored blu-ray release of this classic.

  5. Jason Figgis Reply
    20/02/15

    One must never forget his devastating performance as the father begging forgiveness from an unforgiving teenage daughter in that haunting episode of The Frighteners – which I have never been able to shake free.

    A fabulous communicator of the human condition in its many different shades.

  6. Steve Sullivan Reply
    20/02/16

    I agree with Nigel above, Catweazle is highly deserving of a fully restored blu ray offering. Bayldon’s performance of the confused, eccentric magician of centuries past was pitch perfect. I remember viewing the series on ‘London Weekend’ (as it was called then) during its initial transmission (on Sundays if I recall correctly). I don’t know of a single person who failed to like or respect this series. The director, actors and equally important the music composer, manage that rareity of capturing a unique, tangible ‘feel’ (maybe of childhood innocence, confusion and alarm at the modern world) to the series, all helped with the magic ‘living’ feel that only film can create, which is probably why the series enjoys that timeless mystique and allure. Imagine the series filmed on 2″ video – it wouldn’t have been the same. Regarding Bayldon’s career, he would have made a brilliantly memorable, quirky Doctor Who…

    • Andrew Denyer Reply
      20/02/18

      “he would have made a brilliantly memorable, quirky Doctor Who”. A role he was offered but turned down in 1963. But then, of course, he would have had no idea how big it was to become.

  7. Martin Heron Reply
    20/02/16

    I bought the first series of Catweazle from Network DVD a few years ago, it commemorated the 30th anniversary of series.

    I liked the extra features including, “Brothers in Magic” a mini documentary when Geoffrey Bayldon and Robin Davies revisited the Hexwood Farm location, both sadly no longer with us. There were commentaries from Richard Carpenter and some of the cast. Also a series booklet and script PDFs.

    I was very pleased that Talking Pictures TV recently repeated series one and two, but was surprised the prints they had were quite poor, they looked thin and washed out, my original Network episodes on DVD have much better pictures.

  8. Paul Chiesa Reply
    20/02/16

    I Most Certainly Do remember The original Sunday Teatime screenings of Catweazle. Always signalled The end of The weekend and back to school The next day. Where Catweazle and Carrot’s adventures were Talked about by fellow classmates. Did it really Take children’s Teatime Telly by storm on This day. I agree a Bluray release would be magic. Even Touchwood agrees.

  9. Carol Barnes Reply
    20/02/16

    I agree with the Doctor Who statement – The 2 Big Finish audio cds prove that. I like the older more wise and scholarly type like the original and he would have been perfect.
    Geoffrey was a superb actor, who could turn his hand to anything. Comedy, Tragedy, Musical, or anything in between. I think people would be amazed at his resume of work. Not only that but I think he had worked with all the greats and indeed was well known to those who hadn’t even worked alongside him.
    I nominated him for an award because he had done work for the disabled and children and schools etc as well as the stage and screen work. I had the backing of the likes of Dame Judi and Robert Hardy and some well know directors. But the powers that be thought someone who was only known for one thing and an advert deserved it more than a man who had been in his profession for 60 years and had the backing and respect of some of our greatest actors!Ca
    He appeared in 3 royal performances

  10. Chocker Reply
    20/02/16

    Some of the music used in the series was incredibly evocative and haunting. If I hear that slow Catweazle theme, I’m instantly back in a sunny, summery 1970. A CD release of the soundtrack music would be fantastic.

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