Tributes are flowing for veteran Australian actor Bill Kerr, who passed away at his home in Perth on the weekend.
During a career spanning eight decades, Kerr became a national treasure and one of the most prolific Aussie actors to grace the small and silver screen, both in seminal films at home and abroad.
“Bill was a good bloke, a great friend and consummate actor,” says actor Tony Bonner who worked with Kerr on the '80s mini-series Anzacs and then on the 1987 feature The Lighthorsemen. “He thought and felt the moments that he brought to life not only on the silver screen but as importantly on the stage. Bill was wonderful to work with, the twinkle in those perceptive eyes was the connector. Catch up soon Billy!”
Born in Cape Town, South Africa and raised in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Kerr made his cinematic debut in two of Australia's earliest talkies. In 1933 aged eleven he appeared in the Aussie comedy Harmony Row, (where he was billed ‘Willie’ Kerr) and then featured in Ken G Hall's 1934 drama The Silence of Dead Maitland. In 1947 he moved to the UK, where he found fame on British radio and was pegged ‘The Boy From Wagga Wagga’. This led to a five-year stint as a dim-witted Australian lodger in the BBC radio comedy series Hancock's Half Hour. He also made an appearance in the 1955 British World War II classic The Dam Busters and was notable for a reoccurring guest role in the original 1960s BBC series Doctor Who opposite Patrick Troughton.
Kerr returned to Australia in 1979 and was subsequently cast in distinguished character parts in such definitive Aussie features as Peter Weir’s Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously and Simon Wincer’s The Lighthorsemen. He was also memorable for his scene-stealing role as a grizzled hunter who helps track down a wild boar in Russell Mulcahy’s 1984 cult creature feature Razorback (pictured).
Kerr was nominated for AFI awards for his performances in Gallipoli and as the lead in the 1983 drama Dusty.
In 2003 he made his final cinematic feature film appearance as a Fairy Guide in P.J Hogan’s Peter Pan.
“He was a real character to work with,” says Vincent Ward who cast the then 61-year-old actor in his 1984 directorial feature Vigil. “He was always cheerful, with this real black sense of humour. I asked him on one occasion to chase a tractor for a scene. On the fifth take he just walked as he got pissed off with chasing it but by the sixth take he started chasing it very full-on and then he staggered and fell over. I thought he was having a heart attack but when I reached him he burst out laughing! Of course, I didn’t do anymore takes after that as he’d made his point!”
“During that time there weren’t any other older male film actors around, particularly for a role that was slightly comedic,” continues Ward. “There was nobody. There was Bill and there was Bill and that was it. But it was a wonderful choice, I was very happy and felt very lucky.”
John Jarratt co-starred with Kerr in the 1984 Queensland shot feature The Settlement. "A consummate professional, all round entertainer and full of life. He tried to teach me tap dancing to 'Tea for Two', I was hopeless!” he reminisces. “We were filming in a place where there was a piano. I had the pleasure of a private performance, sitting in a lounge chair while the great Bill Kerr played 'As Time Goes By' doing a perfect Humphrey Bogart impersonation. God love ya mate, look out heaven, here comes young Bill!"
Working with him on Sweet Talker, Bill was very much a team player,” recalls actor Bruce Spence who starred alongside him in the 1991 comedy. “He rarely hinted at the awe inspiring history of work he had tucked under his belt from his days in Britain, although if you got him going at the right time he could entertain you for hours. He was a joy to work with as an actor, very generous and wonderfully gentle.”
Bill Kerr's final onscreen credit was a role in the 2004 AFI-nominated Children's television drama Southern Cross.
His family says the actor died while watching an episode of Seinfeld.