The news of the passing of respected, beloved actor Geoffrey Bayldon at the age of 93 sparked an outpouring of affection on Twitter. A well-known face on our screens for nearly 60 years, Bayldon had a habit of elevating any production he appeared in.
But it was with the role of early-70s children’s TV hero Catweazle that he will forever be identified. The dishevelled 11th-century wizard who managed to transport himself back to modern times by jumping in a pond captured the imagination of a generation with his eccentric, utterly enchanting performance.
A fond farewell to Geoffrey Bayldon. From Catweazle to his wonderfully sinister Crow Man, he exuded the gentle charm of a summer afternoon. pic.twitter.com/KNk4cBrg1h
The latter hints at Bayldon’s Doctor Who connection. He was considered for the lead role twice, once when the series was commissioned in 1963 (he turned the offer down, not wanting to play an old character, or to commit to the project), and then when First Doctor William Hartnell left in 1966 (once again he rejected the idea).
Eventually he appeared on the show in 1979, as Organon in the Tom Baker adventure The Creature from the Pit. Generally deemed a poor story, the consensus was that Bayldon was one of the best things about it.
The 6ft-tall actor, who was born in Leeds, had a lengthy, hugely impressive CV that kicks off in 1952. On TV he guest-starred in such landmark series as The Avengers, The Saint, Z Cars, The Doctors, Special Branch, Space: 1999, Blott on the Landscape, All Creatures Great and Small, Waking the Dead and Casualty.
He was well known for playing the Crowman in Worzel Gummidge (starring Jon Pertwee) and as the Professor on the game show Fort Boyard – Tom Baker later played a character fulfilling a similar function, Captain Baker.
Bayldon’s film credits are many and varied, too. He played teacher Theo Weston in To Sir, with Love and Q in the knockabout Bond Casino Royale, both in 1967. He also starred in the big-screen versions of Porridge (as the Governor) and Steptoe and Son Ride Again.
But my own first encounter with Bayldon, and my fondest memory of him, was on the charming, magical and funny Catweazle. His baffled, bedraggled sorcerer from the time of the Crusades was a true fish out of water, in one of the very best examples of the genre. His frightened reaction to a world of cars and planes and lightbulbs is nicely summed up the opening credits.
With his toad Touchwood and magic knife Adamcos, he tried to make sense of telephones and electricity by labelling them “telling bones” and “elec-trickery”, and lived in a disused water tower that he called Castle Saburac.
It was filmed largely in fields, farms and woods, and on location in Surrey then Hertfordshire. Much of my own childhood was played outdoors, in gardens and forests, so Catweazle’s world was my world too.
It was an extraordinary, immersive turn from Bayldon, his bafflement at the 20th century signalled by an endlessly amusing series of moans and shrieks and squawks. But however comedic the performance, it always came across as completely real.
Written by Richard Carpenter (Dick Turpin, The Ghosts of Motley Hall, Robin of Sherwood), it ran on ITV for only two series and 26 episodes but its legacy carried on through the ages like ripples on a pond, the word Catweazle even making it into the dictionary.
Catweazle was always desperate to make it back to his own time and place. The last time we saw the wizened wizard, he was happy, even excited, floating into the sunset in a hot-air balloon. I think he made it back there after all.