The beloved Australian actor Bill Kerr has died at the age of 92.
Kerr, who has been living in Perth since the late 1970s, began working on radio during the height of the Great Depression and went of stage, screen and television in Australia and Britain, rarely taking the lead role but never far away from the biggest stars of the day.
He first achieved fame in the celebrated 1950s BBC radio comedy Hancock’s Half Hour in which he was played Tony Hancock’s dim-witted Australian sidekick Bill.
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).
Kerr was born into an Australian showbiz family while they were on tour in South Africa in 1922.
His first gig was as a babe in his mother’s arms for the rest of the tour.
“My mother took about 10 weeks off to have me, and when she returned to the stage the producers said rather than bother with a doll for the baby, why didn't she use me, ” Kerr told The West Australian’s arts editor Ron Banks in 1995.
“So you could say my stage career began when I was only a few weeks old.”
His family relocated to Wagga Wagga in New South Wales where he was “elocuted to death” by his mother, paving the way for his career in radio “doing boy parts”.
His first major movie role was playing the blind youngster in Ken G. Hall’s 1934 classic The Silence of Dean Maitland, one of Australia’s first talking pictures.
Kerr went on to star in two other successful Australian films in the 30s - Harmony Row and His Royal Highness - both with George Wallace, Australia's most popular comedian of the time.
During the war years Kerr and his close friend Peter Finch served in the army and put on numerous stage shows in Australia and overseas.
It was while he was on during in During in WA he met English teacher Margaret Weaver whom he married in St George's Cathedral. It was the first of his three marriages.
At the end of the war Kerr relocated to England to pursue his show business career and made the bold decision to retain his Australian accent, one of the few Australians to do so in that era.
Competition for jobs in the entertainment industry was intense, with so many demobbed young actors hoping for the big break. Kerr found work on the variety bill at the Camberwell Palace, where he did a four-minute deadpan monologue filled with doom and gloom, delivered with a broad Australian drawl.
His opening line “I've only got four minutes” became so well-known that audiences went into raptures of laughter even before he delivered it. The monologue became so successful his lines were frequently quoted.
Kerr’s big break was joining Hancock’s Half Hour, where he worked with many of the greats of British comedy, including Sidney James, Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques.
When Hancock moved to television Kerr went on to work with Spike Milligan and found work on stage and screen, performing in numerous musicals, playing The Devil in the original West End production of the Bob Fosse-directed Damn Yankees and classic movies such as The Damn Busters.
After three decades of working in the UK Kerr returned to Australia, settling in Perth where his son William lived and carving out a nice career as a versatile character actor in film and television, interspersed with occasional appearances at the Playhouse Theatre.