After Terence Bayler passed away in August 2016, Monty Python's Eric Idle wrote of Bayler's "gentle" and "loving" humour. "I loved his commitment to a role and his high seriousness no matter how apparently silly the part".
Bayler had only a small number of screen credits in New Zealand, but dozens more in the United Kingdom.
The Whanganui-born actor was the son of a lorry driver who moonlighted as a theatre stagehand by night. He got his son free tickets to shows, helping spur his interest in acting. Young Bayler began his career at a time when paid acting gigs on his home turf were far fewer than now. Bayler spent time in early touring theatre group the New Zealand Players, run by husband and wife Dick and Edith Campion.
In 1951 John O'Shea and Roger Mirams set about doing something that had not been done for over a decade: making a local feature film. They enlisted Bayler to star in Broken Barrier, playing a young and sometimes selfish journalist, who falls for a young Māori woman named Rawi (Kay Ngarimu) after her family offer him work on their farm. Bus raising money to go to England, Bayler took the role for "six pounds a week plus good and tobacco". Made on a shoestring with a crew which often numbered only four, the film won healthy audiences in New Zealand on release. Bayler later recalled watching it during a midweek matinee in London, and being gratified that the film won applause.
Making an income as an actor was then no easy task. New Zealand — and O'Shea's — next feature would have to wait another decade, as would local television drama. In 1958 Bayler acted in Family Tree, a short about farming which O'Shea and Mirams made for the NZ Meat Board.
In the late 50s Bayler and first wife Bridget Armstrong relocated to England, where Bayler balanced bit parts on television and film with a schoalrship to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. In 1959 he and Armstrong acted in a BBC adaptation of Bruce Mason play The Pohutakawa Tree. Soon after he won acclaim for his role as a theatre director in comedy Critic's Choice, by Rosemary's Baby writer Ira Levin.
In 1969 he appeared for a second time on Doctor Who, this time as a World War I officer kidnapped by the villainous War Lords. Then director Roman Polanski changed the production schedule so that Taylor could play Macduff, in his movie of MacBeth. Bayler won newspaper headlines while working on the film, his first big movie role since Broken Barrier — he got five stitches after being cut above his eye during a sword fight with lead actor Jon Finch. On release The Tragedy of Macbeth met mixed reviews, although Polanski's nihilistic and violent interpretation is now held in a much better light.
Among his stage roles, Bayler spent time as narrator on fellow expat Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Show, a year into its run.
In 1976 Bayler acted in a project involving another expat Kiwi. Old Man March is Dead, which screened on anthology drama series Centre Play, came from prolific TV writer Bruce Stewart (Timeslip) — not to be confused with the other Kiwi writer of the same name.
Bayler's association with various members of Monty Python dates from the same mid 70s period. Python member Eric Idle spotted Bayler performing music hall songs in a pub theatre. Impressed by his comic timing, Idle invited him to join the acting troupe on his comedy series Rutland Weekend Television; Bayler played a shy announcer, and an effete SS officer known as the Pink Panzer. Rutland's cult fame is complicated by rights issues which limited further screenings. It is most famous for spawning Beatles parody band The Rutles, who went on to star in fondly regarded early music mockumentary All You Need is Cash (1978). Bayler played the band's one-legged manager Leggy Mountbatten.
Thanks to Python, Bayler would make it onto an online poll of people's favourite funny lines on film — for a scene in Life of Brian where he ad-libbed the line "I'm Brian, and so's my wife". The scene is a spoof on the moment in Stanley Kubrick movie Spartacus, where various prisoners claim to be Spartacus, in order to escape crucifixion. Bayler's character Gregory is among those who end up regretting the fact they are on a cross in Life of Brian's finale; he's also thought to have adlibbed an earlier line in the film, where a crowd of Brian's followers shout the words "We are all individuals." Bayler's character interrupts with "I'm not". Bayler also played bit parts in two ambitious live action films by Python animator Terry Gilliam, Time Bandits and Brazil.
In 1981 John O'Shea invited Bayler back to New Zealand to act in period drama Pictures. The film dramatises the opposing career paths of colonial photographers the Burton Brothers. Bayler portrays John Rochfort, the real-life surveyor who among other things mapped the North Island's main trunk railway line.
In 1992 he joined Kiwi film crew in Rarotonga for BBC mini-series The Other Side of Paradise, based around a doctor (Jason Connery) who finds love in the South Seas. Bayler continued to act on screen: he cameoed in the Harry Potter films as the bewigged ghost of the Bloody Baron, memorably interrupting a meal at Hogworts as he cut a swathe with his imaginary sword. Bayler also starred as an old man who hears his children planning his future in short film We Know What We Know.
Bayler passed away on 2 August 2016. He was 86.
Terence Bayler, ‘Foreword’ in New Zealand Filmmakers. Editors Ian Conrich and Stuart Murray (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2007)
Frances Dowsett, 'Kiwis Pack Em In At London's Lunchtime Plays' – New Zealand Women's Weekly, 16 September 1974
Toby Hadoke, 'Terence Bayler obituary' - The Guardian, 22 September 2016
Eric Idle, 'Terence Bayler' Eric Idle Online! website. Loaded 22 September 2016. Accessed 10 October 2016
Peter Wells, Review of Pictures - The Listener, 18 June 1983
Sarah Womack, 'Life of Brian wins the vote for film's best laughter line' – The Telegraph, 19 February 2002
'NZ Actor Hurt in Film Scene' - The Evening Post, 23 March 1971
Neil Innes website (broken link). Accessed 20 November 2012