Charles 'Bud' Tingwell: One of Australia's best-loved actors whose career spanned 70 years
Thursday 11 June 2009
Acting seemed to come as naturally as breathing to Bud Tingwell, who died in hospital at the age of 86 with a script by his bedside. One of Australia's best-loved actors, he was a consummate professional who always arrived on set word-perfect. Despite his fame, he was also a man of great modesty.
Tingwell, born Charles but always called "Bud", was a star of screen, stage, radio and television. He made more than 100 films during a career spanning 70 years, and became a household name in Britain thanks to the TV medical drama Emergency Ward 10 and in Australia through a long-running TV crime series, Homicide.
At the age of 30 he starred in his first Hollywood movie, The Desert Rats, but Tingwell's main love was the Australian film and television industry. He rarely turned down a part, often agreeing to work with unknown directors on low-budget films. "I have no compunction about playing a small part," he once remarked. "Sometimes you have to lower your sights and raise your standards."
Born in the Sydney beachside suburb of Coogee in 1923, Tingwell began acting on the radio, in a Billy Bunter serial, while he was a teenager. After finishing school, he went to work for a local radio station, CH, and became Australia's youngest radio announcer. But war clouds were gathering, and in 1941 he joined the Royal Australian Air Force, flying 75 combat missions as a photographic reconnaissance pilot.
By coincidence, or perhaps not, his first film role was in Smithy, a 1946 movie about the life of the Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. Tingwell, who played a control-tower officer, was able to provide his own uniform – which helped him to get the part, he later admitted.
In 1952, having married his teenage sweetheart, Audrey Wilson, he went to the US to make The Desert Rats, acting alongside Richard Burton. He and Audrey then moved to London, where he landed the role of a heart-throb surgeon in Emergency Ward 10, a hugely popular series that ran for 10 years until 1967. Tingwell also appeared in a number of films, playing Inspector Craddock in four of the Miss Marple movies, and in West End shows including There's a Girl in My Soup.
After 17 years in England, he returned home in 1972 and became a stalwart of the Australian entertainment industry. Most of his compatriots knew him best as Inspector Reg Lawson in the 1970s TV cop drama Homicide. Tingwell loved the series, which coincided with the introduction of colour television. He later recalled: "It was like doing fabulous small movies... excellent, classy movies all the time."
Tingwell, who had a son, Christopher, and daughter, Virginia, also appeared on the small screen in Prisoner: Cell Block H, The Flying Doctors, A Country Practice and Neighbours. But television was only one of his outlets. He acted in a string of Australian films, including Breaker Morant, Puberty Blues and Evil Angels. He did stage work, and occasionally turned his hand to writing and directing.
When his beloved wife died in 1996, Tingwell was grief-stricken. He was 73, and might never have acted again, he said later. But then he was offered a part in The Castle, one of the most successful Australian films of all time, and the ensuing years were among his busiest. He performed a one-man stage show, appeared in films such as Ned Kelly and The Dish, and recently played Winston Churchill in a dramatised TV documentary. At 80, he began writing a blog and taking Pilates classes.
An actor friend, Malcolm Robertson, told The Australian newspaper: "His great and lasting contribution to our profession has been the fact that he never lost his innocence or wonderment for acting." Another actor, Jack Thompson, said of Tingwell's death from prostate cancer: "It's like a great tree has been felled in the landscape of our culture and in particular the landscape of our film world."
Charles "Bud" Tingwell, actor, writer and director: born Sydney 3 January 1923; married 1951 Audrey Wilson (died 1996; one son, one daughter); died Sydney 15 May 2009.
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