Gordon Piper

Bumbling, good-hearted handyman Bob Hatfield in 'A Country Practice'
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The Independent Online

Gordon Stephen Piper, actor and director: born Sydney, New South Wales 3 June 1932; died Sydney 15 September 2004.

For almost all its screen history, the Australian television serial A Country Practice featured Gordon Piper as the fictional Wandin Valley's plumber and all-round handyman, Bob Hatfield, complete with bib-and-brace overalls and broad smile. A Country Practice ran between 1981 and 1992 and is still broadcast around the world.

Gordon Stephen Piper, actor and director: born Sydney, New South Wales 3 June 1932; died Sydney 15 September 2004.

For almost all its screen history, the Australian television serial A Country Practice featured Gordon Piper as the fictional Wandin Valley's plumber and all-round handyman, Bob Hatfield, complete with bib-and-brace overalls and broad smile. A Country Practice ran between 1981 and 1992 and is still broadcast around the world.

Hatfield was most frequently seen on screen with Syd Heylen, who played Cookie, the bartender at Bob's favourite retreat, the Wandin Valley RSL Club, and together they gave the soap opera many comic moments. The pair frequently came up with money-making schemes that backfired, from taking up dog training to selling perfume.

Hatfield's fondness for beer sometimes landed him in brawls, but he was good-hearted and a believer in community spirit. Piper relished acting all sides of Bob:

He was a father figure, he was a grandfather figure, he was a drunk, he was a fun character, he had empathy for everyone. He was a leader of the town. Everything that comes through the spectrum of a part is found in Bob Hatfield.

Piper's screen partnership with Heylen hid friction between the two actors, Piper revealed:

A lot of people think we were great mates. We weren't great mates at all. We fought like cat and dog in the studio - I mean really fought, heavy. On lines, interpretations, remembering the lines. We had a lot of fights but, once we went back to the dressing room, we were old chums.

Piper was born at his parents' dairy farm in the Sydney suburb of Cheltenham in 1932 and sang as a soprano with the Sydney Boys' Choir. He made his radio début with a choir on the Sydney station 2CF at the age of 12. Acting parts followed in radio plays, before Piper started his own variety act in 1952.

Two years later, he and his friend Ted Harlow formed a song-and-dance mime act, The Pretenders, touring clubs and pubs. Piper then spent four years as an extra in television, before becoming a fully fledged stage actor. He was also associate director attached to the Arts Council of New South Wales (1964-72), helping to develop amateur productions at theatres in rural areas.

Then came his longest-running stage role, as Angus McAdam in the pioneering Australian Performing Group's record-breaking run of Dimboola (1973-76), the writer Jack Hibberd's parody of a wedding reception, which has since become Australia's most performed play. It was the director Gillian Armstrong's acclaimed film My Brilliant Career (1979), in which he played a bartender, that brought Piper's face to international audiences, albeit briefly, before he joined A Country Practice.

In 1992, after 900 episodes of the twice-weekly serial, Piper and Syd Heylen were axed when market research indicated that viewers wanted to see younger characters. In fact, A Country Practice was itself axed a year after Piper and Heylen's departure and a brief revival in 1994 failed to attract viewers.

Piper subsequently concentrated on directing. A resident of Sydney's western suburb of Penrith, he was a member of the local Henry Lawson Theatre, until ill-health forced him to stop two years ago. Diabetes had by then affected his heart and circulation, leading to five heart attacks and the amputation of both his legs.

In 1999, Piper was cleared of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl, and the experience of being falsely accused left him bitter.

Anthony Hayward

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