Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell: Australian screen icon

Charles 'Bud' Tingwell

Yesterday (January 3rd) would have been the 90th birthday of Australian screen legend Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell. As a tribute, here is an article I wrote shortly after his death in 2009 (originally published on Suite101):

Having recently lost his battle with prostate cancer at the age of 86, Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell will be fondly remembered by Australians of all generations thanks to his tireless devotion during a long and prosperous career in radio, film and television.

In recent times, Tingwell became known mostly for small roles in numerous Australian films and television shows, as well as his starring role in that quintessential Australian comedy, The Castle (1997). Lesser known, however, is Tingwell’s role alongside Chips Rafferty as a mainstay of the Australian feature film industry in the difficult post-war period, and his subsequent role as a popular figure in early British and Australia television.

Early Life

Born in Coogee, New South Wales, in 1923, Tingwell started professional life as a radio voice actor while still at school, and would go on to become Australia’s youngest radio announcer thanks to his tenure at Sydney’s 2CH.

With the outbreak of World War II, Tingwell put his career on hold, volunteering for the Royal Australian Air Force, qualifying as a pilot officer and joining the British Royal Air Force and flying Hurricanes and Spitfires on photo reconnaissance missions. Returning to Australia, Tingwell married his childhood sweetheart, Audrey, and set out on a long and distinguished career an actor for stage and screen.

Early Feature Film Roles

In 1946, Tingwell’s screen debut came with a small speaking part as a control tower officer in Ken G. Hall’s Smithy, an Australian production backed by Columbia Studios, which detailed the exploits of Australian aviation pioneer Sir Charles Kingsford Smith during his historic pan-Pacific flight from San Francisco to Brisbane.

Despite a lean period of feature production in post-war Australia, Tingwell’s charismatic screen presence ensured his role in many Australian films over the next ten years. In 1948, he took a leading role in T.O. McCreadie’s Always Another Dawn, portraying a young man inspired to volunteer for the Australian Navy in memory of his father, a naval officer who had died in action in 1916. A substantial role in another McCreadie film followed, as a weak-willed son of a family of horse trainers desperate to win the Melbourne Cup in 1949’s Into The Straight.

In 1950 he appeared as Chips Rafferty’s son in Ralph Smart’s Bitter Springs, the second Australian production by Ealing Studios and one of the first Australian features to deal with the complex issue of Indigenous land rights. He also narrated Rupert Kathner’s lacklustre 1951 retelling of the Ned Kelly tale, The Glenrowan Affair.

To Hollywood and Back

After his brief role in the Columbia-backed Smithy in 1946, Tingwell’s next flirtation with Hollywood came with a role in Twentieth Century Fox’s 1952 Australian western, Kangaroo, which was shot in Technicolor by All Quiet on the Western Front director Lewis Milestone. The following year Tingwell flew to California to appear alongside Richard Burton, James Mason and Chips Rafferty in The Desert Rats, Fox’s portrayal of the 1941 ANZAC struggle with German Afrikacorps at the Libyan port of Tobruk.

Tingwell quickly returned to Australia for a major role in Cecil Holmes’ bushranging tale, Captain Thunderbolt (1953), before rejoining Chips Rafferty in the South Pacific as second lead in King of the Coral Sea, the tale of two Torres Strait pearlers who break an illegal immigration racket.

In 1956, he made his television debut in the United States, appearing in one episode of DuMont Television Network’s Studio 57. Back in Australia he appeared in Smiley, a co-production between Twentieth Century Fox and British movie mogul Alexander Korda, a charming portrayal of a cheeky, imaginative little boy in an Australian outback town.

Following his participation in the 1950 Ealing production of Bitter Springs, Tingwell returned in 1957 for the English company’s fourth Australian production, Leslie Norman’s adaptation of the D’Arcy Niland novel The Shiralee.

Life as a ‘London Aussie’

Later in 1957, Tingwell relocated to England, taking a small role in another Leslie Norman directed Ealing film, Dunkirk, before setting out on a long and distinguished career in the new medium of television. Having taken a early role in a single episode of Studio 57 in the United States, Tingwell’s first proper television role was as Dr. Alan Dawson in nine episodes of the late-’50s live-to-air British medical soap opera, Emergency-Ward 10.

Over the next ten years, Tingwell took up a series of roles in a variety of UK television programmes, including Crane, Beware of the Dog, An Enemy of the State, Thunderbirds, The Avengers, Captain Scarlet, Z Cars and Catweazle. He also gained roles in a number of British feature films, including Cone of Silence (1960),Tarzan the Magnificent (1960), and the Hammer Horror films Secret of Blood Island (1964) and Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).

Whilst in England, he also landed the recurring feature film role of Inspector Craddock alongside Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple in the successful series of Agatha Christie adaptations Murder She Said (1961), Murder at the Gallop (1963), Murder Most Foul (1964) and Murder Ahoy (1964).

A True Australian Icon

Returning to Australia after sixteen years as a ‘London Aussie’, Tingwell threw himself into the reinvigorated Australian production industry, landing the plum role of Inspector Reg Lawson in the long-running and massively successful Australian television series Homicide (1973-1977).

Over the last twenty-five years Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell had continued his role a mainstay of Australian screens both small and large, creating enduring memories as Gramps (in ‘Charlie the Wonder Dog’, a recurring sketch on the ABC TV comedy series The Late Show), and the aging QC with a heart, Lawrence Hammill inThe Castle (1997).

Continuing to work right up until his death – news reports suggested that he had a script at his bedside two days before he died – Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell will remain in the hearts and minds of fans of both Australian and British films and television. He will be sorely missed.

This article was originally published on 15 May 2009 on Suite101.

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