born January 7 1924

died May 10 2017

GEOFFREY Bayldon, who has died aged 93, was a character actor who appeared in everything from Shakespeare to Casualty and turned down the chance to be the First (and Second) Doctor in Doctor Who, but he was chiefly associated with the role of Catweazle in one of the most popular children’s TV programmes of the early 1970s.

Catweazle, which ran for two series on ITV at Sunday teatime, detailed the adventures of an inept 11th-century magician transported to the 20th Century after the flying spell he casts to escape from Norman invaders goes wrong. Landing in a moat, he wakes up in a pond near the home of a teenager called Carrot (Robin Davies, with hair dyed for the role).

Much of the show’s appeal came from Bayldon’s bafflement when confronted with modern technology which, in line with Arthur C Clarke’s axiom, he found indistinguishable from magic. “Elec-trickery” and the “telling-bone” into which people spoke were a source of particular wonder, though he was liable to denounce strangers as “Normans” and make attempts on them with his crystal knife.

Richard Carpenter, a former actor, had written the series with Bayldon in mind; after its success, he went on to write other classic children’s ’70’s shows, such as The Ghosts of Motley Hall, Dick Turpin and much of Black Beauty. The ingenious premise of Catweazle not only made for comedy set-ups which Bayldon could exploit to the full, but the opportunity to explain how machinery worked, with Carrot tutoring the old wizard. Magic Grandad, a schools’ programme in which he starred in the 1990s, was a more overtly educational reprise of this technique.

Catweazle had a second series commissioned immediately, and when it finished in 1971, a third was planned. But it never proceeded beyond drafts, after Carpenter and Bayldon felt that the programme had run its course.

Bayldon’s other memorable foray into children’s TV was as the Crowman in Worzel Gummidge (four series, 1979-1981), in which he was the manufacturer of and ultimate menace to the title character (played by the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee).

He was born Albert Geoffrey Bayldon at Leeds on January 7 1924; his father was a tailor and his mother a headmistress. After Bridlington School and a brief spell at Hull College of Architecture, he joined the RAF, though he spent the war posted in Yorkshire. He enjoyed amateur dramatics and service revues and after demob in 1947, enrolled at the Old Vic theatre school.

Though he was later to appear in more than 200 separate television programmes and feature films, his early work was in theatre. His first production was as the elderly Lord Ogleby in Garrick and Colman’s 18th-century comedy The Clandestine Marriage; it was an early indication of his tendency to be cast as much older characters – something he resisted until he realized that he was “good at playing old men” and that it increased the likelihood of an extended career.

In the early 1950s he had two seasons in Shakespeare at Stratford (opposite John Gielgud, amongst others) and then at Birmingham Rep, where he played Caesar. His first film role was as a clerk in The Stranger Left No Card (1952), in which the lead (Alan Badel) played a conjurer whose appearance may have inspired Catweazle; the same year he had a bit part in Trent’s Last Case, with Orson Welles and Margaret Lockwood.

By the late 1950s, Bayldon had calculated that television was the coming thing, and where the work was. He had several small roles in Sword of Freedom (1957) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (57-58) and during the 1960s popped up regularly in shows such as The Avengers, The Saint, Z-Cars and Danger Man. He appeared in Hammer’s Dracula (1958), and in the Sixties and Seventies was often seen in British horror productions by that studio and by Amicus, including Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed and Tales from the Crypt.

More mainstream film work included Bryan Forbes’s splendid 1965 adaptation of James Clavell’s prisoner of war novel King Rat, where he was the rat expert Squadron Leader Vexley, the racial school drama To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier and the misfiring James Bond spoof Casino Royale (both 1967). The next year, he was in the dud Inspector Clouseau, with Alan Arkin, though he was also to appear in The Pink Panther Strikes Again in 1976, when the series had become a big-screen hit.

By this point, Bayldon had as much television work as he wanted, from Play of the Month to Van der Valk. He had been offered the lead in a new BBC series called Doctor Who, which featured an elderly alien in a police telephone box but, anxious not to play too many old men and having little taste for science fiction, he passed, and the part went to William Hartnell.

When Hartwell regenerated, he turned it down again and Patrick Troughton became the Second Doctor. By the 17th series, Bayldon gave in and played Organon in The Creature from the Pit, when Tom Baker was the Doctor; Bayldon also, in 2003 and 2005, got to play a version of the First Doctor in two audio plays.

It would almost be easier to list the successful TV programmes in which he never made an appearance; he was in such staples as Juliet Bravo, Midsomer Murders, Bergerac, Peak Practice, Crown Court, Heartbeat, Tales of the Unexpected, Rumpole of the Bailey, All Creatures Great and Small and Last of the Summer Wine. For Casualty he was four separate characters; his last TV work included New Tricks and My Family.

Other big screen roles included the Governor in the film version of Porridge and had roles in Madame Sousatzka (1988), Tom & Viv (1994) and Ladies in Lavender (2004).

He never married.

Andrew McKie