A Mischievous Sense of Humour

I first made contact with Denzil when he worked at SMS (Sales and Management Services) in the late 70s, and became aware of his competitive nature as it applied to the entertainment industry.

I had done a video job with Lewis Smith who also worked at SMS and I was looking to get more voice work. Lewis told me to contact Denzil as he was in charge of voice work at SMS. I had what was considered a very good “demo tape” of some fifteen character voices which I submitted to Denzil. I followed it up with a phone call, to be told there was nothing on the tape that was quite what he was looking for!

When I asked what it was that he wanted, in particular, I found it difficult to get definitive answer. I followed up with a further three tapes, with multiple tracks. Each time none of them was quite what he was looking for.

Eventually I found out from another actor that it was a waste of time submitting tapes to SMS as Denzil did almost all the “voice overs” himself!

A few years later our paths crossed a number of times without ever connecting.

First he, then I, played the King in “Giant John”, then I played Wally in “Flexitime” and Denzil took over for part of the Sydney season extension. On that occasion Carl Bleazby and I moved into the room he had just vacated at the Glebe Point Motel.

It was not until 1986 at the first rehearsal of “Me and My Girl” that we actually met and endured a week of torture and frustration under the watchful eye of Joe Latona. We were trying to learn a tap dancing routine, which we were never required to perform anyway.

After that soul-destroying week the director Mike Ockrent and choreographer Gillian Gregory arrived and we were all required to learn “The Lambeth Walk” instead, which was equally painful for both of us.

Out this pain grew a lasting friendship.

In Melbourne Denzil shared a dressing room with Ronnie Shand, an old vaudevillian and great “scene stealer”, who was full of stories of the “old days” that Denzil found fascinating. When we went to Sydney I shared a dressing room with Denzil and Ronnie. And we both stayed at the Glebe Point Motel, which had interestingly moved further up Glebe Point Road by then!

It was here that I really got to know Denzil, his droll, mischievous sense of humour delivered with a completely dead pan face in the manner of two of his great heroes, Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati. We shared a lot of meals together, and with other members of that great cast, Fay Donaldson and Patricia Forbes among them, who unfortunately are no longer with us.

It would be difficult to tell, as Denzil always “played his cards close to his chest”, but I think Denzil really regarded Me and My Girl as one of the highlights of his long, varied and illustrious career.

Over the next nineteen years he did give me some voice work for many of the “docos” he made, on a pro bono basis of course!

He will be sadly missed by the many colleagues who also became his friends over a much longer period than I was privileged to know him.

John Murphy
September 2005

Melbourne actor John Murphy was a colleague of Denzil’s. They appeared together in the stage musical “Me and My Girl”.