A Warm and Talented Man

I remember Denzil struggling tenaciously to produce a very early television medical series “Emergency” at Channel 9 in Melbourne, modelled on the British series “Emergency Ward 10”. He was dealing with flimsy sets, desperate actors and bored Production Staff.

No budget, no time, little rehearsal, but a brave and frustrating attempt to get a drama series going. Denzil was tense but incredibly cool in those days, when there was no videotape, no slick electronic editing — scenes were recorded in one long take on a kinerecording machine, a primitive process at best — and we all had to be out of the studio at 5.30–6.30 on recording days, so I.M.T. could be set up! Denzil displayed superhuman patience under extremely stressful conditions.

I remember Denzil’s enormous creative effort in writing and producing the end of year television children’s pantomime programmes. I don’t think it’s ever been done anywhere else in this country.

One memorable year during the recording, “Bernard The Magician” (Alf Gertler) kept blowing his lines, causing all the cast and crew to break-up into fits of giggling. The more he tried, the worse he got, becoming angry and frustrated with himself and everyone else. Poor Denzil — unbeknown to him, Phil Burns the chief audio operator, located a track of hysterical laughter, and secretly fed it into the headphones of all the floor crew, causing us to be unable to contain ourselves.

I can still see cameraman Graeme Blair, hanging on to his camera, a handkerchief jammed into his mouth, tears streaming down his face, trying to stop himself exploding into laughter.

Denzil, stormed onto the studio floor, incandescent with anger and frustration after the umpteenth “take”, saying “It’s not bloody funny, you know you bloody fellas” and the whole studio collapsed into total disarray. Hilarious. Somehow we got through it all, and another marvellous piece of television history was put in place, thanks to Denzil’s wonderful creative energy.

Some years later, I left the network to go into business as a theatrical agent, and Denzil approached me for representation as a freelance actor. He became a client with our agency, Melbourne Artists Management, and we had a long and happy association together. Later in his senior years, Denzil managed to carve out a useful career as actor/entertainer and voice-over artist. Film, theatre, and television, no job was too small, and Denzil tackled everything with skill and enthusiasm.

A warm and talented man, with a wonderful sense of humour, I remember his droll contributions to many a young, macho conversation amongst some of the Channel 9 production crew, including this one. The subject of the discussion was the spectacular beauty of the singing sex bomb Pilita, a popular and very eye catching entertainer of the day. What a lucky so and so John Calvert (her mentor!) was, what they would do in the same situation, given half a chance, etc. etc. — you get the picture. Denzil waited for his moment and casually dropped into the conversation “I don’t know if this is relevant or not, but one night after the show, I helped her on with her coat”. He completely broke us all up.

Denzil made a wonderful and lasting contribution to the Australian entertainment industry, and most importantly of all he was my friend and colleague for nearly 50 years.

Garry Stewart
September 2005.

Garry Stewart worked at GTV9 in the early days of Australian television and was Denzil’s theatrical agent in later years.