"A gentleman, an inspiration to fellow actors, a journeyman and a rogue. He was a fine actor, a true storyteller and a great friend."This was how Bill Hunter's manager for 17 years, Mark Morrisey described Bill Hunter, in the news tributes following the announcement of the legendary actor's death, yesterday afternoon.
Bill had performed in a staggeringly large number of movies, telemovies, miniseries and TV shows, the full list of which can be seen here, or here.
Some of the less well known appearances included 2 episodes on Doctor Who in 1966 (as Guardian), 6 episodes in Prisoner in 1979 (as George Lucas - not THE George Lucas, I suspect) and 2 episodes on Minder in 1993 (as Reid).
He has, of course, been in the three best known Australian cop dramas of the seventies, including Division 4, Homicide and Matlock Police.
I wont go and list all of his other performances (I really didn't like Muriel's Wedding), but I want to highlight a few over the years.
BHP - The Big Australian
From memory (cause google doesn't seem to be too helpful about this) these ads were created in the mid 1980s', during the time when Bell Resources (headed by Robert Holmes a Court) made a bid to take over BHP. As part of the campaign by BHP to repel the unwanted bid, a series of ads were made with Bill to describe BHP as "The Big Australian". The ads appeared all over television and were made to prompt those BHP shareholders who weren't sure about what to do to not sell their shares to Bell Resources. Ultimately the bid was withdrawn and we now have an even bigger, sort-of-Australian, BHP Billiton. (If anyone can find any of these ads online please let me know.)
Barry Fife - Strictly Ballroom (1992)
This movie was co-written and directed by Baz Luhrmann (who went on to direct Moulin Rouge, Australia - also with Bill Hunter in it - and Romeo and Juliet) I really enjoyed this movie, not for the dancing (though that was brilliant) but for the comic absurdities surrounding the organisation known as the Ballroom Federation and especially how it handles the running of the Australian Pan Pacific Championships. With a little bit of reworking of the script this movie could have been retitled Strictly Bandroom, as it reminds me so much about the the way brass band associations have been run in Australia.
Bill plays the role of Barry Fife, the Federation president, who tries to discourage Scott Hastings (played by Paul Mecurio) from dancing with unorthodox steps. When it comes time for the final, Scott dances with his own special moves and Barry comes on to disqualify him from the event. Barry, to me, is an amalgam of about half a dozen people who have previously been involved with the Victorian Bands League, and I cannot help but to think of them when I see this movie, and Bill's character.
Stan Coombs - Crackerjack (2002)
Crackerjack was co-written by Melbourne comedian Mick Molloy (he also starred in it), was one of the best Australian movies around that time and is a bit of a gem. The story revolves around Jack Simpson (played by Mick) and how a local bowls club fights to stay in existence. John Clark plays the evil villain of the movie as a "Pokies King", intent on using the land at the bowls club for his own purposes.
Bill plays the character of Stan Coombs one of the local bowls club (Boggera). Here you can see some of Bill in action.
(Note at 2:19 you can here Tony Martin as the voice over the PA system).
Finding Nemo (2003) and Legend of the Guradians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)
By coincidence I was watching Legend of the Guardians with the boys last night. Bill's voice lends itself well as a character for cartoons. In Finding Nemo he voices the dentist, Phillip Sherman (from 42 Wallaby Way Sydney). Phillip is the one that appears to orginally "kidnap" Nemo for his fishtank at his office.
In Legend of the Guardians he voices Bubo, which admittedly is a pretty minor role in the movie. Given the absolute wealth of other Australian/New Zealand actors lending their voices to this film (including Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neil, Barry Otto, Hugo Weaving, Anthony LaPaglia, Angus Sampson, and David Wenham) I think it would have been a travesty to not have Bill Hunter in there as as well.
One of Bill's final roles could very well be his finest as he will be seen in The Cup as Bart Cummings, legendary horse trainer. This will be released towards the end of the year (though don't be surprised if it ends up being released a bit earlier now).
Vale Bill Hunter