Vale: Terry Norris
Veteran Australian character actor Terry Norris, best known for Cop Shop, Bellbird and Jack Irish, has died.
Veteran Australian character actor Terry Norris, best known for Cop Shop, Bellbird and Jack Irish has died, aged 92.
Norris was one of Australia’s most experienced character actors with nearly 80 screen credits, not including stage and radio work.
Married to veteran performer Julia Blake (Bed of Roses, Prisoner, Travelling North), meeting the love of his life in a theatre troupe after travelling to the UK age just 21.
“The West End was one’s Mecca and so I went to England and I spent the next 12 years bumming around in repertory theatre. It was fantastic. Every town of every size had its own professional theatre. England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, even the bloody Channel Islands I played,” he said in one of his last ever interviews with TV Tonight in 2018.
“We met in York, a lovely city, we were both in a company there. We got married between a matinee & evening performance of the show we were doing.
“A lot of performers you worked with in those days spent their entire lives in ‘rep’ and I didn’t want to finish up in a bloody bed sitting-room somewhere, down on my bean end, never going to get any further. We wanted to have a family so I persuaded Julia to come back to my hometown.”
Both were awarded Lifetime Achievement by the Equity Foundation in 2018.
Settling in Melbourne in 1962, he had plenty of work.
“I had 20 years with the longest run of luck of any actor on the face of the earth! I was never, ever out of work. Sometimes doing two and three at the same time, because in those days there were lots of bits and pieces,” he recalled.
“We did a radio play from Melbourne every week, so that was a little bit of jam on the bread, and at that same time you were doing a stage show or theatre restaurant, and two long-running soap operas. I did 20 years so bloody lucky, never out of work. It’s amazing. So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
In Bellbird he played mechanic Joe Turner, filmed at Ripponlea studios for 8 years. After a day’s work he would jump on a train for evening performances at Tikki & John’s Theatre Restaurant or Brian Hannan’s Squizzy’s. There were guest roles on Crawford Productions, Homicide, Division 4, Matlock Police before landing the role of the memorable Senior Sgt. Eric O’Reilly on hit police show, Cop Shop and winning a Silver Logie as Best Supporting Actor.
“It was a show that never took itself seriously. It had comedy in it which is most unusual for a police show. Gil Tucker (Constable Roy Baker) and I were the comedy relief,” he said.
“They were a lovely, happy cast and another joy to go to work. I can never ever remember a moment in that show when anyone showed any temperament.”
His CV includes Power Without Glory, Blue Heelers, Changi, Stingers, Something in the Air, City Homicide, Killing Time, Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries, The Society Murders, Hawke, The Damnation of Harvey McHugh, Ryan, Consider Your Verdict, Bobby Dazzler, Hunter, The Last of the Australians, Bloom and films including Stork, Road to Nhill, Paper Planes, , The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Judy & Punch, Looking for Grace, The Dressmaker, Romulus my Father (produced by son in law Robert Connolly).
In 1982 he detoured from acting to a 10 year term as a member of the Victorian Labor government, which he says emerged from union work for Actors Equity. Representing voters in Dandenong, he described it as “an experience,” if not necessarily enjoyable. But one that gave him insight into humanity.
“I had the biggest ethnic group in the state and the biggest unemployment and drug problem. It was challenging but nevertheless interesting. I worked my arse off and kindly (thanks) to the people I increased my vote at every election so I was doing something right,” he recalled.
“But you never get what you want, totally so you come to some sort of agreement. But it’s like life anyway, isn’t it?”
On the Guy Pearce drama Jack Irish he joined veteran performer John Flaus and the late Ronald Falk as one of the barflies at the Prince of Prussia pub.
“We’ve struck a chord with a lot of viewers. Oddly enough, they represent an era that’s gone. These old Australian types sitting in a bar -not a lot of them left. It has just struck a chord with many viewers who come up and say ‘I know that bar.’
“It’s fun to go to work. All I’ve got to do is sit there and say the words!
“I’ve had such a bloody, charmed life. It’s a terrible business that you wouldn’t want any of your children or your best friends ever to go into.”
But he added, “I call myself a ‘jobbing actor.’ I’ll do a reasonably professional job, and I’ve been lucky enough to make a living from it.”
A sad loss for @VictorianLabor on news of passing of Terry Norris aged 92 actor, reformer, gentlemen and Member of Parliament for SE Melbourne. A great mentor to all those who followed him. Condolences to Julia and his family and many friends. Vale Terry Norris. Deeply missed
— Martin Foley (@Martin__Foley) March 20, 2023