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, RyanConsider Your Verdict, Bobby Dazzler, HunterThe 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.”

16 Responses

  1. I’m just about to turn 60 and Terry has been on my screen for most of that time. Always looked forward to seeing him. Another Aussie acting legend gone.

  2. RIP Terry I remember him most as Eric orielly in cop shop apparently ABC wiped the the bellbird tapes it’s a shame it would have been good to have had it on a streaming service or a dvd release

  3. When I was a small kid I saw Terry In the city and I asked “Mr O’Reilly” for an autograph.
    He went straight into character and happily signed an autograph. He then told me to be a good lad because he doesn’t want to see my in the Riverside lock up. Such a nice man.

  4. They just don’t make them like him anymore, a true gentleman and what far dinkum Aussie television like Bellbird, Cop Shop and one of my favourites Jack Irish with Terry holding up the bar. Now that’s proper TV entertainment…. RIP Terry and thanks for the drama and the laughs.

  5. A life well lived. Remember his work on Bellbird as a child, and then the other TV shows over the years. It was great returning from a 15 year stint in the UK to see Terry in the first show I watched on TV back here … Jack Irish. An older but seemingly tireless Terry Norris giving an outstanding performance as usual. He will be sadly missed, but always remembered. Let’s hope the Logies puts together a worthy tribute piece to a true Aussie performer.

  6. I remember him from Bellbird and Cop Shop. What a wonderful actor he was. He sounds like he was a wonderful man too. Sending love to his family. Vale Terry and Thank you.

  7. I heard Craig Bennett talking about Terry’s passing last night on radio 2GB. Terry was a legend, and his work in Bellbird and Cop Shop was brilliant. By the sounds of things, he was not only a great actor, but a sharp wit, intelligent and kind. Vale.

  8. Clearly one of our finest character actors and what a character he was. I loved watching Terry since I was a little boy. I am really feeling for Julia and the family, as he was so beloved. He had a good innings but very sad nonetheless. Condolences to all.

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