Ray Barrett

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Ray Barrett Pencil Portrait
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He had his ups and downs, but Ray Barrett, the Brisbane born actor was hardly ever out of work in a profession known for its unpredictable employment prospects. From radio as a teenager to roles as a cranky old fellow, Barrett was almost a fixture on Australian and British screen and television.

It was impossible to warm to his on-screen characters, being as essentially slippery as his perennially brycleemed hair, but they were always compelling. His pockmarked skin – a legacy of teenage acne – did nothing to impede his career but little to endear him to television viewers. When he joined the cast of Britain’s first hospital soap opera, Emergency – Ward 10,” as casualty officer, Dr Don Nolan, he misdiagnosed a malingering old woman with abdominal problems, and was content enough to voice his opinions on the “antediluvian” institution that paid his salary.

I vaguely recall his leading role in The Troubleshooters as a tough, resourceful and intelligent Australian field man for an oil company, which ran from 1965 to 1972, and which established him on British television. Unfortunately, the show’s archive is meagre and memories fade, but there are those who will still remember his tough, uncompromising performance as Peter Thornton, a role written specifically for him after the creator John Elliott had spotted Barrett in a bar behaving with typical Australian forthrightness.

Best of all, there’s “Don’s Party,” the 1976 movie based on the play by David Williamson. In this rambunctious drama set on the night of the 1969 Australian Federal election, Ray Barrett is greasily effective as Mal, an incongruous Romeo gone wrong who delivers repulsive come-ons to a number of shocked women. As the party unfolds, marriage issues and heated debates about class divide surface as this motley assortment of relationships grow gradually more splintered and disconsolate. Before finally descending into a series of heated conversations and prickly dynamics, there are some raunchy scenes and skinny dipping, in fact just your regular carefree party downunder.

Ultimately, it’s not just Barrett’s craggy face that became familiar to television viewers. His was the voice that launched each episode of the futuristic, Gerry Anderson-produced puppet series Stingray (1964-65). As the wheelchair-bound Commander Shore, he dramatically announced: “Stand by for action! We are about to launch… Stingray! Anything can happen in the next half-hour.”

Barrett also contributed other voices to the series, as he did for Anderson’s most popular production, “Thunderbirds” (1965-66), and its film spin-off Thunderbirds are Go (1966). His main characters were John Tracy – the astronaut on the space station Thunderbird 5, monitoring calls for help – and the arch villain The Hood. Most intriguingly, he voiced The Duchess of Royston in “The Duchess Assignment,” one of the best of the 32 episodes, which – by his own admission – was essentially a homage to the English stage and film actress, Edith Evans.