Saluting one of the heroes of New Zealand theatre.

Ray Henwood who died earlier this week was one of a generation of actors who established professional theatre in New Zealand. It is little understood how widely the influence of these theatrical pioneers has been, not only in enriching our cultural life and the national sense of identity, but also in the spin-off impact on film and television production in New Zealand.

There was a time when film and television producers here looked beyond these shores to find actors and writers they considered to have the skills to deliver the quality of work they aimed to produce. It is a direct result of the efforts of actors and writers like Ray Henwood and the others of his generation that we have seen the blossoming of a truly New Zealand dramatic voice and culture.

Without these pioneers leading the way we may never have enjoyed the work of Roger Hall or Taika Waititi. There would have been no Mercury Theatre, no Downstage or Circa, no Court Theatre or ATC or Taki Rua. Without these organisations many of our younger writers would never have been inspired to write plays. Much of the television and film drama produced locally has been enriched by the ground work done by theatre pioneers such as Ray Henwood.

RNZ (or NZBC as it was then) played a big role in the development of drama in New Zealand too and Ray Henwood’s generation of actors and writers earned much of their living and practised their craft, working on the many radio plays, correspondence school productions, children’s stories and book readings produced in-house by RNZ in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch. Older actors still refer to the “golden days” when they could do radio drama in the mornings, correspondence school in the afternoon and theatre at night.

Ray was one of the actors who worked regularly in this period delivering high levels of production craft and flourished with his widely admired acting skill and opulent vocal talents. The online records here at RNZ go back to the mid-seventies and record seventy-seven credits to Ray in a wide range of styles. His work as a radio actor from back in the sixties would probably include hundreds of different productions. His range as an actor was broad, playing all manner of characters in classics like A Month in the Country and The Philanthropists, whilst also delivering brilliant and hilarious performances in the likes of Slinky Malinki and as Schnitzel Von Krumm.

Ray Henwood was a fine actor who gave much to his chosen profession and the wider community. He will be very much missed.