April 9, 2017

BERNARD KEARNS 1925-2017  

Bernard Kearns, who has died aged 92, had a long and illustrious career as an actor on stage, in films, on television and on radio. He became involved with Canterbury University College Drama Society in the 1940s. The society had a very successful run of productions, mainly of Shakespeare directed by Ngaio Marsh. Bernard’s first appearance for the Society in 1946 was not in one of Ngaio Marsh’s Shakespeares but in James Bridie’s What Say They?

When the Old Vic Company, lead by Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, performed in Christchurch in 1948, Bernard and several other students were hired as extras for Richard III. They were paid ten shillings and sixpence. This marked the beginning of Bernard’s professional career.

In 1949 he played the role of the father in Ngaio’s production of Pirandello’s Six Characters In Search of an Author. This production was picked up by the entrepreneur Dan O’Connor and taken on a tour of Australia.

In the early 1950s Bernard joined the New Zealand Broadcasting Service in Christchurch. His resonant voice made him a natural choice to be the radio announcer for the Royal Tour by Queen Elizabeth in 1953.He was to do the same for the tour by Pope John Paul II in 1986 and for the King and Queen of Thailand. 

He rose to be the chief producer of radio drama in Broadcasting’s Christchurch s production studio in the 1960s. When that studio was closed in the early 70s he moved up to Wellington where he became an important part of the TV production scene. He was a script editor at Avalon, read short stories for Radio New Zealand and did voice overs for commercials.

Bernard appeared in several films, notably as:

  • Father Gilligan in The God Boy by Ian Cross (adapted by Ian Mune; directed by Murray Reece).
  • Redbeard in The Silent One by Joy Cowley (adapted by Ian Mune; directed by Yvonne MacKay)
  • Charlie Bird in Jack Winter’s Dream by James K. Baxter (directed by David Sims)
  • The Prime Minister in Sleeping Dogs (adapted from C K Stead’s Smith’s Dream by Arthur Baysting and Ian Mune, directed by Roger Donaldson).

For television he was the central character in 20 episodes of Mirror Mirror and the on screen narrator for the historical series The Years Back produced by the National Film Unit. He also appeared in Shark In The Park.

It could truly be said that he was a man of many parts. His most unusual role was coaching scripture readers in his beloved Roman Catholic Church in speaking effectively at Mass.

Bill Sheat, April 2017 

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