Catweazle was played ingeniously by veteran actor Geoffrey Bayldon, who immersed himself in the part, instinctively bringing idiosyncrasies to his portrayal that were not originally scripted and which became integral to the show's charm. This came much to the delight of Richard Carpenter who gives full credit to Geoffrey for what he brought creatively to the story. Geoffrey's intuition was encouraged all the way by the brilliant and equally seasoned director Quentin Lawrence (whom I was once reliably informed by Kip Carpenter, was taught English at Stow School by T.H. White). So convincing was Geoffrey's metamorphosis into the character, that when the show first aired on ITV in 1970, Geoffrey recalls children rushing past him in the street on Sunday afternoons in order to go indoors and watch Catweazle; they simply did not connect him with the character at all. He was also Richard Carpenter's first choice to play the part, having actually written the script with Geoffrey in mind.
Australian Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell was cast as Carrot's dad, and slipped into the role of Mr Bennet the farmer with ease. Tingwell was already a well-known actor and a household name throughout the 1960s, having honed his skills in film, and the successful live-to-air TV hospital drama 'Emergency Ward 10' which began in 1957 and ran for ten years, attracting audiences of up to 27 million viewers at its peak.
Neil McCarthy completed the principal cast as farmhand, Sam Woodyard. Neil — a stalwart figure of British cinema and television — was often affectionately referred to as a ‘gentle giant’ type character, due to his build and temperament. The role of the ever-so-slightly simple farmhand that he played so convincingly could not have been further from the truth; full of wit and surprises, he spoke fluent Greek and played Bach.
Another of Richard Carpenter's inspired ideas — and a key ingredient — was Catweazle's eleventh-century time-travelling companion and ‘familiar spirit’ who had been carried through time in Catweazle’s pocket. This came in the form of a toad called ‘Touchwood’. Add to this cauldron of ingredients a host of high-calibre guest stars such as Peter Butterworth, Hattie Jacques, Peter Sallis and Brian Wilde to name but a few, and you have a magical series that remains one of the most pivotal and fondly revered examples of engaging, clean, well-written family entertainment ever made for television.
Undoubtedly, the indelible impression left on the minds of a generation by the show, can be greatly attributed to its first series’ climax, which broke new ground — and young hearts. Arguably unrivalled to this day, the final scene is the ultimate demonstration of how exemplary writing, acting, direction, music and photography, can collide in a magic moment to overwhelm an audience and haunt its psyche for many years to come. In a stroke of genius by Richard Carpenter, he broke with convention and left his audience on a low — and reeling with sadness. Before Carrot’s very eyes, Catweazle bids an emotional farewell and fades back to his own time through the water of a beautiful sun-drenched lake. In desperation Carrot shouts: ‘Will you come back one day?’ To which he receives no reply, leaving him to turn and amble away in desolate solitude. Carrot’s wonderful summer holiday had come to an abrupt end, and the realisation that Catweazle’s tales of time-travel and magic were actually the truth, and that he may never see his friend again, came as a devastating blow — and a whole generation shared it with him.
It’s no secret now that these sentiments were actually paralleled by actor Robin Davies’ true feelings at that moment. After the best summer of his life, his eyes welled-up with emotion as he knew that this scene — the last to be shot — marked its end. For Carrot, Catweazle never did come back, and although the series returned for a second season, internal changes at LWT brought different ideas to the boardroom, and an aspiration to conquer the American market. Consequently, Carpenter — against his better judgement — was asked to set the second series in the stately home of an ostensibly well-to-do upper class family, as opposed to the distinctly bucolic setting of Hexwood Farm. The subtle irony here as it turned out, was that in relative terms, both families were similarly hard-up.
The upshot of this new format was that the only actor to reprise their role would be Geoffrey Bayldon. A sterling cast was however assembled once again, with the roles of ‘Lord and Lady Collingford’ being played by Moray Watson and Elspet Gray.
Catweazle’s new confidant — whom he referred to as ‘Owl Face’ — came in the form of their bespectacled and somewhat scholarly son Cedric, who was home from boarding school for the summer holidays. Cedric was played by child star Gary Warren who came hotfoot from a successful role in Lionel Jeffries’ delightful screen version of ‘The Railway Children’. He undoubtedly had a hard act to follow. ‘Carry-on’ star Peter Butterworth was asked to return — no doubt after his popular performance in series one episode, ‘The Demi-Devil’. This time he became a regular cast member in the role of estate gardener ‘Groome’ alongside Gwen Nelson who completed the regular cast line-up as housekeeper ‘Mrs Gowdie’.