19th December 1970
BELLBIRD viewers were stunned last week when one of the main characters, Gil Lang, died before their eyes.
Gil Lang’s demise was a complete bombshell. The viewers were given no warning.
Gil Lang, played by veteran actor Keith Eden, was only the third inhabitant of Bellbird to die since the program began in March 1967.
The others were Charlie Cousins (played by Robin Ramsay) who fell off a silo and thereby aroused a storm of controversy, and Maggie Emerson’s new-born baby.
Bellbird’s scriptwriters decided to kill off Gil Lang when Keith Eden announced that he was retiring from acting.
Executive producer Jim Davern said he knew Gil Lang’s death would be a shock to the viewers, since it was so sudden, but, then, death often was sudden.
He told TV WEEK, “I tried to dissuade Keith from retiring because he’s so good, but he was determined to do it, so we had to kill him off.
Many of Bellbird’s viewers claimed that Gil Lang’s death was badly timed, occurring just before Christmas.
Gil, Bellbird’s solicitor for more than three years, had been ill for several months, after catching pneumonia during the recent Bellbird floods.
However, in recent episodes he’d shown signs of recovering and viewers were given no indication that he would suddenly die.
Keith Eden, meanwhile, has already retired with his wife Phonsie and the family dog to their cottage at Flinders, on Victoria’s picturesque Westernport Bay.
In an exclusive telephone interview with TV WEEK, Keith said he’d been acting for 40 years and that was “long enough”.
Although only in his mid-fifties, Keith began his show-business career at the age of 13.
He became one of the best-known voices on Australian radio starting off as compere of March Of Time when he was only 17.
He served with the AIF in World War II and, on his return, worked in more than 1000 radio serials—sometimes as many as 10 in one week.
He adapted easily to television, appearing in many ABC-TV dramas, and most Australian drama series.
The role of Gil Lang was his first continuing one in television—and now it’s become his last.
He told TV WEEK, “Charlie Cousins was a dominant character in Bellbird when they killed him off, because there weren’t so many characters in those days, and I think it was a mistake to have him die.
“But I think they’ll get over Gil’s death quite quickly, although it would certainly have come as a surprise to them.
“My wife and I have been coming to this cottage at Flinders, for weekends and holidays, since 1944. We gave up our house in Melbourne a few months ago, and I was driving up and down to Melbourne for Bellbird.
“We haven’t quite finished settling in yet, but I’m busy gardening, bowling, swimming. I’ve got plenty to do.” Keith has been active for some time with local conservationist movements. He said he would maintain his interest in this work, and he expected it would take up quite a lot of his time.
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