James Laurenson, the New Zealand-born actor who played the lead role in the 1970s Australian series Boney, died last month at age 84.

Born in Marton, New Zealand, he completed his education at Christchurch University, then gained a scholarship from the New Zealand Government to study drama overseas. He moved to the United Kingdom in the 1960s and continued a successful career across theatre, television and film.

Early TV credits included British series Coronation Street, Z Cars, Treasure Island, The Wars Of The Roses and The Expert. In 1970 he starred in the BBC production of Edward II, where he shared a kiss with co-star Ian McKellen — thought to be the first same-sex kiss on British television.

In 1971 he came to Australia to play the lead role of Detective Inspector Napoleon “Boney” Bonaparte in the Seven Network series Boney. His casting as the half-Aboriginal character attracted criticism not only because he was a non-Aboriginal playing the role with dark-coloured make-up, but he was also not Australian. An executive from Scottish Television, which had an investment in the project, suggested Laurenson to producer John McCallum.

Boney: Rowena Wallace, Noel Ferrier, James Laurenson

Laurenson was unaware of the backlash he was to receive on arrival in Australia. “There had been no reports of the Aboriginal movement in the London press and I was quite unprepared for any sort of hostility,” he told TV Times in 1972. “It’s a very complicated question on which I can only admit to having mixed feelings. On the one hand, I think I have the right as an actor to have a go at anything I think I can do. Equally I can understand the reaction of the Aboriginal actors here feeling slightly snubbed by the whole deal.

“(Production company) Fauna said, and I presume it’s true, that they looked around among Aboriginal actors and they just weren’t able to choose someone with the experience and skill to sustain a focal role for 13 episodes.”

Boney ran for two seasons, and Laurenson won a TV Week Logie Award in 1973 for Best Single Performance By An Actor for his performance in the episode ‘Boney Meets The Daybreak Killer’.

After Boney, Laurenson did not work again on Australian television, though most of his appearances on American and British television were on titles familiar to Australian viewers, including The Duchess Of Duke Street, Space: 1999, The Professionals, Remington Steele, Cagney And Lacey, Days Of Our Lives, Inspector Morse, Codename: Kyril, The Bourne Identity, Lovejoy, Midsomer Murders, Silent Witness, Dalziel And Pascoe, Father Brown and five episodes of The Crown.

James Laurenson is survived by his second wife Cari Haysom and his son Jamie from his first marriage.

Source: The Telegraph, Nine, IMDB. TV Times, 2 September 1972, 10 March 1973.

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