New Zealand character actor Ian Watkin - whose face is familiar for roles which ranged from being the guy who drove a truck into the Shortland Street clinic to the train guard in the classic Crunchie ad - has died.

Watkin's rotund features and booming voice popped up in many Kiwi films throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s.

He appeared in small roles in Geoff Murphy's Goodbye Pork Pie and Utu, having earlier been part of the 1970s Blerta collective with Murphy and actor Bruno Lawrence and played a prominent role alongside Lawrence in Blerta's early film Wild Man.

As well as appearing in Roger Donaldson's Sleeping Dogs in 1977, Watkin played lawyer Kevin Ryan in the 1981 dramatisation of the Arthur Allan Thomas case, Beyond Reasonable Doubt.


Watkin's his most memorable big screen role came in 1992 with his portrayal of the mad-eyed bodgie Uncle Les in Peter Jackson's splatter zombie comedy Braindead.

He also became a fixture on the New Zealand small screen, first appearing in early 70s serial drama Pukemanu as the small town doctor, later developing a speciality as villains in productions aimed at kids, like Nutcase and The Mad Dog Gang.

Watkin appeared as Jim in the television movie of Roger Hall's play Glide Time before it was adapted as the early 80s sitcom Gliding On, in which Watkin didn't appear. Though he played Jim again in the post Rogernomics 1998 Gliding On sequel Market Forces.

Ian Watkin goes cap-in-hand seeking financial help to get the theatre company to Zurich. 28th June 1994. Photo / NZH
Ian Watkin goes cap-in-hand seeking financial help to get the theatre company to Zurich. 28th June 1994. Photo / NZH

In 1995, Watkin appeared in Shortland Street as Ted Coombes, a truckie who drunkenly drives his rig into the clinic in that year's Christmas episode.

After supporting roles in the NZ-made Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and his final NZ film, Savage Honeymoon, Watkin went to live in Australia and became a wine merchant.

In 2002 he was listed as having a small role in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones which was filmed there. However, George Lucas recast the bit part as an android.

Watkin was born in 1940 an grew up in Greymouth before shifting to Wellington to begin acting in theatre and radio plays while working as a magazine editor for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation.