The careers of the individuals presented in this section were mostly associated with the Australian variety industry. In some instances this may have been undertaken for only a part of the person’s career, but is nevertheless considered significant in terms of impact, influence or individual development.
For details regarding songwriters who were also variety performers see their respective entries in the Practitioners section.
Brooke to Middleton ……. p.1
Nelson to Whaite ……. p.2
aka May Hewlett
(ca. 1892-1954) Musician (piano), accompanist, music director, entertainer.
Perhaps best known to regional Australians for her long association with Stanley McKay, as performer, musician and music director (most notably with his various Gaieties companies), May Brooke’s long career in variety theatre also saw her associated with Barton’s Follies (1941-47, 1950) and Cole’s Varieties (1948-49) among others. She first came to prominence as Daisy Jerome‘s accompanist during the comedienne’s 1922-23 tour for Fullers’ Theatres and began working for McKay in late-1924, initially touring as a performer with his pantomime and opera company. Her last shows with McKay were in 1940 and her final stage appearances with Barton’s Follies in 1950.
- More details (research notes)
Brooke died on 10 June 1954 in Sydney at the Haberfield home of former variety performer Winnie Edgerton after having been in hospital for several weeks.
Image source: Table Talk 5 Apr. (1923), 21.
George Clutsam published his first composition at age nine and in his early twenties toured with various minstrel shows through Australasia and the East. After moving to England in 1887 he established himself as an accompanist and composer of both serious and light music. Among his works were several operas and a number of musical comedies, burlesques and plays. His biggest success was the Schubert-inspired 1922 musical play Lilac Time (later Blossom Time, 1942), for which he arranged Schubert’s music and composed additional music.
(1853-1936) Music director, composer, arranger, musician
Engaged by some of the most significant entrepreneurs and troupes operating in Australia between the early 1870s and 1910s, Owen Conduit was a prodigious composer and arranger. He came to Australia in 1871, making his professional debut in Melbourne the following year at age 18. Over the next eight years found constant employment with minstrel troupes, and comic opera and burlesque companies. Conduit moved to Sydney in 1894, spending the next 10 years as Harry Rickards‘ music director. He was later associated with Edwin Geach, Harry Clay and James Brennan among others.
Image and family history details courtesy of Margaret Hardwick.
Music director, arranger, conductor.
Percy Davis L.B.C.M. likely began his career as a vaudeville conductor around the turn of the century, his name being linked to Bert Howard‘s Gaiety Entertainers as early as 1905. By 1907 he was leader of James Brennan‘s National Orchestra (Sydney) and in 1910 he toured Queensland for Harry Clay, later serving as music director at Clay’s Bridge Theatre, Newtown (1912-1918). During his career, which continued into the late-1930s, Davis worked for Frank Reis, J.C. Bain, George Marlow, and in the mid-1930s was music director at the Rushcutter’s Bay Stadium. His only established link with radio was in 1933 when he conducted Wal Rockley‘s Christy Mintrels on 2BL (31 Mar.)
HERBERT DE PINNA
aka Dr Herbert Alfred De Pinna
After completing his medical degree at Cambridge University, Dr Herbert de Pinna trained at Middlesex Hospital (London) and served as a navy surgeon before immigrating to Australia in 1913. He initially practiced in Melbourne and later in the regional New South Wales township of Orange. In 1914 De Pinna found success as a composer, and over the next few years published upwards of two dozen popular songs, mostly for W.H. Paling. He had his greatest success with the Fullers‘ pantomimes The Bunyip (1916) and Robinson Crusoe (1917). De Pinna returned to his medical professional in the early 1920s, moving to Queensland where he practised in Aramac, Marburg and Brisbane.
- A selection of Herbert De Pinna’s songs is available via the National Library of Australia’s online catalogue.
Image source: National Library of Australia
CYRIL “TINY” DOUGLAS
Violinist, music director, composer, arranger.
Cyril Douglas, was music director at St Kilda’s Palais de Danse in the early 1920s. He then toured the Fullers‘ Australasian vaudeville circuit with the Charleston Super Six Symphonists (1925-28) before forming the Varsity Boys (1928-ca. 1937). The band, which often changed membership, toured mostly with revue companies (including those led by Nat Phillips and George Sorlie) up until ca. 1937, while also securing engagements with film exhibitors, and appearing on radio. At various times it was also known as the 4 Aces, Stage Band-its, and Palais Royal Band. In the 1940s Douglas led the State Havana Band (aka State Symphony Orchestra).
Image: Brisbane Courier 30 July (1932), 17.
KENNETH L. DUFFIELD
Kenneth Duffield was educated at St Peter’s College (Adelaide) and Trinity College (Cambridge) where he studied Agriculture and was active in the Footlights Club. He spent 2½ years entertaining troops during WWI before being wounded in 1918 and in 1920 collaborated with Dion Titheradge on a successful West End revue. Later shows included Puss Puss!, A-Z, Pot Luck, Snap (1922) and The Nine O’Clock Revue. Although forced to return home in 1922 following the death of his father, Duffield continued to involve himself in composing, writing and producing well into the 1930s, both in Australia and Britain. He also co-founded Australian Musical Productions (1925) and had hit with his musical comedy Healo in 1926.
- See also: Australian Musical Productions Pty Ltd
1: After completing his B.A. from Cambridge in 1906 Duffield spent eight years working on his family’s sheep station (Koonoona) before enlisting in the A.I.F. He rose to the rank of captain.
2: Duffield returned to Britain ca. 1926 and had further success with shows such as Jack of Diamonds, Little Miss Gruno, After Dark, and When Spring Comes Round, and wrote an autobiography, Savages and Kings (1946), before retiring to Adelaide in 1948. He died there ten years later.
Image source: Table Talk 4 June (1925), 16.
Composer/songwriter, music director.
Born and raised in Launceston, Will Dyson worked in the town surveyor’s office before joining Alfred Dampier‘s company in 1903. He worked as music director with Clarke, Meynell and Gunn’s Fatal Wedding company, Albert Goldie’s Pantomime Company, and James Brennan‘s National Orchestra (four years) before leaving Australia in 1913 for South Africa and London. He then moved to America, initially working as a songwriter/arranger with New York publisher Kalmar and Puck, before establishing himself as theatre music director and independent songwriter in both the USA and Canada. For a time he also worked for Lee Shubert’s organisation. Dyson continued his career well into the 1940s. One of his biggest hits was “Let it Rain.”
1: The first Australian to be elected a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ctd. “Music-travelled Musician Visits His Home City.” Examiner 17 Aug. 1935, 6), Dyson came back to Australia in 1935 to direct the music for The Crazy Show – F. W. Thring‘s debut production at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne.
2: Dyson’s decision to move to US was influenced by his brother, James, a musician who in 1913 was playing with Weber and Fields at New York’s Broadway Theatre.
Image source: Table Talk 18 Apr. (1935), 15.
aka Hermann Florack / Frederick King
Musician (piano/flute), music director, composer, piano tuner, entrepreneur, troupe manager.
The colourful career of Frederick King appears to have begun in the late-1870s. Having changed his name to Hermann Florack (likely in an effort to evade a Victorian arrest warrant from1876), he toured the country with companies led by Baker and Farron and Tom Buckley, and on a number of occasions produced and/or toured his own shows (including Florack’s Federal Minstrels). He also worked a sideline business as a piano tuner and spent several lengthy periods in regional centres as a band master (notably in the New South Wales towns of Dubbo and Casino). Florack continued working as a professional musician/music director for concerts, picture houses, variety shows, theatre and music theatre up until at least the early-1920s.
1: 1899 Florack collaborated with J. Harding Tucker on the 4 act musical comedy, The Two Scamps. The work was produced at the Opera House, Sydney, beginning late-April… but not without some last minute controversy.
2: Florack was eventually arrested in South Australia in 1880 and. He was eventually convicted in Victoria of embezzlement, horse stealing, and larceny. And sentenced to 27 months goal (including 15 months hard labour).
Born and raised in Melbourne, Jessie Grey began to learn piano at the age of five and made her first public appearance at a church concert at Mentone the following year. After undertaking tuition with her cousin, Miss Sadie Woff and later with variety theatre music director ‘Professor’ Frederick Ireland, Grey began her professional career as an accompanist in 1902. By 1905 she was F.M. Clark‘s music director at the Gaiety Theatre (Melbourne), and two years later toured Queensland with Harry Clay’s Waxworks and Comedy Company. She is also known to have been music director at Melbourne’s Bijou Theatre (1915) and the Adelphi Theatre (Sydney, 1916).
Image: Australasian Stage Annual 1905, 33.
(1874-1947) Pianist, conductor, songwriter, hotelier. [Born John Pennell Knowles in North Melbourne]
J.P. Knowles’s career began as a pianist in the mid to late-1890s, his earliest known engagements being with Carl Hertz‘ company (1897) and Bain and [Alf] Lawton‘s Vaudeville Co (1898). From the early-1900s he also doubled as accompanist and musical director/conductor with companies such as the World’s Entertainers (US, 1902) and Maggie Moore Dramatic Co (1901-02). From 1903 to 1907 he was J.C. Bain‘s music director in Tasmania (Gaiety Entertainers). He moved to Melbourne in 1908 to work in a similar position for James Brennan (Gaiety Theatre). Sometime after finishing up with Brennan (ca. 1912) Knowles settled in Hobart, becoming a prominent band leader and music director/conductor for local and touring companies through until at least 1939.
- See also: Vivie Keeling
- For further details see: Peter Knowles. “John Pennell (J. Pennell) Knowles.” Wikitree.com [sighted 17/08/2015]
1: Knowles married fellow entertainer/actress Annie Elizabeth Keeling (known professionally as Vivie Keeling) in 1903 and died in Hobart on 22 February 1947.
2: Knowles took over the Commercial Hotel’s license in 1918 and operated the Goulburn Hotel from 1921.
3: He was associated with Hobart radio station 7ZL in the late-1920s and early-1930s. When the station became part of the ABC’s national network on 14 December 1930, Knowles’ orchestra was given its own slot one evening a week to provide dance music. This arrangement continued into 1931. His earliest-known link to the station was in 1925 when one of his original compositions (a saxophone solo) was performed live from the studio by Gilbert Foster (13 Jan.).
Punch (Melbourne) 22 Oct. 1903, 29.
NICHOLAS LA FEUILLADE
(ca. 1840s – 1915) Violinist, music director, composer, and conductor.
Nicholas La Feuillade is believed to have first arrived in Australia in 1865 with the Christy Minstrels. He later toured as music director with a number of companies, including Western and La Feuillade’s Minstrels, Harry Rickards‘ London Star Company, Hiscocks’ Federal Minstrels and Charles and Harry Cogill. La Feuillade’s symphony Irish Patrol, which represents ‘the gradual approach, passing and disappearance of the Enni Killen Brigade’, is believed to have been first performed in Melbourne in 1897.
(1880-1958) Composer, singer, music arranger, actor.
One of Australia’s leading songwriters of the 1910s, Marsh Little was also a popular baritone. Many of his biggest hits were patriotic numbers like, and included “Boys of the Dardenelles,” “His Photo,” and “Women! You Have Nobly Done Your Share.” He was also one of the major songwriters for the Fullers‘ 1916 Bunyip pantomime. March appeared on radio, mostly as a singer, between 1925 and the late-1930s. These performances often involved his own compositions.
Trained as a concert pianist, Andrew MacCunn came to Australia in 1904 with the London Gaiety Company and remained for three years. After returning in 1910 to conduct J.C. Williamson’s Our Miss Gibbs he stayed with the Firm until his retirement in 1961. During that time he worked with the biggest names in Australian and international showbusiness, conducted hundreds of productions, and wrote countess songs, ballets, marches and incidental music for pantomimes and revues. MacCunn’s early pantomimes included Sinbad the Sailor (1911), Puss in Boots (1912), The Forty Thieves (1913), and Goody Two Shoes (1918). His radio work was largely during the 1920s and early-1930s, and usually involved live broadcasts from various theatres (with MacCunn conducting). His earliest-known broadcast was from the Theatre Royal, Sydney, on 26 May 1925 (2FC).
MacCunn also served as a judge for the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s 1944 national songwriting competition.
Songwriter, librettist, music director, musician.
Associated for many years with W.H. Palings, both in Sydney and Brisbane, Harold Middleton began to establish his reputation as a writer, composer and accompanist in Brisbane around the early to mid-1920s. His pantomime, Hop O’ My Thumb was staged by the Famous Diggers in 1924, and he wrote at least one comedy sketch for the troupe during its lengthy Cremorne engagement. Another pantomime, Puss in Boots (1928) was also produced in Brisbane. A number of Middleton’s songs were published during the 1920s.
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