Practitioners [N]



(1891-1965) Contortionist, eccentric dancer.

World-renowned British contortionist Hector “Human Spider” Napier came to Australia in 1912 for Wirth’s Circus, and the Tivoli and Brennan-Fuller circuits. He developed his famous act in the USA around 1915, but came back to Australia in 1915 to join the Australian Imperial Forces (A.I.F.). After recovering from wounds in 1916, he teamed up with Yvonne Cartledge, who played the butterfly to his spider. The pair toured Australia between 1916 and 1919, returning in 1922/23 and 1925/26. They retired in the mid-1930s.



(1923-2003) Contortionist, dancer, author.

The daughter of Hector and Yvonne Napier, Valantyne Napier also carved out a successful international career on the stage, both as a contortionist and a dancer. Between 1948 and 1969 she worked in vaudeville, revue and pantomime, often presenting a variation on her father’s Spider act. She also teamed up with her first husband Ted Weeks in an act billed as Vyne and Valantyne. In her later years Napier published several books about the variety industry.



(1886-1940)  Actor, writer/librettist, comedian, director, producer.

Frank Neil had his first career break with Cole’s Bohemian Dramatic Co ca. 1908. He later worked with George Willoughby, and in 1918 wrote and directed his first Fullers‘ pantomime, Bluebeard. In 1925 he formed a comedy and toured for Fuller-Ward. Financial difficulties in 1929 led to a move to South Africa. He returned in 1931, and in 1934 took over the Tivoli circuit with Mike Connors and Queenie Paul. Neil died in 1940 after being hit by a car.




Leonard Nelson began his professional career in the early 1900s playing weekend harbour cruises in Sydney. He made his first appearance under Harry Rickards‘ management at a trial night and in 1902 undertook a tour of the East. He became a big star in New Zealand working for John Fuller and then spent 3-4 years with Rickards. From ca. 1910 until the mid-1920s Nelson was largely associated with the Fullers. He is known to have still been performing in the mid-1940s.



Sydney Nelson, his son Alfred and daughters Carry and Sara probably began performing together on the London stage in the early 1840s. Early the following decade they embarked on an international tour, playing engagements in America and Canada before coming to Australia in 1852. Their musical entertainment programmes largely comprised songs (mostly written by Sydney) that ranged from comedy to sentimental, and which they performed as solos, duets, trios and glees. Additional items could include piano solos, sketches, comic interludes and farces. After lengthy periods in Melbourne and Sydney, the Nelsons left Australia in 1859.

Nelson Family [GAI 6 Nov 1852, 2]

Image source: Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer (Vic) 6 Nov. 1852, 2.



English revue sketch artists, comedians, singers, dancers, patterologists.

Val and Lottie Newman came to Australia in 1915 for Brennan-Fuller, opening in Perth with their eccentric novelty revue “Tit Bits.” Over the next three years they toured the Fullers‘ Australian and New Zealand circuit, an engagement which also saw them join the Paul Stanhope Revue Company in 1917. Invariably billed along the lines of “the lean, lank comedian and his little partner,” Val Newman was highly regarded for his strong basso voice, as was Lottie for her character songs. After concluding their Fullers engagement in 1918 the couple briefly toured for other managements before leaving Australia to tour the East.

Not to be confused with American “unicyboxologists” Will and Linda Newman (also known as The Newmans) who toured Australasia in 1919-20 and again in 1924.



(ca. 1890-1967) English-born singer (baritone)

Ernest Alfred Nicholls performed as a singer in London from the age of 11 and appeared with various juvenile companies before immigrating to Australia where he worked in Melbourne as a cinema projectionist. In 1916 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces (A.I.F.) and eventually served with the 8th Battalion. Whilst based in England he formed The Perham Stars concert party, taking on both performer and business manager roles. Later renamed The Aussies, the troupe toured hospitals and other camps up until 1919. After being discharged Nicholls returned to Australia and became active with the Mosman Musical Society and the Thespians dramatic group. He also also heavily involved with the R.S.L., often performing at concerts and meetings. Following a move to Milton in New South Wales, he worked as Hospital Director and also District Coroner.

Image source: Australian War Memorial.



(1906-1949) comedian, singer, dancer, actor, caricaturist, artist [Born Daniel Robert McNicol in Melbourne]

Given the opportunity to contribute caricatures to Melbourne sporting paper The Circle at age 13, Don Nicol soon afterwards began studying commercial art. Two years later he toured North Queensland with a company, only to realise that they wanted his posters more than his acting. Nevertheless at age 16 he was given a spot in a pierrot show run by Syd Hollister. He then appeared with Charles Zoli‘s Pierrots, Pat Hanna‘s Famous Diggers and E.J. Carroll‘s Cappy Ricks company (1925) before signing with J.C. Williamson’s to appear in musical comedies. Largely employed by the Firm from 1926 to 1946, he appeared in numerous productions, including three pantomimes, Sinbad (1931), Sleeping Beauty (1940), and Aladdin (1943). He also starred in Ernest C. Rolls‘ revues The Big Show (1932) and Honi Soit (1933). Nicol died in Melbourne on 18 February from throat cancer, aged only 43.

1: Among Don Nicol’s numerous stage credits were Lilac Time, Nice Going’s On, Blue Mountains Melody (1934), The Maid of the Mountains and A Southern Maid (with Gladys Moncrieff), Rio Rita, The Merry Widow, Katinka, and The Desert Song. His last known production for Williamson’s was Follow the Girls in 1946. See “Don Nicol” at AusStage for an extensive, though incomplete, listing.
2: Arguably his most popular role was in Balalaika (1937). One critic said of him in early January 1928: “[Don Nicol, who] wins a round of applause every night ho walks onstage… is rapidly developing into one of the best comedians the Australian stage has known. [He] is not only an actor of exceptional ability, but also a caricaturist of note (“Don Nicol.” Labor Daily 6 Jan. 1938, 8).
3: Nicol was the Vice President of Actors’ Equity Australia in 1944.
4: Obituaries for Nicol were published widely in response to his celebrity status. Most record that his favourite role was in a production of Charlie’s Aunt alongside Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard (no details have yet been located).
5. In addition to his pen and ink caricatures, Nicol also specialised in oils and pastels.
Image source: Queensland Figaro (Brisbane) 4 Aug. 1934, 11.



(1879-) Acrobatic song and dance artist, film exhibitor, teacher

Harry Nickless learned dance from Tom Delohery and Tom Donnelly and acrobatics at the Moore Park sandhills in Sydney before making his professional debut with the Newtown Electrical Minstrels. Well-known around the Sydney suburbs during the early1900s, he was at one time a member of the Johnson Brothers Quartette (acrobatic/ banjo act). Nickless ran vaudeville schools in Redfern and Newtown then turned to film exhibition, first in Sydney and from 1914 onwards in Bathurst, New South Wales. As a teacher one of his students was Clyde Cook, later a famous Hollywood film star.

  • For further details see: “The Teacher of Clyde Cook.” Everyone’s: Incorporating Australian Variety and Show World (Sydney) 11 Apr. 1923, 3.



English-born variety dong and dance/patter comedian, actor, author, manager, company director.

Charles Norman came to Australia in the late 1910s and soon afterwards formed a song-and-dance act with Chick Arnold that appeared on Harry Clay‘s circuit for three years. After the act split up in the mid-1920s Norman worked in musical comedy, revue and revusicals in both Australia and Britain. He and Arnold teamed up again in the Britain for several years in early 1930s. Norman later became a director of Savoy Theatres and remained active in the industry up the late-1960s.



(-1953) Comedian, scenic artist, pianist, troupe proprietor, entrepreneur. [Possibly born in England]

Cyril Northcote first toured Australasia (1914-1918) and the East (1918-1919) with Sydney James’ Royal Strollers. After co-founding the Futurists costume comedy company in 1920 he spent three years playing destinations in the East, Africa and Middle East. Between 1924 and 1929 he and his wife, Ira, lived in Australia. During this time they were involved in the Futurists’ three revivals (including the 1927-28 radio ensemble), while Northcote also established associations with Walter George, Billy Maloney (New Ideas Co), and Elton Black. The couple operated a variety circuit out of Calcutta, India between 1930 and 1936, and then returned to Australia where they initially worked in radio (for 2BL). Northcote’s later career included engagements with Sir Benjamin Fuller, Stanley McKay, the Radio Revels, and Levante.

1: Northcote also had a long association in Australia with fellow Royal Strollers’ comedian G.W. Desmond (aka Dismal Desmond).


Image citation details for entries without expanded biographies are noted at the bottom of the overview. All other image details are provided in the expanded PDF biographies.
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Published on April 15, 2011 at 10:30 pm  Comments Off on Practitioners [N]