John Gregg is a familiar face on our television screens, having enjoyed a career that has spanned some sixty years and extended to two continents. It has been quite a journey for a lanky farm boy from a small rural district in the middle of Tasmania. His resonant voice and patrician good looks became the key to opening a door that led from milking cows and ploughing paddocks to appearing on stage and film in both Australia and the UK.
John was born on a dairy farm near Campbell Town on Tasmania’s Midlands Highway. In his early years he earned pocket money by ploughing fields for neighbouring farms, and was far more interested in Aussie Rules, a passion that lasted a lifetime, cricket and rowing. Perhaps seeing something special in her tall and intelligent son, his mother encouraged him take up an offer of public speaking lessons through the Adult Education scheme. The teacher was a local vicar who was, fortuitously, a graduate of RADA. The vicar also saw something in John. “With that voice,” he said, “you could be one of two things: a minister or an actor.” John was sure he didn’t want to be a minister. Instead, at 18 years of age he found himself performing a monologue from Richard III at the Hobart auditions for NIDA.
John is quoted as saying, “It was bizarre. I knew nothing about theatre and had never even seen a play. Later they sent me a telegram saying: 'You can come if you want to'. So I did."
John started at NIDA with its first intake in 1959, along with 16-year-old Robyn Nevin ("she was by far the youngest and very shy, very serious"), Elspeth Ballantyne, with whom he would later work in Bellbird, Elaine Cusack, Teddy Hodgeman and Peter Couchman, who became an ABC journalist. John’s classmates seemed very worldly in the eyes of the country boy. “I used to think some of them were much more sophisticated because they drank spirits and smoked French cigarettes.”
For John, NIDA was sometimes a confronting experience. Improvisation sessions terrified him. He would retreat to the back of the room to take notes and hope that he would not be asked to do anything. Many of his fellow students had appeared in amateur theatre productions before NIDA, and appeared very confident. John was still coming to terms with having to wear tights for ballet sessions.
After graduating from NIDA, John was one of two students (the other was Nevin) chosen to work with the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, then based at the Majestic Theatre in Newtown. The Trust Players were under the direction of the legendary Robin Lovejoy, so this provided a great start to John’s professional career. He was also to appear in 1961, in The Merchant of Venice with the then prestigious John Alden Shakespeare Company. Alden was a noted tragedian and one of the last of the Actor Managers in the grand old tradition. It was in this production that John met his lifelong friend, actor and director Bruce Myles.
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s John worked prolifically with the newly formed ABC drama department on such series as Contrabandits, a crime series in which John appears as a suntanned lean Aussie bloke with a Chips Rafferty air, often wearing a sleeveless shirt – more Crocodile Dundee than the suave scientist he would play in the series that followed, Delta.
In the latter, John cut a rakish figure as Jeff Mallow, a scientist at the helm of an investigation group inexplicably called Delta. The show was highly successful, and with Contrabandits became the foundation for a viable ABC Drama unit.
Another ABC series followed – The Oracle – in which John played the central role of a radio talk host. He and his co-star received the following review:
“John Gregg and Pamela Gibbons were an early example of a life in the fast lane, brutally handsome, terminally pretty couple.”
While his television career was soaring he continued to work regularly in live theatre, including two seasons with Melbourne Theatre Company.
Like so many Australian actors of that time John decided to head for London, a move that proved highly successful. In 1972 he appeared in Jumpers at the Royal Court with Diana Rigg. The Bacchae and Next of Kin followed. John also spent two years with the Royal National Theatre. During this time he took over the role of Edmund from Ronald Pickup in the famous 1971 production of A Long Day’s Journey into Night. Directed by Michael Blakemore, it starred Laurence Olivier, Constance Cummings, Dennis Quilley and Maureen Lipman. In 1976 he played in the BBC 2 television production of The Glittering Prizes alongside Tom Conti, Barbara Kellerman and Nigel Havers.
John was also in the notable 1975 Royal Court production of Don’s Party, directed by Michael Blakemore. But perhaps his most memorable performance was as Lycett in Doctor Who, helping the Doctor battle an invasive parasite called a wirrn which secreted a slime that transformed humans into more wirrn.
On returning to Australia, John branched into musical theatre in the Victoria State Opera’s production of My Fair Lady, followed by How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying for Gordon Frost and The Threepenny Opera for STCSA. For the opening of the Melbourne Arts Centre in 1984 he played Jason to Zoe Caldwell's acclaimed Medea.
Television included Joseph Banks in Captain James Cook, and playing cricketing legend and journalist Percy Fender in Bodyline. The work continued steadily over the years with most recent appearances in Rake, Crownies, Old School, Operation Buffalo and many more. It was a remarkable career for a farm boy from Tasmania who had never seen a play.
In 1991, John and his lifelong friend Bruce Myles were cast together in a production of David Hare’s Racing Demon for the STC. It was only the second time they had shared a stage. This production was to prove life changing for John, who during the run of the show met wardrobe mistress Jane Seldon, who was to become his second wife.
John Gregg joined the Committee of the Actors Benevolent Fund in 2008, at a time when it was trying to stabilise financially under the guidance of Noeline Brown. In 2013 John took over as Chair from Noeline and steered the organisation through a rebrand and a highly successful era in which the organisation’s profile was substantially raised and the bank account swelled.
Over the next six years he was a remarkable chairman, dignified and insightful and always charming. Like another Tassie actor before him, Errol Flynn, John continued to cut a dashing figure, leather-jacketed and riding a large motorbike about Sydney with a swashbuckling air.
Bruce Myles was often his companion in recent years, when they enjoyed city walks admiring architecture or attending lectures at the State Library. They also shared a love of AFL, though they supported different teams, John being a staunch Sydney Swans supporter.
John Gregg was a distinguished actor and a true gentleman, always dignified and charming but with a streak of the Aussie larrikin inside. He will be sorely missed by everyone who had the privilege to work with him or call him a mate.
Jan Sundell OAM
1936 – 2021
Philanthropist, THEATRE AND ARTS SUPPORTER
Over decades Jan worked tirelessly to raise funds for theatres starting with Marian Street where she worked for nearly fifteen years.
The night before Jan Sundell took her final bow she went to the Darlo cabaret show "Berlin Electric" starring Brad Cooper and Bev Kennedy, a fusion of German opera and Weimar songs. Her favourites. She was with her regular playmate and neighbour Helena Harris, who reported that there were no mocktails for Jan – she was very specific about her gin and tonic.
Despite being extremely ill, Jan was in high spirits laughing with friends before the show and sharing drinks with the cast afterwards. Jan told the taxi driver on the way home what a fabulous time they’d just had. Reluctant for the night to end she had to be persuaded by Helena not to open champagne and party on. Later, in her apartment overlooking Walsh Bay, she quietly passed away in her bed. A wonderful way to go everyone said.
Over decades Jan had worked tirelessly to raise funds for many theatres and arts companies. Her great friend and Artistic Director of Marian Street Theatre, John Krummel, credited Jan's fundraising with keeping the theatre afloat.
Jan’s early life was not easy. She was born in Gunnedah to Doris and Frank Hodgson. At age 4 they moved to Bondi finally settling in Lindfield. Her mother was unwell much of the time and Jan had to look after her two siblings. She was sent at the age of 11 to be a border at Ravenswood where she managed to stage a student strike in under the banner WE ARE NOT SLAVES! A protest against having to chop wood for the boiler and heater in the house where they lived. She was not a girl who would be put upon in life.
As a teenager Jan blossomed into Liz Taylor looks; a stunning brunette with vivid blue eyes that twinkled with mischief. It was not surprising that she was surrounded by hopeful young suitors. But it was Jim Sundell, the son of Swedish post war refugees, who stole Jan’s heart. Though it may have been his blue suede shoes and ability to play the piano accordion that caught her eye, Jan observed. In any case Jim was just that little bit different from the others. Shortly before their wedding Jim developed appendicitis and the ceremony had to be postponed. Never letting a good holiday go to waste, Jan went on the honeymoon with her girlfriend. This set the scene for the life of surprises and adventures that Jan and Jim were to lead Eventually the wedding took place followed by a second honeymoon, this time Jan went with Jim. They shared a 62 year marriage, built a highly successful business and brought up three children and five grandchildren.
Jan’s love of theatre started in her teens when her somewhat eccentric father Frank, took her to shows introducing her to the actors. He had spent time in his youth in New Guinea allegedly hanging out with Errol Flynn, and was considered a little “wild”. After the war Frank was dealing in scrap metal and brought a Japanese submarine to Sydney where it was docked at Luna Park as an attraction. He was a showman as well as ultimately, a successful businessman. A little of her dad's spirit must have rubbed off on Jan.
Before she became a wife and mother, Jan was blazing a trail as one of the first female personal assistants to the NSW Premier's office. Later she set up and ran an employment office. She also travelled through Europe and the USA where the shows on Broadway sealed her passion for theatre and musicals in particular.
Jan’s philanthropic support started at The Marian Street Theatre in the 1980s. There she built many wonderful relationships including with the young director Wayne Harrison.
Her official title was Fundraising Co-ordinator, but she also worked in the Box Office, Group Bookings, catering and any other area that needed assistance.
Jan became the queen of fundraising for Marian St, from raffles to fashion parades and a festival of dolls. Fundraising in all forms. Jan developed the skills that gave her the tools to go forward and become a legend in Australian philanthropy.
In 1990 when Wayne Harrison became Artistic Director of Sydney Theatre Company Jan’s efforts refocused on supporting him. They remained close friends throughout her life.
Jan’s other great love was opera and she became a major supporter of The Opera Foundation for Young Australians. In good company with Lady Mary Fairfax AC OBE and Lady Gallagher, Jan served on the committee of Opera Foundation Society NSW from the 1990s later taking on the role of President.
Alison Cole recounted that after surviving nine safaris in Africa, Jan became known affectionately as “The African Queen” – and Jim as “Jungle Jim”. All invitations from the Foundation events were issued under these names, and she loved it
Jan was also pivotal in raising funds for the American Institute of Musical Studies Award (AIMS) and went on, with Jim, to initiate the AIMS Sundell Study Award.
The Opera Foundation Society’s Vienna State Opera Award saw Jan running many functions with live entertainment, auctions and her annual fundraising lunch at Parliament House.
Jan was a Director on the Foundation Board from 2006 to 2014. Her financial and personal support of the young emerging opera artists also extended to Pacific Opera. Artistic Director, Simon Kenway, and Jan were great friends and they caught up regularly over dinner. For Jan’s funeral Simon was the accompanist for the songs Jan had chosen. He described Jan as a true philanthropist in mind, body, spirit and wallet.
Pacific Opera Chair, The Hon George Palmer AM is also an outstanding Australian Composer, and Jan became a generous financial supporter of the first workshop of his opera "Cloudstreet". Following the opening night in Adelaide in 2016 directed by Gale Edwards, Jan celebrated with generous amounts of Bollinger in the Hilton Hotel bar. Jan and her great friend Peter Reeve, partied on until 4.00 am with Jan commenting, “The young ones have no stamina”.
Jan supported the foundation of the Hayes Theatre Company and the vision of Lisa Campbell and David Campbell, Neil Gooding, Richard Carroll and Michelle Guthrie. Jan loved the whole concept of the Hayes. She loved the musicals presented at the theatre and loved making her entrance on opening nights, ascending to the foyer via the open goods lift; rising up above the arriving patrons in grand style. She entered the theatre via a special door to sit in dedicated seats in the front row. She also worked tirelessly to introduce people to the theatre as patrons and potential donors.
Jan always had a mischievous twinkle in her eye, wanting to know who was doing what, which shows they would be in next and supporting favourite performers. Jan’s generosity was exceptional, both as a major supporter for the Hayes, and many productions including "Melba", "Darlinghurst Nights" and "American Psycho".
The new Sydney Festival Director, Olivia Ansell described Jan as a fierce and fabulous woman who just adored the arts. Jan supported Olivia’s very successful Kings Cross site specific production "Hidden Sydney".
Jan’s passion for independent theatre included the Old Fitz, where she supported Andrew Henry and Vanessa Wright for Red Line Productions, including "Betty Blokk-Buster Reimagined".
Jan was delighted to be appointed as an Ambassador for Actors Benevolent Fund and organised large groups of her friends to attend their fundraising events. She loved the fact that it was a charity that supported performers and theatre creatives and technicians, the people who created the shows that gave her so much joy. It was the performing arts community who would always be her other family.
Her daughter Anne-Katrine better known as Bubb, asked her recently what she loved most about the theatre. She replied “The people and the live shows. They never judge, they are always accepting and they are passionate about their craft”. Jan and Bubb were constant companions starting from Bubb’s great European tour the year before she finished school. They shared the same sense of humour and a love of the performing arts. As Jan’s health failed it was Bubb who took her each week have her hair and nails done and who decorated her walking frame with Swarovski crystals to brighten up her day.
Jan’s support for the independent theatre sector and enabling young artist’s dreams was never stronger than as a Darlo Angel. She saw every play, musical and cabaret performed at the Eternity Playhouse for the last three years and was Production Patron to main stage shows that without her help would not have shone as brightly as they did.
Every opening night there she was, front row centre, champagne in hand. It wasn't opening night at Darlo without Jan.
During the Covid lock down Jan’s unconditional financial support was given towards “anything they felt was important”. She wanted to help them create something new and, as always, she wanted to help the artists.
The resulting "Red Carpet Cabaret" series, created by Amylia Harris transformed the Darlo restaurant & bar into a cabaret space and Jan was there, grabbing every moment of theatre that her health allowed.
Helena Harris met Jan 5 years ago in the foyer of their apartment block, and their friendship was immediate and soon they had teamed up, going out to the theatre, the opera and cabarets, at least twice a week. There were lime daiquiris at the restaurants downstairs, bubbles on the balcony, lunches, parties and dinners. Everyone loved Jan, keeping all entertained with her quick naughty wit and hilarious stories for all occasions. Even when Jan’s health was becoming a challenge for her the laughs never stopped.
On her last night Bubb called for a chat as she did every day. Jan was tired and thought she should not go to the "Berlin Electric" cabaret with Helena but Bubb said, “You should go out. This could be your final hurrah. Enjoy it while you can, I love you Mum”.
Later in her sleep after a joyous night at the theatre, Jan passed away. It was a fitting final curtain for one of the grand ladies of Sydney theatre.
So check the fridge for decent Champagne, choose something fabulous to wear – maybe black and just enough jewels and drink a toast to Jan. We will all miss her.
Peter Reeve and Anne-Katrine Goulston
16 May 1972 – 23 June 2020
ACTOR, SINGER, PRODUCER
Michael Falzon was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of germ cell cancer in 2018 but that did not stop him producing a benefit to raise funds for his colleagues in need.
The concert was High Standards a and in true Michael style it was a very classy event. A night of songs from the great classic song book performed by colleagues from the music theatre and jazz worlds to benefit ABF.
But it was Michael who stole the show with a beautiful rendition of My Funny Valentine. The standing ovation was in part respect for the courage and generosity of this much loved artist. Many in the City Recital Hall that night suspected it may be the last time they would hear Michael's beautiful tenor voice.
Falzon had appeared in a number of Australian and international musical theatre productions, including Evita in which he played Magaldi in the Opera Australia/John Frost production in 2018-19. This was to be his last show.
His credits included The Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore with Opera Queensland in his early career, as well as War of the Worlds, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Rock of Ages, as well as reprising his We Will Rock You role.
Falzon appeared in solo concerts supported by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Perth Symphony Orchestra, among others. Since 2014, he had performed alongside fellow musical theatre stars Luke Kennedy, Ben Mingay, Matt Lee and Rob Mills in the band Swing on This.
He came to prominence when he was cast by Queen and Ben Elton to star as Galileo in We Will Rock You. He reprised the role in Japan and the UK, breaking box office records and playing the show's first-ever arena venue. His other theatrical credits include The Wharf Revue (STC), Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Floyd Collins (CRH), Rock of Ages, Side by Side by Sondheim, Chess, Jesus Christ Superstar and The War of the Worlds (Australia/NZ and UK/European arena tours).
On screen Michael played Kyle in the BBC1’s The Wright Way, Jose DeSousa in Blue Heelers (ITV and Network 7) and has performed live with Queen in an ACA TV special and on The Late Late Show (RTE). His concerts include The Music of Queen (Sydney Opera House, Perth Convention Centre, Hamer Hall), Swing On This (Adelaide Festival Centre, QPAC, Theatre Royal, Perth Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House) and Painted From Memory – The Music of Bacharach and Costello (CRH, Australian tour) with further engagements as a soloist in English National Ballet’s Strictly Gershwin (QPAC, QSO & Queensland Ballet) and A Friday Night at The Opera at London Coliseum (BBC Concert Orchestra for BBC Radio2).
Along with I Dreamed a Dream - Hit Songs of Broadway for ABC Music, Falzon recorded the lead role in Atomic - A New Rock Musical in NYC, produced by Steve Margoshes (Fame, Tommy) and returned to New York in November to lend his vocals to the world premiere of Get Jack a new musical by Damien Gray, composed by Grammy Award nominee, Kip Winger.
He is survived by his wife, violinist Jane Cho.
The words of publicist Ian Phipps make a fitting tribute to Michael's life "Vale Michael Falzon," he wrote. "You fought valiantly until the last, my friend. Your beaming smile, huge talent and incredible positivity will be missed by so many friends, family and fans. We are the better for having known you."
Tessa Mallos led two overlapping lives, acting and political activism. She was fiercely passionate about both. Drama touched much of what she said and did.
Her name and photograph first appeared in the Herald when she was nine, having won a City of Sydney Eisteddfod first prize for verse speaking (humorous). Sixty-four years later, confronting mortality, the only book she wanted to keep was her copy of Shakespeare’s works.
Her activism led to campaigns against the Vietnam war, for nuclear disarmament, against rampant developers, for green bans. She fought for government housing, Aboriginal land rights and women’s rights, as a leader of women from Labor’s Left.
An enthusiastic smoker early in life, she succeeded in banning smoking from Labor Party conferences in Sydney Town Hall. And, after one celebratory night, she pedalled naked on an exercise bike in the NSW Parliament House gymnasium, while fellow disrobed women swam and lounged about.
Tessa Mallos was born in Nanango, near Kingaroy, Queensland, exactly nine months after the marriage of her parents, Michael Mallos and Chrysanthy Aroney. The family settled in Kogarah two years later, running a milk bar in Sylvania.
An only child, Tessa was eight when she won a public speaking honours award from London’s Trinity College of Music, through a Sydney examination. She earned certificates for piano and for lifesaving before taking her school Leaving Certificate at Moorefield Girls High.
Mallos received her diploma from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in 1963. Soon after, she played in the Old Tote Theatre’s very first production, Dark of the Moon.
Noel Coward’s advice that Mrs Worthington should not put her daughter on the stage – “the struggle’s pretty tough” – was still sound in 1963 but Mallos played in Reedy River, a Moliere farce and Mona Brand’s Our Dear Relations at the New Theatre and J.M.Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World at the Old Tote, with Jeanie Drynan and Carmen Duncan.
Among her television credits, were the ABC’s 1965 adaption of George Johnston’s novel My Brother Jack, which featured Ed Devereaux. Long-term employment came with the J.C.Williamson production of the musical Funny Girl, igh playing the dresser to Jill Perryman’s Fanny Brice. It toured Australia for 18 months from 1966.
Returning to the New Theatre, Mallos narrated On Stage Vietnam, a satire of performance, song and film to meet protest over the war. The New also cast her as Natasha in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, with Arthur Dignam as Andrei. She had a part in the Australian TV version of the Tony Hancock Show, cut short when the English comedian killed himself.
Mallos went to London in 1969, surviving with casual work but thriving on visits to theatres in England, through Europe to Moscow. She watched Laurence Olivier as Shylock, opposite Joan Plowright’s Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Paul Schofield’s Uncle Vanya, Ian McKellen’s Richard II, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Judy Dench, Alan Bates, Tom Courtenay, Glenda Jackson and Helen Mirren.
Back home, she played in Chekhov’s The Seagull, co-directed A Race Odyssey, an allegory on race in Australia, and turned increasingly to politics. An Actors Equity delegate at the 1973 ACTU Congress, she called for an equal minimum wage for men and women.
She was to marry Tony Reeves, journalist and Sydney City alderman, in 1980, after they had lived together for a decade. They made a formidable, volatile couple, confronting Labor’s Right as well as conservative forces and developers. After Labor leader Barrie Unsworth advised Mallos, in full cry at a NSW party conference, to “go back to the fish and chip shop”, she presented him on stage with the said dish, wrapped in newspaper. In 1983, she convened a Sydney march by 50,000 people for nuclear disarmament.
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam had appointed her to the Theatre Board of the Australian Council for the Arts. She became a part-time member of the Equal Opportunities Tribunal and member of the National Population Council. As income from acting dried up, she worked with Centrelink.
Diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in 1996, she expected to live for three months. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and early stem cell treatment followed. As her cancer metastasized, she became an activist for advanced cancer sufferers, helping to launch the National Breast Cancer Council’s guidelines on the subject, in 2001.
Tessa Mallos’s last three months of life became a last 20 years of well-lived life. Although long separated from Reeves, they remained married when he died in 2013. Just before her death, she moved satisfyingly to the nursing home where her mother, Chrys, survives her.
1929 - 2020
Known in the industry as Sir Ron, the much loved and respected actor has stepped off this mortal coil.
Ron Haddrick was born on April 9, 1929 in Glenelg, South Australia. His father, Norman, and all three of his Uncles were all keen grade cricketers and Ron spent his early years very much growing up in a sporting family where hitting a cricket ball all summer and kicking a football all winter were the accepted pastimes for a young boy.
However his father had also formed a church-based choir, the Glenlea Singers, and managed to collar a weekly spot on 5DN radio. From here Ron moved sideways into acting in the radio dramas of the day. Lorraine Quigley joined the Glenlea singers a couple of years later, with Norman accepting her into the choir even though her football team was West Torrens and not Glenelg. Immediately taken with Lorraine, Ron's first words to her were "I hear you have gold in one eye and blue in the other," those being the West Torrens colours. That immortal pick up line began a 69 year romance and became an oft-quoted part of family folklore.
After his schooldays at Adelaide High, Ron picked up work as a dental technician. But his heart was in the radio plays he would perform in the evenings on 5DN's Radio Canteen and in meeting Lorraine most lunchtimes on the banks of the Torrens above North Terrace, where they would sit on the grass and hold hands while he quoted Shakespeare sonnets. All the time, of course, his cricket career also progressed and in 1953 he was opening the batting for South Australia and dreaming of the Australian test team. New dreams emerged, however, when the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre played in Adelaide while on tour through Australia. Acclaimed English actor Anthony Quayle was managing the Company on that tour and he held limited auditions in the various capital cities. Ron was lucky enough to gain an audition spot and even luckier to be offered a contract to sail to England and join the Company at Stratford-Upon-Avon.
It was a fork in the road. Acting or cricket. With encouragement from his father to follow his new dream, Ron decided he couldn't pass up the golden opportunity to improve his acting and learn from the best in the world. He sailed for England and left first class cricket behind, but soon found himself on stage with Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Michael Redgrave, Sir John Gielgud, Harry Andrews, Dame Edith Evans and Dame Peggy Ashcroft among many others. After a year or so in Stratford he scored a small raise and immediately wrote to Lorraine saying they could now afford - just - to live in Stratford together. Lorraine followed Ron to England in 1956 and they were married in Stratford on March 10th. His days with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre culminated in the now legendary tour of Russia in 1958 at the height of the Cold War.
But his desire was always to strengthen Australian theatre, and the following year he and Lorraine and their young daughter Lyn returned to our sunburnt country - but they settled in Sydney, not Adelaide. Ron immediately joined the Elizabethan theatre trust, played Alf Cook in the world premier of Alan Seymour's iconic hit The One Day of the Year and bought a family home in Homebush - although on the mortgage documents he had to declare himself a dental technician as loans to actors were rarely approved. In 1963 Robert Quentin phoned to say he was starting The Old Tote Theatre Company on the UNSW campus and invited Dad to star in the first production - which was Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and also featured a young John Bell. It was the beginning of a long association with The Old Tote and nearly thirty years of almost continual work. He was also in the first production staged at the new Parade Theatre in 1969 and the two of the three productions (in repertory) that the Old Tote staged to open the Opera House in 1973. While on stage in the evenings Ron also squeezed in many television roles, notably as Dr Redfern in the ABC's The Outcasts (1962), and as Adam Suisse in The Stranger (1964) which has been re-mastered this year and is currently having a revival run on iView!
Ron received an MBE for Services to the Arts in 1974, but kept working at breakneck speed on stage, television and radio. Memorable roles included Jock in David Williamson's hugely successful The Club (1977), which transferred to London after a sell-out tour of Australia. Then in 1981 came his Big Daddy for the STC's production of Cat on A Hot Tin Roof, and his Chebutykin for Aubrey Mellor's breathtaking production of Three Sisters for Nimrod.
Ron played many roles for Nimrod, the STC, Marian Street Theatre and the QTC throughout the 80s and 90s and even expanded into musicals in the 1990s enjoying roles in Hello Dolly and My Fair Lady. In the 00s his status grew as a tribal elder, taking smaller roles in many Bell Shakespeare productions but always mentoring younger cast members with tips and anecdotes from the vast menagerie of actors he'd worked with over the years. He often quipped that if he were ever to write a memoir he’d probably title it Leading Ladies I Have Known. During the course of his life Ron also served many years on the Board of NIDA and two terms as Governor of the Actors Benevolent Fund.
As busy as he was, Ron also spent countless patient hours with his family, sharing his trademark laughter, tolerance and kindness with his cherished wife, children and grandchildren as often as possible. In the late 80s he and Lorraine became members of the Sydney Swans and devoted spectators of their team as often as possible. Sitting in the MCG and cheering the Swans to a premiership in 2005 was a highlight of the decade.
His final television performance was recording Fish's voice-over for Screentime's 2010 mini-series adaptation of Tim Winton's Cloudstreet. In 2012 he received an AM for Services to the Arts, and the same year he also received the Actors Equity Lifetime Achievement Award. His final stage role was an acclaimed performance in the STC's production of Michael Frayn's Noises Off in 2014 at the Opera House - where he celebrated his 85th birthday at the end of the run. He never officially retired, although in his final years he would declare himself sadly unavailable if approached for a role.
He and Lorraine stayed constant lifetime partners, going to concerts together, seeing plays, signing up for weekly educational lectures at the AGNSW, watching every game of cricket televised and never missing a Swans game - either live or on TV. Ron passed his 90th birthday in fine fettle, but in June last year fell very ill. After months in hospital he finally made it home in January this year, but with little strength left. He died in his sleep, in bed, at home, overlooking his beloved garden in the early hours of Feb 11th
1944 - 2019
Douglas Hedge, sadly, left us in October of this year. He was seventy five years old and dedicated his love and life to the entertainment industry. He was a great supporter of the Actors Benevolent Fund (a committee member), and of his union Actors Equity.
An enormously engaging personality; witty, gregarious, talented ,of huge knowledge and intellect, caring, loyal ,stubborn, and impossible - enviable range….
Douglas’ first contact with the industry was the Genesian Theatre Company while still at school. At that time he had a weekend job at the Sydney Morning Herald . He was confirmed full-time with the Herald at the age of eighteen as a reporter- continuing his relationship at the Genesian Theatre through this time.
He remained with the herald as a reporter until nineteen seventy, when he finally decided to pursue a career as a performer.
Douglas had an extensive career over many decades. He worked across all areas of the Industry . A skilled character actor, he appeared in numerous television productions. He performed in every television series from Blue Heelers to Water Rats to All Saints to Murder Call to GP to Janus to Phoenix - all the early Crawford Productions and the series The Potato Factory.
Douglas appeared in many films including Paperback Hero, Black Rock, Ground Zero, Evil Angels and Young Flynn. But his great love was the theatre which was his home and professional family
His first engagement was in the John Tasker production of Oedipus In Perth in the early 70’s
While he had the privilege to work with the Sydney Theatre Company, The Ensemble , Belvoir and The Q Theatre-along with the national tour of The importance of Being Earnest with Dame Patricia Routledge , it was his association with The Queensland Theatre Company, The Melbourne Theatre Company and The State Theatre Company of South Australia that marked the big chapters of his stage career. He had the fortune to work at a time when theatre companies collaborated with a stable of actors working together as an ensemble-an environment that he thrived in . He had great respect for the history of the Australian theatre and having an elephant’s memory, could recall the most obscure anecdote or titbit of theatrical trivia. His book The Company We Keep: the first ten years of the Queensland Theatre Company, is a testament to that.
Having spent a year in Perth Douglas was afforded an opportunity to join the recently formed Royal Queensland theatre company under the artistic directorship of Alan Edwards. Douglas loved this company environment. He had the ideal personality of engagement ,a shared compassion and a sense of team play. He performed in numerous plays including Puck in A Midsummer Nights Dream, Deeley in Old Times, Barney in The Summer of The Seventeenth Doll and Willie Mossop in Hobsons Choice - a personal success, which he would revive with the Melbourne Theatre Company.
His association with the Melbourne Theatre company was also a happy one and he developed a close relationship with the Artistic Director, John Sumner, also working along side him for a time in the casting department. After John retired, Douglas continued to work with the company under the new Artistic Director Roger Hodgman.He performed in a huge range of roles in plays from Man And Superman to The Winters Tale, from Translations to Amadeus, from A Fortunate Life to Morning Becomes Electra from A Man For All Seasons to The Good Person Of Setzuan, The Crucible to Racing Demon and A Street Car Named Desire to A Chorus of Disapproval among others.
In the mid eighties, Douglas joined the State Theatre Company of South Australia, under the Artistic Directorship of Keith Gallasch. Douglas worked wth Keith and Peter King and Jenny Kemp on numerous productions including Richard III, Big and Little, Beautland, Muse of Fire,OnThe Razzle, The Touch of Silk and Peter Pan
In later years he returned to working more in front of the camera, which fell in love with that wonderful character face.
Douglas legacy is his body of work of course, but importantly, it was his gift for friendship. He was incredibly loyal to those he cherished and remained so his whole life.
He is survived by his sisters Carol and Lesley and family and lifelong friends.
1957 - 2018
Much loved actor Penny cook passed away in December 2018 at the age of 61.
Undoubtedly her best known role was on television playing veterinarian Vicky Dean in A Country Practice from 1981 to 1985, a role which made her a fixture in Australian lounge rooms and one of the best loved characters on television.
A memorial service held for her in January packed out the NIDA theatre with moving tributes presented by her colleagues and family.
Cook was not just a well loved actor but also an active supporter of theatre in Sydney.
In 1986 when the Griffin was in danger of losing its home she persuaded psychiatrist and philanthropist Rodney Seaborn to buy the Stables Theatre in Sydney's Kings Cross, saving the Griffin Theatre Company. She was also instrumental in the establishment of the Griffin Company itself and subsequently served on the Griffin Board for many years actively lobbying the Government for funding. Fittingly her last stage role was in the Griffin production of The Almighty Sometimes in September 2018.
She was also a long serving Board Member, Chair and enthusiastic supporter of Monkey Baa Theatre Company and a supporter of the establishment of Belvoir’s Company B.
Cook was born in Melbourne but was raised and lived in Sydney. After graduating from National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in 1978, she worked for the Griffin Theatre during its early days and later the Ensemble Theatre and the Sydney Theatre Company.
Among her many stage credits are the John Bell-Richard Tognetti production of The Soldier's Tale with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the national tour of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, directed in Sydney by the legendary English director Sir Peter Hall. She also worked extensively with the Australian Theatre for Young People at Walsh Bay and most of Australia’s major theatre companies
Cook was a two-time Logie Award winner who first appeared on Australian TV screens in the series The Restless Years. This was followed by starring roles in multiple Australian TV productions including The Flying Doctors and as a presenter on The Great Outdoors.
She also had noteworthy roles in a number of other Australian TV series including Elly Fielding in E Street from 1989-1991, Chief Inspector Sharon Kostas in the police drama Young Lions in 2002, and appearances in Neighbours and All Saints. In her hosting roles she has worked alongside the likes of former US president Bill Clinton and Prince Charles,
Her most recent TV role was as nurse Carol Little in Pulse, which aired on the ABC in 2017.
She was a prolific and "brilliant" stage actor. Mark Kilmurry, artistic director of Sydney's Ensemble Theatre said the company was always "delighted" to have her in the season.
"She made acting look easy and that’s really hard to do," he said. "She was a brilliant wit, very funny and she just made it look so effortless, and yet I know she really worked hard to make that real. "It's just so sad to have her leave us so soon."
But it was her role as Vicky in A Country Practice that made Cook Australia’s sweetheart. She considered being called Vicky by fans as a “badge of honour”.
“I can’t understand how on earth they’d recognise me because I look far different, but the voice is the same,” she said.
“It is fun when they come up and say how much they loved the show, because we loved it too.”
Cook died from cancer; she is survived by her husband David Lynch and daughter Poppy.
1937 - 1918
former SECRETARY OF ACTORS BENEVOLENT FUND
Leo Brown served as Secretary of the Actors Benevolent Fund of NSW for over thirteen years. He joined the committee after he retired from his job with Marrickville Council, where he had worked since he was a teenager.
Leo was known for his love of cars, technology and process. He was renowned for taking scrupulous minutes and initiating the use of new technology to streamline council meetings. When Liz Harris resigned as Secretary of the ABF and Leo’s name was suggested as a replacement the only question came from Helen Lorain Rasko, who thought he might be overqualified.
Leo took to his new position with enthusiasm, often visiting grant recipients to check on their welfare. It was only when he started to experience difficulties with his speech at the monthly meetings that he began to realise there might be something wrong with his health. He sought medical advice and was diagnosed with progressive aphasia, a disease that robs patients of their ability to communicate. Leo struggled to fulfil his duties, often relying on the help of then Treasurer Bill Young, whom he regarded as a dear friend, but it became clear that he was going to have to resign. He did so in 2015, with great regret, but the travel from his home in Leura to Redfern was becoming too much for him.
Leo’s disease progressed so he had to go into care for the last few months of his life. He died with his family around him on 4 November 2018, a couple of weeks before his eighty-second birthday.
Leo’s funeral was held at Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens on 8 November. Chairman John Gregg represented the Fund and Bill Young was also present. It was a full house for Leo, standing room only.
Maggie Dence, a long-serving committee member with the ABF had this to say about her time working with Leo, ‘I don’t think he was ever anything but calm and gentle with us all (and his patience must have been tried on several occasions!)’. Lee Young, another former board member wrote, ‘Leo was loved - a true gentleman’.
Leo is survived by his two daughters, Belinda and Yolande and his four beloved grandchildren. Sadly missed by his brother Peter and sister Noeline..
1938 - 16TH SEPTEMBER 2018
MAN OF THEATRE, CIVIL LIBERTARIAN AND BARRISTER
Ken Horler was born in Sydney in 1938 and attended Scots College on a scholarship. A brilliant student, he matriculated at sixteen with a maximum pass and enrolled in Arts Law at Sydney University. It was there that he forged friendships that lasted his entire life. After graduation, he practiced as a barrister, took silk in 1986, became Chairman of the Council of Civil Liberties (1987- 92), and, for a time, was an acting judge.
Ken loved the theatre passionately: the plays, the props, the very space itself. He conducted this passion in the teeth of his parents, who desperately hoped the wretched fad would pass. So did the law firm Dawson Waldron, Nichols and Edwards where he was an articled clerk. A frantic phone call to locate him would usually draw from a partner the clenched response “Mr Horler hasn’t been sighted in weeks.”
Ken eventually would be found in some basement around the university painting flats for a forthcoming production. The plays he directed included Twelfth Night, where his younger contemporary John Bell shone as Malvolio, Brecht’s Mother Courage which starred Germaine Greer. Peter Carroll was also in the cast. His peers graduated and went to England to begin their professional training. The late Richard Wherrett went to Stratford East in London and John Bell to the Bristol Old Vic and later, the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-on-Avon. Ken hot-footed it to London as well. He had hardly arrived when the sudden and tragic death of his sister Deanne brought him back to Australia. Ken then seemed to turn his back on the theatre and begin to earn his living at the bar.
As a barrister, he was a natural. He had a sharp, retentive memory and, as the phrase goes, was “good on his feet”. He absorbed information fast and in court gave no quarter. His colleagues valued his courage in the face of sometimes overbearing judges. They also rated highly his ability to communicate with juries with clarity and humour. It was during these years that he made one of the best decisions in his life: he married fellow lawyer Lilian Bodor. She became his helpmeet, collaborator, the mother of his only child Sacha, and his strong right arm.
When Bell and Wherrett returned from the UK having completed their apprenticeships in the profession, Ken sensed change in the wind. Sydney’s Old Tote theatre was approaching its final curtain; there was a palpable hunger for a theatre with fresh interpretations of the classics and new Australian plays. Ken found a disused shed in Nimrod Street Darlinghurst, and arranged a lease. There, in late 1970, he established a theatre with John Bell and Richard Wherrett that would change the country’s theatre history. Although his mother had burned all his university memorabilia, the wretched fad had not passed.
A cross-section of old friends from university and the law were conscripted to repair the Darlinghurst shed. We scraped and painted. Some of his clients worked off their debts to him by labouring on weekends. Ken presided, puffing small cigars and doing some light work with a broom. When the city fathers closed the theatre for its inadequate fire stairs and toilet facilities, Ken got good press space by ridiculing them. He then set to work. He lobbied and fought and raised money. He relished a fight and was in his element in opposition.
When the theatre re-opened, one of his most significant productions was Basically Black, a landmark revue he wrote and directed with indigenous actors and singers. Brett Whiteley designed a powerful poster for the show. Other work from this time was a revival production of Alex Buzo’s Rooted and the premiere of another Buzo play, Coralie Lansdown Says No. Ken also directed several plays by Jim McNeil, who had written them while in prison.
With Nimrod’s growing success, Ken looked around for a bigger space. In 1973 he found the old Cerebos salt factory in Surry Hills and, under what he called “the Old Mates Act,” negotiated the transfer of the property from its owners to the Nimrod for one dollar – the best deal since John Batman bought Melbourne. Today it lives on as the Belvoir Theatre.
Lilian became the general manager of the new Nimrod. Wherrett, Bell and Ken Horler, already a formidable triumvirate, created a heady and controversial theatre. Of its first 18 productions, 15 were new Australian plays and nine of them were written specifically for the Nimrod. The company’s parties for launching each new season became famous for their hospitality and exuberance. “If there is a heaven,” wrote the late British critic Sheridan Morley, “It is in the bar of the Nimrod.”
Ken, as a benign impresario, was always on the lookout for new talent and new plays, and bought his own taste to bear. Meanwhile, a cabal was forming against him. Outside opposition he could handle, but not lack of confidence from his peers. He was forced out in a palace coup in 1980. It was an exile he never quite overcame. Even so, the Nimrod’s best days were already over. It closed its doors in 1987.
Determined to run their own show, Ken and Lilian leased a large room in George Street, renovated it and opened a Theatre Restaurant called Upstage which specialised in revue. It failed to draw audiences and snap-closed.
He went back to the Law. In spite of being out of the theatre, he still saw plenty of plays and after the show, often bought drinks for the cast. He loved the company of actors and Nature brought her returns. He saw his daughter Sacha graduate from NIDA and take her place as one of Australia’s leading stage and screen actors. It was a sweet revenge.
Those of us who have enjoyed lives in the theatre are all deep in Ken’s debt. He forced open a door and gave us opportunities to find our own way and our own living. The cockpit of the original Nimrod Street Theatre still stands as The Stables in Darlinghurst where today it is the home of the Griffin Theatre Company. It not only defined an ideal audience-to-stage relationship of the new and larger Nimrod Theatre, it became the prototype for new stages all over Australia.
Then there was the great pleasure of knowing this short, stubby, emotional, gregarious, disputative, bearded man with a large and hospitable heart who valued and gave real friendship.
In 2004 Ken had a fall and it was serious. He lived quietly after that but Sacha disputes this. What is certain is that over the next fourteen years Lillian cared for him beautifully. Ken was recently admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital following a stroke. He died peacefully on 16th September. He’d just turned 80.
RON BLAIR 27/09/18
ROBERT GRAHAM ALEXANDER | ACTOR
5 January 1942 - 11 April 2018
Robert went to Sydney’s Trinity Grammar School, where he excelled in athletics (he ran for the school), theatre (he acted opposite fellow student Richard Wherrett, who was to direct him later at the STC), and music. After matriculating, he went to Sydney Conservatorium, where he studied singing - the accompanist at his final recital was Roger Woodward -, and then gained his Diploma of Education at Sydney Teachers College, where he met his life partner of 54 years, the potter Barry Blight.
After secondary teaching - English and Music - and travelling with Barry, including four years teaching in England, he returned to Sydney to teach. But he wanted to act, to catch the wave of the 60s theatre renaissance. He started professionally with Adelaide’s Theatre 62, then Nimrod. In 1976 he was, along with Kerry Walker and Tony Sheldon, a member of the first company of six actors of the Hunter Valley Theatre Company, Newcastle. He was an ideal company man, both professionally (the willingness to take on any rôle, and the talent to shine in it) and personally (the temperament to take rough with smooth, the gift of friendship). His maturity and life experience kept the fledgling troupe together.
On returning to Sydney his more than 40-year career took off. He was seldom out of work: mainly theatre, but TV (many, including continuing rôles) and film too, supplemented by extensive voice- over. (He was uncommonly well-spoken.) His more than 90 theatre rôles included twenty for Nimrod, twelve for the STC, twelve for Bell Shakespeare (of which he was an Associate Artist), and work for most of the country’s leading companies (including Opera Australia, STC of SA, QTC, Ensemble, Marian Street, Island Th. Co., and Sport for Jove), and in all states. He loved Shakespeare: his Jaques, Polonius, and Shylock were particularly memorable. He won a Green Room Award for his performance in Torch Song Trilogy.
Robert gave much to the profession. For some years he was on the committee of the Actors Benevolent Fund; he was politically engaged; he mentored younger colleagues.
Robert’s last rôle was as the Scottish hotel manager in The Judas Kiss. His subtlety and restraint, his accent, the detail of his characterization, all were superb. It was a performance that would have graced any stage in the world. It was only a matter of days before he had to call in sick for the first time in his career, then days later to withdraw. He was a great believer in ‘Dr Theatre’, the belief that if you go on sick, the show will put you right. But he needed stronger medicine. It was the beginning of a steady decline that lasted more than a year.
An actress friend wrote: ‘I did not know him well, but whenever we met I would feel warmed by the sun’.
He is survived by Barry, and by his sister, nephew, and niece.
- Terence Clarke
MOYA O'SULLIVAN | ACTOR
30 November 1926 – 16 January 2018
Moya O'Sullivan was a versatile actor indeed! I believe she commenced her career working in radio - and legend has it she appeared rather suddenly 'on the scene' - playing a lead in an ABC Drama and was wonderful. She was in a very popular comedy series "Life with Dexter" playing Willie Fennell's wife.
There was a long career in the Advertising world doing voiceovers - where her skill quickly put her at the top of the list. I first met Moya in 1961 at the Independent - she played "Sylvia" in "The Women" and had a huge success with the role - it's a cracker of a part and Moy grabbed it with both hands! I was an ASM (as well as playing a role) so was able to watch her every night - what a lesson! And I was lucky enough to be ASM on "A Period of Adjustment" by Tennessee Williams - Moy played a rather 'mousey' role - so different to "Sylvia"! It was about this time she got her driver's license and told me that she'd had trouble working out how to get to the Independent - because she could only turn left (!) she found turning "right" too scary! She lived somewhere like Double Bay so I can only image how she worked that one out!!!
We shared 'digs' in London where she worked in Television as well as Stage, she got a good role in the West End in a play starring Ronnie Fraser (the UK actor) Suzannah York, Moy played Annette Crosbie's 'mother' - only one scene but she made it a highlight - she returned to Australia shortly after and continued her career - voicing ads, doing a few plays, television, including a good long run in "Neighbours".
Moy also spent many years on the Board of the "Actors' Benevolent Fund" -our Charity that she was always passionately supporting. She was great to work with - down to earth and yet firm in her belief of the respect acting should be given - I shall miss her - the talent, the laughs and our friendship which lasted for so long - she was one of the best!
Maggie Dence - MEAA member since 1962