Tag Archives: Melbourne

Blithe Spirit

Ghosts or Double Exposures ?

Nothing similar in the family albums but  in this family theatre program are some ghosts of a different kind on the stage of the Comedy  Theatre in Melbourne in 1945.  The  Blithe Spiritghost  in question is the spirit of a man’s first wife who turns up after a seance.  She can be seen  (and heard)  by the husband but not by the second wife or anyone else.

And of course the play is Blithe Spirit by the witty and cheeky Noel Coward.  Wikipedia reminds  us that ” the play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book.

The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance.    Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles’s marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost.”

But there are many more twist and turns before the end.

Perhaps they should have staged the show a block away in The Princess Theatre which has its own resident ghost, that of a baritone playing in Faust who died just off stage in 1888.

In May 1945 Australia was still at war with Japan and the Military Hospital in the suburb of Heidelberg was very busy. The hospital had a theatre and with a replica Blithe Spirit set constructed the whole cast was able to pile Blithe Spirit - backinto a bus and go to Heidelberg to put on the show one afternoon.

With patients, bed cases  and staff there was no standing room left, with some patients needing to sit in the orchestra pit.  A most appreciative audience.

Meanwhile just across the road from the Comedy Theatre was His Majesty’s Theatre which that same year staged  The Desert Song with Max Oldaker  and his interpretation of The Red Shadow which I wrote about in a previous post

Also in 1945 a film was made of Blithe Spirit with Rex Harrison as the male lead and the wonderful Margaret Rutherford as Madame Arcati who conducts the seance.

Australian TV viewers might see a slight overlapping of the theme with the recent ABC production of “Glitch”  where the fortunate/unfortunate husband has both his living and his dead wife in his life at the same time.

Whereas Noel Coward was strictly for the laughs, Glitch is a serious look at the “what if” situation.  It has been described as an Australian Gothic and much of the shooting was done on summer evenings in my old home towm, the old gold town of Castlemaine in Central Victoria.

Further connections to ghosts and double exposures can be found in this week’ Sepia Saturday post.

 

 

 

 

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The Red Shadow – in Melbourne

When young I didn’t have to contribute much to the household chores except for doing the dusting on a Saturday morning. On my mother’s dressing table was an old-fashioned cream celluloid photo frame displaying a photo of my father,     I discovered that there was a postcard photo of someone else slipped in behind my father.

Lance Fairfax as The Red Shadow in The Desert song, Melbourne, 1928

Lance Fairfax as The Red Shadow in The Desert song, Melbourne, 1928

I would put this photo of Lance Fairfax to the front and at some later stage someone would restore my  father to the front position without anything being said., week after week, after week.

In the photo Lance Fairfax (1899-1974) is pictured in his role as the Red Shadow in The Desert Song which had  opened in Melbourne in September 1928 for a 28 week run. Lance, who was born in New Zealand, had been a distinguished soldier in World War 1 and a sportsman, then pursued a career as a baritone both in Australia and overseas.

The Desert Song is an operetta by Sigmund  Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein.  At the time. the Arabs in North Africa were romanticized as they rebelled against French Colonial rule. Think of Beau Geste or Lawrence of Arabia.  In 1925 there was an uprising by a group of Moroccan fighters called the Riffs and this inspired the storyline for The Desert Song. Then in best Scarlet Pimpernel fashion we have the  quiet, uninteresting character who though known to us but not by the cast keeps transforming into the handsome and dashing hero who wins the beautiful maiden.

Of interest on the back of the postcard is Broadcasting Co of Australia Pty Ltd.  This the independent national public broadcaster founded in 1929 and which took over several other funded radio stations to form a single  whole.  There were many live broadcasts and Lance was a part of that.  The front of the postcard mentions 3LO and 3AR the two Melbourne stations.

Lance rode his horse on stage in the production of The Desert Song so it was interesting to see this newspaper report in 1931.

Lance Fairfax’s Steed. MELBOURNE, March 29. 1931

A horse used by Lance Fairfax in the operetta, The Desert Song, last night figured In an amazing accident In Carlton. The horse, which was attached to a cab. bolted half a mile. and then slipped in a gutter. The cab overturned on top of an Italian woman. Sablna Benporath. aged 30 and her three children, one of whom 13 months old was critically Injured. The others suffered minor injuries

The Desert Song was staged at his Majesty’s in Melbourne again in 1945 with Max Oldaker in the lead role.  This was my introduction to the Desert Song.

The outside and inside of the four-fold paper theatre programme in Melbourne in 1945

The show had  premiered on Broadway in 1926 and was made into an early sound film in 1929 which was very faithful to the original stage show,  Here is John Boles singing The Riff Song in the movie.

 

Isn’t that just gorgeous  !

Lance Fairfax played  the role of the Red Shadow in Melbourne in 1928 but I can’t find video of him in that role,  but here is  a very brief view of him singing Toreador in a movie of Carmen.

The 1929 movie of The Desert Song  has an interesting history. By the 1940s, the original 1929 film had become illegal to view or exhibit in the United States due to its Pre-Code content which included sexual innuendo, lewd suggestive humor and open discussion of themes such as homosexuality.   Well,Well !  I would dearly love to see a copy of that first movie just to see what I’ve been missing out on.

Dennis Morgan starred in the 1943  movie version which had the Red Shadow fighting the Nazis and now being call El Khobar instead of the Red Shadow.  And in 1953 there was a  “cleaned-up” version starring Gordon McRae and Kathryn Grayson , here singing The Desert Song.

 

In 1955 there was a live performance on TV  with Nelson Eddy of movies fame, in the lead role, the only time he performed a live role, here singing One Alone.

 

Barry Humphries once asked the second Melbourne Red Shadow, Max Oldaker,   how he managed to smile so sincerely at the curtain call on a thin Wednesday matinee. Humphries recorded: ‘He said, “Dear Barry, it’s an old trick Noel taught me, and it never fails.” He demonstrated, standing in the middle of the dressing room in his Turkish towelling gown, eyes sparkling, teeth bared in a dazzling smile. “Sillycunts,” beamed Max through clenched teeth, bowing to the imaginary stalls. “Sillycunts,” again, to the circle, the gods and the royal box. “It looks far more genuine than ‘cheese’, dear boy,” said Max, “and you’ve just got to hope that no one in the stalls can lip read.” I couldn’t help thinking of all my mother’s friends at those Melbourne matinees, their palms moist, hearts palpitating as Max Oldaker, the Last of the Matinee Idols, flashed them all his valedictory smile.’

What would we do without a little bit of nostalgia in our lives.

Sepia Saturday

Holidays with Father

Suitcases are our theme for this week. It was impossible to go on holiday without a suitcase. Sometimes it even came in handy as a seat,

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERABarbara and Charles Fricke c1940 holidaying at Hastings, a small town on Westernport Bay in Victoria,  They were staying with Charles’s sister on an orchard, a couple of miles out of town. I suspect that Barbara was being left here on her own for a holiday. as I don’t think she would be going travelling with those muddy shoes !

F3 Travelling 1943 - Copy

Barbara and Charles Fricke again in 1943, this time walking down a street in the centre of Melbourne with a smaller suitcase while Charles sucks on his cigarette though a cigarette holder

Barbara is wearing a mixture of clothes.  Remember it is wartime and clothes coupons were issued for the purchase of clothes.  So… there is a navy blue hat – at least one hat was needed  for wearing to church.  Under the coat is a navy blue school uniform topped  with a hand-knitted russet coloured cardigan with a knitted tie at the neckline  to turn it into a going-out outfit.

I had always thought of the rationing in Australia as being due to shortages but apparently the reasons were more complex.  It’s also a bit embarrassing to  even think about it when you think of the severe rationing in Britain.

Australian Clothing Coupons from World War II.

Australian Clothing Coupons from World War II.

The Australian War Memorial Web site tells us …..

“Rationing regulations for food and clothing were gazetted on 14 May 1942. Rationing was introduced to manage shortages and control civilian consumption. It aimed to curb inflation, reduce total consumer spending, and limit impending shortages of essential goods. The broad reasoning behind the introduction of rationing was to ensure the equitable distribution of food and clothing. It was also hoped that a cut on consumer spending would lead to an increase in savings, which in turn could be invested in war loans.

Australians were never as short of food nor rationed as heavily as civilians in the United Kingdom. Rationing was enforced by the use of coupons and was limited to clothing, tea, sugar, butter, and meat. From time to time, eggs and milk were also rationed under a system of priority for vulnerable groups during periods of shortage.”

Go to Sepia Saturday for more links to people’s adventures with their suitcases.

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ctoria, south-east of the capital Melbourne.

Flags of Australia

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We’re back at Apollo Bay on the southern coast of Victoria and talking about flags   Here we have the turning of the first sod of the Anglican Church in Australia at Apollo Bay in 1905.  And the  babe in arms is none other than Charles Fricke who later lived in Castlemaine and volunteered in the Militia between the wars, and whom I’ve written about before

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Here  Charles is held by his mother with his father. wearing his hat at a rakish angle,  standing next to her looking at the camera. There had been no Anglican Church for his parents to marry in so their wedding service had been held in the local Mechanics Hall. 

Australia had been a separate nation with its own flag since 1901 but the flag on display is the British Union Jack. At this stage the ‘Anglican Church in Australia’ was still organized by the church in England, hence the British flag and not the Australian one.  It remained this way until 1961 when the Australian church separated and had its own Primate, later changing its name to the ‘Anglican Church of Australia ‘.  Here is a more recent picture of the beautiful little Gothic-style church. It was  completely built from local timbers as the area had no all-weather roads to bring in other materials and is virtually unchanged since it was built.

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Australia had had its own flag since 1901, the design being the result of a competition. An exhibition of the nearly 40,00 entries was opened at the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne on September 3rd, 1901 and the winning entry flew for the first time above the dome of the Exhibition Building.

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A flag is a symbol of a nation and our flag tells the story of how the British Nation established a new society across the seas under the constellation of the Southern Cross. A larger star, the Commonwealth Star at first had six points to represent the federation of the six states in Australia. A seventh point was added later to represent the Territories such as the Northern Territory, the A.C.T (Australian Capital Territory), Norfolk Island, etc. The wisdom of the past and the hopes of the future.

So far, so good.  But it’s amazing what a learning experience putting together little bits and pieces for Sepia Saturday can be.  I didn’t know that  the winning flag design was never debated in the Australian Parliament – it was sent to England to be approved and it wasn’t until late 1902 that King Edward VII formally notified the Australian Government of the approval.

But  the flag still had no legal status beyond the original British Admiralty authorisations which only related to use at sea. It wasn’t until 1953 that the Flag Act was passed by the Menzies Government and Australia finally had an official national flag, one that was required to be flown in a superior position to any other national flag (including the Union Flag). Good on you old Bob Menzies!

Which goes a long way to explaining how, while  having its own Australian flag, the Union Jack continued to be used.

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In 1915, Britain could not supply money for war loans. The Australian Government, under Prime Minister Billy Hughes, put in place a series of War Savings loans at 4.5% interest which later rose to 5%.

Well I wouldn’t mind 4½% at the moment, thank you !