Pre WWII     Post-War, Pre 1953   The Bergin & Ward Era    The 60's & Early 70's    The 80's    Historical Documents

 

Footlights Pre WWII

In the gloomy year of 1930 the Adelaide University Footlights Club was founded, and within a few years the world recovered from the Great Depression. Modeled on the Cambridge University Footlights, it followed on from a series of student "Galas" in the 1920's that starred, among others, Bruce Lawrence.

For four years the Varsity Revue was presented in the Theatre Royal. Ivor Hele did the posters. Myer's offered a window for publicity "provided it was properly dressed". Mr. Ian Hayward offered "anything that John Martin's could provide."  

The 1930 Gala Comedy Revue was for one night only, performed in front of Premier Hill and Lord Mayor Glover. There were sixteen in the women's ballet - including Pat Richardson, Shirley Burns-Cumming and Iris Hart - and twenty tap-dancing males led by the star trio Rex "Wacka" Dawe, Keith McDonald and John Duncan.

In 1934 the Revue moved to the Tivoli and Fauldings Ltd. was granted permission "to spray the theatre with scent".  

In 1936 the Varsity Revue ran for seven nights to packed houses.  This was the last and greatest show of the legendary trio but their comic genius and hard work was the rock upon which the Footlights Club tradition was built. 

The cast lists of those days are a wonderful litany of Adelaide movers, shakers and senior professionals and in several cases were the start of family traditions. A random selection of names includes Eric McLauchlin, Dudley Searcey, Bill Holyoake, Iris Hart, Ruby Skinner (Litchfield) and LeMessurier, Bleby, Magarey, Hogarth, Cleland, Brooks, Rymill, Hakendorf and Gramp.

There was one more Revue in 1938 with Dick Blackburn and Max Taylor in leading roles and Kym Bonython on the drums. The minutes of the annual meeting in 1939 may still be read in the Club's Minute Book.  They have never been signed.

 

Post-War, Pre 1953

In 1948 the Club was revived with a large ex-service membership, and went back to the Tivoli with "The Seat of Your Pants," a bigger and bawdier revue than any of the pre-war shows.  A cast headed by Bob Donaldson, Owen Evans, Di Wauchope, Kay Fielder, Frank Zeppel and Rosemarv Burden re-established the Varsity Revue overnight.  

Next morning the Vice-Chancellor summoned the Club President, David Barnes, and comedian Jeff Scott's portrayal of the Vice-Chancellor was removed from the Revue-by special request.  Scott appeared as the Head Caretaker for the rest of the season.  

The Tivoli was the scene of two more Varsity Revues - "Keep It Clean" (1949) and "Gone to Press" (1950), and then the old soldiers faded away.  

The Varsity Revue--may its footlights never fade, for it is the laughter and song of student life - JEFF SCOTT 1958

 

The Bergin & Ward Era

But in 1953 Brian Bergin and Geoff Ward created an entirely new style of Varsity Revue, more Noel Coward-ish and sophisticated than the variety concerts of the thirties. The first was the intimate "Sparkling Burgundy," presented in "The Hut" at the University. Two more Hut Revues by Bergin and Ward followed-"Be Your Age" (1954) and "Count Your Chickens" (1955)-and a new generation of Footlights stars grew up--Darlene Johnson, Julienne Gunning, Chris Ketley, Peter Wells, Sam Luxton, Mick Alpers, David Evans and Michael Downey.

 

These photos of and about The Hut were provided by Professor Harry Medlin.

The Hut disguised as a lecture theatre

 

 

 

In 1956 the Club moved to the Studio Theatre and presented Don Gray's musical comedy "Six Bells for Venus". Then back to the intimate revue with Bergin and Ward's "The Lunatic Fringe" in 1957.  In 1958 Brian Bergin and Geoff Ward wrote their last revue, "That Adamant Eve" especially for the new Union Hall.

 

Footlights alumni have achieved success in the real world as well as on the stage.  A list of Old Footlighters includes a summing up of Supreme Court judges, a deception of diplomats, a State Premier, an embarrassment of State and Federal politicians, an inoculation of doctors, an agony of playwrights, a curtain-call of actors, a glitter of media and musical celebrities, a procession of professors and academics scattered all over the globe and more legal eagles than it is possible to count. Even a few Bishops, some by name and one by calling.

Geoff Ward and Brian Bergin at the 50th

reunion party, December 8th 2003.

 

Bergin and Ward started the tradition of Old Footlighters attending the revue en masse for a performance and then attending cast parties to outlast the young novices, a process that formed great bonds between eras and contributed greatly to the vitality of the club in these years.

 

 

The 60's and early 70's

 

The 1960's continued the energy and enthusiasm of the Bergin and Ward years with a list of social taboos broken and political barbs hitting their targets over the decade, but the impetus started to wane in the mid seventies and several years were missed. Maybe they just ran out of shibboleths to attack.

 

 

The 80's

 

In 1980 Footlights was revived to celebrate the half century since it was formed, with several of its founders from the 1930's attending the revue. Another two revues were mounted in '81 and '82 but then Footlights seemed to just fade away. Whether Footlights at student level has atrophied, has died or is simply hibernating is hard to tell, but having now missed several breeding seasons the species may be approaching extinction - something even a war didn't achieve. Perhaps the advent of professionally written satirical comedy shows on television has got something to do with it. Many of the best television performers cut their teeth, so to speak, in University revues throughout the country.

 

Revues still exist but are small and faculty-based - mainly the law faculty for some reason - and don't seem to send the same shiver through the assembled pillars of the community that they once did.

 

However, more than half a century of activity, of art and wit, of laughter and fun, of exuberant, irreverent, reckless entertainment that enlivened both its members and the whole community, is not a bad achievement for a club.

 

Edited notes from Gary McCaffrie regarding revues later than 1973.

The revues continued in the Union Hall until 1976, but  in 1977 there was no show. A small band of hardy students got  together in 1978 to present a show in the Little Theatre, but it  wasn’t the same. The enthusiasm generated for that show didn’t last and again there was no revue in 1979.

In 1980 the club underwent its third revival. Under  President, Kevin Jones, Secretary, David Allen and Treasurer, Martin Karaffa, the Club had a remarkable recovery.

In that year it  presented three shows – Café Faux Pas, a Festival production in the Union Bistro that laid the groundwork for things to come; the Law Revue Gidget Goes to Law School - a joint Footlights/Law Students Society production in the Little Theatre that was so successful it ran to an extended season - and another cabaret-style production in the Bistro in September, The Nineteen Eighty Floor Show, which was highly acclaimed.

Footlights then embarked on the main activity for which the club existed – the traditional end-of-year revue in Union Hall.

The Footlights end-of-year revues that I was involved in were They Route Horses Don’t They (1980), Have You Checked the Children? (1981) and The Return of the Revenge of Beneath the Planet of Bambi, Biggles and Flipper Meet Frankenstein ’82 Part III (1982). These were all Footlights productions, pretty much done by the same people.

The Law Revues were Gidget Goes to Law School (1980), Barristar Galactica (1981), McMillhouse and Wife (1982) and Star Laws (1983). The 1980, 1981 and 1982 law revues were all Footlights productions, co-produced (co-presented really) with the  Law Students’ Society. The 1983 revue was different as it commemorated something or other and was, I think, a co-production between the Law Faculty and Footlights, but from my memory it was (or at least felt like) less a Footlights show than a law Faculty show.

We also did Orientation Week shows and a fringe show called Cheap, Mucky Trash in the Little Theatre.


The Barr-Smith Library will enthusiastically welcome most Footlights paraphernalia for its archives. Please donate any, rather than see it lost. We will be happy to receive material for this website. We will take great care of it and forward it to the Barr-Smith after copying.


                     Some Historical Documents