Sir George Tallis 1869-1948

George Tallis

Sir George Tallis

One of Tallis’s first moves was to establish J.C. Williamson’s in South Africa; soon after that
The Firm presented the American musical comedy High Jinks in London.

Through the 1920s Tallis was a dominating, but largely unseen, presence in Australian entertainment.

Tallis recognised the potential of radio. He made sure that The Firm was included in the syndicates operating two of Australia’s earliest stations, 2FC in Sydney and 3LO in Melbourne.

 

One of Tallis’s first moves was to establish J.C. Williamson’s in South Africa; soon after that
The Firm presented the American musical comedy High Jinks in London. Both enterprises were victims of the Great War. Another debacle was an attempt to take Williamson’s into film production and exhibition. Undaunted, Tallis put £60,000 of his own money into J.C. Williamson Films Ltd, with himself and Francis W. Thring as joint managers. Its success led other cinema ventures, such as Electric Theatres Pty Ltd., again with Thring, and J.C. Williamson New Zealand Picture Corporation Ltd.

As the war progressed, government demands for recruiting speeches to be delivered to theatre patrons, a Federal Entertainments Tax, the early closing of bars and hotels, and even moves to close down theatres altogether, made life extremely difficult for theatrical entrepreneurs. This, plus the emergence of various theatrical employees’ unions, led to the formation in 1917 of an industry alliance, embracing virtually all of this country’s theatrical entrepreneurs. This was the Theatrical Proprietors’ and Managers’ Association, an organisation that has survived a string of name changes to lead the industry, 90 years on, as Live Performance Australia. George Tallis was foundation president, with Hugh D. McIntosh and Benjamin Fuller as vice presidents.

Through the 1920s Tallis was a dominating, but largely unseen, presence in Australian entertainment. The Firm’s main rival was J. & N. Tait, founded by five brothers from Castlemaine in Victoria. They had started as concert promoters but in 1920, after they diversified into drama and musical comedy, Tallis negotiated a deal in which the two organisations merged, forming a theatrical empire of unprecedented dominance. Two years later Tallis was knighted in recognition of his theatrical and charitable work.

Tallis recognised the potential of radio. He made sure that The Firm was included in the syndicates operating two of Australia’s earliest stations, 2FC in Sydney and 3LO in Melbourne. Tallis was a member of the 2FC board and chairman of directors at 3LO. Both stations were inaugurated in 1924 with live broadcasts from Williamson theatres. And Tallis further expanded The Firm’s interests, acquiring Musgrove’s Theatres, which was operating the Tivoli vaudeville circuit.

On the film front Tallis merged his J.C. Williamson Films with Hoyts Pictures Ltd, on a 50-50 basis, thus creating one of Australia’s two largest chains, operating more than 70 cinemas. Tallis and Thring then steered Hoyts into building a string of magnificent Regent Theatres – luxurious golden picture palaces – around Australia. The first was the Regent in the Melbourne suburb of South Yarra, opened in 1925. It was followed by its namesakes in Perth (1927), Adelaide and Sydney (1928), and Melbourne and Brisbane (1929). The Melbourne Regent was the finest of them all. It cost £360,000 and seated 3,250. It is the only one still standing. And Tallis had also cannily merged Electric Theatres with Hoyts’ rival, Union Theatres, retaining a 17.5 per cent interest.

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Biographical references

Alwyn Capern, George Michael Tallis: ‘George Tallis KT’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency, 1995
Mimi Colligan: ‘Sir George Tallis’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 12, Melbourne University Press
Claude Kingston: It Don’t Seem a Day too Much, Rigby, 1971
Viola Tait: A Family of Brothers, Heinemann, 1971
Michael and Joan Tallis: The Silent Showman, Wakefield Press, 1999