John Farnham AO b.1949

John Farnham

John Farnham

John Peter Farnham was born in London on 1 July 1949 and grew up in Dagenham, Essex.

When he was 10 he and his family migrated to Australia.

In 1965 he joined a popular band called Strings Unlimited. They made the state finals of Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds, and cut some demo recordings.

His first single, a catchy novelty called ‘Sadie, the Cleaning Lady’, released in November 1967.

 

The Voice

Entrepreneur Kenn Brodziak remembers his 1971 production of the British musical Charlie Girl:
‘I didn’t want to do Charlie Girl without [the London stars] Anna Neagle and Derek Nimmo. When we got to the stage where both were available we decided to speak to Darryl Sambell [John Farnham’s manager]. Darryl’s philosophy for his young star was to make him an all-round entertainer, capable of singing, dancing, stage and TV work. He quickly saw that a hit musical would extend the appeal and experience of his young star. [So the show] had three stars, but there was a magic chemistry between them. In fact, Anna and Derek thought John was marvellous. He just adapted to it. He didn’t have a big ego or anything like that. He was a natural and he enjoyed the work. He was always very conscious of the public and its fans. He did have a talent for stardom, and I put particular emphasis on stardom. You can have talent and not be a star. He happened to have both.’

Ironically, only four years before, Brodziak’s bright new star had been an apprentice plumber, helping to install air conditioning ducts in the entrepreneur’s Melbourne apartment.

John Peter Farnham was born in London on 1 July 1949 and grew up in Dagenham, Essex. He was still in short pants when he began entertaining at charity shows. When he was 10 he and his family migrated to Australia. He left school when he was 16 and started his working life as a plumber’s apprentice. With a group called The Mavericks he sang at local dances. In 1965 he joined a popular band called Strings Unlimited. They made the state finals of Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds, and cut some demo recordings.

Farnham was spotted by a young accountant, Darryl Sambell, who became his first manager. Regular appearances on the Kommotion TV show led to Farnham recoding a singing commercial for the airline TAA. This in turn led to a recording contract with EMI. His first single, a catchy novelty called ‘Sadie, the Cleaning Lady’, released in November 1967, hit number one on the Australian charts and sold 180,000 copies – the largest-selling single by an Australian artist of the decade. There were soon more hits. He won a Logie as ‘Best Teenage Personality’ in 1968. The following year he was crowned ‘King of Pop’ for the first of several times. The year 1969 also brought two big hits, ‘One’ and ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’, and Farnham’s first ‘book show’: that Christmas he took the title role in Stadiums Ltd’s pantomime Dick Whittington, which played short, hectic Festival Hall seasons in Sydney and Melbourne.

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Biographical references

Clark Forbes: Whispering Jack – The John Farnham Story, Hutchinson Australia, 1989
Ian McFarlane: The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop, Allen and Unwin, 1999
Noel McGrath: Noel McGrath’s Australian Encyclopaedia of Rock, Outback Press, 1978