Clifford Hocking AM 1931 – 2006
- Clifford Hocking AM 1931 – 2006
Clifford Hocking AM 1931 – 2006
Born on 9 February 1932 into a Melbourne musical family, Hocking started at the ABC as a messenger boy, eventually becoming publications officer.
In October 1961 he launched himself as an entrepreneur with a tour by Indian musicians Sharan Rani and Chatur Lai.
‘Clifford Hocking never liked to be described as an entrepreneur, recalled arts writer Michael Shmith. ‘“It’s a horrible word,” he once said. “It only means go-between. ‘Artists’ pimp’ might be better. That’s what you are; that’s exactly what you are doing.” ‘Promoter didn’t take his fancy either – “Makes it sound like boxing”. Which left “impresario”. “Probably a good deal better, but maybe that sounds pretentious…” Impresario certainly suited Hocking, who was as fastidious about the artists he presented as he was about the English language. He was knowledgeable, too, with an extraordinary breadth of cultural tastes that ranged from classical Indian music to Irish folk tunes, Spanish guitar music and the songs of Ute Lemper and Cleo Laine; from Handel operas to minimalism, which occupied various niches in that superb, maximalist mind. Hocking – if we are to call him an impresario – was certainly in the mould of other legends of the craft, such as Sol Hurok and Kenn Brodziak.’
For 40 fabulous years Clifford Henry Hocking provided Australians with an eclectic cavalcade of theatrical and concert excellence. Born on 9 February 1932 into a Melbourne musical family, Hocking started at the ABC as a messenger boy, eventually becoming publications officer. He made the first of his countless overseas trips in 1954, then returned to Melbourne where, with Kevin McBeath, he opened Thomas’ record store in Bourke Street.
In October 1961 he launched himself as an entrepreneur with a tour by Indian musicians Sharan Rani and Chatur Lai; many more Indian artists would follow, including Ali Akbar Khan, Nikhil Banjeree, Alla Rakha and Ram Narayan. But it was his association with Barry Humphries that really put him on the theatrical map. Between 1962 and 1968 Hocking presented Humphries’ national tours of A Nice Night’s Entertainment, Excuse I and Just a Show. In 1965 he was joined by business partner David Vigo.
Here’s just a brief sampling of Hocking’s extraordinarily long list of entrepreneurial ventures: guitarists Paco Pena, John Williams, Alirio Diaz; comedians Victor Borge, Pam Ayres, Hinge and Brackett, Richard Stilgoe, Lenny Henry, Bruce Forsythe, Rowan Atkinson, Anna Russell, Phyllis Diller, the Goodies; jazz musicians Stephane Grappelli, Ronnie Scott, Dave Brubeck, Leo Kottke, Blossom Dearie, Oscar Peterson, Don Burrows, Woody Herman; pop artists Gladys Knight, Cleo Laine, Jeannie Lewis, Cathy Berberian, Mark Holden; actors Max Adrian (as ‘G.B.S.’), Lillian Gish, John Derum (as C.J. Dennis); classical musicians Carl Dolmetsch, Robert Pikler, Carl Pini, Shura Cherkassky, Hans Hotter, Teresa Berganza, Nigel Kennedy, Isador Goodman; Spanish artists Gran Antonio; writers Allen Ginsberg, Clive James; country singer Slim Dusty; dance groups Alvin Ailey, Sydney Dance Company; stage productions A Star is Torn (Robyn Archer), the Prospect Theatre Company, Same Time Next Year, Torch Song Trilogy, Stepping Out, H.M.S. Pinafore (with Paul Eddington), My Fair Lady, the Peking Opera Troupe – and so on.
Hocking co-directed the 1988 Melbourne Summer Music Festival, which included artists such asDon Burrows, James Galway and Blossom Dearie. He was artistic director of the 1990 Adelaide Festival, which featured the Abbey Theatre from Ireland, the Lyon Opera Ballet, Richard Rodney Bennett, the French Archaos circus troupe, and the Australian Opera in Tristan and Isolde.
In 1997 Hocking was artistic director for the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts. Highlights included the New York City Ballet, the world premiere of Rites with the Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre, the Gate Theatre of Dublin, Joel Grey and Germaine Greer.
In recognition of his ‘service to the arts and entertainment,’ Hocking received an AM in the 1990 Queen’s Birthday honours. The following year he was awarded the first Kenneth Myer Medallion for the Performing Arts. In 2001 Live Performance Australia presented him with the James Cassius Williamson Award in recognition of his contribution to excellence in the performing arts in Australia.
Clifford Hocking died on 12 June 2006. His life was celebrated in an afternoon of memories and music in Hamer Hall on 29 August 2008.
Ian Roberts, who was Hocking’s general manager at the 1997 Melbourne Festival, described him as ‘Our last true impresario… and perhaps our only one. Certainly the only one with the breadth and depth across all industry sectors, all art forms, all styles. His appreciation of the arts was without limit.’
Frank Van Straten, 2007
Michael Shmith: ‘Restless Spirit with impeccable judgement’, in The Age, 14 June 2006
Simon Plant: ‘Clifford Hocking AM’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Program for the Clifford Hocking Celebration in Hamer Hall, 29 August 2008