Eric Edgley 1899 – 1967
- Eric Edgley 1899 – 1967
Eric Edgley 1899 – 1967
Eric (‘Mick’) Edgley was born in the Birmingham suburb of Deritend on 1 August 1899.
When he was nine Eric appeared with his younger brother Clement in The Eight Lancashire Lads – the comic clog dancing act that also launched Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.
After the outbreak of World War I Eric and Clem rechristened themselves ‘Edgley’ and ‘Dawe’ (which they claimed came from London street names) and worked up a song-and-dance routine.
In February 1940, in London, Eric Edgley married a member of the company, the Australian dancer Edna Luscombe.
Actor and producer John McCallum has happy memories of his association with Eric Edgley, whom he knew affectionately as ‘Mick’: ‘Mick and his brother, Clem Dawe, had been a comedy team for years all over the world.
They had played several times at my father’s theatre (the Cremorne) in Brisbane. Mick was one of the old breed of showmen. He had been brought up in the business, and he knew it thoroughly, backstage and front of house. He knew what the “drift” was, and he knew what a “brief” was, and there are not many like him today. (The “drift” in a theatre is the area above the stage where the scenery is flown, and a “brief” is a free ticket.) The age of the actor manager may have had its drawbacks, but its advantages outweighed them, and its passing has left the theatre poorer for the actor, the playwright, and that most important person of all, the audience.’
Eric (‘Mick’) Edgley was born in the Birmingham suburb of Deritend on 1 August 1899. His father, Richard White, was an accountant who doubled as a theatre cellist, and his mother, the former Lizzie Wharton, was the daughter of Whimsical Wharton, a renowned British circus clown. The family’s peripatetic lifestyle meant that their children had little formal education, but they certainly learnt a lot about show business. When he was nine Eric appeared with his younger brother Clement in The Eight Lancashire Lads – the comic clog dancing act that also launched Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. After the outbreak of World War I Eric and Clem rechristened themselves ‘Edgley’ and ‘Dawe’ (which they claimed came from London street names) and worked up a song-and-dance routine. Between music hall bookings, they cleaned theatres.
Meanwhile Eric and Clem’s brothers Dick and Les and their sister, Dorothy, had formed the singing and dancing Dick and Dorothy Trio, which usually appeared in association with Dorothy’s husband, the Russian-born violinist Gregory Ivanoff. The act played the Tivoli Circuit for Hugh D. McIntosh in 1916.
In 1919 the Australian actor and entrepreneur Bert Bailey saw Edgley and Dawe in a pantomime in Edinburgh. He recommended them to J. & N. Tait, who brought them to Australia for their 1920 panto Sinbad the Sailor at the King’s Theatre in Melbourne, after which they toured for J.C. Williamson’s and Fuller’s.
In 1923 the White family assembled in Perth to launch The Midnight Frolics. The company consisted of the four brothers and one sister, plus Leslie’s wife, Nell McGuire; and violinist Gregory Ivanoff, Dorothy’s husband. ‘Ma’ Wharton presided backstage. They were soon joined by dancer Phyllis Amery, whom Edgley married in 1925; she died in childbirth in 1930. The Midnight Frolics offered cheerful variety entertainment and went through numerous editions as it gambolled its way around the country – including a short Tivoli engagement towards the end of 1928. In 1933, under the banner Clem Dawe’s Midnight Frolics, they played a long season at the Theatre Royal in Hobart.
In 1935 Edgley and Dawe gamely took a fourteen-strong all-Australian revue company to England with a show called Seeing the World, but it was a financial disaster. In February 1940, in London, Eric Edgley married a member of the company, the Australian dancer Edna Luscombe. Their first child, Michael, was born in 1943.
After a three-month engagement in South Africa, the Edgley company headed back to Australia. Edgley and Dawe were featured in The Sleeping Beauty, J.C. Williamson’s 1940 pantomime at His Majesty’s in Melbourne. The following year JCW headlined them in the revues Funny Side Up and Thumbs Up and the panto Babes in the Wood.
In mid 1942 Edgley and Dawe – and Edna Luscombe – were featured in the Tivoli revues Hillbilly Shindig(with Bob Dyer) and Glad Rags (with George Wallace). Their later Tivoli shows included Black Rhapsodyand It’s Foolish but it’s Fun (1944), Stars and Garters (1946), Top of the World (1947), Variety on Parade(1948) and Variety Cavalcade (1949). They also romped through Tivoli pantomimes such as Cinderella(1944) and Mother Goose (1945). A long season in Hobart in 1948 was followed by a move to Perth in 1951.
Edgley and Dawe leased Perth’s venerable His Majesty’s Theatre from its owners, Westralian Wheat Buildings Pty Ltd, which had purchased the building as an investment the year before. ‘Edgley and Dawe Attractions’ inaugurated their tenancy with yet another Midnight Frolics and, the following year, Vaudeville Revue. In 1954 the Edgley interests bought a seven-year lease of the theatre. In between Edgley attractions – mostly revues – the theatre was leased to east coast entrepreneurs such as J.C. Williamson’s, Tibor Rudas, David N. Martin’s Tivoli Circuit and Garnet H. Carroll. The Edgleys also sponsored seasons at His Majesty’s by local groups such as the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Western Australia and the West Australian Ballet Company. Jack Neary looked after the Edgley interests in Sydney and an old family friend, Chesney Allen – the ‘Allen’ of Flanagan and Allen – represented them in London. Eric Edgley’s son, Phillip, a former actor, was business and publicity manager.
Clem Dawe died suddenly in 1955, but the rest of the family carried on. By the end of the decade, rising costs and competition from television forced Edgley to try a new approach. A meeting in London in 1960 with the Soviet ambassador led to an invitation to Moscow for discussions with the Soviet Ministry of Culture. This resulted in the 1962 visits of 25 stars of the Moscow State Variety Theatre, a small ensemble from the Bolshoi Ballet, and the celebrated violinist Valeri Klimov. The success of these bold ventures effectively gave the Edgley organisation exclusive access to the best that the Soviet Union had to offer. Usually in association with other managements, Edgley presented the Georgian State Dance Company (1963), the Omsk Siberian Dance Company (1964), the Great Moscow Circus (1965), the Berioska Company of Russia (1966) and the Mazowsze Dance Company of Poland (1966). Many more have followed.
Gregory Ivanoff, Eric Edgley’s brother-in-law, became musical director of the St James Theatre, Sydney, and later moved to Hobart where he broadcast, taught and gave concerts until his death in 1965. Eric Edgley died in Perth on 3 February 1967. His family continued to import companies from behind what was then the Iron Curtain and, in October 1969, they bought the freeholds of His Majesty’s and its adjoining hotel. Though they sold both properties in 1972, they retained a lease on the theatre until 1976.
Phillip, Edgley’s son by his first marriage, died in 1999. Edna, Eric Edgley’s beloved second wife, died in 2000. Edgley’s daughter, Christine, had a short acting career before becoming involved in the organisational side of the family business, while her brother, Michael, inherited all his parents’ show business flair, and continues to head the Edgley enterprise. His daughter, Gigi, is an actress.
Frank Van Straten, 2007
Victoria Chance: ‘Eric Edgley’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia.Currency Press, 1995
Terry Crew: ‘Eric Edgley’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 14. Melbourne University Press
David Hough: A Dream of Passion,His Majesty’s Theatre Foundation, 2004
John McCallum: Life with Googie, Heinemann, 1979Frank Van Straten: Tivoli, Lothian Books, 2003
Edgley and Dawe [Photograph taken by Yvonne Mme courtesy National Library of Australia pic-vn3600578]