Wendy Blacklock AM
- Wendy Blacklock AM
Wendy Blacklock AM
Wendy Blacklock’s father started out as an actor, but changed careers midstream – just as she would.
She worked in radio drama and in 1954 toured Australia and New Zealand for J.C. Williamson in Dear Charles with Sophie Stewart.
In 1959 Channel 7 brought Wendy Blacklock back to Australia to star in the first TV musical, Pardon Miss Westcott.
Gordon Chater had warm memories of sharing the stage with Wendy Blacklock in revue at the Phillip Street Theatre in 1956: ‘Around the Loop (referring to the tram loop at the top of King Street) ran for 58 weeks. That was when I first became aware of Wendy Blacklock. She was a fine comedienne. She was an upcoming actress, sensitive to being a child of old money and determined to prove herself without family help, which she has done abundantly. She seemed slightly aloof to me then. Ridiculous! Later, I bought a house from her, adjoining hers. Her two children, Nicole and Lisa, are my godchildren and Wendy has become a friend I have trusted with my life. She is now the distinguished head of Performing Lines which promotes Australian theatre at home and abroad.’
Wendy Blacklock’s father started out as an actor, but changed careers midstream – just as she would. Born in Sydney, Blacklock grew up in Lindfield and studied acting at the Rathbone School of Dramatic Art. In the early 1950s she went to England for further training and experience in weekly rep at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. On her return home she worked in radio drama and in 1954 toured Australia and New Zealand for J.C. Williamson in Dear Charles with Sophie Stewart. In 1955 she started her association with Sydney’s legendary Phillip Street revues. She romped her way though Two to One (with Max Oldaker), Around the Loop (with Chater, Oldaker, June Salter and Barry Humphries), An Evening with Noel Coward, and the musical Mistress Money. After this she toured as Barbara, a mischievous schoolgirl, in The Happiest Days of Your Life with Margaret Rutherford, and appeared in the title role in Cinderella for Rudas Productions at the Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown in December 1957. She worked with ventriloquist Peter Brough on ABC Radio and appeared on early Australian television.
During another spell in England she worked on TV with comics such as Bernard Bresslaw and Benny Hill, and appeared in traditional music hall melodrama at the Players Theatre.
In 1959 Channel 7 brought Wendy Blacklock back to Australia to star in the first TV musical, Pardon Miss Westcott. Then there was more theatre – from 1963 she appeared for the newly established Old Tote Theatre Company in Playboy of the Western World, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Hostage(Behan). In 1968, after starring in Revue at the Loo at the Astor Motor Hotel in Sydney, she toured for Williamson’s in the comedy Spring and Port Wine with Alfred Marks. She also found time to broadcast English lessons to Vietnam over Radio Australia.
In the early 1970s she was in Jane Street’s Don’s Party (David Williamson), An Awful Rose(Keneally) and Bon Bons and Roses for Dolly (Hewitt). Then came three and a half years as ‘Mummy’ McDonald in Channel 10’s infamous long-running serial No 96 – and a further 18 months playing the character on the club circuit. It had its drawbacks: ‘Mummy was a real dill,’ lamented Blacklock. ‘I made her a character lady, and everybody thought I was like her.’ In 1978 she was in Alan Bennett’s Habeas Corpus for the Queensland Theatre Company.
But it took a tour of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand with Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce in a stage spin-off of the TV comedy George and Mildred to finally convince Wendy Blacklock that she would be of greater value in administration.
The big change came in 1982. On an impulse, she walked into the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust offices and asked if they would teach her about ‘contracts and budgets’. Five months later she was appointed co-ordinator of the entrepreneurial department. A few months later, with Australia Council funding, she set up the Australian Content Department, designed to nurture, produce and tour independent artists and small companies. One of her early commissions was Aboriginal playwright Jack Davis’s No Sugar. This and several other Davis plays toured nationally and overseas.
In eight years, under Blacklock, the Australian Content department produced or toured more than 40 shows at home and abroad. In July 1990 the department was incorporated as Performing Lines Ltd, an autonomous, non-profit company funded by the Australia Council and private sponsors, with the same aims. Blacklock was made general manager.
With Blacklock at the helm, Performing Lines continues to search for works of innovation in multi-cultural drama, circus, puppetry, dance and opera, physical theatre, anything that captures the ‘spirit’ of Australia in our contemporary society. The productions may vary from a company of 25 puppeteers and musicians in The Theft of Sita (which has been seen in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, New York, London, Oxford, Warwick, Belfast, Aldeburgh, Zurich, Aarhus, Berlin and Rotterdam) to independent artists such as William Yang and his one-man slide/monologues or Kate Champion with her unique style of movement-based theatre. Other projects have included Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman’s The 7 Stages of Grievingand Leah Purcell’s Box the Pony.
Blacklock has won many awards for her services to the arts: a Glugs Award in 1991, Membership of the Order of Australia in 1992, a Drovers’ ‘Touring Legend’ from the Australian Performing Arts Centres Association and a Sidney Myer Award in 1995 and, in 2003, Live Performance Australia’s James Cassius Williamson Award, all for her outstanding contribution to the performing arts. In 2005 she was the Premier’s personal nominee for the 2005 NSW Women’s Honour Roll.
Frank Van Straten, 2007
Gordon Chater: The Almost Late Gordon Chater, Bantam Books, 1996,
John West: ‘Wendy Blacklock’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia Currency Press, 1995
Photograph courtesy Performing Lines