Following the conclusion of the Sydney premiere season of High Jinks (to make way for J.C. Williamson’s pantomime season, which traditionally commenced in the harbourside city at Easter time) JCW’s New English Musical Comedy Company travelled Southwards to open at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne on Easter Saturday, 27 March 1915. With Victor Champion taking the conductor’s chair as its local Musical Director, the cast remained much the same as it had in Sydney, with only a few minor alterations, which included the return of English actress, Gwen Hughes, who took over the role of Dr. Thorne’s nurse, ‘Florence’ from Eileen Cottey, and the addition of speciality dancer, Jack Hooker, who was given a solo spot in the Act 3 cabaret scene.
Melbourne audiences took to the new musical with the same enthusiasm as the Sydneysiders had, which was reflected in the newspaper critiques published on the following Monday.
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HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE.
The new musical jollity at Her Majesty’s Theatre is infinitely brighter, more cheery and melodious than any half dozen of the same class that have preceded it. It has also the advantage of improving through its three acts, the last one being a climax of irresponsible absurdity that sent the huge audience home in the best of spirits. It comes from American sources and the author is unannounced, but there are ample signs that it has been doctored a good deal in its passage from the States, and after. The music is mostly of the sparkling comedy, with a charming valse theme introduced in the beginning by Miss Dorothy Brunton, a song principally with harp and reed accompaniment, the melody also appearing in the score continually affording opportunities for admirable chorus singing. The second attraction was Miss Brunton’s and Mr. Plunket’s graceful duet and dance, “Not now, but later;” the third the trio, “Faust in ragtime,” with a serious travesty on grand opera by Mr. Workman, Miss Marie Eaton and Mr. F. Maguire, and the fourth Miss Eaton’s rousing ballad, “Sammy sang the Marseillaise,” the soul-stirring strain of the great French war song dominating the number. An additional treat was the exquisite dancing of Mdlle. Vlasta Novotna and Mr. Victor Lauschmann.
Of course there is a plot, but it has all its work to do to carry the three acts on its back, and there is no strain necessary to follow it. The “High Jinks perfume,” if only smelt for a moment, has the power of turning the staid into jolly dogs, the dour towards roses and raptures and wine, and the cold-blooded to seek dare-devilry and Adventure. Of course it is all hilarious nonsense taken—after the first act—in the very highest of animal spirits, and finishing with a banquet full of surprises, the chief delight being the throwing of joyous handsprings by the lost, heavy father—of course after supper—to the joy of his newly-discovered wife, who has been dancing with all the energy worthy of a certificated pupil of St. Vitus.
Mr. Field Fisher—who may be remembered as the stolid waiter in The Girl in the Taxi—takes the part of Dr. Thorne, an American specialist, the first victim of the perfume expressing, his new found mercurial vitality in attractive dancing, and fresh affection for his wife and for the wives of others, only avoiding a duel by urgent business at a bathing resort on the French coast, whither all the other characters come, the result being higher jinks than ever. Miss Florence Vie appears to every advantage as a woman of the world who has lost her husband, an American lumber king, for years, but manages, for all that, to live on and enjoy life to its full, which Miss Vie makes it very plain she does, throwing herself heart and soul into a performance that kept the stage lively all the time she was on it, especially in her duet with Mr. Rawlins, “Come Hither,“ and “The Dixiana Rise,” with the full company backing her as chorus. Miss Dorothy Brunton’s is chiefly a singing role, and as the adopted daughter of Miss Vie she was rather overshadowed in the dialogue but she gave her songs archly and brightly, making the hit of the evening with the valse number, “Is This Love at Last?” and subsequently in a ballad “By the Sea,” but in the last act she is almost obliterated, and is an onlooker only at the revels. As the stolid American lumber man, J.J. Jeffreys, transformed by the “High Jinks perfume” into a jovial and even dangerous man, Mr. W.H. Rawlins had a character rich in that class of humour in which he is an adept at portraying, and, with Miss Vie, kept the fun always at the topmost notch. A cleverly dealt with character was that of Jacques Rabelais by Mr. Paul Plunket, and departing from stage tradition rightly made him a gentleman—all Frenchmen are gentlemen. His graceful dance and song, “Not Now but Later,” with Miss Brunton, charmed by its verve and refinement. Of the explorer and inventor of the famous perfume, Mr. Workman had not much opening for his undoubted capabilities, but he made a telling hit with his first number, “High Jinks,” and in the duet “Chi Chi,” with Miss Glyn. Miss Marie Eaton was also—as Dr. Thorne’s real wife—assigned a singing part which she dealt with in fine style, and Miss Glynn was heard in a tender song, “The Bubble,” the effect being further illustrated by coloured air balloons that rose and fell, and even made their way to the roof of the theatre, where they found a home amongst the ornate mouldings. Mr. Frith’s Colonel Slaughter, who was also given and did smell of the perfume, was a neat comedy character, and Mr. F. Maguire, who does not appear till late, lent worthy aid by his singing to “Faust in Ragtime”. Miss Gwen Hughes created a pretty Red Cross figure—as nurse at Dr. Thorne’s; Mr. Chris Wren was a satisfactory garcon; Miss Nellie Hobson a rather sedate Madame Rabelais; and Miss Cecil Bradley a spruce Boy in Buttons, alias a page; and Mr. J. Hooker did a rattling double rag-step dance. The scenery by Messrs Board and Little, was captivating, and Mr. Victor Champion conducted skilfully, while a word of praise must be awarded Miss Minnie Hooper for the many pretty dances she has arranged. The piece, which had a very hearty reception by a packed house, will be repeated nightly with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The Argus (Melbourne), Monday, 29 March 1915, p. 6, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1506452
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For the packed house at Her Majesty’s theatre on Saturday night three hours seemed to pass as so many minutes. The J.C. Williamson New English Comedy Company made a decided hit with “High Jinks,” truly described by Harry B. Burcher, the producer, as a musical jollity.
The scenes are laid in France, first at the sanatorium of Dr. Thorne, an American, afterwards at Beauvllle, a coastal bathing resort. That the doctor, under the influence of the perfume, secretly administered by his chum, Dr. Wayne, permitted himself to be kissed by the wife of M. Jacques Rabelais, was the cause of a maze of misunderstandings, and most of the jollity. Wives became inextricably mixed with sweethearts, husbands dodged duels with the utmost difficulty, yet in spite of all, they sang and danced with a verve that delighted the audience. To sketch the plot would be to presume that it mattered, whereas it was submerged under an avalanche of mirth and mischief, lilting refrains, gay repartee and twinkling feet.
Mr. C.H. Workman (Dr. Wayne, an explorer), the exploiter of the magic perfume, linked it, at the beginning of the first act, with the haunting melody of a song, “High Jinks." The song, the perfume, and Mr. Workman were then essential to the continuance of the piece.
Miss Dorothy Brunton (Sylvia Dale, in love with Dr. Wayne), received an ovation for her most important number, “Is This Love at Last?" Her duet with Mr. Paul Plunket (M. Rabelais) was another success. Miss Marion Eaton (Mrs. Thorne) did justice to her numbers, particularly “Sammy Sang the Marseillaise.” Miss Florence Vie (Mrs. Jeffreys, a runaway wife), was responsible for much of the frivolity, and her song “Jim,” was especially well rendered. Miss Gertrude Glyn (Mile. Chi Chi, a dancer), was warmly encored for her tuneful “Bubbles.”
Excellent work was done, with little respite, by Messrs W.H. Rawlins (Mr. J.J. Jeffreys, American lumber king), Field Fisher (Dr. Thorne), Paul Plunket (M. Rabelais), Alfred Frith (Colonel Slaughter), and Fred Maguire (Johnnie Doe). Others who pleased were Misses Gwen Hughes (a nurse), Cecil Bradley (a page), and Nellie Hobson (Madame Rabelals), and Mr. Chris Wren (garcon).
In the third act Miss Vlasta Novotna and Mr. Victor Lauschmann were seen in a spirited dance. Mr. Jack Hooker contributed an eccentric step dance.
The jollity will continue till further notice.
The Herald (Melbourne), Monday, 29 March 1915, p.7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242276441
The J.C. Williamson Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company having just concluded its final return Melbourne season at Her Majesty’s prior to the advent of High Jinks prompted the Age critic to draw comparisons with the evergreen comic operas.
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HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE—HIGH JINKS.
The medley of mirth and song staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday well represents the trend of advance—or the line of retreat—in matters musical since the Gilbert and Sullivan operas were written 30 years ago. In actual fact the world has probably become more serious since then. In its plays, and particularly in its musical comedies, it has become more flippant. Compared with Iolanthe or The Yeomen of the Guard, a production like High Jinks is an iridescent bubble on the surface of events. It is a chanson to an epic poem, or, if one prefers it, a souffle to a pancake. But whatever it is or is not, it is capable in the hands of a clever company of being made a very agreeable and light-hearted form of entertainment. And this is what happens to it in the present instance. The crowded audience on Saturday night gave the new production a cordial reception, and left the theatre feeling thoroughly satisfied. The three acts do what they profess to do; they furnish scenes of musical frivolity and light-hearted good humor; they provide some genuinely mirthful situations; and they carry the house along with them at a rapid, almost a breathless, pace. If anyone expects to hear improving moral sentiments or find a serious plot in High Jinks he will be disappointed. If he wants to have his fancy amused and his eyesight captivated he will be thoroughly satisfied. One is reminded at times of the lines in Mrs. Browning’s Wine of Cyprus, which may be applied to this extravaganza. It is:
Bright as Paphia’s eyes e’er met us,
Light as ever trod her feet.
The name of the author of High Jinks does not appear on the program, but it is manifestly a composite work, built up by the collaboration of stage mechanist, dresser, librettist and musical composer—perhaps several of each. The result is really a harmony of its kind; a harmony made out of a number of sparkling and irresponsible materials, but none the less a harmony. The first scene is laid outside a doctor’s house in Paris. An accredited doctor, whether French or American, is not as a rule the kind of man who makes love to his patients, or takes unknown ladies on frivolous missions to the seaside. But there is a reason why the eminent American specialist, Dr. Robert Thorne, should do so in this case. A fellow practitioner has presented him with a wonderful specific; it is a perfume the merit of which is that it will galvanise into sudden life and “flirtatiousness” anyone who takes so much as a breath of it. Even the most serious-minded suffragette, it is claimed, could not resist this perfume; on a second or a third application she would forgive the British Prime Minister, and possibly dance a can-can with him in Trafalgar Square. At any rate, the effect on Dr. Thorne and the members of the High Jinks company is enlivening and exhilarating. There is no need to follow all the complications of the story. The doctor becomes an apostle of cheerfulness. He prescribes seaside resorts and young, good-looking nurses for all of his male patients. As for the women, he conceives it to be his mission to cheer them up by making love to them. A husband of one of them, who is unreasonable enough to object to this form of treatment, is completely pacified when given the opportunity of himself making love to the doctor's wife—or rather of a lady whom the doctor has thoughtfully passed of as his wife. It is all very impossible and very amusing. The second and third act, thrown against the background of a French watering place, introduce pretty dresses, pretty faces and comic situations in bewildering variety. The third act is perhaps the most handsomely staged and decorative of any. It is lit with lamps and adorned with shimmering evening dresses; and it is interspersed with music and very clever dancing, in which Mlle. Vlasta Novotna. Mr. Victor Lauschmann and Mr. Jack Hooker carry off the honors.
The company that interprets this musical medley, and keeps it moving briskly from start to finish, is the one that appeared here last season in The Girl in the Taxi. The individual members, with scarcely an exception, appear to more advantage in this production than in the last, though Miss Jarvis, the leading lady, has in the interim deserted the stage for matrimony and domestic life. The leading part of Sylvia Dale, the young lady who has to pose both as assumed wife and assumed daughter falls to Miss Dorothy Brunton, who quite comes up to expectations. Miss Brunton seems to he improving with each new part. Her useful soprano voice, which she manages very pleasingly, is heard to great advantage in the song ‘Is This Love at Last’ in the first act, and also in the number ‘By the Sea’ in the second act. She shows, too, that she has stage sense and histrionic ability. Miss Gertrude Glynn, who will be remembered as Lady Babby in Gipsy Love, has a congenial part in this production as Mlle. Chi Chi, a dancer. Her clever dancing and good stage presence make her duet with Mr. Workman in the second act both graceful and effective; she is also heard to advantage in a pretty song, The Bubble, in which the effect is heightened by the sending up of large bright-colored bubbles to the ceiling. Miss Florence Vie is a large, cheerful and altogether successful runaway wife—so much so that the audience can hardly agree with the husband who congratulates himself on having a wife who is so considerate as to run away. Miss Marie Eaton performs creditably as the wife of Dr. Thorne, but the effect of her good singing voice would be enhanced if she gave the audience the benefit of the words. Of the others, Mr. Field Fisher does exceptionally well as Dr. Thorne, his dancing agility standing him in good stead. His conception of the part is legitimately humorous. The imposing personality of Mr. W.H. Rawlins fits admirably into the character of Mr. J.J. Jeffreys, the “lumber king,” and Mr. C.H. Workman, though not the ideal lover of romance, is sufficiently well cast as the comparatively serious hero—if anything in the play can be called serious. Mr. Paul Plunket as the would-be duellist husband, Mr. Alfred Frith as a very lively patient, Mr. Maguire as a young man about town, and Mr. Chris Wren as a droll and small sized waiter are others in the cast.
The Age (Melbourne), Monday, 29 March 1915, p.7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article154927664
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In addition to noting the absence of an author’s credit for the libretto, The Age critic correctly concluded that the score was a composite work, as Rudolf Friml’s original musical score had been bolstered by the addition of various interpolations, which was standard practise for musical comedies staged in Australia by JCW at this period, with Andrew MacCunn serving as chief musical adviser on such matters. In addition to the “Faust in Ragtime” trio showcasing the combined vocal talents of Charles Workman, Marie Eaton and Fred Maguire, the show also sported two popular American songs from 1914 to highlight the talents of its two leading ladies, “By the Beautiful Sea” (by Harold R. Atteridge and Harry Carroll) for Dorothy Brunton, and “Dancing the Blues Away”(by Joe McCarthy, Howard Johnson and Fred Fisher) for Marie Eaton.
While the most likely source of the interpolated Act III opening chorus “Beauville” was the Act II opening chorus “Friville” (with amended lyrics) from the 1911 British musical comedy Peggy, featuring the music of Leslie Stuart and lyrics of C.H. Bovill, for which JCW held the Australasian performing rights (under a long-standing agreement with London impresario, George Edwardes to acquire the rights to all musicals and operettas staged at his London Gaiety and Daly’s Theatres, which had been instituted by J.C. Williamson himself) since the musical was never professionally staged by The Firm in Australia (although the original orchestra parts remain extant in the “J.C. Williamson collection of performance materials” archived at the National Library of Australia in Canberra.)
The theatre critics for the weekly Melbourne newspapers and periodicals were no less stinting in their praise of the new musical than their colleagues of the daily press.
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By “Peter Quince”
HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE
There were no signs of war or world-troubles upon the playgoing face which, loomed large, shining and smiling at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday evening. The house was densely crowded, and the welcome which was accorded to the members of “The Girl in the Taxi” Company as they made their reappearance was warm to the point of enthusiasm. The new production is entitled “High Jinks,” and is a musical farce, the name of the composer being modestly withheld, probably because it is that of a German. The piece has achieved a great success in America, and will probably do the same here, if one may judge by the favour with which it was received on the first production. “High Jinks” is an hilarious nightmare, as amusing a story as it is wildly improbable, inconsequent and utterly irresponsible. The music is varied, bright and enjoyable, the fact that it is reminiscent of much that we have had before detracting but little from its attractiveness. The name “High Jinks” serves the double purpose of describing the action of everybody concerned, whilst under the influence of the perfume, “High Jinks.” This magical scent has the effect of making any person who sniffs it amorously happy and deliriously demonstrative. The doctor who has tested it becomes at once oblivious to the troubles of his patients, except when they are young and pretty, and require soothing kisses to be administered; rheumatic patients under the influence of the smell shake off their stiffness in a remarkable way, and develop at once amativeness and Terpsichorean energy, whilst its potency is so all-powerful as to send everybody to a charming seaside resort, where the hours are spent in singing, dancing, love-making and strolling on the sands in the most fetching of costumes, full, scant and intermediate. In fact, the spell of the High Jinks perfume is irresistible.
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Hazily seen, through the piece is woven the love story of a Manila lumber king, who has married an actress. They, after a brief honeymoon, had agreed to separate, and at the time the opera commences this separation has endured for twenty-three years. The actress after separation, sent her husband a cable notifying the birth of their little girl. The story of the birth was a “frame-up,” which the pseudo-mother covers up afterwards by adopting an attractive young singer. The lonely lumber king comes to France for the good of his health, and under the influence of “High Jinks” is condemned to a course of treatment at the hands of a fascinating nurse. The actress-wife and the supposed daughter visit the same watering place, and at once find themselves entangled in the web of intrigue and misunderstanding which “High Jinks” weaves everywhere it is permitted to mingle with the atmosphere. An excitable French gentleman and his wife are prominent in the action, as also are many dancers. The final result is that the subtle perfume gets into the nostrils of the audience, and the piece leaves them in a state of “High Jinks,” merriment and an atmosphere of “dunno-where-they-are.”
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In this piece Miss Dorothy Brunton plays perhaps her most important part—that off the adopted daughter Sylvia, and in the character sings in a much improved and effective manner, giving altogether a most creditable rendering of the young, proper and affectionate girl. Miss Brunton has the song of the piece, “Is This Love at Last,” a waltz number of haunting quality. She also scored in “By the Sea” with an effective chorus, and running through the refrain at times is heard the “swish” of the far resounding sea, as the rollers lazily chase each other upon the sands of Beauville. Miss Brunton, of course, looks a delightful picture, and acts with spirit and charm. Miss Gertrude Glyn as Chi-Chi, a dancer, is in this piece a character of minor importance, but Miss Glyn made her as bright and convincing as possible, and scored successes in “The Bubbles,” and in her duet with Mr. C.H. Workman. Miss Florence Vie as the separated wife of the lumber king was quite in her element, and in her quaint appearance, costumes and sayings must be held responsible for a large proportion of the laughter of the evening. As the doctor’s wife Miss Marie Eaton achieved a distinct musical success; the two adjectives must be taken as bracketed together, for her singing of the music was as distinctly successful as the words of the songs were indistinct and unintelligible. Perhaps now that Germany is under a cloud, operatic artists will reconsider the true value of “lieder ahne worte,” and give the author, as well as the composer, an opportunity of being heard and understood. Miss Nellie Hobson as Madame Rabelais, and Miss Gwen Hughes as a nurse, were respectively “bits of all-right,” and Miss Cecil Bradley filled the role of a page with marked success. The gentlemen in the cast may be briefly summarised as “all there” in dialogue, music, dancing, action and the provocation of merriment. They were Messrs. Field Fisher, W.H. Rawlins, C.H. Workman, Paul Plunket, Alfred Frith and Fred Maguire. More of them next week. During the third act a dance by Mr. Victor Lauschmann and Mdlle. Vlasta Novotna was warmly appreciated. The piece was enthusiastically received, and will prove a shining Easter attraction.
Punch (Melbourne), Thursday, 1 April 1915, p.32, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138698513
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HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE
The complaint as to a slump in matters theatrical can scarcely be well-founded considering the capital attendances at the regular theatres, notwithstanding the counter attractions of picture-shows innumerable. Her Majesty’s Theatre is packed nightly. On Saturday night hundreds were turned away from the doors. “High Jinks” went as befits its name—merrily and boisterously. The piece is strong in comedians, who keep the ball rolling briskly. Mr. W.H. Rawlins is a great favourite as Mr. J.J. Jeffreys, who curses his fate, in being called after the former champion of the prize ring. Poor Jeffreys has come to Paris for the cure, which seems to consist of pleasant treatment by a comely nurse who has no serious objection to playing up high-jinks when required. Mr. Rawlins and Miss Florence Vie are very successful in their humorous duet. “Come Hither,” Mr. C.H. Workman is bright, brisk and lively throughout, and is heard to great advantage in the scene, “Faust in Ragtime,” in which he shares the honours with Miss Marie Eaton and Mr. Fred Maguire. Mr. Field Fisher carries the important burden of Dr. Thorne lightly, Mr. Paul Plunket, gives characteristic tone and action to the impressionable and fire-eating French husband, Mr. Alfred Frith does splendidly as Colonel Slaughter, especially in the banquet scene. The dancing introduced into “High Jinks” forms an important and attractive feature. The pas de deux by Miss Vlasta Novotna and Mr. Victor Lauschmann is a brilliant and graceful measure, and is loudly applauded, whilst the eccentric double-rag dancing of Mr. Jack Hooker is something in the way of a revolution in step-dancing. The graceful movements and dances incidental to the action of the piece are highly creditable to their arranger, Miss Minnie Hooper. “High Jinks” will be produced every evening until further notice.
Punch (Melbourne), Thursday, 8 April 1915, p.32, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138698627
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HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE
Packed in every part, there was quite a gala spirit rife at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday night. From the opening of the overture there was a breath of espiegle and gaiety about the new production, “High Jinks,” that set everyone in a good humor. There is plenty of dash and “ginger” in it from start to finish, and never a dull moment. Events are hurried at the breathless speed and with all the hustle which characterises American productions. The music is bright and sparkling, with catchy airs and a pretty waltz refrain, which, however, is not intruded too much. It has also that rare thing in musical comedy—a plot which is followed almost without a break to the very end. It is thin, but it serves to keep up a strong interest right to the close of the third act.
The story opens outside Dr. Robert Thorne’s surgery, a busy specialist, who is brusque in manner. Patients arrive to consult him, and Dick Wayne, a friend, drops in. He is the inventor of a wonderful perfume, “High Jinks,” with magical qualities, so that a mere whiff makes one genial and ready to frivol. The doctor receives him snappily, then, to make some amends, says he will take his perfume and have a look at it. He does so, with the effect that it makes him skittish, and he scandalises several persons by being caught dancing most energetically. Finally, in the very act of kissing Madame Rabelais, he is detected by her husband, who challenges the doctor and gives him the choice of being killed or allowing Monsieur to kiss Mrs. Thorne. The latter alternative is chosen. The lady is to be at Beauvllle, but a little plot is arranged to have a pseudo wife represent her; and an actress, the adopted daughter of an ex-stage favorite, is chosen to play the role. But Wayne is a devoted admirer of her, and has watched her night after night from a box, and he begins to suspect and to be furiously jealous when he sees her in a compromising situation. There is another patient, who is sent off to recruit with a nurse, J.J. Jeffreys, who tells how he has not seen his wife, whom he married from the stage, for over 20 years.
They all arrive at Beauville, even the stately, real wife of the doctor, and there are many muddles and explanations before it is all straightened out.
To do justice to the production, a specially-picked company is necessary, especially on the masculine side, for each role has to be sustained by a comedian with a sense of character, and at the same time a dancer and more or less a singer. Such a company the management has been lucky enough to find, and consequently “High Jinks,” which is beautifully staged and mounted, has a dash and breeziness which are quite irresistible. All the parts fit the performers as though made for them. C.H. Workman is excellent as Dick Wayne, a role in which he displays acting ability of no mean quality, real vocal talent, and proves himself a dancer who is wonderfully light on his feet. Of Field Fisher, as Dr. Thorne, much the same may be said, except that he is not quite so well endowed as a singer. But right through he keeps to the spirit of the part in an effective way.
Paul Plunket is admirable as the excitable, volatile Frenchman, Mons. Jacques Rabelais. Alfred Frith, as Colonel Slaughter, an elderly military dandy and fire-eater, is another well-worked-out role which provokes humor, and W.H. Rawlins is first-rate as J.J. Jeffreys, who has mislaid a wife and daughter and acquired a too pronounced figure and some digestive ills.
Marie Eaton makes one of the most striking successes on the feminine side. Like Mr. Workman, she comes out strong as quite a dramatic actress, a singer of high merit, and a dancer. The trio in the third act, in which she, C.H. Workman, and Fred Maguire give the “Faust” burlesque in ragtime, represents something very fine vocally, such as is rarely heard in musical comedy; it approaches very nearly grand opera, and arouses the audience to a regular salvo of applause.
Florence Vie, in the comedy part of Adelaide Fontaine, the mislaid wife, is next in prominence and scores a big popular success, for she bubbles over with humor and good spirits.
Dorothy Brunton is sweet and dainty as Sylvia Dale, her adopted daughter, with just the right dash of assertive spirit to prevent Sylvia being too cloyingly sweet. Gertrude Glyn has not much opportunity as Mdlle. Chi Chi, but manages to make the part stand out, and does well in her one song and dance.
Gwen Hughes as the nurse at Doctor Thorne’s, Nellie Hobson as Madame Rabelais, Cecil Bradley as a page, Fred Maguire as Johnnie Doe, and Chris. Wren as Garcon, are well placed in the minor roles. Mdlle. Novotna and Victor Lauschmann give a graceful dance number in the third act.
There are many new ideas in stage effects and movements, and the whole production reflects the greatest credit upon Harry B. Burcher, who supervised the whole. The orchestra, under Victor Champion, does excellent work.
Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday, 1 April 1915, p.25, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146577173
Coming on the heels of the Gilbert and Sullivan season at Her Majesty’s Theatre, musical comedy has its differences, its defects, thrown into sharper contrast, but “High Jinks” is as well fitted to stand the strain as anything in the line produced of recent years. That this kind of entertainment maintains its popularity there can be no doubt. The air and attitude of the large audience which welcomed it back on Saturday evening offered convincing proof upon that point. The gaiety of the house was infectious—it increased with the progress of the frolic, which is admirably arranged to create expectation at the outset and carry one on from that pleasant state to the feeling of unbounded, irresponsible gaiety reached in the climax. “High Jinks,” if not consecutive, is sparkling, melodious, and graceful all through. No author has put his name to it, but possibly a dozen have contributed to what is, after all, the least important part of an entertainment, brought to perfection chiefly by stage art and experience. As “The Mikado” has a fresh musical surprise for us in each melodious moment, so “High Jinks,” in other ways and by wholly different charms, keeps one simmering always, sometimes shouting impulsive and unstinted approval. As with “Seven Keys to Baldpate,” [the George M. Cohan play starring Fred Niblo then playing at the Theatre Royal] it is better to leave a good deal for revelation on the stage. Mention of the idea is almost sufficient—a magical perfume, the secret of which is possessed by an American doctor resident in Paris, and the effect of which even at a single sniff is to make moody people bright and bright people intensely gay. It is an elixir calculated to do much good in some communities, maybe harm in others, though no moral that anyone can discover is hinged on or even suggested at Her Majesty’s. The doctor who administers it, and who at the outset is impelled only by scientific zeal, the glamour of a great discovery, is not immune to his own medicine. So he is infected, and his remedy for all ailments—not discoverable in the pharmacopoeia—is to make love to his patients, serious or frivolous, maiden or married alike. If husbands find fault with the method and seek interviews, a whiff of the magic perfume removes all jealousy, all gloom, and thence on—to use imagery suitable to the situation—they are “in it up to their eyebrows.” Two of the acts are set at a charming French seaside resort, with all that the atmosphere and the situation offer or suggest. For the rest of the story—the detail that completes it, the bits in parentheses that have nothing to do with it—but are not less welcome on that account—the curious, as in the case of “Baldpate,” are best referred to the theatre. To those who fail to find full enjoyment, either the magic perfume itself or an everyday tonic is prescribed. In curt analysis, “High Jinks” may be defined as a hybrid between the lighter, brighter side of musical comedy and the just-deceased revue. It is produced—and better played and sung—by the company which appeared in “The Girl in the Taxi,” with whom Miss Dorothy Brunton, now in the lead, has been winning fresh distinction. Miss Brunton has in this instance chiefly a singing part, and fate in the allotment of its favours is unkind to her only in the last act, where she is mainly a picturesque looker-on. In the earlier scenes, however, Miss Brunton does more than enough for her reputation—and chiefly in the song “Is This Love at Last?” In such a production as this the chief comedian is of vital importance. As the doctor driven to gaiety by the diablerie of his own medicine, Mr. Field Fisher has altogether a different kind of character to the waiter of the Jeunesse Doree restaurant, and fresh opportunity reveals in him new and highly entertaining qualities as a comedian. Mr. Fisher is no specialty artist. He grasps and reveals the humorous and the ridiculous on the broadest lines. The doctor has two wives, the one taken before, the other after the perfume. Miss Florence Vie, the after effect, has run away from one husband, a rough and ready lumberman of the back woods, who, getting within range of the joy-bringer, is transformed in the usual way. Miss Vie is decorative, musical, and, like the Waverley pen, “a boon and a blessing to men,” while Miss Marie Eaton, as the wife of the scientific era, sings supremely well, though always with more regard to the value of musical notes than song words, which are, however, of lesser importance. The comedy is sprinkled with good songs and bright situations, and some distinct, if not vital, characters. The frivolous Frenchman of the English stage is very often a grotesque caricature. As a concession to the Entente, Mr. Plunket in this instance corrects such errors without losing anything in effect upon the light side. His Jacques Rabelais is not very Rabelaisian—just Rabelaisian enough. Miss Gertrude Glynn, Miss Gwen Hughes, Mr. Frith, Mr. W.H. Rawlins—who is very happy indeed as the transformed and rejuvenated man of the pine woods—and other artists equip this comedy in a way that offers little chance for betterment. All that stage art can do in colour design and effect to give it suitable setting is accomplished; the dancing of Vlasta Novotna and Victor Lauschmann wins unbounded admiration. Nothing better in fun, frivolity, light-hearted and graceful entertainments—with just sufficient of the spice of wickedness—has recently been staged at Her Majesty’s than “High Jinks.”
The Australasian (Melbourne), Saturday, 3 April 1915, p.24, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article142970830
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The critic for The Leader, however, was far more grudging in his praise and seemed to regard the whole enterprise as unworthy of his serious appraisal, and of possessing only a few redeeming features.
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High Jinks, produced at Her Majesty’s by The Girl in the Taxi Company, is described as “a musical jollity,” and is certainly entitled to no higher commendation. It has been devised for the amusement of those who are content with rollicking farce and desire no more intellectual form of entertainment. There is no deception practised, for the title is quite sufficient to indicate the nature of the show. Those of the audience who are not satisfied with the broad effects which evoke laughter, with the inspiring music, and the dancing which seems to be the outcome of irrepressible influence, have no business to give their patronage. High Jinks may be taken to represent the lowest phase to which musical comedy has descended, though we should not like to say that there may not be in the lowest deep a lower deep. It is redeemed from its worst aspects by the tuneful quality of some of the musical accompaniment, and by the kind of tarantelle dancing which furnishes its principal attraction.
The idea, if it can be called an idea, which is contained in the story, is found in the mysterious virtues attaching to a certain perfume. A whiff of this is sufficient to overturn the mental balance of the most staid and correct of individuals, and to send him capering with a nimbleness which defies any sense of restraint. A doctor of irritable temperament and sober demeanor, who was induced to try it by his friend the explorer becomes a new being, eager for amatory converse with his patients and ready to seize on any opening for intrigue. He is discovered by a jealous Frenchman kissing his wife, and to avoid a duel prefers to face the threatened alternative of a retaliation in kind. His own wife he sends off on a wild goose chase, while he arranges for temporarily filling her place with an accommodating dancer, who is quite ready to be kissed by the indignant Frenchman on a basis of substantial pecuniary reward, but as her terms are exorbitant, the doctor thinks he can make more economical arrangements by engaging the services of a grass widow and her adopted daughter. Then follow an inextricable series of complications which are supposed to be irresistibly amusing. Whenever there is danger of a hitch, the intoxicating perfume is brought into action and sets everybody's legs wildly gyrating. Those who are willing to succumb to the suggestion that there is something exhilarating in this form of humor will find ample excuse for riotous laughter, but it is a kind of fooling which may well make the judicious grieve.
The only reasonable occasion for satisfaction in High Jinks will be discoverable in the music, the dancing, and the setting. There are some catchy songs interspersed throughout the performance, and all the principal characters are given an opportunity. The main theme, repeated again and again, has a tuneful quality, and the parody of Faust, given by Marie Eaton, C.H. Workman and Fred Maguire, is of quite ambitious character, though the conversion of Gounod’s magic tone into ragtime may be condemned as a desecration. The dancing is a distinctive feature of the performance, and apart altogether from the funny capers which are an adjunct of the perfume, there are ballets of an attractive kind, and a specially delightful illustration of the poetry of motion supplied by Vlasta Novotna and Victor Lauschmann. The costuming and setting of the play are other merits to be acknowledged.
The company does the most it can with the material at its service, though the conditions are not as favorable as those under which the original reputation was obtained. Mr. C.H. Workman is most to be pitied, for his part of the explorer who has to whisk about with the scent bottle is an impossible one. As some compensation, he is given more chances of displaying his vocal ability. He has a song, a duet and the Faust trio, but we miss his humor. Miss Marie Eaton is in greater prominence than usual, and when she has singing to do acquits herself well. Miss Dorothy Brunton bids fair to become a great favorite with the public, and though now lacking in certainty, has qualities which should enable her to achieve success. A pleasant appearance, a charm of manner, and a voice which enables her to sing prettily, are good assurances of recommendation. Miss Florence Vie seems to experience a joy in living which she communicates to the audience, and her style of humor finds a convenient environment in High Jinks. Miss Gertrude Glynn as Chi-Chi, the dancer, combines vocal and pedal gymnastics. Her song, The Bubble, with its quaint accompaniment of colored air balloons, was distinctly novel. The doctor was played by Mr. Field Fisher with a thorough appreciation of its spirit. Mr. Alfred Frith as a volatile Colonel, and Mr. Paul Plunket as the indignant Frenchman, made the most they could of their parts. Mr. W.H. Rawlins as an American lumber king, who was not averse to amorous adventure while in search of his long lost wife, was appropriately ponderous, with an occasional outburst into amazing agility. Aid was rendered also in minor measure by Miss Gwen Hughes as a nurse, by Miss Nellie Hobson as the kissed wife of the Frenchman, by Miss Cecil Bradley as a page, and by a young male member of the company who contributed a lively step dance.
The Leader (Melbourne), Saturday, 3 April 1915, p.34, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91370174
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The theatrical gossip columns in the daily press and weekly periodicals continued to promote public interest in the entertainment world by reporting items of interest.
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IN THE PROMPTER’S BOX
Mr. Harry Burcher, “producer” of “High Jinks,” is the latest to sing the praises of the Australian chorus girl. “Her versatility is simply remarkable,” says Mr. Burcher. “In London a chorus girl generally remains a chorus girl, or, at any rate, is seldom able to distinguish herself in an emergency such as the Australian girl is capable of. We have in the chorus of the ‘High Jinks’ company, at the present time, at least six girls who could step out of the ranks and play parts if called upon. The same applies, to some extent, to the male members of the chorus, who are far above the average type of chorus man we have in London. The ranks of the Australian chorus provide a remarkable amount of material for turning into highly accomplished artists.”
The Herald (Melbourne), Wednesday, 28 April 1915, p.1
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Harry Burcher was as good as his word and during his tenure as a producer (or stage director in modern parlance) with JCW, he helped to promote the careers of many Australian performers in his productions, including Madge Elliott, who he brought out of the ballet and cast in her first acting and singing roles, culminating with the titular Cabaret Girl in 1923.
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On and Off the Stage
“I’ve just had quite an interesting experience,” said C.H. Workman, the famous comedian in “High Jinks,” at Melbourne Her Majesty’s. He had just emerged from a book-seller’s shop, and displayed a copy of an English souvenir of “The Chocolate Soldier,” in which he created the part of Bumerli. “I was buying a magazine,” he explained, “when the man behind the counter looked at me sharply for a moment, and then remarked, ‘I think I have got something here that will interest you.’ He handed me a copy of the ‘Chocolate Soldier’ souvenir. ‘You're Mr. Workman, I think?’ I admitted that I was. ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘would you care to accept this? I have often thought I would like to meet the original of that picture of Bumerli on the cover. I saw you in the piece in England, and it does seem strange that I should meet you in Melbourne.’ It was quite a strange sensation to me to see my own picture on a periodical thousands of miles from England, and so unexpectedly.”
Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday, 29 Apr 1915, p.20
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Widespread public sympathy for Belgian refugees displaced from their homeland by the German invasion, which had precipitated Britain’s declaration of war against the aggressors (with Australia following suit in support of the Empire) resulted in many charitable appeals to support the Belgian Relief Fund to provide food and clothing for the beleaguered nation. One such appeal was Belgian Rose Day held on 8 April (to mark the birthday of King Albert of Belgium) which saw Charles Workman and his fellow cast members rubbing shoulders with the Australian Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, and Melbourne’s own hometown operatic diva, Nellie Melba, who was just then embarking on the patriotic fund-raising work that would earn her the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in early 1918. (As a world famous exponent of the role of ‘Marguerite’ in Gounod’s Faust, Melba’s reaction to the interpolated “Faust in Ragtime” trio in High Jinks went, sadly, unrecorded. A curiously comical juxtaposition was provided by a charity matinee staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne in aid of the Actors Association of Australia Benevolent Fund and the Royal Comic Opera Company's Sick Fund, on the afternoon of Friday, 8 September 1916, in which Melba sang the prison scene from Faust to end the first part and the New English Musical Comedy Company concluded the entertainment with a performance of the complete second act from High Jinks, which included the musical “travesty” performed therein wherein Faust comes to bail Marguerite out of prison, and Mephistopheles, who has a taxi waiting outside, bewails the fact that it is ticking off dollars while the trio are singing.)
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Decorated motor cars paraded the streets, bands of pierrots, and masked, mysterious ladies sang patriotic songs. The streets were gay with red, yellow and black banners and flags. Several of the shop windows were dressed in the national colours of Belgium, and through the crowded streets went on busily the clinking of coins into tin boxes. Each affair of this kind seems to bring out more girls to collect—there were nearly 700 yesterday in the city alone. Most of the collecting activity seemed to be displayed in the forenoon. The 100,000 artificial roses were sold out by midday, but there still remained the postcards, ribbons, and the real roses. At luncheon time the principal cafes were decorated with roses and Belgian colours, and a number of politicians and leading citizens took advantage of the occasion to say pleasantly true things about King Albert and in praise of the people who stood for a fortnight against the brutal might of Germany.
In the afternoon there was a parade through the city of the decorated motor cars. The motor car is not a thing which lends itself much to decoration, but indubitably the best effect was that obtained by the car which headed the procession—a chariot in blue and white, with two white swans perched over the bonnet, and giving an effect of Lohengrin. The second car, in autumn colours, was also well designed and a good effect was gained by the one which came later in the procession—the body being massed around with blue and white flowers with a Union Jack design at the back, and a pole in the centre to which gaily-coloured streamers led.
His Excellency the Governor and Lady Stanley came in during the afternoon, and halted for a while at Lady Allen’s kiosk opposite the Town Hall; moving on to see the return of the motor procession at the Federal Parliament House. The weather throughout was pleasant and sunny, though rather warm …
MADAME MELBA WINS PRIZE.
At quarter past 2 o’clock the decorated cars, some of which had been acting as kiosks during the forenoon, drove up opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral, under the eye of the Lady Mayoress, who judged them, and awarded the prize to Madame Melba. The car for which the first prize was given was that mentioned above as reminiscent of Lohengrin. It was a perfect bower of blue and white, most elaborately and tastefully handled. It was the only thing in the procession which did not look like a motor car, and the prize could only have gone elsewhere by a shocking error of taste. Half a dozen banners were given to half a dozen other cars, and the procession left for the city, via Collins street to William street, and thence through Bourke street to Parliament House. Madame Melba’s car went first, Madame herself distributing the flowers to the crowds which lined the route …
MADAME MELBA’S SHARE.
The official luncheon in [the dining-room of the Oriental Hotel] was given by Mesdames Percy Russell, R. Hallenstein, V. Wisher, and Arthur Woolcott, who had the use of the lounge as a depot. The principal guest was the Prime Minister (Mr. Fisher). The table at which they sat was ornamented by an immense canopy of roses amid foliage, and from the centre rose a fountain of rose-scented water. At the given time the Prime Minister rose and proposed the toast “His Majesty the King,” and then in a few words gave the toast of the day. Early in the afternoon preparations were made for the cafe chantant, for so many tables had been booked that, in addition to the Winter Garden, accommodation in the lounge and dining-room had to be requisitioned. A capital programme was rendered from the musicians gallery, the contributors being Miss Dorothy Brunton and Miss Florence Vie (of the “High Jinks” company), Mr. Lawrence Leonard, Mr. Fred Collier, Miss Elsie Treweek, Miss Anne Williams, Mr. H. Hamilton, Miss Rosa Walton and Miss Florence Finn. Programs were sold for silver coins, and a few which Madame Melba autographed realised fancy prices, as much as £1 being given for one.
At the conclusion of the procession of decorated cars, Madame Melba took tea at the Oriental, her arrival being announced by Mr. F.A. McCarty, who said he had just received from her funds amounting to close on £30, which she had collected during her tour through the city. Madame Melba had intended putting up several articles for sale by auction, but she felt too fatigued to conduct the sale, so Mr. Workman of the “High Jinks” company, and Mr. P. Bush, of the Theatre Royal company, acted as auctioneers with the result that £13/12/6 was raised from two Belgian flags (£8/15/), a prize rose (£1/10/), and two bottles of “High Jinks” scent (£3/7/0). The proceeds from the tea tickets amount to close on £30.
The Argus (Melbourne), Friday, 9 April 1915, p.6 [extracts], http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1508710
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AUCTION AT THE SAVOY.
The members of the High Jinks company gathered at the Savoy Cafe on Saturday night with the object of helping the Belgian fund. Mr. C.H. Workman, with the co-operation of Mr. H.B. Burcher, directed the proceedings, a feature of which was an auction sale by Mr. Workman. A £1 note was purchased by Mr. Falkiner for £110, and he also secured a pair of poplin curtains for £24. A collection by Miss Marie Eaton realised £17 8/, the total amount received being £131 18/. During the evening an entertainment was given by Mr. Workman, Mr. [Victor] Lauschmann, Mr. Alexander Yakovleuko, Mme. Clere and Miss Eaton.
The Leader (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday, 3 April 1915, p.50
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Having established his home-base in Melbourne with his wife, “Tottie” and son, Roy, Charles Workman also helped to organise further charitable events with the co-operation of fellow citizens of his adopted city and the active participation of Mrs. Workman.
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Mr. Workman’s Garden Fete
Mr. C.H. Workman, of the “High Jinks” company, with Miss Dorothy Brunton, has organised a garden fete and café chantant, in aid of the Belgian Fund, to be given at Ascog, Southey street, St. Kilda, next Saturday, May 8. There will be numerous attractions, including the attendance of a large theatrical party, who will appear by permission of J.C. Williamson, Ltd. Those taking part in the program will include Mr. Workman, Miss Dorothy Brunton, Mr. Hector Goldspink, Mr. Willie Conway, Miss Elsie Warman, and members of the “High Jinks” company.
The Argus (Melbourne), Saturday, 1 May 1915, p.18, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1513887
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FETE AND CAFE CHANTANT.
The residents of Ascog and Whinbank, St. Kilda, were the successful organisers of a garden fete combined with a café chantant and tennis tournament, which was held in the spacious grounds of Ascog, lent by Mrs. J. Grace, on Saturday, May 8, in order to raise funds for the Belgians. Flags and streamers in the Belgian colours decorated the stalls which had been erected on the front lawns, and the gay scene was enhanced by all the young girls assisting wearing white frocks, with aprons and caps in our national and Belgian colours. The opening Ceremony was performed by Mr. C.F. Beauchamp early in the afternoon, but, though the sale of gifts only then commenced, the tennis tournament had been in progress from 10 o’clock a.m.
The arrangements for this were supervised by Miss Mamie Marks, who had been assisted in the preliminary work by Mr. E. Trend. There were between thirty and forty entries, and some exciting matches were witnessed in the concluding rounds. When the final contest took place the daylight was rapidly departing, consequently it was difficult for the players to distinguish the ball. The successful pair, Mr. A Whyte and Miss Jones, just managed to win from Mr. K. Trend and Miss Essie Price. The trophies for this tournament had been donated by W. Drummond and Co. and the balls by the Dunlop Rubber Co. The café chantant was in the billiard lounge, and throughout the afternoon it proved a great attraction, as a large number of well-known artists gave their services on the program, including Mr. C.H. Workman, Mr. Fred Maguire, Mr. C. Wren, Miss Dorothy Brunton, Miss Queenie Paul (all of the “High Jinks” Company), the Misses Elsa Warman, Mansell Kirby, Master and Miss Scurrah, and Messrs. Hector Goldspink, E.H. Leahy, G. Chant, and W. Conway.
The various side-shows included Aunt Sally (in charge of Mr. Trend), bran pies, fortune telling, spinning jennies, motor and pony rides (the car and ponies having been lent by Miss Simmonds and Miss Joseph respectively.) Tables for afternoon tea out on the broad verandah, and those who directed the arrangements there were Mesdames Workman, James, and Richardson. A well-stocked stall for sweets was in charge of Mesdames C.F. Beauchamp, J.B. Macglashan, and Miss Beauchamp; and another which displayed an attractive show of cut flowers and pot plants was managed by Mrs. Raphael. Among those who sold sprays for coats or dresses was Miss Gwen Hughes, of the “High Jinks” Co. In the evening Mrs. J. Grace arranged a palais de danse, which was attended by some hundreds of visitors, and was a great success. The committee of direction for the fete, &c., was formed by Messrs. C.H. Workman, E. Trend, D.O. Reeson, T. Grace, and J.B. Macglashan. It is estimated that the proceeds will result in about £100 being handed to the Belgian Relief Funds.
The Australasian (Melbourne), Sat, 15 May 1915, p.40, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article142973169
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N.B. £1 in 1915 would be equivalent to approximately $108.50 in today’s currency; thus £10 = $1,085 and £100 = $10,850, etc. (ref: https://www.rba.gov.au/calculator/annualPreDecimal.html )
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Other wartime charities were also the beneficiaries of the theatrical profession’s largesse in supporting worthy causes by donating their talents gratis, which also extended to the management providing the performance venues without cost, especially on Sundays when the staging of regular theatrical entertainments was prohibited in accordance with the Lord’s Day Observance Act. Such extra-curricular activities that took place on the Sabbath day were generally given the billing of “Sacred Concerts” in order to circumvent the law. The “Grand Entertainment” organised by the tenor, Walter Kirby, in aid of the Australian and British Red Cross Funds staged at the Theatre Royal on Sunday, 16 May was thus advertised in the local press with the stated proviso that the artists taking part “Will Sing or Talk, as the Spirit moves, in Sacred or Sunday Mood.”
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“HIGH JINKS” COMPANY EFFORT
An attractive program is being arranged for the entertainment to be given at the Theatre Royal next Sunday night in aid of the Red Cross funds. The whole of the “High Jinks” company have volunteered their services. The entertainment will commence at a quarter to 8 o’clock. In view of the urgent need of funds for the Red Cross a big success is hoped for.
The Argus (Melbourne), Friday, 14 May 1915, p.12
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The Melbourne season of High Jinks finally wound up after a highly successful 8 weeks, with the closing performance on Friday, 21 May ending in particularly high spirits (including those of the bottled variety!)
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Animated scenes and humorous happenings marked the last night of the Highs Jinks company at Her Majesty's Theatre. The members of the company had made themselves very popular during their stay in Melbourne, and “in front” amongst the crowded audience were many friends of the artists, who helped to keep the proceedings throughout thoroughly lively—from first to last. The artists themselves entered into the spirit of the evening. The big ragtime scene was one of the hits of the evening, being embellished with many incidents that were not set down in the “script” of the stage manager. It had to be repeated thrice in response to insistent demands, and each time it was gone through with variations. The climax was reached when Mr. Paul Plunket seized a lady member of the wardrobe staff who had been watching interestedly from the “wings” and waltzed her across the stage into the melee of frenziedly-working ragtimers. The final fall of the curtain was the signal for a prolonged demonstration of applause, and a lavish presentation of flowers to the lady members of the company, as well as mysterious looking parcels—the contents of which could be guessed at—to the gentlemen of the cast.
The Leader (Melbourne), Saturday, 22 May 1915, p.49, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91371317
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The New English Musical Comedy Company then made their way Westwards in preparation for their first appearance in the South Australian capital of Adelaide.
[To be continued.]
MR. FIELD FISHER.
A man of varied talents and varied interest, Mr. Field Fisher—who is Dr. Robert Thorne in “High Jinks,” around whom all the story circles—is a very interesting man to meet in private life. He is by no means wrapped up in his theatrical work alone, although he is keenly interested in it, but at the same time he has a little attention to spare for the questions of the day, and so can talk about other things than the theatre. In fact, he does not talk “shop” much at all, although if that subject crops up he follows it without any marked reluctance, for there is no affected pose about him.
He is caught at Her Majesty’s Theatre one morning, and then ensues a search for a quiet corner in which to talk. This involves a regular journey of discovery over a dark stage and round corners, upstairs and downstairs, until we settle in the Lounge, as every other place seems to be in the hands of energetic cleaners. There, in the only two unshrouded chairs, we make ourselves comfortable, and Mr. Fisher almost immediately begins to talk of newspaper work, and says—
“I know something of press-work, for I used to do some of it, or, rather, drawing for the papers—for the Harmsworth publications. Yes, humorous sketches and that kind of thing. The first sketching I ever did was costume designing. This was when I was with Laurence Irving (I was with him for a long time) when he was going to put on the play ‘Margaret Catchpole,’ which, by the way, is Australian, isn't it? At least, she ended her life out here or something of the sort; he was in some difficulty about the costumes, and l undertook to design them, which I did. Then the next thing I attempted was posters and little sketches. One day a member of the staff of one of the papers, ‘The Sketch,’ saw one and asked to be allowed to show it to the editor. He sent for me, and so I was launched on my newspaper work, and did it for some time, finally working for several of the Harmsworth papers and for ‘Comic Cuts,’ ‘Ally Sloper’ and such publications.
“No, I do not do it now. I found it meant that I needed to be in the city, and was too much of a tie; I used to have to be at the offices to see the editor and talk things over.”
Mr. Fisher then launches off into talk about the war, suggested by a sudden recollection of the first actor to lose his life there, whom he knew personally. “It was sad about Mackinder, wasn’t it—one of our best all-round actors. He was offered a commission, but refused, and said he preferred to serve as a private with the men he knew and had always been with. He had been in a position to earn a handsome salary—about seventy pounds a week the year round—and he gave it all up. Did you hear how he died? They received an order one night to change trenches, eight of them; he was the last. When they reached the new trench they found they were only seven, so went back to look for him and found him on his back. They asked him if he were hurt,’ and he answered, ‘I don't know,’ and died immediately. 
“There are so many who have given up so much, and gone to the front. It is fine, isn’t it?”
Then Laurence Irving’s sad death in the “Empress of Ireland” wreck is mentioned, and Mr. Fisher says:
“I was to have been with him then. Even to the Sunday before he left for America it was all arranged, and we had dinner with him to talk things over. Then this offer for Australia came and I decided to accept it, and in consequence was not with them on the wreck. Yes, he could have been saved had he not gone back for his wife, but that was just what he would do; it was just like him.  He was a most absent-minded man; but good natured and a genius. It was only just beginning to be realised in England too. H.B. was the elder son, and inherited the bulk of the money, and at Sir Henry's death the father's mantle fell upon his shoulders, and Laurence had no such help, and had to fight his own way.
“One incident I recall about his absent-mindedness. When I went to America with him on a previous visit, he said the day after we arrived: ‘Come on, and I'll give you a real American dinner!’ This was about four o’clock in the afternoon, after rehearsal. We went to a fashionable restaurant and had a splendid dinner; then the bill came and Laurence put his hand in his pocket, and said, ‘I haven't any money; but it doesn’t matter, you pay.’ He never did have any money. Well, I had about a dollar, so I said: I have no money, either.’ He said: ‘Never mind,’ and explained to the waiter, who he was and that he would send and settle the bill. But the waiter would have none of it, and said: ‘It’s all very well, but that won’'t go with me; we have had that before.’ So after some argument it ended by us going off to Irving’s hotel, accompanied by the waiter, for he would not trust us.”
“You have had command performances at Sandringham?”
“Yes, several times. That was when we had our own little company—my brother and my two sisters. It was known as the Field Fisher Quartette Company, and we used to appear at ‘at homes’ and private entertainments, giving a musical show of a refined nature. 
“It was rather funny how we came to have our first Royal command. We were appearing at the pier pavilion at Ryde—that is near Cowes, Isle of Wight, you know. One of my sisters came off the stage and said: ‘There are two men in front who seem to be trying to be free. I wish you would go and give them a look.' You see, the girls had been rather strictly brought up, and my mother always travelled with us, so they were well looked after. They were fine girls, I must say, though they are my sisters.
“So I went on, and had a look at two men in yachting costume in the front row, and I gave them a look. We continued giving them looks during the rest of the performance.
“Then as we were walking down the pier on our way home, my sisters being on in front, we saw the two men stop them and speak to them—one being very tall, the other short. My brother and I naturally hurried up, and the tall one turned to us—
“I was just saying to your sisters I think they must have forgotten me. I am Abercrombie, and I had the pleasure of meeting you at Lady So-and-So’s.'
“It was quite right, we had been engaged by the Countess and had met the Earl of Abercrombie, and he turned to his companion and said: ‘May I introduce the Prince of Wales?’ That was the present King. He complimented us upon our performance, and said, ‘You must come on board the yacht and do it for us, will you? Of course we were delighted, and they asked could we go the next day. We had to explain we could not manage that, as all our things were packed ready to leave, as that was our last night there, and we were to go to Southampton. But we said we could go on the Monday, and it was arranged. They told us they had been on ‘the yacht’; it was the Cowes Regatta week, you know; but had run short of matches, so had landed at Ryde to get some, and seen our posters, and Lord Abercrombie remembered us and said we must see this—they are good. After telling them how we had come near to throwing them out, we parted.
“We went to the yacht on the Monday, and found one deck all arranged with a nice little stage all fixed up with red at one end. My brother and I were on this fixing things and having a bit of an argument, because he wanted the piano at one side and I thought it ought to be more up the stage, and he was telling me not to be a blithering idiot, and that kind of thing, when I caught a whiff of a cigar and turned to find King Edward standing just inside the curtain watching us. Goodness knows how long he had been there.
“When we started the performance before the King and Queen and Prince and Princess of Wales, and the German Emperor, by the way, who was there on his yacht, the ‘Hohenzollern,’ for the regatta week, we were deadly nervous, you can guess, and feeling pretty anxious as we opened, as we always did, with an instrumental quartette, for they were all good performers. My instrument was the banjo, because I was always the unmusical one. The King—King Edward—was sitting just a yard or two away from us, and when we were about half-way through he settled himself back contentedly and said ‘Delightful, delightful.’ So, you can guess that bucked us up a bit and things went better after that. We had supper with them before we left and found them all charming—so unaffected and natural. Why, another time when we were appearing at Sandringham, the present King came along the passage to the stage himself and said to me: ‘I want you to do that little thing of yours—about the Frenchman attempting an after-dinner speech—because the French Envoy is here and I want to watch his face.’ I did not much like doing it under the circumstances, because I did not know how the Envoy would take it in the absurd broken English. But it was a Royal command, and I had to. I gave it, and they all watched him and laughed delightedly at his expression. They are absolutely unaffected and natural in this way.
“In fact, we appeared at many country houses for the leading people, and always found them most considerate and charming. Only on two occasions were people not nice to us. Once was in Hertfordshire. We were engaged to appear at a country house there. We were driven to the servants' entrance, and given our dinner by the butler in a kind of pantry. Afterwards I said I would like to see the hostess, Mrs.—eh, well, I forget her name for the moment—I have a dreadful memory for names—but say Jones. He told me ‘Mrs. Jones will send for you when she is ready.’ You see, the butler was putting on airs with us, too.
“We were sent for, and I saw the hostess, and went towards her, saying 'Good evening,’ when she put her hands behind her back as though she was afraid I was going to shake hands with her.
“They had rented the place, and were giving this big affair, had sent out invitations everywhere. And Hertfordshire is probably the greatest county for country houses; there are ever so many well-known people [who] have homes there. By this time we had come to know most people who were anybody, for we had appeared so frequently at house parties. The guests had arrived and we found we knew nearly everyone. Suddenly the people of the neighbourhood—the Gowers—came rustling in; they are conservative people, keep up great style at their home, drive about with a coach and four- etc. Well, they came straight up to us, shook hands, said how pleased they were to meet us again, and chatted to my sisters. When the hostess saw this she nearly fell upon our necks—wanted us to stay all night, in fact, would have kept us a week or two if we would have stayed.
“We had our little company for eight years. Then one sister married, and later the other. My brother and I tried to fix things up and engaged two girls who had had musical comedy experience and were clever, but somehow we could not make things go the same. We had always worked very hard, we were up at nine every morning practising and trying things over. But with the other girls it was not the same. They did not take the same interest and would not work. When we were on tour they used to go off and have a good time. People began to say the Field Fisher quartette was not the same—had gone off. So we disbanded. My brother gave up the profession, and is now a barrister, and I am the only vagabond left.
“Since then I have been on the stage. I had some experience before—I had appeared with the [Henry] Irving company as a boy.”
Mr. Fisher talks of his work and how he enjoys it when he has a congenial part to play. Asked about his pastimes he says:
"Well I still keep up drawing, though not for publication. It is confined mostly to albums now. I am fond of tennis, but otherwise do not go in for any sport.”
One thing very pleasant for Australians to hear is Mr. Fisher's admiration for the all-round cleverness of the Australian girl and the chorus girl in particular. He generously implies that the grade of cleverness and versatility among the ladies of an Australian company compare favorably, not with English choristers, but English principals.
Mr. Fisher in manner and speech is very English, and has a slight suggestion in his way of speaking of what we deem the dude, but his travels have made him cosmopolitan, so that there is not the English reserve with it, which is often so difficult to pierce.
Table Talk (Melbourne), 22 April 1915, p.26, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page17433603
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- Former London Gaiety Theatre actor and singer, Lionel Mackinder was killed in action while serving as a Lance Corporal with the Royal Berkshire Regiment in France on 9 January 1915 at age 46.
- On the homeward bound voyage following a tour of North America in 1913–14, British actor, Laurence Irving (the youngest son of Sir Henry Irving and brother to H.B. Irving) and his actress wife, Mabel Hackney, perished aboard the RMS Empress of Ireland when it founded off the Canadian coast following a collision with the Norwegian collier Storstad in the early hours of 29 May 1914, with the subsequent loss of 1,012 lives.
- A typical evening’s entertainment given by the Field-Fisher Quartette (and the regard in which they were held) is provided by the following review of one of their performances:
ENTERTAINMENT AT THE ATHENÆUM.
The opening entertainment of the season at the Athenæum in Bury St. Edmund’s, on Thursday evening, was extremely successful, considering that the weather was unfavourable, and that the season is early, and for this result the fame of the Field-Fisher Quartette is responsible. The local associations of the talented visitors doubtless had something to do with the satisfactory attendance, but apart from this fact, their reputation as first-class artistes would have been sufficient to attract an audience. The quartette comprises the Misses Marjorie and Evelyn Field-Fisher, and Masters Alfred and Eric Field-Fisher. The first-named young lady has an excellent voice, and is a clever performer on the guitar, while her sister is a remarkably graceful dancer, and also manipulates with skill the mandoline. Master Alfred Field-Fisher is a banjoist and recites with wonderful expression, and his charming little brother dances and plays the mandoline with the grace and feeling of a born artiste. Indeed, to attempt to define the capabilities of any one of the quartette would be futile, and the qualifications which we have mentioned are simply those in which they excel. For variety the program could not have been improved upon, its items ranging from selections from the latest comic operas to plantation melodies, and from a pathetic ballad to Spanish and other dances. But the entertainment was something more than merely clever and pleasing. It was essentially refined. Nothing was lacking to make it popular, and yet upon no single item could the finger of a reproving censor be laid. The performance was of an undeniably high-class order, and its originality, and the cleverness of the artistes, were all the more appreciated by the select and large audience assembled. This was the first visit of the quartette to Bury, and the cordiality of their reception clearly demonstrated that they had more than fulfilled the favourable anticipations formed of them. At no time did the performance fall flat. The program scintillated with items at once tuneful and artistic, several of which were enthusiastically encored. The mandoline, guitar, and banjo quartettes were highly appreciated, the variety of the selections meeting all tastes. “The Mountebanks,” and “La Cigale,” were drawn upon in this respect, and a “selection of popular airs,” in which was introduced “Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay,” was loudly re-demanded. Miss Marjorie’s songs met with marked favour, notably the Spanish and Italian songs, “Sara Zetta” and “Nuna Palona,” and “One day Margot." The graceful dancing of Miss Evelyn was a feature of the entertainment, emphatic marks of approval rewarding her execution of the “Pas seul.” “How Grandmama danced,” was admirably recited and acted, and was followed by a minuet and tableaux by Miss Evelyn and her younger brother. She also went prettily through a Spanish dance; Master Eric, an exceedingly clever child, played the mandoline with considerable expression and wonderful correctness, and he was loudly re-called for the solo “Cavalleria Rusticana.” The recitations of Master Alfred Field-Fisher were commendable expositions of the recitative art, and he gives much promise in this respect. For each recitation he was loudly encored, and responded with humorous little selections. The dumb show recitation, “The Village Blacksmith,” which was clearly given, met with an especially enthusiastic reception. The same performer, as a banjoist, and with the bones, also lent considerable assistance to the musical portion of the program. The performance was an excellent one throughout, and the Council of the Athenæum are to be congratulated upon their first entertainment of the season.
The following was the program:
Quartette, “La Cigale,” mandolines, guitar, and banjo (introducing the songs “Doubt not” and “Our dear old home.”) The Quartette; quartette, “Sweet Innisfail,” mandolines, guitar, and banjo. The Quartette; dance (Spanish), “Toreador,” piano and castanets, Evelyn and Eric Field-Fisher: quartette, “Hock Hamburg March,” mandolines, guitar, and banjo, The Quartette; song (Spanish), a “Sara Yetta,” and (Italian) b “Nuna Palona,” guitar. Miss Field-Fisher; recitation, “Man with one hair,” Alfred Field-Fisher; song, “Rory Darling” (Hope Temple), Miss Marjorie Field-Fisher; duet, “Little Johnny Jones,” piano, Evelyn and Alfred; solo, “Cavalleria Rusticana,” mandoline, Eric Field-Fisher; dance, “Scarf dance,” piano, Evelyn; song, “Aloha” (Sandwich Island National Song), mandolines, &c., Miss Marjorie Field-Fisher; quartette, selection from “The Mountebanks,” mandolines, &c., The Quartette; quartette, “Selections of Popular Airs,” mandolines, &c. The Quartette; recitation, a “How Grandmama Danced,” Evelyn; dance, b “Minuet, with Tableaux,” piano, Evelyn and Eric; song, “One Day Margot,” piano. Miss Marjorie Field-Fisher; trio, “Cup of Tea,” piano, Evelyn, Alfred, and Eric; trio, a “Daffodil,” b “Christmas” (Lindsay Kearne) Mandolines, &c., Marjorie, Evelyn, and Eric; recitation (silent), “The Village Blacksmith,” piano, Alfred Field-Fisher; dance, “Pas Seul,” piano, Evelyn; quartette, “Plantation Melody,” mandolines, &c., The Quartette; quartette, “Good night,” mandolines, &c., The Quartette.
During the interval the performers were introduced to the Mayor and Mayoress, by whom they were warmly congratulated on their success. Mr. Field-Fisher was so much gratified by the enthusiastic reception given to his family at the Athenæum, and so pleased to renew his own acquaintance with the good old town of Bury after a lapse of many years, that he has kindly concerned to arrange for a return visit by the quartette at the earliest possible opportunity.
The Bury and Norwich Post and Suffolk Standard (Bury St. Edmunds, England), 27 September 1892, p.7
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British character comedian and singer, Alfred Field Fisher was born Thomas Alfred A. Fisher in Cambridge in the county of Cambridgeshire, England in 1876, the eldest son of brewer, Thomas Field Fisher and his wife, Louisa Fanny Fisher (nee Hanson). His siblings included an older sister, Margaret (Marjorie) Lowther Fisher (b. 1873), younger sister, Evelyn Isabel Fisher (b. 1878) and two younger brothers, Thomas Eric Field Fisher (b. 1881) and Caryl Hillyard Barclay Fisher (b. 1887). The four older children began performing together as a quartette in the late-1880s in aid of local charities at their local theatre in the London suburb of Bedford Park and their act proved to be so successful that they were urged by the press; actor, Harry Nicholls; playwright, Alfred Calmour, and others to join the ranks of professional entertainers. Impresario Sir Augustus Harris subsequently engaged them to play leading parts in a juvenile fairy play, which was produced at Covent Garden in 1889. In addition to public and private performances of their family act, the talented siblings were also individually cast in a variety of juvenile roles in plays in London and the provinces, with older sister, Marjorie also venturing into comic opera in the early 1890s. Amongst the early stage roles enacted by Alfred was doubling as both The Prince and the Pauper for Mrs. Oscar Beringer’s 1890 stage adaptation of the Mark Twain tale at London’s Gaiety Theatre, when both characters (principally played by the playwright’s daughter, Miss Vera Beringer) were required to share the same scene, and playing a prince in Sir Henry Irving’s production of Charles I at the Lyceum.
Alfred Field Fisher arrived in Australia in May 1914 to reprise the role of the Romanian nobleman ‘Dragotin’ (which he had played for over a year in the British provinces) in J.C. Williamson’s Royal Comic Opera Company production of the Franz Lehár operetta, Gipsy Love which premiered at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 13 June. He then transferred to JCW’s New English Musical Comedy Company for The Girl in the Taxi in July 1914 and remained a stalwart of the latter company throughout the 1910s and early ‘20s. In 1926 he joined Frank Neil’s Comedy Company to tour in such farces as Are You a Mason?, Charley’s Aunt, The Nervous Wreck and Getting Gertie’s Garter, and performed in the pantomimes Mother Goose and Little Red Riding Hood. A fellow member of Neil’s Company, Vera Fisher (nee Wallace) had married Alfred in the West London district of Kensington in April 1905. In 1930 they toured South Africa with Frank Neil’s Comedy Company, which was so well received that the visit, originally planned to last three months, was extended to ten months and made three complete tours of the South African theatre circuit. Returning to Australia (following a return visit to England at the conclusion of the tour) Fisher rejoined Frank Neil’s Company for Almost a Honeymoon at the Bijou Theatre in Melbourne in April 1931 and other productions. In 1932 he made his feature film debut in Melbourne in the George Wallace comedy His Royal Highness for F.W. Thring’s Efftee Film Productions, followed by Diggers in Blighty and Waltzing Matilda for Pat Hanna Productions in 1933. (Further film roles ensued in Charles Chauvel’s Heritage in 1935 and the Cinesound productions Mr. Chedworth Steps Out, starring Cecil Kellaway, in 1939 and Dad Rudd, M.P., starring Bert Bailey and Fred MacDonald, in 1940, both directed by Ken G. Hall.) Fisher also performed in the Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott revivals of The Quaker Girl and Our Miss Gibbs for JCW in 1933 and reprised his original role of ‘Dr. Robert Thorne’ for their revival of High Jinks in 1935. After a brief sojourn for F.W. Thring in the stage production Mother of Pearl starring Alice Delysia in 1934, Fisher returned to the JCW fold to appear in a succession of musical comedies, plays and pantomimes throughout the remainder of the 1930s, including Yes, Madam, Anything Goes and Under Your Hat and played the title role in Sinbad.
Concurrent with Fisher’s stage appearances, were his performances on radio in comedy sketches and plays (including those that he had written himself) and musical comedies (starring Gladys Moncrieff) for the ABC. He was first heard over the airwaves as a cast member of the JCW production of the musical Kid Boots (starring George Gee and Josie Melville) which was broadcast from the stage of His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne by 3LO during the Gala performance given on the evening of Saturday, 25 July 1925 in honour of the visiting American Fleet (followed by a further broadcast from the theatre of Act 2 on Saturday, 15 August 1925) however his first studio performances of his self-penned comedy sketches and duologues with his wife, Vera, were broadcast from 2BL in Sydney in January 1930. In June 1933 Fisher reprised the role of ‘Dr. Thorne’ in two separate studio broadcasts of High Jinks relayed by the ABC National network from 3LO and he also performed in two radio serials that he had scripted: The Adder from 2BL in 1933 and The Old Folks Abroad (with Vera) in 1937, broadcast from 3AR, Melbourne. At the time of his death in Sydney on 8 September 1940 (at age 63) he had been due to rehearse for a radio production of the musical comedy Good News for the ABC national network, for which his role was subsequently recast.
Fisher’s last stage appearance was as the valet ‘Brassett’ in Charley’s Aunt at the Minerva Theatre, Sydney in July 1940—a play in which he had performed a variety of roles since its original London premiere in 1892. An acknowledged master in the art of stage make-up, which was often commented upon in reviews, Fisher boasted in a 1926 newspaper interview that he had a collection of over 100 wigs with which he could transform himself at a moment’s notice into the many and varied character roles that he portrayed on stage. A comprehensive list of Field Fisher’s Australian stage credits is given on the AusStage website at https://www.ausstage.edu.au/pages/contributor/230701
- Lionel Mackinder death, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/56494908/lionel-mackinder
- Laurence Irving death, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/9581057/laurence-irving
- Laurence Irving death, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/15512496/1280147
- Empress of Ireland sinking, The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday, 1 June 1914, p.9, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/1280147
- “A Guitariste—Miss Marjorie Field-Fisher”, Hearth and Home (London), vol. 1, no. 23, 22 October 1891, p.128
- J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1890–1899: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, 2nd ed.; Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, Maryland, 2014
- “About People”, The Age (Melbourne), Tuesday, 19 May 1914, p.7
- Comedian for “Gipsy Love”, World News (Sydney), 30 May 1914, p.5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article131499358
- Gipsy Love program, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-3055135740/view
- Program listings for 3LO (Melbourne), Wireless Weekly, 24 July 1925, p.39
- Program listings for 3LO (Melbourne), Wireless Weekly, 14 August 1925, p.39
- “A Hundred Wigs—Field Fisher’s Collection”, The Call (Perth), Friday, 6 August 1926, p.4, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/210943477
- “Field Fisher Over the Air”, Sunday Times (Sydney), 2 January 1930, p.13
- Program listings for 2BL (Sydney), Wireless Weekly, 10 January 1930, p.30
- Daily Standard (Brisbane), Friday, 10 January 1930, p.5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article186350857
- “Frank Neil Brings Back New Plays”, The Herald (Melbourne), Saturday, 21 March 1931, p.13, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242882727
- The Telegraph (Brisbane), Wednesday, 31 May 1933, p.12, http://nla.gov.au/nnews-article168417915
- Program listings for 3LO (Melbourne), Wireless Weekly, 22 June 1933, p.47
- “13 Musical Comedies”, Wireless Weekly, 31 July 1936, p.7
- “Appearing with Gladys Moncrieff in the ABC Musical Comedy Broadcasts from Melbourne”, Wireless Weekly, 28 August 1936, p.12
- “Alfred Field Fisher Dead”, The Sun (Sydney), Monday, 9 September 1940, p.6, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231195765
- Internet Movie Data Base, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0279485/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_1