BERT BAILEY, who died on Monday, 30 March 1953, aged 84, made a fortune out of his beard. To millions who knew him as the “Dad” of “Dad and Dave” comedies he seemed to have been born with it. Here are the stories by two writers who knew Bert Bailey well, stories of a beard, and a fortune, and other things. With picture research and endnotes by Rob Morrison.


HAD Bert had his way, there never would have been a beard.

Clean-shaven, big-nosed, thin-cheeked, a man who would have passed in any crowd, pushed into Cinesound Productions office high in the State Theatre Building 23 years ago.

“I’m Bert Bailey,” he announced. “I’ve just fixed up a deal with Stuart F. Doyle to film On Our Selection and you’re going to direct it.”

Ken G. Hall, then a youngster with part of one silent picture to his directorial credit, gulped. On Our Selection, which had played in theatres, tents, and barns until even the Townsville goats had grown tired of eating the posters off the fences, was to be Australia’s first talking production! To cover his horror, Hall could think of only one defence: “You'll have to grow a beard.”

Bailey came around the table and thumped it.

“Now listen, boy. Every night for 30 years I’ve been putting on make-up and a beard. If you think I’m going to grow a real one for pictures, and have all the kids calling me Ziff” —crash went the table again— “I won’t do it!”

Hall explained how the screen would show up a false beard; it had to be real. “Not for me, it doesn’t!” insisted Bert.

THERE was no comment when he returned for script conferences the next week wearing a rogues-gallery stubble, which grew into a herbaceous border and at last into the beard with a capital B—the insignia of irascible, loveable, warm-hearted Dad. 

Even then it wasn’t safe from the shears. He suffered the hoots of small boys who later were to follow him in admiring crowds.

Finally in roaring disgust he strode into Hall’s office a week before shooting. “I’ve stood everything for you, Ken; but now I’ve got to cut it off. Coming down in the William Street tram just now, what d’you think happened—a lady got up and offered me her seat!”

But the Beard stayed on. Its origin set a formula for a comedy situation that carried through every picture. Dad’s best laughs came when Mum, Dave or omnipotent circumstances were forcing him to some action against his will. He roared defiantly: “I won’t do it!” Quick cut to next scene—and Dad was doing it.

Produced with locally made recording equipment, a silent camera miraculously adapted and a clothes-prop for a sound boom, On Our Selection had to stick close to the original play.

“None of us had any sound picture experience.” Ken Hall says, “Nominally I was director, but Bert was the producer, simply photographing a play with a sure knowledge of where the laughs would come, no matter how hopeless the situations seemed to the studio crew. How right he was! Even under those crude conditions we felt his strength. In our later productions when I took over the real job of direction, his personality over-shadowed the cast. Fred MacDonald, equally famous as Dave, was the only actor who could hold his own.”

THE success of On Our Selection is a legend of the industry now. It cost £6,000 and earned £60,000. 

Bailey supplied book, actors and sets; Cinesound provided technicians and studio facilities. Profits were split 50-50 between Cinesound and the firm of Bailey and Grant.

The second picture, Grandad Rudd (1934), cost £8,000, but earned a comparatively poor £18,000.  Bailey quickly understood what caused the drop. To give himself age, he had played Grandad with a clean-shaven top lip, though with the rest of his beard intact. The slight change took him out of character.

This and all subsequent pictures were financed by Cinesound, who paid Bailey £150 a week while shooting, plus 25 per cent. of profits to Bailey and Grant.

No written contract existed; there never was a dispute.

Dad and Dave Come To Town, filmed in 1937 for £12,000, reached the English market, playing the Odeon Circuit twice and earning £40,000. His last picture, Dad Rudd, M.P., cost £18,000, but in 1940 war fever left little demand for homely comedy, and earnings of £28,000 fell far below expectations.

Cinesound begged him to continue. He refused—too old, he claimed. Too old for anyone to want, was his favourite alibi. Yet three weeks before he died, American television producers, who had seen his films in a group of Australian products, called Bailey the year’s biggest TV possibility, and wrote demanding either more of his pictures or Bert himself. He received the news and grinned. “Ya know, Ken—these Yanks—they’re full of baloney!”

Twenty-three years of motion picture fame made Bert Bailey the most self-deprecating star the industry has known.

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“Dad” A Riot From First Night


IN his youth Bert Bailey was never happy away from the footlights. 

Had he so desired he could have peacefully enjoyed prosperity as a retailer, for his mother was Mrs. McCathie, founder of the vast store in Pitt Street [Sydney] which bears her name to-day. She never could make out why her son chose the precarious life of the theatre and did her utmost to rescue him from vagabondage.

When Bert first consorted with down-at-heel Thespians on Poverty Point—the kerb alongside the corner pub of the Criterion Theatre—they were a motley assortment.  Most of them were “resting,” a professional euphemism for being out of work.

Edmund Duggan who took Bert under his wing was an actor of the Vincent Crummles school. He was truly a superb actor off the stage. When engaging “artists,” as they always were to him, it was like bestowing the accolade. The moot and burning question of salary he dismissed with, “Laddie, leave it to me!”

Those were the terms Bert Bailey came to know. “The ghost never walked,” he would relate. “But we did often.”

“Have you ever noticed,” he would add, “how actors take a short step every few yards. That’s where the sleepers on the railway line are close together.”

William Anderson, who broke into theatrical management from bill-sticking, married Edmund Duggan’s sister, Eugenie.

From Edmund’s seasoned troupers he recruited a company to support her in melodrama. Edmund was stage manager and “doubled” in character parts. Bert Bailey was pressed into service as comedian.  Whenever he appeared, which was when their impending fate was unbearable to dwell on, there was a roar of applause. For comedy was so constructed in the Melville dramas of the day that the comedian was unconsciously on the track of the wrongdoer and finally, to his own amazement, unmasked him. 

They played consistently to packed houses and Bert Bailey in broad comedy roles was their abiding joy. Edmund Duggan saw to it that he underlined every situation that could get a laugh. Against the blood-soaked trail of the villain and the misery he wrought for everyone in the cast with a tinge of virtue, Bert was a welcome relief.

MELVILLE melodramas came from the Adelphi, London, and were cut to standard pattern. 

It struck Edmund and Bert that there was indigenous material from which four acts could be concocted. They got to work together and prepared a play. The Squatter’s Daughter, they called it. Beyond the Australian setting, it was Melville transported. But it captivated the Anderson public for months. Bert and Edmund drew author’s royalties and took the first-night curtain call for them.

The attraction of writing parts for themselves to display to the full their histrionic talents was not lost on either. However, their conflicting ideas about this put an end to collaboration. Edmund wanted a blank verse drama glorifying Australia. Bert left him to it, and the opus which Anderson staged was a flop. 

Bert, meanwhile, got hold of a script which Steele Rudd had been hawking round the theatres. I read it when it came to J.C Williamson’s. It would have played under an hour and had neither beginning nor end.

Beaumont Smith, then Anderson’s publicity manager, persuaded Steele Rudd to let him see what he could do with his book, On Our Selection, and over a period of months ran out a scenario. Then he gave it best, not, however, before Bert Bailey became interested in it. Bert worked on the skeleton plot for fully a year, peopling the farce with characters of his own comic invention.

ABOUT this time Cyril Maude had appeared in Australia as Grumpy, a sure-fire starring role in which he made a big fortune. Bert Bailey determined that “Dad” would do the same for him and all the time he could give he spent in contriving situations that Dad would dominate.

“I can play the old blighter as long as I live,” he said to me after the first-night triumph. Bert by then had parted from Anderson and with Julius Grant, Anderson’s treasurer for many years, formed a partnership in management. Year in, year out, up and down Australia and around New Zealand Bert as Dad Rudd toured.

He decided that London was waiting for him. The success of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, a collection of oddities caricaturing American village life, helped him to his conclusion. But London was a misfire. Nonetheless, Bert himself was lionised by the acting profession. Leaders in the theatre feted him at a memorable banquet, when his speech was the hit of the night. When the old brandy was passed round and Bert was asked would he care for one, he said, “Not for me, but if the building won’t collapse when I say it, I would like a cup of tea.” Bert was a lifelong tee-totaller.

The Sunday Herald (Sydney), Sunday, 5 April 1953, p.12,

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The origins of On Our Selection were discussed in an article first published in the Adelaide Mail in 1912.

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The Bert Bailey Company

Interesting Combination

The continued prosperity of the motion picture has done much for the drama. People who have always shunned the playhouse have, by accepting the moving picture play, been so interested by the silent acting that they have been impelled to find out what a real play is like. Therefore the cry that the new branch of entertainment is affecting the “legitimate” theatre must not be heeded. While the motion picture has progressed so has the older form of amusement, no matter whether it is light comedy, comic opera, pantomime, or farcical comedy. The playgoer has been so well provided for lately that he will accept only the best. The prosperity of the theatre has stimulated commercial instincts, and new firms continue to spring up like mushrooms at night.  So far the majority of the new combinations have consisted of popular artists who, probably encouraged by the success of the Plimmer-Denniston organisation, have started on their own account. Of the new entrepenuers who have lately come into competition with bigger firms one of the most notable, and certainly one of the most popular is the organisation known as the Bert Bailey Dramatic Company, consisting of Messrs. Bert Bailey, Edmund Duggan, and Julius Grant, who have been associated with Mr. William Anderson’s enterprises as far back as I can remember, the first two as artists, the last named as business manager. With a company of good, all-round supporting artists, proved successes in their repertoire such as On Our Selection and The Squatter’s Daughter, and their own popularity, it is small wonder that the new combination are meeting with nothing but success all along the line. In fact, I believed Mr. Bailey when he told me that he often failed to sleep at night through wondering why he and his partners had not launched out earlier.

The company are singularly fortunate inasmuch as Messrs. Bailey and Duggan are not only capable actors and producers but successful playwrigts, responsible for such meritorious plays as The Squatter’s Daughter and The Man From Outback, in addition to On Our Selection. The latter is taken from Steele Rudd’s book, true, but it is mainly through the craft of Mr. Bailey, his knowledge of stage technique, its limitations and scope, that the delightful stories of the Australian selector have been constructed into such a noteworthy play—the best Australian play yet produced in the Commonwealth.

When I suggested an interview to the gentlemen of the Bert Bailey directorate it was Mr. Bailey who was unanimously selected for spokesman, although he protested that he was not anxious for any more limelight than his partners.

“The popular play,” said Mr. Bailey, in reply to my query, “cannot be found by the manager; the public make the play for you. You can never tell when a piece will be successful, except, of course, in cases such as On Our Selection. It matters not what theatrical experience you have behind you, there is no other experience which counts for so little as that of the theatrical entrepenuer. A play to become successful must have the elements of success. All the puffing in the world will not make it popluar unless it has that.”

“To what do you attribute the success of On Our Selection?”

“To the human interest and its clean humour. There is nothing suggestive in the play; nothing to which anyone can take exception.”

“Did you have trouble in writing and producing your money maker?”

“Well, I have always loved [Steele] Rudd, consequently I completely saturated myself in six of his books, from which On Our Selection was based, until there were two men in Australia who knew more about Rudd than anyone else—Rudd and myself. With such a knowledge allied with the experience that I have gained through my tour in Northern Australia, I considered I knew a trifle about the play I was to construct. Both Mr. Duggan and myself have had a thorough stage training. We know its technique; its possibilities. When we conceive a scene or sensation we know exactly how to work it out, what to put in, and what to leave out. That is where we have the advantage of the playwright who has not had an actor’s experience. But, to return to On Our Selection. The script we got from Steele Rudd, and Beaumont Smith ran an hour and twenty minutes short of time. We had to rewrite it. It was no easy matter, for the dovetailing had to be done carefully. The construction had to make everything natural. You will yourself have observed how little things—improbabilities, yet not impossibilities—are introduced. For any man might sit down on a rake or be startled when he looks at himself in a mirror. But these, which, after all, are only trivial things, matter a lot. However, the action and movement of the play is so vigorous that they are not noticed. The characters are good, and I cannot imagine any other cast giving as good a performance. Steele Rudd’s descriptions of them, the illustrations in his book, and my own experiences, allied with the ordinary brains and intelligence of the artistes, have made them perfect types. There are frequently five different women on the stage at once, yet there is no resemblance between them.  Each is a different character. The great feature of the characters is that they do not know they are humourous. For instance, when Dad says— ‘Dave’s in love; I see it workin’ in him like yeast,’ he does not know that he is being funny. That is his way of expressing a fact. It is the same with Dave and Lily’s lovemaking. To them it is serious; to the audience laughable. You must hold the mirror up to Nature and see its reflection if you want to laugh.  When a man slips on a banana skin people laugh because it is so funny. Yet it is no laughing matter to the man who falls. Thus the chief charm of On Our Selection lies in the fact that the characters are unconcious of the humour they create. Even Maloney doesn’t know that he is funny.”

“What do you look for when writing a play?”

“Novelty, every time. That is what made our play The Squatter’s Daughter so successful. We had several good novelties. No one had thought of having sheep shorn on the stage, or of cattle duffing. Then we introduced bushrangers. That is to say they were merely introduced. They have little to do with the story, yet they were there all the same. Then The Squatter’s Daughter had the spectacular effects to help it. On Our Selection has none—it needs none.

“Do you think On Our Selection would have a fighting chance in London?”

“I think it would have a chance anywhere.  Any humourous play should.”

“For the reason?”

“That humour is still humour the world over.”


The Mail (Adelaide), 3 August 1912, p.12,

13_-_The_Rudd_Family-1.jpgThe original cast members of On Our Selection in 1912, included:
standing (l to r)—Lilias Adeson (as Lily White), Laura Roberts (Sarah Rudd), Edmund Duggan (Maloney), Guy Hastings (Sandy), Alfred Harford (Billy Bearup)
seated—Fred MacDonald (Dave), Alfreda Bevan (Mrs. Rudd), Bert Bailey (Dad), Queenie Sefton (Mrs. White)
in front—Arthur Bertram (Joe Rudd), Mary Marlowe (Kate Rudd) and Willie Driscoll (Uncle Rudd). From Chronicle (Adelaide), Saturday, 27 July 1912, p.30.


by Rob Morrison

14 OOS NZ posterPoster for 1912 Christchurch, NZ season. National Library of Australia, Canberra.On Our Selection received its Australian premiere at the Palace Theatre, Sydney on 4 May 1912 for a limited run of 12 performances, which concluded on 17 May. Its immediate success had exceeded all expectations playing to crowded houses during its initial season, which prompted the Sydney Referee to comment (on Wednesday, 15 May 1912, p.16): “… the business head of the Bert Bailey Company [Julius Grant] must have felt sorry that the firm had not secured a three months’ lease of the theatre.” Succesful performances were then given in Newcastle, Toowoomba, Brisbane, Adelaide, Bendigo, Geelong and Ballarat before its Melbourne season commenced at the King’s Theatre on 14 September 1912 for a run of 42 performances. Following a visit to New Zealand, where it premiered at His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland on 18 November 1912, the play returned to the Palace Theatre, Sydney for an extended run commencing on 19 April 1913 and continued to enjoy a successful career on-the-road as part of the Bert Bailey Dramatic Company’s touring repertoire throughout the 1910s. A sequel entitled Gran’dad Rudd dramatised by Steele Rudd himself and recounting the further adventures of the Rudd family some 15 years later, premiered at the King’s Theatre, Melbourne on 22 September 1917, and also proved to be initially popular, but did not enjoy the sustained success of the original play.

In August of 1920 Bert Bailey fulfilled his ambition of staging On Our Selection in London with an Australian cast.  Although the authorship of the play in Australia had been credited to “Albert Edmunds” (the pseudonym adopted by Bailey and Duggan as joint collaborators) and Beaumont Smith (in recognition of his contribution in preparing the initial scenario); in Britain, Steele Rudd was given the sole credit as author, evidently as a tribute to his creation of the original characters featured in the dramatisation.

The play was given its British premiere at the Palace Theatre, Ramsgate on Monday, 16 August 1920, for a pre-London trial season, but the opening performance was hampered by the fact that a large portion of the scenery (credited to artists Rigby and S. Witton) had not arrived at the theatre in time, as noted in the first-night review published in The Stage on the following Thursday. The review went on to state: “Mr. Bert Bailey, who appeared as Dad Rudd, gives a fine characterisation of the rugged old man who has fought life in the wilds with only his family to help. His fits of choler and turns of humour show him to be an actor of strong and varied feeling.”

Following its subsequent London premiere at the Lyric Theatre on Tuesday, 24 August 1920, the critics regarded the now 8-year-old play as rather old-fashioned, but lauded Bert Bailey’s performance as ‘Dad Rudd’ as a great comic creation. Nonetheless sophistitcated West End theatregoers did not take to it and On Our Selection closed on 18 September after a mere 31 performances, dashing Bert Bailey’s hopes of staging further plays from his repertoire in the British capital.

The Sydney World’s News for Saturday, 2 October 1920 had reported: “I have three other plays I would like to do here if your playgoers like our first sample of dramatic goods,” said Mr. Bert Bailey to a London interviewer. “One is a sort of sequel to ‘On Our Selection.’ It is called ‘Grand-dad Rudd.’ Another is called ‘The Squatter's Daughter’, and a third is entitled ‘The Man From Out Back’.  It Is a play all about cattle-duffing. What is cattle-duffing?  Well it means stealing your neighbor's cattle and getting away with them. I don’t feel that I can come here to startle Londoners. I want to do my best with my production.”

Back in Australia, Bailey’s touring production of his signature play continued to entertain both local and New Zealand audiences throughout the remainder of the 1920s and also garnered fresh fans when revived at the Jane Street Theatre in Randwick, NSW for a season from 20 June to 14 July 1979 in a revised version adapted and directed by George Whaley, which also incorporated interpolated musical numbers. The cast included Don Crosby as ‘Dad’, Geoffrey Rush as ‘Dave’, Kerry Walker as ‘Mother’, Mel Gibson as ‘Sandy Taylor’, Noni Hazlehurst as ‘Lily White’ and Barry Otto doubling in the roles of ‘Old Carey’ and his son, ‘Jim Carey’. Its success prompted a spate of revivals Australia-wide in the early 1980s including productions in Perth, Fremantle, Penrith, Wollongong, Brisbane, Townsville, Adelaide, Canberra and Auckland, New Zealand.

The Melbourne Theatre Company’s revival directed by Graeme Blundell was staged at the Athenaeum Theatre between 1 December 1982 to 29 January 1983 with a cast headed by Frederick Parslow as ‘Dad Rudd’ and Gary McDonald as ‘Dave’ (a character that he had previously played in the 1972 Australian TV series Snake Gully with Dad and Dave inspired by the Steele Rudd stories, in which Gordon Chater had played ‘Dad’). It was subsequently revived by the MTC at the Athenaeum for a further season between 7 December 1983 to 28 January 1984.

The nostalgic appeal of the play also resulted in a remounted film version in 1995, co-written and directed by George Whaley, with a cast that included Leo McKern as ‘Dad Rudd’, Dame Joan Sutherland(!) as ‘Mother Rudd’, Geoffrey Rush as ‘Dave’ and Noah Taylor as ‘Joe’, plus Barry Otto in a reprise of the character of ‘Old Carey’ now renamed ‘J.P. Riley’. The film also included original songs written and composed by Pete Best with vocals performed by John Williamson and The Bush Band.

15 Bulletin cartoonHarry Julius caricature—The Bulletin (Sydney), 9 May 1912, p.10


For the first time in Australia a dramatisation of “On Our Selection” (“Steele’s Rudd’s” book) was produced, by the Bailey-Duggan-Grant management, at Sydney Palace, on Saturday night. It was an entire success, and one more Australian play can be branded as a sure money-maker. The dramatists had some difficulty in piecing together the incidents of life on the selection as “Steele Rudd” saw it, also they found it necessary to provide a special murder, for the sake of a concerted plot; but the dovetailing has been done well, and the general result may be termed good. On the whole, too, the well-known characters of the book are recognisable without the aid of glasses, and the scenery is typical of the bush. The old gag that Australian plays worth producing cannot be obtained, sags at the knees, and. when “On Our Selection” has been rounded off here and there, as experience dictates, and some improvement made in the cast, the hoary old remark will start down the track for the gully where lie the derelict statements concerning the inability of Australians to make their own boots, blankets, tweeds, jams and things generally, just as well as a cheap-labored, half-starved country, white, black, brown or piebald. There is more humor to the square inch of “On Our Selection” than to the square fathom of many allegedly humorous plays which are hauled hitherward, at more or less expense, from London or Noo Yark. On Saturday night, an audience which packed every corner of the house, rocked with laughter throughout. A large man, with a red face, leaned his head over THE BULLETIN’s seat, and gasped, “I wouldn't miss this for quids!” That was the first occasion on which this paper has agreed with a large man with a red face.

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The honors and whatever else is to be dispensed amongst the players go to Bert Bailey, as Dad; Fred Macdonald, as Dave; and Laura Roberts, as Sarah. Bailey is Dad. It is probably the best thing he has done, and, if it is ever improved upon, THE BULLETIN will be glad to meet the improver. Macdonald’s conception of Dave Rudd, and Laura Roberts’s of Sarah Rudd, also stand very high. But there are one or two others in the cast who could be considerably improved. Chief amongst them is Mary Marlowe (the co.’s leading lady), who plays Kate Rudd. Her dressing of the part alone is absurd, and her reading of it throws her right out of the atmosphere of the piece. The fine character of Mum is in the not very capable hands of Miss Alfreda Bevan. Anybody who doubts this can go and judge for himself until further notice.

The Bulletin (Sydney), 9 May 1912, p.11

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The Bulletin’s Melbourne-based theatre critic, Edmund Fisher also reviewed the show during its subsequent season at the King’s Theatre in Russell Street.


“On Our Selection,” which started an innings at the King’s (Melbourne) last Saturday, is assured of fine weather and a sound wicket wherever it plays. Its happy suggestions of reality, and the humor of its character drawings are not to be denied. One sniffs the pastoral odor of the unseen cow that trespasses on Dad’s lucerne patch. Dad and Kate and half a dozen others are true to their Australian types. The incident of Dave’s lonely dance rehearsal in the Barn is simply convincing—not wildly farcical. One’s faith in Dave extends to the object of his affections, notwithstanding the artificiality of Lily’s eyebrows, and young Sarah Rudd gives an air of probability even to Billy Bearup, her unfortunate admirer. Nothing in the new Australian play is stagey and conventional except the plot, and the plot doesn't matter much. There are no wicked people in “Our Selection.” The worst are only treated as though they were wicked. Carey, the harmful necessary mortgagee, suffers from surrounding circumstances. Everybody’s dislike being thrust upon Carey, senior, he naturally does what he can to deserve it. During the latter part of the play he is the sorrowing parent of a murdered son, yet the district treats him as an interfering beast for trying to place the murderer. As for Carey, junior, the only thing stated to his discredit—apart from his frankly dishonorable intentions re Mary Rudd, is the allegation that he lured a married lady from her allegiance to Cranky Jim. But it is clear that he acted as a hero and a benefactor in eloping with a distressed female. The awful unbarbered aspect of Jim the Avenger, and his mania for seeing snakes without the assistance of whisky, indicate hereditary rats in the garret. Therefore it is reasonably assumed that his wife of yore gave Carey, junior, the glad eye and the naughty smile, and practically implored the young man to divert her thoughts from her lawful lord.  Carey is one of the most-to-be-pitied villains of melodrama.

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The play having been constructed according to the mummer lights of Bailey and Duggan, the situations are as cheaply effective as the antique gags wherewith the dialogue is pimpled. The entertainment has the novelty of growing dull for a time in the third act, where dramas ordinarily do their darnedest to be exciting. In three other acts the moments fly on broad comedy wings. The staging is careful—so careful that the management could afford a lapse into further embellishment. An unnatural tinted shanty of flawless, even speckless, character, which is billed as “Dave’s Dilapidated Domicile,” might as well be rebuilt to suit the description. Also, a few supernumerary settlers introduced into the Barn dance, would give more weight and color to the joyous finale. The public rejoicing over Dad’s election to Parliament are limited to the family. No outside voters have been invited.

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Bert Bailey’s Dad establishes him as an Australian character actor. The make-up, the ripe elderly tone of voice, and the rugged force of his personality—these are notable factors in a successful show. The Dave of Fred Macdonald is another capital creation that holds together whilst Miss Laura Roberts, as Sarah, seems to be making the very best of a part which comes easy to her. Guy Hastings is a manly, unaffected lover to Miss Marlowe’s womanly and unaffected Mary. George Treloar, who shows artistic restraint as the orthodox villain, achieves a positive triumph of melodrama in springing forward to receive a knock-out, and Miss Adeson, J.P. Lennon and Driscoll call for honorable mention, as compared with two or three other people. Arthur Bertram, as Joe, overacts in a part where moderation is specially needed, and Edmund Duggan can consider himself reproved for kicking his fellow creatures in the rear. The crudest possible way of raising a laugh is to kick anybody for kicking’s sake, and when the kicker is an utterly superfluous character in the play, this method of asserting its importance seems cruder than usual.

The Bulletin (Sydney), 19 September 1912, p.11

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20 OOS in LondonThe Sphere (London), 11 September 1920, p.241



By Steele Rudd.

Cast List

Mr. Bert Bailey, an actor famous in Australia, has brought to London a play that has been very successful in Australia, and is there considered, as he told us in his speech on the fall of the curtain, to be a faithful picture of the types that it aims at portraying.

The types are those of the back country—the hardy pioneers of British stock, who have bravely and laboriously hewed a home and a living out of the wilderness. And, as Mr. Bailey himself presents Dad Rudd, the head of such a household is a comical, admirable, lovable old tyrant. His humours, his prejudices, his passions, his rough sense of justice, mixed up with wilful unfairness, are acted by Mr. Bailey with rich fun. And when Dad Rudd has come through his troubles, routed his enemy, championed one prospective son-in-law against the criminal code, blown a hole in another prospective son-in-law's breeches with a shot-gun, and been elected to Parliament, we think very
kindly of him as a fine old fellow and a good fund of racy humour.

If only he were set in a better play, and supported by a better company. The play is called a comedy; but it has strong affinity with what we call melodrama in its crudest form—murder, unjustly suspected hero, villains, comic lovers, and so forth; and it is not worked out on those lines with the consistency and force that we are used to at, say, the Lyceum. And for the company (we did not gather whether they were Australians, or English, or mixed), it was possibly the fault of the players that what seemed to be meant for rustic innocency looked more like congenital idiocy. None of them could hold a candle to Mr. Bailey; but Miss Eva Guildford Quin as the heroine, Mr. Graham Pockett as an old idler, Mr. J. Scott Leighton as a madman, and Miss Maureen Dillon as a persistent young lady of 17 or so, with a love-affair all her own, were those who appealed most strongly to the audience. The reception was very cordial, and the house rang with “coo-ees.”

The Times (London), Wednesday, 25 August 1920, p.8

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Messrs. Bert Bailey and Julius Grant, of the King’s [Theatre], Melbourne, who gave “On Our Selection” its trial trip in this country at the Palace, Ramsgate, last week, began at the Lyric, on Tuesday, the London run of this piece by Steele Rudd, described officially as a comedy from Australia, typical of life in the back country. Steele Rudd is an Antipodean journalist, playwright, and author of stories, and this play of his has during the last decade been performed some 1,500 times throughout Australasia, with its present producer, Mr. Bailey, in the role, with name the same as that of the dramatist, of old Dud Rudd, with whose family, living on his “selection" in one of the back settlements, the action deals. There in a good dose of melodrama, including a murder and the threatened foreclosing of a bill of exchange, in Mr. Rudd’s play, which has, however, nothing of the old bushranger-element, as shown in such other Australian dramas seen here in the course of the last twenty years, as “Robbery Under Arms,” adapted by Alfred Dampier and another from Rolf Boldrewood's novel (Princess’s, October, 1894), “The Bush King,” (Surrey, November, 1893), “The Bushrangers” (Grand, May, 1904), and E.W. Hornung'’s “Stingaree, the Bushranger” (Queen’s, February, 1906). The characters include Dad Rudd, his wife, Mum Rudd, their two sons, Dave and Joe, and their two daughters, Kate and Sarah. Although Kate, who goes off to Brisbane in the first of the four acts, to return, sadder, if not wiser, in the second, has a stalwart lover in Sandy, she is pestered by Jim, son of the foreclosing John Carey; and Sandy’s knocking down of the younger Carey leads to Jim’s being recognised and strangled by Cranky Jack, a grief-stricken, semi-imbecile, whose wife the young reprobate had seduced. Following the long-accepted lines, Steele Rudd causes suspicion to fall on Sandy, who, thinking he is the murderer, has to go away for a time, his name being eventually cleared by Cranky Jack’s confession during one of his periods of lucid intelligence. The end of the play is worked out on more modern lines, with the political rivalry and struggle for Parliamentary honours between old Rudd, now become a prosperous man and no longer merely the humble occupant of "Our Selection," and John Carey, whose defeat and the rejoicings over Dad’s return at the head of the poll are shown in the fourth act.

The piece, which is given at the Lyric with almost exactly the same cast of mainly British performers as at Ramsgate, is presented here under the general management of Mr. Frank Gerald, the stage manager being Mr. Graham Pockett, who also plays Uncle Rudd, ugly and lazy, with considerable skill. This applies indeed to the performance in general of “On Our Selection,” which, with its copious if also artless and primitive humours and designedly quaint characterisation, might almost be termed an Australian parallel to that American comedy of similar type, “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch.” Mr. Bert Bailey, who plays the irascible and also determined Dad Rudd as an elderly man with bald head and grey beard and plenty of grit in him, was greeted with hearty Coo-ees by his many Australian compatriots in the first-night audience, alike on his opening entrance, at his ready gag, “When you have done pushing my home down,” when a shanty was displaced, and in his sincere and well phrased little speech of thanks at the close of the performance, when he referred to the ambition of Australian actors and dramatists to appear and have their works performed on a London stage, for instance, in this play by “one of the best known of Australian humourists.” Mr. Bailey therefore, may be congratulated upon his own share in Tuesday’s successful performance, in which there was nothing better than the retort to the elder Carey, distraining upon Rudd’s cattle and effects, that he could not break the spirit of a man who, to make his home, had had “to cut a hole in the bush.”

Special mention should be made also of the bull-uttering “blue-gum Hibernian” of Mr. Alec Alves; the kindly and motherly Mum of Miss Constance Medwyn; the cleverly comical younger girl, Sarah, of Miss Maureen Dillon, with a lover of Harry Nicholls type in the Billy Bearup, with “small voice but big heart,” of Mr. Charles Sims; and the ably-acted Cranky Jack of Mr. J. Scott Leighton. Kate was played in fresh and sympathetic style by Miss Eva Guildford Quin, to the robust and straightforward Sandy of Mr. Matthew Boulton; and the Careys, père et fils, were represented suitably by Mr. Fred Constable and Mr. C. Douglas Cox. Old Rudd’s sons, both loafing louts, were made as amusing as possible by Mr. Donald Searle, as Joe, the younger, with a pet kangaroo drowned in a well used for drinking purposes, and by Mr. George Belmore (replacing Mr. Bartlett Garth) as Dave, of whose courting of Lily White and their at first uncomfortable married life a very great deal is heard and seen. Lily and her she-dragon of a mother were set forth uncompromisingly by Misses Ruby Loncraine and Celia Gordon; and the bush parson, Mr. Macpherson, who eats Mum’s single scone when the family have been ruined temporarily by the drought, was played briskly Mr. Arthur Laurence. “On Our Selection" may perhaps enjoy in the West End some measure of the popularity it has had “Down Under.”

The Stage (London), 26 August 1920, p.16


By Steele Rudd. Tuesday, Aug. 24.

Every now and then a play comes out of the soil of its people—“The Better ‘Ole,” “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch,” “Bunty Pulls the Strings,” or the “Play Boy of the Western World,” for example—and, as a rule, the truer it is to type, the more simple it is in character.

Such a play is “On Our Selection,” a dramatised version of the works of Steele Rudd, the Australian novelist, whose books are read throughout the length and breadth of Australasia.

When Mr. Bert Bailey stood on the stage with tears in his eyes at the end of the first performance of this play in London last Tuesday, he put into words something which is in the mind of every author and actor in the British Empire.

“Myself and partner, Julius Grant, who is fifteen thousand miles away in Australia,” he said, “made up our minds to bring this play to England, hoping that London would be interested in an entirely Australian product. ‘On Our Selection’ is written by Steele Rudd, one of our greatest humorists. Its characterisation is typical of Australian life in the back blocks, and the ‘Dads’ and ‘Mums’ of the Australian Bush are living examples of the fact that, when it came to pioneering and colonisation, the British race stands alone in the world.

“I suppose that every author’s ambition is to get his play produced before a London audience, and every actor and actress in the English-speaking world has an ambition to play upon a London stage. It has been mine, and I have achieved it.”

Coo-ees and applause echoed through the theatre—the coo-ees which welcome every Australian actor or actress to the London stage, for there is no people more loyal to itself than the people from “down under.”

But not even their coo-ees were louder than the laughter which had punctuated the play, and which had made the theatre ring with merriment.

Crude in form as this farce-drama is, it is full of fun, and “Dad,” the big, bluff, simple-hearted, hard-working pioneer, played by Bert Bailey himself with an art akin to genius, is a part entirely new to the London stage.

Mr. Bailey has played the part in Australia nearly a thousand times, and to play it far away in the scarce-known regions of the north he has travelled thousands of miles in coaches with his company.

The scene is laid in the Darling Downs in Queensland, and the simple log cabin, which forms its main scene, is typical of many which the Prince of Wales visited during his long rides on horseback over the outlying spaces.

Some people came away from the theatre feeling that the characters were all too simple. There was a son of the old Selector, for instance, who gave superior London an idea of semi-idiocy, so unsophisticated was he in all his movements. But Empire knows that behind that simplicity was the character of a great pioneer, a farmer who knew his job, and a prospector of the type that has made Britain great. Hundreds of his kind lie now buried on the Gallipoli Peninsula, and to that spirit which runs all through the play—the spirit which makes a family brave a terrible drought and rise to comparative fortune—is the spirit which sent so many thousands of Australians flocking to our Colours when the war broke out.

“On Our Selection” is a play to be seen. It should be played throughout the Empire in place of the American crook dramas which are so common amongst us, and in place of the semi-French farces which neither instruct nor inform.

At the first performance nearly all the agents-general were present, and the welcome which they extended to the actor-manager from “down under” was no more exuberant than that which made the gallery applaud with enthusiasm and the stalls enjoy a very fine evening's entertainment.


The Sunday Times (London), 29 August 1920, p.4

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“On Our Selection” at the Lyric Theatre.

“Well, if that is a sample of their plays, Joe,—!” said a lady, as the audience streamed out into Shaftesbury Avenue.

“Perhaps they like them like that," said Joe, tolerantly. They evidently do. “On Our Selection" has had a run of over 1,000 nights in Australia. It has been played amid rapturous applause in all the principal cities of Australasia. It is a kind of Colonial “Chu Chin Chow.” Mr. Bert Bailey's manner of receiving applause seems to show that in his own country he is something between an Oscar Asche and an “Abraham Lincoln.”

It is unlikely, however, that he will achieve the success of either of these gentlemen in his present surroundings. The play would have had a better chance a year or two ago, when London was full of Colonial soldiers. But now that they have returned home it is too remote from what the ordinary playgoer expects to find within a stone's throw of Piccadilly Circus to have much chance of success.

It is not that the play is without its value. Indeed, it is so instructive that all Londoners who have not been to Australia most certainly ought to go and see it. The only question is whether they will. A selection (for the benefit of those to whom the title suggests an advertisement of Selfridge's or Derry and Tom’s) is a clearing in the Australian bush. The programme claims that the play is “typical of life in the back country.” And so doubtless in many ways it is. The local colour is very convincing and no doubt correct. It gives a very fresh and clear idea of the struggles and hardships of life in the bush, the difficulty of making a clearing, building one’s own house, carrying water, looking after the stock, and a hundred other things which are mere names to us. It shows, too, the extraordinary lack of privacy which is one of the greatest hardships of a really simple life. The backwoods families appear to live in a kind of patriarchal way. Dave’s father says he does not wish his son to have to propose to his girl as he did, “with her brother under the sofa, her mother looking in at the window, and her father in the next room waiting to borrow a pound when she had said ‘Yes.’ ” But in spite of his father’s good wishes Dave’s proposal is interrupted every other minute by the irruption of one member or another of his family. This is partly, of course, owing to the necessities of the comedy and the dramatic virtues, but there is, no doubt, a great deal of painful fact underlying this cheerful fiction.

But the most striking fact illustrated by this play is one which we all know in theory—but find very difficult to realise that the Australian colonies are at a very different stage of civilisation from our own. The astonishment with which this play fills the ordinary London playgoer shows how very little we understand what “life in the back country” really means. The successful play of Melbourne is at least three or four centuries behind the average successful play of London.

“On Our Selection” is called a “comedy,” but is really a cross between melodrama and farce like most of the tragedies or tragi-comedies of our own 16th and 17th centuries. The hero, the heroine, the villains (father and son), and the madman all belong to the realms of pure melodrama. Jim Carey, the villain (played by Mr. C. Douglas Cox), would have been hissed at sight at the “Elephant” [and Castle]. Richard III. did not wear the marks of his villainy more plainly. He wore smart riding-breeches and top-boots, in contrast to the cowboy attire of the upright characters, and always carried a riding-whip in readiness to horsewhip the innocent. On his first appearance he swaggers straight up to the heroine and asks in a loud undertone what such a pretty girl as she is doing in such an out-of-the-way hole in the backwoods.    She must meet him in Brisbane, and he will show her what real life is. That shows the kind of young man he is. But he has his match in Sandy. Sandy, as played by Mr. Matthew Boulton, is a perfect melodramatic hero. He is tall, with broad shoulders, straight features, and a deep voice. His fists are usually clenched and his lips set, though occasionally unbending in a winning smile. He fells Carey to the earth with one blow and strides from the room in disgust. Unfortunately, Cranky Jack comes in and finishes the good work with a large silk handkerchief. Sandy is, of course, suspected of murder, and would have been hauled off to prison had not Cranky Jack turned up in the nick of time and told the whole story in his own lunatic manner.

But life in the back country is not all as serious as this. High spirits, not to say horseplay, flourish there as well as murder, love, and foul play. The younger members of “our selection” are almost all comic characters. There is Dave Rudd, a nice young man, though stupid, who after a grotesque courtship marries a grotesque wile, with whom he lives in a grotesque hut, and is bullied by a grotesque mother-in-law. There is also another young Rudd with a shock of red hair and a stammer which is considered facetious, and a young sister engaged to a fat fiancé, with a squeaky voice, who is fired off the selection by Dad’s air-gun.

Between the melodramatic and the farcical characters stands Dad Rudd, played by Mr. Bert Bailey of Australasian fame, he is serious with the serious characters and comic with the comedy figures. He slaps Sandy on the back and stands by him in his trouble. He tells in stirring tones the story of his own early struggles in the Bush. But he rushes out at Dave’s mother-in-law in his nightshirt, fires the gun at Sarah’s fiancé, and has his tooth pulled out by his friends on the stage.

Mr. Bert Bailey’s acting sets the tone for the others, and it is as energetic and simple-minded as the play itself. The serious characters start, shudder, bite their lips, and clench their fists—make long speeches to slow music with an energy which in this country is usually associated with melodrama or the cinema stage. The comic figures tumble round the stage and knock each other about, and wink at the audience with an abandon which our English actors have now left to music-hall artistes and circus clowns.

There is something attractive in such ingenuousness. One may not laugh a great deal oneself; but one can very well imagine how backwoods men and cowboys on a rare visit to town would split their sides at the witticisms of Dad and Joe. One can imagine their guffaws when Dad on being told that the cow is in the barley replies, with a wink at the audience, “Then I bet that by this time the barley is in the cow”; or when Sarah complains that the rain comes in through the roof of the hut in which she and Billy Bearup are to begin their married life and Dad replies, “Then let's hope he'll catch cold. It may deepen his voice.” There is, moreover, something very genuine and attractive about the way in which Dad describes his early struggles in the backwoods, when in middle age he thinks he is ruined by the drought and exclaims: “I can do what a man with health, strength, and determination can always do—begin again.” That is not the sort of thing we should say, but it seems to suit Dad.

Judged by its own standards the play is not quite serious enough in the right places. It is apt to turn against its own sympathetic characters. For instance, Dave is one of the most attractive members of the Rudd family, and though we have no objection to his mother-in-law being held up to ridicule we can hardly regard it as a legitimate subject of mirth that his wife should be so grotesque a figure. In the same way, it is hardly funny that their early struggles should have turned the two youngest members of the Rudd family, and also Dad's own brother, into complete half-wits. But these are small debits, and on the whole come from those exuberant high spirits which so often characterise extreme youth.

D. H.

The Woman's Leader (London), Volume: XII, Issue: 31, Friday, 3 September 1920, p.658

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“ON OUR SELECTION,” which has succeeded the revival of “A White Man,” at the Lyric, purports to describe the life of an Australian squatter; but it is really a specimen of that almost extinct amalgam of farce and melodrama which used to be the staple fare provided at the Standard, the Surrey, and the Pavilion, East, some thirty years ago.  Nothing quite so naive as the adventures which Mr. Steele Rudd has provided for his hero, a kind of Antipodean “Old Bill” has hitherto been sent us even from America.  As an example of stage-craft, indeed, the play is quite preposterous; but thanks to the admirably robust acting of Mr. Bert Bailey as a rollicking and patriarchal bushman, it is quite worth seeing. Whether he is pursuing a prospective son-in-law through the bush with a shot-gun, collapsed on the floor in a violent attack of toothache, or standing for Parliament in opposition to the villain's father, Dad Rudd always makes a thoroughly popular appeal. And Mr. Bailey plays him with a zest, a humour, and a sense of character which make the old fellow seem thoroughly alive. The rest of the players have only minor chances of scoring. But mention must be made of Mr. Matthew Boulton, who shows himself a handsome and strapping young lover; and of Miss Eva Quin, a pretty young actress, who did her best with the part of the compromised heroine.

The Illustrated London News (London), Volume: 157, Issue: 4246, Saturday, 4 September 1920, p.32

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A new funny man made good in London on Tuesday. He came all the way from Australia to realise that ambition. His name it Bert Bailey. Bert was greeted with a cyclone of Coo-ees when he stepped on the stage of the Lyric Theatre in a comedy of Australian life, “On Our Selection.” It is impossible to determine from Bert’s personal appearance in that piece what sort of a man he may be out of the motley, or whether he is any good at his art outside his part in the Lyric. I put that point, because if Bert Bailey is half as good in other roles as he is as the old squatter in “On Our Selection,” London ought to see more of him. I hope, in that case, he will give us a further taste of his quality.

His Pants were Patched.

The squatter, whom everybody styled Old Dad, was a shrewd-tongued, irascible, but good-hearted and loveable old bird. His pants were patched, his manner was more forcible than polite, and, with his bald head and grey beard, he was everything but a beauty. A quaint compound of sentiment and harshness. Old Dad is no lay figure, but a human vital spark. No doubt, also, the portrait is true to type. Australia—and the rest of the British Empire—was made by these good Old Dads.

His Boots Talked

Bert Bailey played the part inimitably. The comedian has a deep-toned, rolling voice, and a method of deliberate utterance which drives every jocularity home. Hardly a sentence of his part failed to raise a laugh, while his by-play was such that on one fleeting occasion even the soles of his boots talked. I would like to see this actor in a play worthier of his prowess. Except for Old Dad and his wealth of humour, “On Our Selection” isn’t worth the proverbial tinker’s damn. It was curious to see at the lordly Lyric a piece presented like a melodrama of the No. 3 towns.

God Help Australia!

Nor are the characters in the concoction a particularly good advertisement for Australia. I was assured by an Australian in the audience that they are all veraciously limned. If that be so, the back country of our highly respected colony must be populated, largely, by imbeciles. Three of Old Dad’s four children have bats in the belfry. His brother (with a turned up nose) is properly off his dot, while other creatures of the entertainment are suffering from criminality, lunacy, and senile decay. If these people are types,
and not exceptions, God help Australia!

The Sporting Times (London), 28 August 1920, p.3

22 OOS still


Although Raymond Longford had adapted and directed a silent movie of On Our Selection, based directly on the Steele Rudd stories, for Southern Cross Pictures in 1920 (followed by a sequel, Rudd’s New Selection in 1921), a film version of the stage play starring Bert Bailey was the brain-child of Stuart Doyle, the managing-director of Union Theatres (subsequently reorganised as Greater Union Theatres) and it gained the distinction of being the first feature-length “talking picture” to be made by the Sydney-based film production company Cinesound, which utilised the new sound-on-film recording system developed by Tasmanian radio engineer, Arthur Smith. Australasian Film’s Bondi Junction studios (based in a converted skating rink that still served as a rink after hours), had a small sound-proof studio at its centre, which became the venue for the film’s interior scenes. However the difficulties in making the changeover to sound film production were many. Old-fashioned electric studio lighting that hissed was hardly suitable for sound movies and the right equipment was often hard to come by. The walls of the studio were heavily padded and huge generators supplied the 500,000 candlepower needed for the lighting, but the temperature inside rose to over 100° F (over 40° C) which left the actors visibly wilting after a period of time. The studio equipment included two microphones, but only one camera covered by a sound-proof ‘blimp’ so that the whirring of its internal mechanism wouldn’t be recorded on the film’s soundtrack. The camera frequently broke down through overwork and overheating and one of the heavy microphones developed a hiss, through moisture in the air, and had to be replaced. But work progressed, often on a make-shift basis. As noted, the microphone boom was improvised out of a wooden clothes-line prop and elevation shots were taken by placing the camera on a wooden platform that was raised and lowered by a rope and pulley system on heavily greased runners to keep extraneous studio noise to a minimum. With the picture half completed, the technicians still hadn’t come up with a solution to recording sound out-of-doors for the upcoming location shoot away from the studio’s power supply. However Arthur Smith subsequently devised a slip-ring motor for the sound recording system, which could be run off battery power and still maintain synchronisation with the camera.

In addition to Bert Bailey as producer and Ken G. Hall as director, the rest of the film crew included Walter Sully on camera with Sid Whiteley assisting, George Malcolm as editor, Bert Cross technical supervisor, George Gibson chief electrician, Jack Souter as production manager, Arthur Smith and Clive Cross on sound and Margery West as script girl. After commencing production in the first week of August 1931, progress on the film was reported in the pages of the weekly entertainment magazine Everyones (on which Gayne Dexter served as the Editor-in-Chief).

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U.T. Makes Fast Progress on “On Our Selection” Talkie

STUDIO work is now well advanced on Union Theatres talkie version of Steele Rudd’s “On Our Selection,” activities transferring from the Bondi lot to out-door locations in another four weeks.

From results to date and reviews of “rushes,” Ken Hall and Bert Bailey, respective director and producer, are well satisfied that the film will achieve all things expected of it.

“No attempt is being made to produce a sophisticated drama,” states Mr. Hall. “Experience has shown us that to-day the public wants bright, broad comedy for their most satisfying entertainment, and we are endeavouring to put just that into 'On Our Selection.’ The completed picture will be an admixture of comedy, romance and drama, and the humorous element will be the keynote of the production.

“We are determined to make this talkie one that not only will carry an assured local appeal, but one which will also prove equally acceptable as entertainment in every part of the world,” he emphasises.

Steele Rudd’s play has a sentiment which, in appeal, is not necessarily restricted to any one type of people, and an added factor is that the charm to be embodied in the bush location scenes allow every opportunity to amaze the world at the glorious beauty of the true Australia.”

Hall pays tribute to the efforts of Bert Bailey who, besides producing, is playing the role of “Dad,” a part in which he scored fame on the stage. To him and Hall fell the job of knocking the original script into suitable motion picture shape, and in addition his long association with the subject allows for complete smoothness in moving the action along to the best effect.

Both of them put much labor into the work before the studio activity commenced, notably had the story to be completely re-written and modernised in order to inject an appeal calculated to win universal response.

And then, of course, Bert went through the hazardous procedure of developing a full-length hirsute growth in order to give that touch of real-life to the beloved “old-man” of Rudd's creation.

In between times there was the all-important work of cast selection, photographic and vocal tests, to say nothing of the studio alterations consequent upon the change from silence to sound.

Yes, it certainly was a big job.

Any day at the studio you will strike Bailey in high delight at the advance thus far. “I believe Australia is in for a pleasant surprise when our picture is completed,” is his theme song, and we hope his belief is right. He is certainly putting plenty into the job and deserves a worth-while reward.

On the technical side, everything is in apple-pie order also, and sound results have earned praise for the Cinesound System and recording engineers Arthur Smith and Clive Cross. Splendid realism and clarity are stated to be the features.

Photographic supervision and lighting cares are well shouldered by Bert Cross who, with camera-man Walter Sully, is well versed in the great unseen mysteries of the filming craft.

The cast of the  picture, which includes many who have appeared in the original stage production is: “Dad,” Bert Bailey;  Dave, Fred Macdonald; Joe, Ossie Wenban; Maloney, Jack McGowan; Sandy, Dick Fair; Uncle, Willy Driscoll; John Carey, Len  Buderick; Jim Carey, John Warwick; Cranky Jack, Fred Kerry; Billy Bareup, Fred Browne; Kate, Molly Raynor; Sarah, Bobbie  Beaumont; Mum, Alfreda Bevan; Lily White, Lily Adeson; Mrs. White, Dorothy Dunkley.

In this project Union Theatres are tackling something which is big in every respect, and here’s a wish that the finished production achieves its purpose of at long last getting a break for Australia in the world of motion picture making.

Everyones (Sydney), 2 September 1931, p.25

23 The RuddsThe cast on location (l to r): Fred Kerry (Cranky Jack), Ossie Wenban (Joe), Alfreda Bevan (Mum), Bert Bailey (Dad), Jack McGowan (Maloney), Bobby Beaumont (Sarah) and Willie Driscoll (Uncle).

Completing “On Our Selection”

AFTER six months of production, Director Ken Hall and Bert Bailey will soon complete the talkie version of Steele Rudd’s “On Our Selection.” All interiors have been shot, and at present the company is at work on location at Penrith on the final exterior action.

Union Theatres Feature Exchange, who will release the film, state that the “rushes” reveal the talkie as something worthwhile. It is confidently expected to land it on to the world market as the first of several to be made by the unit next year, including a version of “The Silence of Dean Maitland.”

STEELE RUDD, upon whose book Bert Bailey based the first version of his play, was recently invited to witness some of the takes. Admitting that he went along with little or no enthusiasm, he had been disappointed too often in the past, the author frankly admits amazement at results. Just halt Steele Rudd to-day and mention the “Selection.” He gives you the impression that he was in at the birth of a masterpiece. Speaking of the clarity and evenness of the recording and of the ingenuity which Ken Hall has shown in grafting the never-failing laughs of the old play on to a modern setting with unbounded enthusiasm, Steele Rudd believes that there is triumph coming in the finished job.

Ken Hall has idealised the story, retaining the spirit and the humor of the characters, but placing them in an Australian atmosphere which is more familiar and certainly more pleasing, than the drought-stricken conditions which earlier writers seemed to consider a sine qua non of Australian stories.

One consequence of this wise decision is that “On Our Selection” can go forth to the world as something really typical of this nation.

Gordon Ellis informs that a representative of an European firm hung about the location for several days recently, watching operations and summing up on the general impression the unit's activities made on him he commented to Hall and Bailey that they were certainly working on right lines, and shooting the right class of stuff for which Europe was hungering. He opined that they were putting real Australians, living a real Australian life, on the screen and revealing at last the true spirit of this country. And Gordon states he has backed his opinion by having already opened up negotiations for the European rights of the picture.

Ken Hall is full of enthusiasm and plans to get the last ounce out of every moment, while in Bert Bailey he has an ideal collaborator—a shrewd Australian knowing every foible and idiosyncrasy of the man on the land.

And both are showmen, and neither it is stated, has lost sight of story value, of action and comedy in the making of a popular film. The original plot has been materially altered and strengthened.

It is significant what widespread interest the announcement that the film was to be made has created.  There is hardly a hamlet in Australia that Bert Bailey has not taken his stage company to with “On Our Selection,” and wherever he has gone he has made friends. And they have remained his friends. To-day they are flooding him with a huge mail of suggestions, offers and reminiscences and it all augurs well for the business that will be done when, at last, “On Our Selection” is released.

Everyones (Sydney), 25 November 1931, p.31

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The future of Cinesound was literally dependent upon the financial fate of the completed motion picture. A commercial success for On Our Selection would ensure future finance for further feature film productions by the company, but a failure meant that it would have to cease production in that particular field (while still having its newly-established cinema newsreel franchise, Cinesound Review to fall back on.)  Following trade screenings around the country in June the film was given its public premiere at the Tivoli Theatre in Brisbane on 22 July 1932 in recognition of the Queensland setting of Steele Rudd’s original stories. Demand for tickets was so strong that the Tivoli opened up its Roof Garden Theatre in order to accommodate the overflow and both houses were packed out at all sessions, which augured well for the film’s future and it subsequently went on to break all Australian cinema box-office records for a local production throughout the country that stood until overtaken by 40,000 Horsemen in 1940. (At the time of its initial release On Our Selection’s success at the local box-office was second only to the record that had been established by Cecil B. DeMille’s original 1923 American silent movie version of The Ten Commandments.)  

The film was subsequently released overseas by British Empire Films, under general manager, Gordon Ellis and proved to be equally popular in New Zealand, where it premiered at the Regent Theatre, Auckland on 28 October 1932, and went on to smash box-office records in that country as well. The film also fared well in Singapore, China and Great Britain, where its success—under the title of Down on the Farm—helped to mitigate the play’s failure in London some 13 years earlier.

The film’s £6,000 production costs ($584,287 in today’s currency) was recouped from its Australian box-office receipts alone and Cinesound subsequently embarked upon its second feature film in 1932, an adaptation of the Bert Bailey and Edmund Duggan play The Squatter’s Daughter (previously fimed as a silent movie in 1910 co-starring Bailey and Duggan) and there would also be further instalments in the Rudd family saga in the coming years, as well as cinema re-releases of On Our Selection throughout the 1930s and beyond due to popular demand. 

Grandad Rudd (1934)

Cinesound Productions—Screenplay by Bert Bailey, George D. Parker and Victor Roberts; Directed by Ken G. Hall; Cinematography by Capt. Frank Hurley; cast: Bert Bailey, Fred MacDonald, George Lloyd, Elaine Hamill, John D’Arcy, John Cameron, William McGowan, Kathleen Hamilton, Lilias Adeson, Les Warton, Molly Raynor, Bill Stewart. Marie D’Alton, Marguerite Adele, George Blackwood, Ambrose Foster and Peggy Yeoman.

Dad and Dave Come to Town (1937)

Cinesound Productions—Screenplay by Bert Bailey and Frank Harvey; story by Ken G. Hall; Directed by Ken G. Hall; Cinematography by George Heath; cast: Bert Bailey, Fred MacDonald, Shirley Ann Richards, Alec Kellaway, Sidney Wheeler, Billy Rayes, Connie Martyn, Peter Finch (in his feature film debut), Valerie Scanlon, Ossie Wenban, Muriel Ford, Leila Steppe, Marshall Crosby, Cecil Perry, Billy Stewart, Marie D’Alton, Leslie Victor and George Lloyd.

Dad Rudd M.P. (1940)

Cinesound Productions—Screenplay by Bert Bailey and Frank Harvey; Directed by Ken G. Hall; Cinematography by George Heath; cast: Bert Bailey, Fred MacDonald, Alec Kellaway, Yvonne East, Grant Taylor, Barbara Weeks, Connie Martyn, Frank Harvey, Ossie Wenban, Valerie Scanlon, Jean Robertson, Ronald Whelan, Letty Craydon, Marshall Crosby, Joe Valli, Field Fisher, Billy Stewart, Natalie Raine, Chips Rafferty and Raymond Longford.

Further Resources

Film clips on AUSTRALIAN SCREEN from the NFSA:

Ken G. Hall on Bert Bailey,

Additional Sources

Eric Irvin, Dictionary of the Australian Theatre 1788–1914 (Hale & Iremonger, Sydney:1985)

Margaret Williams, Australia on the Popular Stage 1829–1929 (Oxford University Press, Melbourne: 1983)

Eric Reade, The Australian ScreenA Pictorial History of Australian Film Making (Lansdowne Press, Melbourne:1975)

Don Groves & Terry O’Brien, AHL: A Hundred Years of Entertainment (Amalgamated Holdings Limited, Sydney: 2010)

J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1920–1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, [Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2nd ed.; 2014]

Everyones (Sydney), 6 July 1932, p.10—“Selection” Premiere for Brisbane July 22 ; 27 July 1932, p.9—"Our Selection” Premiere in Brisbane ; 14 September 1932, p.9—“Selection’s” Record Career: What Exhibs Say About It ; 5 October 1932, p.26 – “Selection” Set For Singapore ; 2 November 1932, p.22—“Selection” Opens to Records in N.Z. ; 28 December 1932, p.6—“On Our Selection” Sold for China ; 11 January 1933, p.11—“On Our Selection” Succeeds in England: Big Bookings

Internet Movie Data Base


28 Everyones