Showing posts with label juggling history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label juggling history. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Herbert (Bert) Beaver - Sydney's Jesting Juggler of the 1920s

 Juggler Bert Beaver began as a vaudeville performer and became one of the most influential radio personalities of the early broadcasting age.

Herbert Edward Beaver was born in Broken Hill in outback New South Wales in 1897 to Ada and Edward. However, his father died when he was young, and his mother remarried when he was 12. Her second husband, Bert’s stepfather, was Gilbert Sinclair, a union man who later became secretary of the State Boilermakers Union. Sinclair, a prominent and vocal member of the labour movement, later became a member of parliament and a founder of a radio station.

How Bert became involved in juggling is a mystery, but his first press notices date to the early 1920s when he was appearing with Dix and Baker in regional Newcastle. He was known as the ‘talking’ or ‘jesting’ juggler who told humorous anecdotes and made smart remarks while juggling sticks, balls, and hats. His act also included balancing two billiard balls on a stick.

Bert- (left) 1926 Wireless Weekly

Bert became quite popular when the Fuller's circuit employed him between 1922-23. In Queensland he caused ‘considerable laughter’ while balancing two balls on a cue and in Adelaide he ‘delighted’ the audience. That year he also toured New Zealand with Fullers.

Meanwhile, he had met juggler George Campbell, an old-time passing juggler who started juggling in Australia in 1906. The pair joined up and formed the Campbell – Beaver - (Fred) White Company and toured regional areas of Australia. This company morphed into the Cockatoo Farm Company which became a legendary touring group in country Australia. One member of the ensemble was singer Vera (Peggy) Cornock.

Cockatoo Farm was an early form of vaudeville revue with a simple humorous story interspersed with specialty turns. The story was stereotypically country Australian with Dad played by George and his son Willie played by Bert. The plot revolved around farm shenanigans and corny Australian jokes- it was tremendously well-received.

The show included a juggling turn from George and Bert which probably involved club passing, and it can probably be assumed that the pair exchanged ideas and juggling techniques with George representing an older generation of jugglers and Bert the new.

In later years Bert claimed that he could juggle three or four lacrosse balls, hats, cigars or clubs and that he invented the trick of passing soap bubbles up and down a stick or string. He was also a keen magician and member of the Australian Society of Magicians and sometimes performed at their annual soirees in Sydney.

After almost two years with George Campbell and the Cockatoo Farm Company, Bert left and formed his own touring group. They were well-regarded but relegated to smaller regional towns. In 1923 he married Vera Cornock , and in 1924 they had their first child, Shirley.

Bert was increasingly interested in management, and fortunately in 1925, just as radio and the movies were beginning to encroach on vaudeville he was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The chance to be on the ground floor with a radio station.

His stepfather Gilbert Sinclair was one of the founders of the new station 2KY, which was owned by the labour movement. Gilbert persuaded the other directors to employ his stepson as the manager, and by 1925, as 2Ky hit the airwaves, Bert was one of the few permanent staff members.

Bert in 1935 Wireless Weekly

He became well known in Sydney as Uncle Bert and had a versatile career that mingled calling boxing matches with children’s stories. Through the depression years, he maintained his role and mentored young talent through community concerts and talent quests. It was through one of these that he encountered young juggler Jimmy Wallace. Jimmy later said that he was lucky that Bert was a juggler because their shared profession ensured encouragement and reinforcement for his later career. Presumably, the pair swapped tricks and ideas, just as George Campbell and Bert had done many years earlier.

Managing the station left Bert with little time to juggle, but he continued to do so at the community concerts and public radio Xmas parties. He is recorded as juggling occasionally until the 1940s.

He also took a risk in the mid-1930s when he travelled to England for radio business and briefly appeared as a juggler in the London music halls. Upon his return to Australia, he said he just wanted to find out if he was still capable. On that trip, he also witnessed an early version of Baird’s television and reported to the Australian press on his experience.

Bert was a pioneer of radio and a mentor for Sydney jugglers. He provided a bridge from the old generation, such as George Campbell, to a new generation, such as Jimmy Wallace, who had to adapt the art of juggling to the demands of new technology.

Bert and his family eventually settled on the Northern Beaches in Sydney and he passed away there in 1958. He still has descendants living in the area.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

W C Fields juggling in Australia 1903

In the early 20th Century, Cinquevalli popularized juggling in Australia and due to this, Harry Rickards, the owner of the Tivoli circuit, looked for other jugglers to entertain his audiences.

In 1903, Rickards succeeded in persuading the American 'eccentric juggler' W C Fields to tour Australia.

At the time of his arrival, Fields was 23 years old. The local version of Theatre Magazine described him as 'A comparatively good looking , fair coloured youngster. ...a good revolver shot and a capital horseman.'

Fields began his tour in Melbourne in June, traveled to Adelaide for about a week in July and then had a two month stint at the Tivoli in Sydney.

His act was most notable for its comedy.

Fields dressed as a tramp, said little and let his antics and dumb show provide the laughs.

For a ten minute turn in Adelaide, he used a battered old  grey belltopper (hat) and twisted it around his feet, hands and head. He then placed a cigar on the hat, placed both on his toe and whipped them up so that the hat fell onto his head and the cigar into his mouth.

He followed this with feats of three ball juggling. (He used tennis balls)  The Adelaide Advertiser said that 'under his control the balls were made to bound from place to place with lightning speed.'

In Sydney and Melbourne, Fields did the  billiard ball trick. Apparently this involved the use of a trick pool table. Field would bounce balls off parts of his body and they would rebound into the pockets. This trick was very well received by audiences.

The juggler was very popular in Sydney in particular.The Referee newspaper described the encore demands from the audience on his opening night as 'unreasonable.' Most reviews commented on his humour. The same newspaper said 'he does the most difficult feats with a drollness which is irresistibly funny.' 

Fields returned to Australia in 1914 for another tour. Of course he followed up his juggling career with star turns as a comedian in the Ziegfeld follies and in movies. Field gave up juggling, partly because he wanted to drink, and partly because he wanted a more rewarding occupation. Nonetheless, he did gain his initial fame through juggling and was one of the most successful acts on the Tivoli circuit in Australia in 1903.

If you are interested in contemporary juggling in Australia try Sydney Juggling.

notes on sources.

Fields' description from Theatre Magazine is quoted in Tivoli by Frank Van Straten

The picture of Fields comes from Melbourne Punch, 25/06/1903

The description of his act in Adelaide comes from The Adelaide Advertiser, 13/07/1903

The description of the billiard ball trick is based upon a description found at

Finally, quotations about his performance in Sydney come from The Referee, 29/03/1903