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.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Professor Wallace- or the continuing adventures of the Bell Family in Sydney. (Jimmy Wallace's dad.....)

 This is a small advertising pamphlet for Professor Wallace who was a travelling entertainer in Sydney up to the 1950s/60s.

Professor Wallace was the father of juggler Jimmy Wallace and the family lived for some time in Marrickville in Sydney's inner west, and just around the corner from where I live. So this pamphlet is very interesting for me.

As you can see, Professor Wallace did not work alone and had a few friends who helped him out. I'd really like to know the identity of Harry the Comedy Juggler.

 Professor Wallace and his Punch and Judy show were a feature of children's parties in Sydney for many years. His daughter Florence, gave an interview to the City of Sydney Council archives which details the family's adventures - you can access that here.

The letters in the phone number date this to the 1950s -  60s in Sydney. 

James or Jimmy Wallace- Professor Wallace's son, was a famous juggler in Sydney and Brisbane. I have written about him here. 

Friday, September 1, 2023

Some updates


Just some small updates; 

I am currently trying to write about W C Fields' tour of Australia. Neil Litchfield of Stage Whispers Magazine sent this photo of Fields to me.

This photo was taken in Australia and shows Fields in the costume he wore on stage. He toured in 1903 and in 1914, and, according to Variety Magazine, was supposed to tour in 1918, but broke his contract with the Tivoli to continue performing with the Follies in the USA.

I have also recently found a postcard of Clara Braatz, aunt of Selma Braatz, a juggler who toured Australia in 1914. Clara accompanied Selma on her tour.

And in news that belongs to the category of 'humble brag', I was able to identify some photos of Jimmy Wallace held in the State Library of NSW. They agreed with my ID and have labelled the photos accordingly.

The link to the photos is here 


Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Jugglers ( and others) at the Sydney Tivoli 1901-1903

 Once upon a time, Sydney had wonderful buildings like this;

Harry Rickards' Tivoli Theatre in Castlereagh Street.

Between the years 1901-1903 Rickards imported the best of the world's vaudeville talent, and supported the best of Australian Vaudeville talent too.

Amongst his amazing performers during those years were;

Lennon, Hyman and Lennon- Australian club jugglers and passers who were the main local exponents of the art. They had a long career as a partnership and Bert Lennon went on to manage the Tivoli in Adelaide. Bert was a legendary member of the South Australian theatrical community all his life.

The above is the group in 1906 when they were performing for William Anderson in Sydney.

However, back to 1901-1903 and the  Tivoli.

Another legendary group of local juggers were the Lentons. They were hat jugglers.

The two male Lentons started juggling as children. The name Lenton was associated with hat juggling in Australia for over a decade.

But it was Rickards' ability to import the best performers in the world to Australia that made the Tivoli legendary.

Derenda and Breen were high class club jugglers from the US and allegedly introduced the game of netball to Australia.

The Harbecks were some of the only hoop jugglers and rollers in the world. 

Of course the best juggler in the world was this guy who came to the Tivoli in 1902 for the second time.

The incomparable Cinquevalli.

However, this guy who came in 1903 was pretty highly regarded too.

W C Fields. By the time Fields got to Sydney his wife, Hattie, had joined him. She apparently added a lot to the humour of his totally silent act. 

 It wasn't only jugglers that Rickards imported.

Sandow was a huge draw for the Tivoli.

And these performers, French, look like fun.

Of course it cost a bit to get to the Tivoli.

And some audience members might have had to forget about buying dainty footwear from Grace Brothers.

But it would have been worth every penny.!

All this material comes from programmes held at the State Library of NSW. The programmes are bound in a book format and they are getting very fragile now.

I'm not sure how long they will last, but I hope the library takes steps to preserve these lovely souvenirs of our cultural (and juggling) heritage.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Paula Coutts- Australian Juggler

 The Southern suburbs of Sydney was an unusual place to find a female juggler in 1948, but that was the home of one of Australia’s most successful exports, Pauline Coutts.

Pauline, known professionally as Paula, was born in Sydney in 1930. Her father Arthur (b1904)  was a balancer and had appeared as a minor player on the Australian variety circuits before she was born. He encouraged his daughter in his profession and Paula’s first appearance was at 9 years old, in a picture taken at Bondi Beach. In the picture,  Arthur balances on one hand whilst Paula has her body wrapped around him. Thus began a successful vaudeville partnership- Paul and Pauline.

Before they got their professional start, both Pauline and Arthur worked for some time for the local post office in Kogarah. But fame was too enticing and when Pauline turned 18, father and daughter left Australia for the bright lights of England.

As Paul and Pauline, the pair toured the English provinces , Wales and Scotland for about 3 years.  Sometimes Pauline would perform twice, once with her father and once as Paula Coutts , lady juggler. In 1949 Paul and Pauline were presenting head and other balancing , feats of endurance and dental work. Paula was also juggling on the same bill. Advertisements from the time call her ‘cute and clever.’

In 1951 they returned to Australia. A picture was published in the local newspaper of Paula, doing the splits, balancing her father. It was an odd counterpoint to their original visual debut on Bondi Beach.  

At this time, Arthur seems to have returned to the post office, but Paula, in her unusual occupation as lady juggler, revisited  England. She was described as ‘a dainty Australian juggler’ ‘attractive’, and as presenting some unusual feats in her ball juggling specialty. Paula mainly juggled with balls, and was a skilful snooker player. 

Another performance during this time, was a spot in the Gene Kelly film, Invitation to the Dance. Paula appears in the circus segment, dressed as a clown, juggling balls and clubs. In a later interview Paula said ‘ Gene Kelly’s got what it takes.’

In celebration of her celluloid debut, her dad gave a brief interview to a local Sydney paper. He dismissed her juggling skills saying, ‘she was the worst of the lot’ , but ‘ she has the personality’. According to the proud father, Gene Kelly had wanted a boy juggler for the role, but was so impressed with Pauline that he offered her the part.  Arthur’s attitude towards Paula’s juggling was fairly typical at a time when female jugglers were rare. Unfortunately, her skills were often disregarded in favour of comments on her physique or personality.

In 1952 Paula joined other entertainers on a tour to the Middle East to entertain the troops.

In 1953 she returned home for a brief visit and was greeted by newspaper reports. She was quoted as being a smog refugee travelling home  for her health. The report was accompanied by Paula juggling three balls in a bikini. She was described as ‘small and shapely with a mass of red curls’. Her plan was to reunite with her father as Paul and Pauline. 

In 1954 the pair performed together  for the Hot Ice spectacular as the only non-skating act. Off stage, they gave the skating star, Pat Gregory, juggling lessons between performances. Hot Ice toured Australia for six months visiting Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. 

Paula’s appearances in Australia were sporadic over the next few years, She appeared in RSL clubs and for charity galas in the suburbs. In 1961 she joined a large cast in a show called Yellzapoppin. The show successfully toured New Zealand and Paula was pictured tossing tennis racquets in a photo spread. 

By 1963 she was back in England. She appeared in TV shows such as The Good Ol Days for the BBC and joined and performed for the CAA ( Creative Artists Association.) In 1964 she was described as ‘ that rarity, a girl juggler, not only efficient but dauntingly attractive.’  By 1973 she was back in Australia appearing on the Bert Newton Show.

From this date references to Paula juggling are quite rare. There is some evidence that she may, in later life, have taken to TV acting. It seems she passed away in 2022.

Friday, May 26, 2023

The Kiraku Brothers in Australia 1935


The Kiraku brothers, Risley performers who juggled with their feet, arrived in Australia in March 1935. The pair, Kamejiro Yoshida, aged 38, and Hirokichi Fuji, 35, were imported from London where they were performing regularly in theatres and music halls.

Hiro was from Gefu and had been apprenticed to an acrobatic troupe, The Hamamura troupe, by his uncle when he was ten. Kamejiro, from Kyoto, the older performer, was also a graduate of the same school. Both were sons of farmers and they had travelled the world as acrobats since they were children.

Tivoli owner Frank Neil paid a bond of 200 pounds to insure them before they appeared on Australian stages. He also committed to providing food, clothing and medical care and swore that their appearance would incur no cost to the Commonwealth.

Signed photo in my collection

Their first performances were in Western Australia, and they were sensational.

They took the stage costumed in tennis gear. Kamejiro- the older and stockier, in blue coat and trousers  and Hiro in a quirky hat with yellow buttonhole. Hiro provided the laughs, whilst Kamejiro was the base. The act began with Hiro performing some handsprings, then Kamejiro lay on his back on a couch and began to twirl his partner with his feet. The hardest trick was the foot to foot, where Hiro performed a full somersault landing with his feet on Kamejiro’s feet.

 Kamejiro then moved to the floor where he caught Hiro on his hands and ‘while supporting him in an upright position, rolled across the stage.’ The reviewer of the show was astounded by this feat of strength.

The Kirakus were immensely popular in Western Australia, but their stay was short. They were due to tour the east coast in a revue, Birds of the Night. However, before they left the west, Hiro authored an article for the local paper. In it, Hiro said that he preferred to be identified as a gymnast rather than an acrobat, as acrobats wore tights whilst he and Kamejiro wore flannels. He also detailed long and painful training sessions, broken bones, cut lips, concussions and endless hours of practice. He described his partner, who he called Kame, as like his brother and both as ‘happy go lucky.’ The full article is here.

From the newspapers- probably in costume

 In the last week of their stay in Perth, Hiro sprained a tendon in his foot, but he performed the next night with a smile. He had been on stage since childhood and was well acquainted with the painful repercussions of the Risley life.

The pair arrived in Melbourne in April. They were immediately employed in the revue ‘Birds of the Night,’ which starred Mrs Frank Neil. They were described as ‘probably the finest acrobatic turn ever presented at this theatre,’ and were undoubtedly the stars of the show.

They performed in Sydney in July and were warmly greeted. They stayed for the whole month and left the country in August.

Although their visit was brief, the Kirakus were widely regarded as one of the best Risley acts to perform in Australia. Their reception was particularly warm in Western Australia where they were photographed and interviewed. Their association with the Tivoli Theatre ensured their success with Australian audiences.

They returned to England and performed in pantomime and variety until 1940. Hiro was interned during the war while it appears that Kamejiro returned to Japan. Hiro died in England in 1968.

I used this excellent website about Japanese performers as a contributing source for this article.


Friday, May 12, 2023

Alfio Silvestri

 I recently acquired these pictures of Alfio Silvestri- there's not a lot of information about Alfio available, so I've posted what I know here hoping that somebody might know more. He was, by all accounts I've read, a very skilled juggler. 

In the graveyard of variety artists in England lies Alfio Silvestri, once hailed as ‘the greatest juggler on earth.’

He was born in 1909 and in his early years lived in Milan. When he appeared on the  British variety circuit  he was introduced as a famous continental juggler, and it’s probable that he honed his craft in the theatres of France and Italy.

In 1932 he debuted in the English variety theatres, he was 22, a slim young man with a polished act. He claimed to be the only person in the world who could juggle 10 balls while standing on one foot.

His speciality was ball juggling, he juggled footballs and billiard balls and his finale was catching balls thrown to him by the audience on a stick in his mouth. This audience interaction was much praised by critics.

Between 1932- 1955, he appeared in all the major music halls in England, Scotland and Ireland with this act.

Alfio Silvestri died in 1992 and was buried in Twickenham cemetery England by the Variety Artistes Benevolent fund.