Eric Edgley 1899-1967
Eric (‘Mick’) Edgley was born in the Birmingham suburb of Deritend on 1 August 1899.
When he was nine Eric appeared with his younger brother Clement in The Eight Lancashire Lads – the comic clog dancing act that also launched Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.
After the outbreak of World War I Eric and Clem rechristened themselves ‘Edgley’ and ‘Dawe’ (which they claimed came from London street names) and worked up a song-and-dance routine.
In February 1940, in London, Eric Edgley married a member of the company, the Australian dancer Edna Luscombe.
Actor and producer John McCallum has happy memories of his association with Eric Edgley,
whom he knew affectionately as ‘Mick’: ‘Mick and his brother, Clem Dawe, had been a comedy team for years all over the world. They had played several times at my father’s theatre (the Cremorne) in Brisbane. Mick was one of the old breed of showmen. He had been brought up in the business, and he knew it thoroughly, backstage and front of house. He knew what the “drift” was, and he knew what a “brief” was, and there are not many like him today. (The “drift” in a theatre is the area above the stage where the scenery is flown, and a “brief” is a free ticket.) The age of the actor manager may have had its drawbacks, but its advantages outweighed them, and its passing has left the theatre poorer for the actor, the playwright, and that most important person of all, the audience.’
Eric (‘Mick’) Edgley was born in the Birmingham suburb of Deritend on 1 August 1899. His father, Richard White, was an accountant who doubled as a theatre cellist, and his mother, the former Lizzie Wharton, was the daughter of Whimsical Wharton, a renowned British circus clown. The family’s peripatetic lifestyle meant that their children had little formal education, but they certainly learnt a lot about show business. When he was nine Eric appeared with his younger brother Clement in The Eight Lancashire Lads – the comic clog dancing act that also launched Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. After the outbreak of World War I Eric and Clem rechristened themselves ‘Edgley’ and ‘Dawe’ (which they claimed came from London street names) and worked up a song-and-dance routine. Between music hall bookings, they cleaned theatres.
Meanwhile Eric and Clem’s brothers Dick and Les and their sister, Dorothy, had formed the singing and dancing Dick and Dorothy Trio, which usually appeared in association with Dorothy’s husband, the Russian-born violinist Gregory Ivanoff. The act played the Tivoli Circuit for Hugh D. McIntosh in 1916.
In 1919 the Australian actor and entrepreneur Bert Bailey saw Edgley and Dawe in a pantomime in Edinburgh. He recommended them to J. & N. Tait, who brought them to Australia for their 1920 panto Sinbad the Sailor at the King’s Theatre in Melbourne, after which they toured for J.C. Williamson’s and Fuller’s.
In 1923 the White family assembled in Perth to launch The Midnight Frolics. The company consisted of the four brothers and one sister, plus Leslie’s wife, Nell McGuire; and violinist Gregory Ivanoff, Dorothy’s husband. ‘Ma’ Wharton presided backstage. They were soon joined by dancer Phyllis Amery, whom Edgley married in 1925; she died in childbirth in 1930. The Midnight Frolics offered cheerful variety entertainment and went through numerous editions as it gambolled its way around the country – including a short Tivoli engagement towards the end of 1928. In 1933, under the banner Clem Dawe’s Midnight Frolics, they played a long season at the Theatre Royal in Hobart.
In 1935 Edgley and Dawe gamely took a fourteen-strong all-Australian revue company to England with a show called Seeing the World, but it was a financial disaster. In February 1940, in London, Eric Edgley married a member of the company, the Australian dancer Edna Luscombe. Their first child, Michael, was born in 1943.
Photograph taken by Yvonne Mme courtesy National Library of Australia pic-vn3600578
Watch this space
Victoria Chance: ‘Eric Edgley’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia.Currency Press, 1995
Terry Crew: ‘Eric Edgley’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 14. Melbourne University Press
David Hough: A Dream of Passion,His Majesty’s Theatre Foundation, 2004
John McCallum: Life with Googie, Heinemann, 1979Frank Van Straten: Tivoli, Lothian Books, 2003