Sir Frank Tait 1883-1965

Frank Tait

Sir Frank Tait

About 1879 the family moved to Richmond, Melbourne, where Frank – the youngest – was born on 12 November 1883.

In 1902 Frank, John and Nevin founded J. & N. Tait, concert promoters.

 

The ultimate entrepreneur

‘I had a great working relationship with Frank Tait,’ wrote John McCallum, recalling his days as
joint managing director of J.C. Williamson’s. ‘It was a strange one really. Frank was a little younger than my father and 35 years older than I was. I had been employed by him as a young actor before the war, and I had once waited for three days outside his office to see him about a play I had written. When he did see me, he was courteous and polite, as he always was, but not, of course, interested in my play. However, at least he had read it, and he referred me to a producer who did agree to produce it. Frank was tough, even ruthless, in money matters, but generous in other ways. It cannot have been easy for him, at the age of 75, to take into the business which he and his brothers had built up over 40 years a man of 39, and work with him on an equal footing. But he did, right from the beginning. When I was made joint managing director Frank was supposed to gradually retire. But he simply could not. Theatre business was meat and drink to him, and he could not give it up. Apart from his work and his family, he had no other interests, no hobbies. He never took holidays, only a few days at Christmas and New Year, when he went down to his seaside home at Sorrento. I once suggested that he should stay there for a few weeks instead of a few days, but he said, “All I do there is to go to sleep. I can't stand it.” Gauging what the public will like is a very inexact science, and Frank’s experience and instinct were very valuable. He was not right all the time, none of us are, or every entrepreneur would be a millionaire; but he could assess ability and merit quickly and accurately, whether it was in a script, an actor, a singer or a dancer.’

Frank, Charles, John, James Nevin and Edward (‘E.J.’) Tait were five brothers who contributed notably to the performing arts in Australia as concert, film and theatrical entrepreneurs. Their father, a Scottish tailor, had migrated to Victoria in 1862 and settled at Castlemaine. About 1879 the family moved to Richmond, Melbourne, where Frank – the youngest – was born on 12 November 1883. He attended Richmond State School and, later, Melbourne Church of England Grammar School. He started his working life as a tea merchant’s clerk.

In 1902 Frank, John and Nevin founded J. & N. Tait, concert promoters. Charles, who managed Allan’s music store, guided the business, and E.J., J.C. Williamson’s treasurer, watched from the sidelines. In 1903 Nevin made his first trip to London, where he engaged a number of celebrity artists to tour Australia, including the Welsh Male Choir, soprano Madame Albani and contralto Clara Butt. Further forays brought Emma Calvé, John McCormack and Harry Lauder.

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Photograph courtesy National Library of Australia vn3209520-v

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Biographical references

John McCallum: Life with Googie, Heinemann, 1979
Viola Tait: A Family of Brothers, Heinemann, 1971
Michael and Joan Tallis: The Silent Showman, Wakefield Press, 1999
Frank Van Straten: ‘Charles Tait, etc’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 12, Melbourne University Press