Jack Neary AM OBE 1916-2000

Jack Neary

The son of a fisherman, John Edwin Neary was born on 19 January 1916 in the little fishing village of Brooklyn, on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney.

In 1950 he signed Bobby Limb, whom he ‘discovered’ playing at Sammy Lee’s Sydney nightclub.

Neary managed Limb’s career for 22 years. His stable expanded to include Johnny O’Connor, Shirley Abicair, Bob Gibson, Darryl Stewart, Ted Hamilton, John Laws and Barry Humphries.

 

Gentleman Jack

‘He was against the cut and thrust of showbiz, that just wasn’t his nature,’ said Jack Neary’s long time friend, singer Col Joye. ‘He’d do a deal, shake your hand and that was the deal. That doesn’t happen anymore. He fought for Australian talent all the way through. I think he only retired to redirect his energies. When he believed in something he’d drive ’em mad until they gave in. He knew we had to have an Entertainment Centre in Sydney and he didn’t let up until we got one. A lot of people don’t make a splash, but Jack made waves that just keep on going.’

The son of a fisherman, John Edwin Neary was born on 19 January 1916 in the little fishing village of Brooklyn, on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney. He won a scholarship to Woodlawn College, where he excelled in sport. From the age of 15 he studied for the priesthood in New Zealand, but the obligatory Latin and French defeated him. He returned to Sydney and worked for David N. Martin as the commissionaire at his Liberty Theatre in Pitt Street. During the war years he served in the NSW Police Force, joined its choir, and eventually formed a vocal quartet, the Four Guardsmen. They won Australia’s Amateur Hour, a national radio competition, and became a popular feature of Tivoli bills.

In 1946 the quartet disbanded and Neary established what became Australia’s first major theatrical agency. In 1950 he signed Bobby Limb, whom he ‘discovered’ playing at Sammy Lee’s Sydney nightclub. Under Neary’s astute guidance, Limb made his first recordings, became a radio sensation, and was engaged by David N. Martin for the Tivoli. Neary managed Limb’s career for 22 years. His stable expanded to include Johnny O’Connor, Shirley Abicair, Bob Gibson, Darryl Stewart, Ted Hamilton, John Laws and Barry Humphries. He appointed Cyril Berlin, a leading West End agent, to represent him in London, and eventually became managing director of the Australian branch of the British Lew and Leslie Grade Agency, working from offices in the Sydney Tivoli building. Through his connections with Berlin and the Melbourne-based Kenn Brodziak, he was responsible for handling the Sydney end of the Beatles’ tumultuous visit in 1964.

In 1961 Neary, Bobby Limb and Les Tinker founded NLT Productions Pty Ltd, a Sydney-based television production house. When the Tivoli closed Lloyd Martin joined them as chairman and managing director. NLT’s longest running show was Bobby Limb’s Sound of Music, which started in 1963 and notched up 363 episodes. The drama series If Those Walls Could Speak, Woobinda – Animal Doctor and The Rovers were made with overseas sales in mind, but Neary campaigned passionately for more opportunities for local talent on Australian television and in 1963 gave evidence before the Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television, the ‘Vincent Report’. In 1970 NLT ventured into feature film production with Squeeze a Flower, but it was a box office flop. Wake in Fright (1971) did better, as did Sunstruck, with Harry Secombe, in 1972.

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Biographical references

Glenn A. Baker: ‘Jack Neary AM OBE’ – Obituary in The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 2000
Judy Judd: Life and Limb, Horwitz Graham, 1987
Hon. Douglas McClelland AC: Eulogy delivered at Mary McKillop Church, North Sydney, 11 April 2000