Lorrae Desmond Remembers
(Lorrae Desmond was interviewed by Bob Sitsky on 6 October 2008)

 

 

 
My first contact with the ABC was with ABC Radio in the beginning of the 1950s. I did some radio work before I went overseas. Charles Moses actually gave me the names of people in England that I should look up. He was an awfully nice man. I was away for seven years before coming home for the first time.

I missed the opening of television in Australia, as I was still in England in 1956, performing my own shows on television. My own TV shows on the BBC were Meet Lorrae Desmond then Swing Along With Lorrae. I was also recording artist with Decca, then Parlaphone with George Martin as my producer.

When I came home for a few weeks in 1957 the ABC asked me to do some television work (A friend of mine, actor John Sherman, told the ABC that I was coming to Sydney).

 

I did a 15 minute musical show from the news studio, as the main television studio was still being built. (The news studio that Lorrae is talking about was likely to have been the Arcon Studio in Gore Hill) The studio was only large enough to fit an upright piano, a double bass, and side drums. It was a simple show which I put together and I did all the talking and singing. I picked glen Marks to accompany me. I knew he was the best pianist around.

The ABC then asked me whether I could do some specials if I came back to Australia. So when I had an opportunity to come back to Sydney in 1958, I did two special shows with Colin Croft. We used the full ABC Orchestra with Jim Gussey. Then I flew back to London again.

The ABC then asked me to do ten radio shows and ten television shows - this meant that they would fly me back and forth to Australia specially to do these shows. The time period was 1959 to 1963. Both the radio shows and television programs were called The Lorrae Desmond Shows. Jim Gussey and the ABC Orchestra were used for all these programs - it was wonderful that the ABC had a full orchestra in those days.

I thought the standard of the productions for The Lorrae Desmond Shows was getting better, and better, and better as the years went on. Jim Upshaw was a very good director. We always had to include a Latin number in the shows - Jim worked a lot in South America. I could choose my own numbers for the rest of the program. Jim was my director for all the Gore Hill shows that were done. Jim had very unusual sleeping patterns - he would go to sleep in the studio control room during lunch breaks. He was a chain smoking madman who drank masses of black tea, but a very good director!

I used to write out the programs on the way from England to Australia - I would write them out on the back of the sick bags! By the time we arrived in Sydney, I would hand over twelve sick bags. With my pianist in England I would put together all the routines - so all the arrangements and music was written before I got here. So that's how I managed the work between England and Australia. I wrote all my own scripts for the shows. I actually preferred to put the shows together rather than be in them!

I always had a guest artists appear on my shows - and I always sung at least one number with my guest artist.

At the end of the series Sir Charles Moses crowned me - just with the cast and orchestra present - he crowned me 'queen of television'. That show was very successful. We got the Logie for best variety show in Australia, and next year I got the Gold Logie for the show - the first female artist to receive it. It was all due to the production values we had. I think that the ABC was just as good as the BBC during that period.

I always wanted to know which camera was on air, and Jim always showed me the scripts. When we rehearsed we knew which camera would be on. In those days no one else in Australia prepared this way. We had most parts of the show with live sound to air, but some parts were mimed.

I remember on one rehearsal I got mad at Nick Tate (who was a stagehand in Studio 21 and was making a terrible racket) and let go with some colourful language - unbeknown to me there was a party of nuns and schoolgirls listening to everything in the viewing room! He was a lovely guy and I wonder if he remembered me swearing at him.

One other show I performed in during those early years was Café Continental.

I loved the fact that initially all my ABC shows went out live - I prefer that to the later taping process. We had to do quick changes - I had about 15 bars to do the change. That was all part of show business. Once we went to taping, the shows lost their immediacy, and I didn't enjoy it as much. I liked the challenges of the live shows.

Dawn Lake and I both wanted to appear on each other's shows, but we both had contractual arrangements - me with the ABC and Dawn with Channel 9 - which made this hard to do. So we talked to our managements and got agreement for this type of exchange for just one occasion.

I have given all my scripts, scrapbooks, films - in fact everything connected with my career - to the National Archives.

 

Lorrae Desmond M.B.E. started her career in Sydney as a singing cigarette girl in the late 1940s. She then travelled to England where she became a celebrity. She has sung and performed cabaret around the world for decades. One of Lorrae Desmond's proudest accolade is the one Australian soldiers gave her: the title "Mother of all Vietnamese Veterans".

 

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