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Baden-Powell, Frank Vincent (1929–1992)

by David J. Hough

This article was published online in 2016

Frank Baden-Powell, by Richard Woldendorp, 1970s [detail]

Frank Baden-Powell, by Richard Woldendorp, 1970s [detail]

State Library of Western Australia, b2467573

Frank Vincent Baden-Powell (1929–1992), actor, director, theatre-restaurant entrepreneur, and city councillor, was born on 14 August 1929 in Perth, Western Australia, only child of Perth-born parents Frank Baden Powell, dentist, and his wife Amy, née Kiely. Young Frank was educated at Aquinas College, Salter Point, and matriculated (1946) with distinctions in English, history, and Latin.

Next year Powell joined the State Public Service and involved himself in the theatrical activities of the Independent Players and the Therry Society. In 1949 he went to England and acted with a number of repertory companies; he styled himself Baden-Powell. On 8 May 1954 at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Warrington, he married Joan Olive Thompson (later Bruce), an actress.

Returning to Australia in 1955, Baden-Powell was stage manager for a tour of the newly formed Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, and then artistic director (1956–60) of the National Theatre Company at the Playhouse in Perth. There he directed many successful productions and acted in a number of others. In 1961 he formed theatre ’61 around a group of actors who wanted to perform alternative theatre; the small ‘t’ was intentional—‘to stop us getting up ourselves,’ he said (Hough 1991, 170). Their productions introduced Perth audiences to theatre-in-the-round and led to his formation in 1965 of the Hole in the Wall Theatre, in partnership with John Gill. Located first at the Braille Hall, Northbridge, they used stolen milk crates for seating and borrowed lighting for illumination. In 1968 the company moved to Southport Street, West Leederville, and into a 155-seat theatre. A production of There’s a Girl in My Soup (1969) ran for ten months and generated a cash flow that refurbished the theatre and translated a lease into ownership.

Baden-Powell was never out of work; ‘I would rather sweep the streets than go on the dole’ (Colocott, pers. comm.). His skills as a salesman were legendary, and he was employed at various times to sell cars and paint. Forming a business partnership in 1967, he and the writer-director Coralie Condon had opened the Old Time Music Hall. This was the first theatre-restaurant in Perth, and was designed to provide ‘good tucker and a fun time at reasonable prices’ (Daily Mirror 1986, 8). It evolved under the name Dirty Dick’s into a nationwide chain. An attempt in 1975 to expand into Los Angeles was less successful, but the venture was opened, Baden-Powell said, partly in retaliation for all the American hamburgers and fried chicken joints that had invaded Australia. He retired from the company in 1987.

In May 1963, Baden-Powell had entered local government, representing the City of Perth’s west ward, but he was defeated the following year. Re-elected in May 1969, he remained a councillor until 1977. His abiding interests lay in the management of the Perth Concert Hall, the city’s support for the Festival of Perth, and the aesthetic development of the Parliament House precinct.

An earthy raconteur with dancing eyes and a mischievous smile, Baden-Powell was a force in popular entertainment, noted for a quick wit and a robust sense of humour. He was an adventurous and decisive director, always prepared to nurture new talent. Following his divorce from Joan in 1960, he had married Eileen Colocott, an actress, in 1961; they separated in 1984. He moved to Sydney, where he was in a long-term relationship with Maxine Karlovsky, a choreographer. In 1992 he was awarded the OAM for service to the performing arts but died on 16 May that year, while undergoing a neck manipulation in his doctor’s surgery. A coronial inquiry recorded a finding of death by accident. Survived by two daughters from his first marriage, and a son and a daughter from his second, he was cremated. Frank Baden-Powell Park, in West Perth, was named in his memory in 2003.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Collocott, Eileen. Personal communication
  • Condon, Coralie. Personal communication
  • Daily Mirror. 'Dirty Dick meets Diamond Lil!' 18 April 1986, 8 Frank Baden-Powell Enterprises Pty Ltd. The Marketing of a Theatre Restaurant Chain. Perth, WA: Frank Baden-Powell Enterprises Pty Ltd, 1973
  • Hough, David. ‘From Hole Acorn to Theatrical Oak.' In The Chameleon’s Dish: Essays in Journalism, 170–4. Churchlands, WA: Edith Cowan University, 1991
  • Parsons, Philip, and Victoria Chance, eds. Companion to Theatre in Australia. Paddington, NSW: Currency Press Pty Ltd, 1995
  • Phillips, Brian. ‘Dirty Dick Meets Diamond Lil!’ Daily Mirror, 18 April 1986, 8

Additional Resources

Citation details

David J. Hough, 'Baden-Powell, Frank Vincent (1929–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/baden-powell-frank-vincent-18739/text30427, published online 2016, accessed online 18 July 2019.

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