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Barbour, Lyndall Harvey (1916–1986)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Lyndall Harvey Barbour (1916-1986), radio actress, was born on 19 May 1916 in Cairo, eldest of four children and only daughter of Captain Eric Pitty Barbour (d.1934), Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force, and his wife Dora Frances Blanche, née Grieve (d.1930), who were both born in New South Wales. She was taken to live in Britain until the family returned to Sydney in 1919. Cared for by her grandmother, Lyndall was educated at Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School, Darlinghurst, and the University of Sydney (BA, 1938). She joined the Sydney University Dramatic Society and played leading roles under May Hollinworth’s direction.

After attending radio auditions in 1937, Barbour was engaged by Edward Howell to act as ladies-in-waiting in the serial `Coronets of England’; she took drama lessons with his wife Therese Desmond. In January 1938 she was auditioned by the Australian Broadcasting Commission and given the leading role in the serial `Into the Light’. Henceforth she starred in some three hundred plays and serials for the ABC. Possessing `a fine clear voice, intelligence and wit, and a strong emotional drive’, she developed her skills quickly. She worked regularly with George Edwards and Nell Stirling. In long-running serials she became well known as the intrepid Kay Lawrence in a wartime spy thriller, `First Light Fraser’, and as Elizabeth Blackburn in Max Afford’s `Danger Unlimited’, and co-starred with Peter Finch in `Crossroads of Life’. She accepted numerous leading roles for Lux Radio Theatre (broadcast successively on radio-stations 2GB, 2UW and 2UE), Macquarie Radio Theatre (2GB) and `Library of the Air’ (2GB).

Barbour found radio `the most challenging medium for an actress’ as `you have to rely on only one skill, your voice’. At the microphone she was scared of doing a French accent, which she considered the most difficult to portray. Although adept at comedy, she preferred dramatic, emotion-charged roles such as prostitutes, female fiends, sex-motivated murderesses and psychiatric cases, `the madder the better’. Lyndall loved books: P. G. Wodehouse was her favourite author. She also loved horses, and enjoyed attending race meetings, `not particularly to bet, but just to see the glorious things’.

The late 1940s and early 1950s were her busiest times: she did forty or fifty serial episodes a week. Barbour won Macquarie awards for the best supporting actress in 1946 and 1948, and best actress in 1949 (in `Genius at Home’). She played in the comedy show `Gently Bentley’ in the early 1950s, produced Winterset for the ABC in 1951 and took over `Women’s Week’ on 2GB late in 1952 when Gwen Plumb went to England.

Her shoulder-length, honey-coloured hair waved naturally, framing a face `alive with humour and intelligence’. Despite her good looks, Barbour took only stage roles that interested her. She won the Sydney Theatre Critics’ Circle award for best actress in 1955-56 for her performance in Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo (1956). After the introduction of television in 1956, she had `to scratch a bit’ to find radio work but managed to make a fairly comfortable living, helped by her title role as a brilliant lawyer in the long-running (1954-70) serial `Portia Faces Life’. She visited England for six months in 1959 and starred in the West End, London, in Detour After Dark. Back in Sydney, she appeared in the television serial (1967) and film (1969) of Jon Cleary’s novel You Can’t See Round Corners (1948).

Dedicated to her career, Barbour did not marry. In her later years she became a recluse and spent much of her time in her North Sydney flat enthusiastically watching cricket on television, revelling especially in the batting of Greg Chappell. In the 1980s she recorded books for the Royal Blind Society of New South Wales. Lyndall Barbour died of cancer on 10 October 1986 at Wahroonga and was cremated. The National Film and Sound Archive holds recordings of many of her radio performances.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Lane, The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama (1994)
  • ABC Weekly, 26 May 1945, p 9, 15 Oct 1949, p 42
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Apr 1947, p 3, 14 Apr 1947, p 5, 21 Feb 1949, p 5, 6 Feb 1950, p 4, 9 July 1953, p 7, 13 June 1956, p 4, 24 Nov 1966, p 2, 13 Oct 1986, p 4
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 2 Apr 1967, p 90
  • Actors’ Equity of Australia, Equity, Dec 1986, p 30
  • C1229, Artists cards—L. Barbour, and SP1011/2, item 151 (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Barbour, Lyndall Harvey (1916–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barbour-lyndall-harvey-12172/text21813, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 September 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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