Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bentley, Charles Walter (Dick) (1907–1995)

by F. Van Straten

This article was published online in 2019

Charles Walter ‘Dick’ Bentley (1907–1995), radio and theatrical entertainer, was born on 14 May 1907 at Kew, Melbourne, son of English-born James Walter Bentley, baker, and his Victorian-born wife Rose Annie, née Black. Dick was educated locally before working for his father as a bread carter. Musically gifted, he had learnt to play the violin from about the age of seven. In 1927 he was performing in the Footwarmers, a popular Melbourne amateur band. Soon he was doubling on saxophone and clarinet in the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) Dance Band. He played and also sang at the smart Embassy and Rex cabarets. In 1936 he appeared in the musical comedy Wild Violets. The next year his clever impersonations of popular singers and actors—especially Noel Coward—were showcased in an ABC radio comedy series called Oh, Quaite!

Bentley ventured to London in 1938. After a brief spell in cabaret he was engaged by Radio Luxembourg to sing in the Ovaltineys’ Concert Party and to clown with the Australian Albert Whelan in The Merry Andrews Show. He moved to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for You’ve Asked for It and Lucky Dip. In 1939, following the outbreak of World War II, he toured in the revue Youth Takes a Bow. On 3 April 1940 he married Petronella Marcelle ‘Peta’ Curra at the register office, Holborn; they had no children.

Later that year the couple moved to Australia. Dick found work in radio, notably in the ABC variety shows Merry-Go-Round and the long-running Out of the Bag. He wrote his own scripts, testing the ABC censor’s ability to spot indelicate double meanings. During the early 1940s he performed in a string of cheery Tivoli revues, and tackled ‘straight’ roles in The Man Who Came to Dinner and Separate Rooms at the Minerva Theatre in Sydney. In 1945 he entertained troops in an exhausting tour through New Guinea and the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. He starred in the top-rating Calling the Stars radio show (from 1944), and was one of the country’s most highly paid entertainers. Peta worked as his secretary, answering fan mail and maintaining his accounts.

The Bentleys returned to Britain in 1947. Dick was engaged by the BBC to compere the talent quests Beginners Please! and Show Time. He also appeared in the radio series Navy Mixture, which featured ‘Professor’ Jimmy Edwards and a fellow Australian, Joy Nichols. The trio reunited in 1948 for Take It From Here or TIFH, as it came to be known. Both programs were produced by Charles Maxwell and partly written by Frank Muir, who was joined by Bentley’s scriptwriter, Denis Norden. Two years later a stage version, Take It From Us, had an extended run in London. In 1953 June Whitfield replaced Nichols. In a segment called ‘The Glums’—which became a highlight of the show—Whitfield was ‘Eth,’ Bentley her gormless suitor ‘Ron,’ and Edwards his domineering father. TIFH would achieve a run of 325 episodes over thirteen seasons, before concluding in 1960.

In 1954 Bentley was honoured with inclusion in the Royal Variety Performance. Demonstrating his versatility as an entertainer, he starred in the BBC television series And So to Bentley (1954), and on radio in Mr Bentley and Mr Braden (1957). He had cameo roles in several feature films, including The Sundowners which was shot in Australia in 1959. Tall, slim, and with a somewhat weather-beaten face, he was cast as a laconic shearer. He had also returned for three series of Gently Bentley (1951, 1955, and 1966), initially scripted by Muir and Norden for ABC Radio. His later BBC radio work included Once Over Lightly (1961) and the drama series Clancy of the Outback (1963).

As television supplanted radio, Bentley’s career faded, although he continued to make occasional guest appearances in dramas and comedies on the small screen. In 1970 Barry Humphries, a long-time fan, included him in his television series Barry Humphries’ Scandals. Their ensuing friendship resulted in his appearance in Humphries’s films The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972) and Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974), and in a recording of nostalgic Australian songs. His last major role came in 1978 when he played Frank Spencer’s grandfather in the BBC television comedy Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em. In 1987 he was profiled in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio documentary The Dick Bentley Story.

For much of his career, Bentley was the butt of affectionate references to his age (he was forty-one when he first portrayed twenty-one-year-old Ron Glum). Away from the spotlight he was self-deprecating and inclined to be reserved and unsociable. He spent his last years in quiet retirement in London. Predeceased by his wife in 1991, he died at Camden on 27 August 1995 and was cremated. He left his estate, sworn for probate at £138,375, to his two nieces.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Bridges, Nancye, and Frank Crook. Curtain Call. North Ryde, NSW: Cassell Australia Ltd, 1980
  • Gifford, Denis. The Golden Age of Radio: An Illustrated Companion. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1985
  • Hughes, John Graven. ‘“Not an Alien–an Australian”: The Dick Bentley Story.’ Signature, August-September 1973
  • Johnson, Rob, and David Smiedt. Boom-Boom!: A Century of Australian Comedy. Rydalmere, NSW: Hodder Headline Australia Pty Ltd, 1999
  • McKay, Mark. ‘Take It From Here.’ Laugh: The Comedy Magazine, no. 5 (1992): 3–9
  • Moran, Albert, and Chris Keating. The A to Z of Australian Radio and Television. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2009
  • Tatchell, Peter T. Tatchell’s Guide to BBC Radio Comedy. 2nd ed. Caulfield East, Vic.: Peter T. Tatchell, 2006

Additional Resources

Citation details

F. Van Straten, 'Bentley, Charles Walter (Dick) (1907–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bentley-charles-walter-dick-23844/text32718, published online 2019, accessed online 19 October 2019.

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