Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Davey, John Andrew (Jack) (1907–1959)

by Lesley Johnson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

John Andrew (Jack) Davey (1907-1959), radio entertainer, was born on 8 February 1907 at Auckland, New Zealand, son of Arthur Henry Davey, mariner, and his wife Ella May, née Hunter, both New Zealand born. Arthur became a ship's captain on the trans-Tasman run. Educated (1918-22) at King's College, Auckland, Jack took various jobs and was briefly an assistant stage manager at a local theatre.

Shortly after arriving in Sydney, in 1931 Davey performed on radio as a crooner with the Australian Broadcasting Co. (2BL) and Macquarie Broadcasting Services Pty Ltd (2GB). Ten months later he was employed as an announcer on 2GB and quickly had his own shows, the first of which was a breakfast session. His opening 'Hi, Ho! Everybody!' was to be his enduring call sign. He began to develop the techniques of spontaneity—'ad-libbing' and quick-witted humour—that were to ensure his popularity, and he exploited this style when he took on extra work as a commentator (1933-57) for Fox Movietone News. On 17 July 1936 at the registrar general's office, Sydney, he married Dulcie May Mary Webb, a book-keeper; they were to be divorced in 1942.

The quiz and variety shows on radio in the 1940s and 1950s established Davey's fame. He had formed his own company, Jack Davey Productions Pty Ltd, in the late 1930s, but it closed in 1940. Next year Colgate-Palmolive Pty Ltd and the advertising agency, George Patterson Pty Ltd, set up their own radio production unit. As director of productions, Davey wrote, produced and compered variety and quiz shows for the Colgate-Palmolive Radio Unit. The 'Youth Show' and 'Stage Parade' (from September 1942 'Calling the Stars') were recorded at the Trocadero's ballroom in Sydney before audiences of some two thousand people each week. For several months from the end of 1941 the unit also recorded at the Comedy Theatre, Melbourne.

In December 1943 Davey joined the American National Red Cross as a field-entertainer in the South-West Pacific Area. Having toured Australia to promote the first Victory Loan, in mid-1944 he rejoined the Colgate-Palmolive unit (which was to transfer its productions from 2GB to 2UE in 1946). He published a book of anecdotes, Hi, Ho! Everybody! (Melbourne, 1945). His shows now included 'Leave Pass', the 'Colgate Cavalcade' and 'Calling the Stars'. In 1950 he returned to Macquarie as director of productions; his personality reversed its ailing fortunes.

Davey was earning a large salary, and spending far more. His extravagance, reckless gambling, expensive cars and big-game fishing meant that he was perpetually in debt. At St Columba's Presbyterian Church, Woollahra, on 24 May 1947 he married a divorcee Dorothy Daisy ('Diana') Lush, née Richmond. Marriage had little effect on his way of life.

He was chubby and small, 'quite out of keeping with his big voice'. In addition to his radio work, Davey engaged in much-publicized, if unprofitable, business ventures—motorcar auctions at Kings Cross, the Stork Club restaurant at Sylvania where he sang and danced, and a real-estate agency. As well as dispensing largesse during his shows, he visited hospitals, entertained disabled children in his cruiser, Sea Mist, and lent his name to charitable appeals, especially the Children's Medical Research Foundation.

The first Redex Reliability Trial in 1953 gave Davey the opportunity to indulge his enjoyment both of cars and of publicity. With co-driver Lou Moss he took part in the 6500-mile (10,460 km) race and sent constant, humorous reports back to Sydney to be published in his regular newspaper column in the Sun-Herald. Soon after the trial he collapsed. Next year, however, he again took part in the Redex trial—9600 miles (15,450 km) around Australia—and made nightly reports on radio.

A McNair-Anderson survey in 1955 reported that the quiz was Australia's most popular type of radio programme. Jack Davey competed with his friend and rival Bob Dyer to be the most successful compere. Although the shows increasingly emphasized the questions and the prizes rather than the vaudeville style of Davey's 1940s programmes, he continued to have an immense following. In contrast to Dyer's carefully-written scripts, Davey's spontaneity and wit, delivered in the warm, rich voice, for which he was so well known on radio, did not attract television audiences. He began with three programmes in 1957, broadcast simultaneously on television and radio, but the television shows were cancelled about a year later.

Jack's health was rapidly deteriorating. Survived by his wife, and by a daughter, he died of cancer on 14 October 1959 in St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was cremated after a service at St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral. Between 100,000 and 150,000 people stood in pouring rain to pay tribute to him. His life was, and continues to be, surrounded by myth-making, and he had ensured that stories and anecdotes were continually disseminated as central to any public version of that life. Davey was a showman, a consummate performer, at all times. His capacity to project his personality into the living-rooms of his listeners and the extraordinary agility of his 'wise-cracking' humour made him known as 'Mr Radio'.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Wright, The Jack Davey Story (Syd, 1961)
  • N. Bridges, Wonderful Wireless (Syd, 1983)
  • J. Kent, Out of the Bakelite Box (Syd, 1983)
  • Wireless Weekly, 4 May 1934
  • Commercial Broadcasting, 12 Sept 1940, 3 July 1941
  • People (Sydney), 24 May 1950
  • Australian Letters, Apr 1958
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Nov, 13 Dec 1943, 14 Apr 1944, 17 Oct 1959
  • Australasian Post, 19 Nov 1953, 14 July 1955
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 Jan 1985
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Lesley Johnson, 'Davey, John Andrew (Jack) (1907–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/davey-john-andrew-jack-9905/text17537, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018