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Dease, Conly John Paget (Jack) (1906–1979)

by Barry O. Jones

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

Conly John Paget (Jack) Dease (1906-1979), broadcaster and actor, was born on 26 May 1906 at Bhamo, Burma, son of Conly Edward Dease, a lieutenant in the 91st Punjabi Regiment, and his wife Ida Ferley, née Vogt. The family returned to England and Jack attended Monkton Combe School, Somerset, matriculating at the age of 16. When he refused to enter a military college, he was indentured as a farm apprentice by his mother. One of the 'Barwell Boys', he reached Adelaide in the Barrabool on 29 April 1923. He worked at Clare for E. H. Mattner who found him 'a very spoiled lazy boy . . . always reading—novels' and commented on 'his clever and mischievous tongue'. Apprenticed to Hunter Bros at Montacute from December that year, Dease was released from his agreement on 7 November 1925. After various jobs, in 1928 he was taken on as a junior master at Scotch College, Adelaide, and enrolled at the university. Next year he taught at Tudor House, Moss Vale, New South Wales, and from February 1930 at Scots College, Sydney.

Leaving Scots in August 1933, John Dease studied drama with (Dame) Doris Fitton at the Independent Theatre. He was engaged by J. C. Williamson Ltd and appeared in musical comedies, among them The Dubarry (January 1934), before touring New Zealand with the company. In mid-1935 he joined Macquarie Broadcasting Services Pty Ltd's principal radio station, 2GB, as an announcer. Its management concentrated on promoting such personalities as Jack Davey, Charles Cousens and Harry Dearth. For twenty-five years Dease presented the musical programme 'World-Famous Tenors'. He married a clerk Margaret (Greta) Mary Mildred Lofberg on 15 December 1938 at St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Sydney; they were to remain childless and to be divorced in 1944. Dease's programmes included 'Radio Newspaper of the Air', 'World's Best in Music' and 'Reflections in a Wineglass', as well as game shows such as 'Mathematical Jackpots'. He became 2GB's chief announcer, read the news and was to record some two hundred talking-books for the blind.

The 'Quiz Kids'—which grew to be Dease's best-known programme—began in 1942, continued on radio every Sunday night until 14 October 1962 (with an abortive attempt in 1956-57 to run concurrently on ATN-7 television) and transferred to Australian Broadcasting Commission television in March 1964. Based on a popular American programme, it had a regular panel of five, aged between 11 and 15 years, who answered questions sent by listeners. If the 'Quiz Kids' failed to answer, the senders received a small cash prize. In promotional material and on television the quizmaster and panel always wore mortar boards and academic gowns. The word 'avuncular' could have been coined for Dease who was both dignified and enthusiastic.

In 1946 Dease had helped his friend Peter Finch to establish the Mercury Theatre; among his sundry roles was Henry Higgins in Pygmalion. That year he also appeared in the film, Smithy. On 2 January 1948 he married a divorcee Raukura Margery De Villiers Walmsley, née East, at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney. Some months after denying that he was a communist, he resigned in November 1948 as vice-president of the Actors' and Announcers' Equity Association of Australia.

After the 'Quiz Kids' was seen for the last time on 29 December 1968, Dease took character roles in television series, including 'Number 96' and 'Young Doctors', and in the films Ned Kelly (1970) and Colour Me Dead (1970). In 1972 he was in the 'It's Time' advertisement for the Australian Labor Party, but contested the Federal seat of Evans for the Australia Party; he joined the A.L.P. in 1974. His chief enjoyment was watching cricket. He emerged from semi-retirement in 1978 to play Ken, a newsreel commentator in the film, Newsfront. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, he died on 1 February 1979 at Ashfield and was cremated. Dease and the 'Quiz Kids' were featured on an 85-cent stamp issued by Australia Post in 1991.

Select Bibliography

  • R. R. Walker, The Magic Spark (Melb, 1973)
  • K. S. Inglis, This is the ABC (Melb, 1983)
  • J. Kent, Out of the Bakelite Box (Syd, 1983)
  • L. Johnson, The Unseen Voice (Lond, 1988)
  • Wireless Weekly, 26 July 1935, 9 July 1937, p 2
  • ABC Weekly, 27 July 1957, p 9
  • TV Times, 4 Mar 1964
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 July, 13 Nov 1948, 17 Aug 1964, 27 Oct, 29 Nov 1972, 3 Feb 1979
  • Sunday Telegraph (Sydney), 22 Aug 1971
  • Australian, 12 Nov 1976
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 7 Aug 1977
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3 Feb 1979
  • Immigration Dept, farm apprentices, file no 779 (State Records of South Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Barry O. Jones, 'Dease, Conly John Paget (Jack) (1906–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dease-conly-john-paget-jack-9935/text17597, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 November 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 13

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