Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edgley, Eric (1899–1967)

by Terry Craig

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Eric Edgley (1899-1967), theatre performer and impresario, was born on 1 August 1899 at Deritend, Warwickshire, England, son of Richard White, musician, and his wife Lizzie, née Warton, a dancer. Because the family was constantly on the move, Eric's education was spasmodic. At 9 he appeared with his younger brother Clement Edward as a tap-dancer in The Eight Lancashire Lads. Following the outbreak of World War I the family's group broke up. Eric and Clem changed their stage-names to 'Edgley' and 'Dawe' (allegedly the names of London streets), developed a song-and-dance routine and went on the vaudeville circuit. They cleaned theatres between engagements.

In 1920 they came to Melbourne to perform at the King's Theatre in a twenty-week pantomime season of Sinbad the Sailor for J. & N. Tait. They subsequently toured Australasia for J. C. Williamson Ltd in shows which included Robinson Crusoe, Love Lies and So This Is Love. On 22 July 1925 Eric married an actress Phyllis Edith Amery with Anglican rites at Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle, New South Wales; she was to die in childbirth on 8 January 1930. Forming their own troupe, 'The Midnight Frolics', Edgley and Dawe again toured Australasia in 1930-35. In September 1935 they took fourteen Australians to England in a revue, Seeing the World. Eric married a dancer Edna Theresa Luscombe on 16 February 1940 at the register office, Hampstead, London.

After a three-month engagement at Cape Town, South Africa, the three performers arrived in Australia in August. In December they appeared in the pantomime, The Sleeping Beauty, for Williamson's and Eric directed the revue, Thumbs Up. For the next three years they toured Australia on the Tivoli and Fuller circuits. Eric and Clem also starred for two years in 'Keep It Clean', a weekly revue sponsored by Gouge Dry Cleaning Co. on 3DB radio station, Melbourne. In 1948 they took 'The Midnight Frolics' to the Theatre Royal, Hobart, where it played for two years.

Edgley and Dawe moved to Perth in 1951 to manage His Majesty's Theatre. They staged Kiss Me Kate and Oklahoma, presented their own and other variety shows, and brought opera, ballet, drama and musical comedy to Perth. In March 1954 they bought a seven-year lease of the theatre. Clem's death in 1955 obliged Eric to concentrate on management, but the advent of television caused a slump in theatre attendances. Visiting the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, Edgley eventually succeeded in arranging Australasian tours between 1962 and 1966 by the Bolshoi Ballet, the Georgian State Dance Company and stars of the Moscow State Variety Theatre. Each venture was elaborate, expensive, extremely risky, but very successful.

An avid cricket enthusiast, and a warm, friendly and generous man, Edgley encouraged and subsidized amateur groups and struggling theatre companies. Reflecting on the theatrical profession in 1958, he had remarked: 'You are born into it; you die in it. One life in show business is not enough'. He died of cancer on 3 February 1967 at Subiaco and was buried with Anglican rites in Karrakatta cemetery; his wife and their daughter and son Michael (who carried on the entrepreneurial business) survived him, as did the son of his first marriage. His estate was sworn for probate at $111,560.

Select Bibliography

  • J. West, Theatre in Australia (Syd, 1978)
  • S. Mitchell, The Matriarchs (Melb, 1987)
  • Australian National Airlines, Australian Way, Nov 1991
  • Sunday Mail (Adelaide), 26 June 1954
  • West Australian, 4, 6 Feb, 13 Oct 1967
  • programmes and newsclippings (His Majesty's Theatre Archives, Perth)
  • B. Stephens, taped interview with Edna Edgley (1985, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Terry Craig, 'Edgley, Eric (1899–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edgley-eric-10096/text17819, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 30 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • White, Eric
Birth

1 August 1899
Deritend, Warwickshire, England

Death

3 February 1967
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation