Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Juan, John (1901–1979)

by Wendy Birman

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

John Juan (1901-1979), adagio dancer, radio announcer and compere, was born on 1 May 1901 at Hawker, South Australia, and registered as John Kappen Fox, son of John Henry Fox, solicitor, and his wife Adelaide Kappen, née Porter, a pianist. His father died before John was age 2 and his mother brought him to Adelaide. She took him to England when he was 7 and to Perth when he was 12. In 1915 he entered Scotch College. At 17 he left for England as an able seaman in the merchant ship, Australplane; while the ship was strikebound in New York, he haunted Broadway. Back in Perth in 1920, he danced a prologue to the silent film, Whirl of Life, and began a theatrical career as an adagio dancer. Five ft 10½ ins (179 cm) tall, lithe, dark and suave, he changed his surname to the more romantic Juan (legalized later). At St George's Anglican Cathedral, Perth, on 22 April 1925 he married Zelda Anne Coleen Bailey, an actress from New Zealand. They went on tour, treading the boards as an underdressed couple in cabaret performances in England, Europe and Australia, and reputedly took top billing at the Palladium and Palace Royal theatres, London.

In the mid-1930s Juan sold dry-cleaning machines in Ireland; a similar venture in Sydney left him insolvent. In 1938 a chance audition in Perth gave him entry to the emerging world of radio as an announcer on the Australian Broadcasting Commission's station, 6WF. For thirty-five years his natural gift for the medium endeared him to thousands of Western Australians who warmed to his sentimental signature tunes, There'll be a Silver Lining, We'll Meet Again and Up with the Curtain. Listeners liked his breezy presentation, robust humour and endless variety of jokes. Juan's personal life was disciplined: a strict diet, early to bed and up before dawn; on the way to work he noted cloud formations and the direction of the Swan Brewery flag as he formulated his daily weather forecasts. He divorced his wife in 1941. On 10 December that year at Trinity Church, Perth, he married with Congregational forms Thelma Rose Ridley, a 26-year-old hairdresser; their chief relaxation was sailing his 22-ft (6.7 m) yacht, Victoria, on the Swan River and around Rottnest Island. His most popular programmes were 'The Breakfast Session', 'The Hospital Hour' and 'I'll Pay That One'. The last-mentioned show was launched on the national network after he had completed full-time military service (1942-46) in Western Australian units of the Volunteer Defence Corps and risen to temporary captain.

Away from radio, Juan was a favourite compere at town hall concerts, Government House balls and other special functions. He made his television début in 1962, compering an A.B.C. variety show. In accordance with Commonwealth regulations, he retired in 1966, but there was such a 'hoo-ha' that, within a month and perhaps with questionable wisdom, the A.B.C. reinstated him in a part-time capacity. For services to radio, he was appointed M.B.E. in 1969. Juan's relationship with his employers, however, soured as he grew testy, due to failing health and several operations. Acrimony finally erupted during his last session in 1974 when he vented his scorn on the A.B.C. Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, he died on 24 February 1979 at Kelmscott and was cremated with the forms of the Uniting Church.

Select Bibliography

  • West Australian, 4 May 1966, 1 Jan, 23 Apr 1969, 26 Feb 1979
  • Weekend Magazine (Perth), 1 Feb 1969
  • Daily News (Perth), 24 Dec 1973
  • Living Today (Perth), 27 Feb 1975.

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Juan, John (1901–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/juan-john-10651/text18907, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 October 2014.

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

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