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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Barclay, Edmund Piers (Teddy) (1898–1961)

by Marion Consandine

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

Edmund Piers (Teddy) Barclay (1898-1961), radio dramatist and writer, claimed to have been born on 2 May 1898 at Dinapore, India, son of Major Edmund Compston-Buckleigh, from Middlesex, England. Young Edmund maintained that he was educated at Stonyhurst, joined the Middlesex Regiment on 11 August 1914, and won the Military Cross and Croix de Guerre while serving with the Royal Flying Corps: if he did these things, it was not under the names Barclay or Compston-Buckleigh. He further asserted that, following the war, he worked as a journalist in Fleet Street, London, until sacked for costing his employers £2000 in a libel suit; he then reputedly ran his own short-lived, weekly newspaper.

Arriving in Australia in August 1926, Barclay was determined to demonstrate that 'he was the world's greatest novelist'. Meanwhile, he worked as a journalist, wrote film scripts (including that for Ken Hall's The Silence of Dean Maitland, 1934), short stories, plays, newspaper articles and verse, and sank to 'that abomination of desolation, writing advertising'. On 17 December 1933 he was employed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission as a dramatist. A golden age of radio drama began under the aegis of (Sir) Charles Moses and W. J. Cleary. The first radio play Barclay wrote was 'An Antarctic Epic', for which he received five guineas.

Much of his work, especially for schools, involved dramatizing history and literature. 'Spoiled Darlings', a model colonial romance, and 'Murder in the Silo', an effective psychological thriller set in the Depression, were often repeated on the A.B.C. Barclay's use of dialogue and sound effects gave his radio plays a distinctive Australian flavour. He eventually published two novels from his radio serials, based on stories of his father's experiences in India, Khyber (1936) and Shanghai (1937). Barclay's epic family saga, 'As Ye Sow', written in 1938 for the Australian sesquicentenary, established his reputation. It was heard every Monday night for nine months by thousands of listeners. Neath Southern Skies, a pageant commissioned by the Department of Education, was performed by a thousand secondary school students at Sydney Town Hall in March 1938.

Despite his enormous output, Barclay wrote very little for the stage. In 1934 he collaborated with Varney Monk as composer and Helene Barclay as lyricist to write The Cedar Tree, a musical romance produced by Frank Thring in Melbourne. Barclay's talent for adaptation, with his sure ear for dialogue and sound patterning, turned such classics as Les Miserables, The Idiot and The Fortunes of Richard Mahony into radio masterpieces. He also collaborated closely with Joy Hollyer on many dramas.

Tall and thin, with lank, ginger hair, Teddy Barclay had great energy, a careless charm and a cynical edge to his nature; although affable, he often annoyed his colleagues. He had a reputation as a womanizer and as a big drinker, and often disappeared for days on end. From one incident involving a dispute over pay, Leslie Rees emerged with a bloodied nose and Barclay was eventually forced to apologize. His relationship with his wife Helene, who wrote some plays for the A.B.C., was desperately unhappy. Although tempestuous, he made a major contribution to the establishment of radio drama in Australia and was described by Rees in Hold Fast to Dreams (1982) as 'something of a minor genius'. Survived by his daughter and son, Barclay died of a coronary occlusion on 26 August 1961 at Gosford and was buried in Point Clare cemetery with Catholic rites.

Select Bibliography

  • A. W. Thomas, Broadcast and be Damned (Melb, 1980)
  • C. Semmler, The ABC—Aunt Sally and Sacred Cow (Melb, 1981)
  • K. S. Inglis, This is the ABC (Melb, 1983)
  • Listener-In, 29 Dec 1934
  • Radio Pictorial of Australia, 1 Dec 1935
  • Wireless Weekly, 15 Jan 1937, 20 Mar 1938, 3 Jan 1940
  • ABC Weekly, 22 Mar 1947
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Jan 1940, 28 Aug 1961
  • SP368/1 box 2, SP613/1 box 21, SP1011/2 box 9, SP1558/2 box 63 (National Archives of Australia)
  • ABC Radio Archives (Sydney).

Citation details

Marion Consandine, 'Barclay, Edmund Piers (Teddy) (1898–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 October 2020.

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, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Compston-Buckleigh, Edmund

2 May 1898
Danapur, Bihar, India


26 August 1961
Gosford, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence