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Barbara Crompton (1938–2000)

by Nigel Starck

This article was published online in 2024

Barbara Crompton, by Messenger Press, 1998

Barbara Crompton, by Messenger Press, 1998

State Library of South Australia, b2224012

Barbara Crompton (1938–2000), actor, director, and drama lecturer, was born on 18 June 1938 at Wigan, Lancashire, England, daughter of Ernest Crompton Brimelow, fruit merchant, and his wife May, née Horrocks. Following Ernest’s death, May opened a theatrical boarding house and, in so doing, inspired the young Barbara to seek a stage career. In those last years of the variety theatre circuit, before television brought vaudeville to an end, landladies such as Mrs Brimelow offered accommodation to an ever-changing guest list of performers. They included tap dancers, crooners, acrobats, magicians, escapologists, birdsong imitators, knife throwers (and their human targets), comedians, and ventriloquists (and their dummies). Her daughter talked with them, took tea with them, and stayed up late to welcome them back from a night’s performance, noting all the time their accents and their mannerisms. These encounters would inspire many performances in later years.

Brimelow made her stage debut with Wigan Little Theatre, an amateur company, as Rosalind in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. This was followed by another leading role with the same group: as Lady Teazle in Richard Sheridan’s The School for Scandal. Then came three years (1956–59) of stagecraft training at the Rose Bruford Training College of Speech and Drama at Sidcup, Kent. After graduating, on 3 August 1959 at the parish church of Holy Trinity, Lamorbey, Kent, she married Geoffrey William Pullan, a schoolteacher and fellow actor. The couple then sailed to Australia on board the SS Stratheden, settling initially in Hobart.

Geoffrey commenced employment with the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) in Hobart as an announcer, while Barbara presented the ABC television children’s program Party Time. She adopted the professional surname of ‘Crompton,’ her father’s middle name. The ABC was sensitive about any hint of nepotism, however misplaced such an accusation might have been. Two Pullans on the payroll would have been seen by the management as one too many.

In 1966 the Pullan family moved to Adelaide, where Geoffrey joined the lecturing staff at Adelaide Teachers’ College. Barbara also became a lecturer and tutor, teaching drama at Western Teachers’ College, the South Australian College of Advanced Education (later renamed The University of South Australia), and the University of Adelaide. She first appeared on stage in Adelaide in 1967, as Maggie Hobson in the Therry Dramatic Society’s production of Hobson’s Choice; she performed under the name Barbara Crompton, which she was to retain for all her theatrical and collegiate engagements. Over the following decades she continued to perform with the company, including as Helen Browne in Graham Greene’s The Living Room (1969), Mrs Baker in Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn (1989), and Addie in Lillian Helman’s Little Foxes (1991).

Crompton began to direct for the Therry Dramatic Society in 1989. Her production of Anne of Green Gables that year won this accolade from the Adelaide Advertiser critic Peter Goers: ‘Barbara Crompton has fashioned a handsome, tight and charming production which is memorable for all the right reasons’ (Moriarty 1993, 221). Other productions she directed for the society included Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road (1996); Shadowlands, by William Nicholson (1998); and A Child’s Christmas in Wales (1999), which was a musical based on the childhood memories of the poet and writer Dylan Thomas. Her talent for comedy was displayed in her Adelaide Repertory portrayals of a Wild West hustler in Wind in the Branches of the Sassafras (1974) and the eponymous role in Move Over Mrs Markham (1977). In 1998 she directed I Ought To Be In Pictures, by Neil Simon, for that company. She appeared on film as Queen Elizabeth II in The Fourth Wish (1976), produced by the South Australian Film Corporation.

Offstage, Crompton had served as an adjudicator at drama festivals and, for the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia, moderated Year 12 drama results in that State and the Northern Territory. The last of the many schools to benefit from her stagecraft was St Dominic’s Priory College, North Adelaide. Her work with the Year 10 and 12 classes, notably in introducing them to the mystery plays of medieval England, was acknowledged in a memorial service at the college following her death on 21 October 2000 in Adelaide. She was survived by her husband and their son, David, who had established himself as an actor and voice coach in Britain; a daughter, Rachel, had predeceased her. Acknowledging Crompton’s ‘vibrant’ acting and ‘inspired’ directing (Starck 2000, 70), Jill Bartlett, the Therry Dramatic Society’s president, thought she left an even more substantial legacy in the product of her teaching and adjudicating.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Crompton, Barbara. Interview by Nigel Starck, 11 October 2000
  • Moriarty, Bernard J. Fifty Years of Therry: The Therry Dramatic Society Incorporated (Originally the Adelaide Branch of the Therry Society) 1943–1993. Adelaide: The Therry Dramatic Society Incorporated, 1993
  • Starck, Nigel. ‘Vibrant Actor, Inspired Director.’ Advertiser (Adelaide), 11 November 2000, 70

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Citation details

Nigel Starck, 'Crompton, Barbara (1938–2000)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2024, accessed online 25 June 2024.

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