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Ferrier, Noel (1930–1997)

by Graeme Blundell

This article was published online in 2022

Noel Ferrier

Noel Ferrier

National Library of Australia

Noel Ferrier (1930–1997), entertainer, was born on 20 December 1930 in Melbourne, younger of two surviving children of Melbourne-born parents Sydney James Ferrier, shoemaker and pianist, and his wife Madeline Alice, née Logan. He grew up at Northcote, ‘a working man’s suburb … crowded with single-fronted weatherboard cottages’ (Ferrier 1985, 1–2). While undistinguished at school—he attended Miller Street State and Northcote High schools—Noel organised film screenings on rainy lunchtimes, and then conducted them in his backyard, officially to support the Australian Red Cross Society, although he later said that the takings did not reach that beneficiary. ‘Greed, cunning, ruthlessness, bullshit and big noting all manifested themselves at an early age,’ he wrote (1985, 7).

After leaving school, Ferrier began work as an office boy in an advertising agency, before becoming assistant manager of a picture theatre. He took acting lessons and attended the Crawford School of Broadcasting. His first professional appearance was as a sailor in The Three Musketeers—‘I was paralysed with nerves,’ he remembered (Ferrier 1985, 15)—and soon he was a regular in the popular radio serials of the time. After John Sumner established the Union Theatre Repertory Company in 1953, Ferrier was cast as Roo Webber, a Queensland canecutter, in Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in 1955, the company’s third season. Although he ‘thought the play was terrible’ (Ferrier 1985, 23) on first reading, the production would come to be recognised as a milestone in the history of Australian theatre, and it made him one of Australia’s most loved and respected actors. Moving into commercial theatre, he appeared for the theatrical entrepreneur Garnet Carroll and for J. C. Williamson Ltd.

In 1957 Ferrier became the compere of Channel 7’s television program The Late Show. He married Susanne de Berenger, an artist who would later be an Archibald prize finalist, on 20 December 1960 at Wesley Church, Melbourne. In 1963 he joined Graham Kennedy’s In Melbourne Tonight on Channel 9, hosting Friday nights: ‘the roly-poly 33-year-old seem[ed] a blend of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Noel Coward’ (Blundell 2003, 240). The show won a Logie award for the most popular program in Victoria in 1964. After leaving In Melbourne Tonight in 1965, he hosted a morning radio show on 3UZ with Mary Hardy that ran for three years; ‘inspired lunacy,’ he later said, was ‘its main attraction’ (Ferrier 1985, 63). During this period he also made a notably unsuccessful record, Ferrier Unfurled.

By 1972 Ferrier had moved to Sydney. As a performer he was in high demand in the 1970s and 1980s, developing a reputation as a reliable and versatile actor in television dramas, including Riptide, Homicide, Skippy, Boney, Matlock Police, Division 4, and Vietnam. His movie credits include Alvin Purple (1973), Eliza Fraser (1976), The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), and Paradise Road (1997). In 1969 the quick-witted, often outrageous Ferrier had become the beast in the television show Beauty and the Beast, and in the late 1970s he was a popular guest on the high-rating Blankety Blanks with Graham Kennedy. A second Logie followed in 1971 for the best Australian comedy with Noel Ferrier’s ‘Australia A–Z’. He was often lured back to the stage, appearing in productions such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for the Queensland Theatre Company (1981); Sons of Cain for the Melbourne and Sydney Theatre companies (1985); and My Fair Lady for the Victorian State Opera (1988 and 1993). An advocate for an Australia musical theatre company, in 1982 he established the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust’s musical theatre division. He also began producing, including the film The Department in 1980, and, with Ken Mackenzie-Forbes, the stage show The Pirates of Penzance in 1984. Between 1990 and 1991 he was artistic director at the Marian Street Theatre Company.

During the 1970s, Ferrier had conquered an addiction to alcohol, but he admitted jovially that it had ‘contributed to his well-known bulk’ (White and Korzy 1997, 6). ‘Over the years, the wine, women and song have left their mark,’ he stated (Dougary 1986, 11–12). In 1989 he was appointed AM. Survived by his wife and their son, he died on 16 October 1997 at his Sydney home and was cremated. ‘If you mention Noel to anyone, they smile and that’s not a bad epitaph to have,’ his friend, the entertainer Stuart Wagstaff, said (Fidgeon and Korzy 1997, 7).

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Blundell, Graeme. King: The Life and Comedy of Graham Kennedy. Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia, 2003
  • Dougary, Ginny. ‘My Body and I.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 15 November 1986, Good Weekend 8–14
  • Ferrier, Noel. Interview by Bill Stephens, 19, 24 July 1997. Transcript. National Library of Australia
  • Ferrier, Noel. There Goes Whatsisname: The Memoirs of Noel Ferrier. South Melbourne: Macmillan Company of Australia, 1985
  • Fidgeon, Robert, and Miranda Korzy. ‘Tributes For a Comedy Giant.’ Herald-Sun (Melbourne), 18 October 1997, 7
  • National Library of Australia. MS Acc00.164, Papers of Noel Ferrier, 19--
  • Schembri, Jim. ‘Stage, TV Star Noel Ferrier Takes Final Curtain.’ Age (Melbourne), 18 October 1997, 4
  • Sumner, John. Recollections at Play: A Life in Australian Theatre. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1993
  • Wagner, Lucy. ‘Noel Ferrier May Yet Have the Last Laugh on the Eunuchs in the Harem.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 17 July 1982, 39
  • White, Matt, and Miranda Korzy. ‘Goodbye, My Funny Old Grandpa.’ Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 18 October 1997, 1, 6

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Graeme Blundell, 'Ferrier, Noel (1930–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ferrier-noel-32191/text39801, published online 2022, accessed online 3 December 2022.

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