Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frederick Charles (Fred) Foster (1907–1976)

by Jennifer Harrison

This article was published:

Frederick Charles (Fred) Foster (1907-1976), pianist and entertainer, was born on 20 July 1907 at Reigate, Surrey, England, youngest of five children of Charles Foster, master house-decorator, and his wife Minnie, née Woodley. In 1912 the family emigrated to Brisbane. Fred's cherished piano lessons with Erich John at Albert Kaesar's music store in George Street were paid for by his elder sister. He gained experience playing the organ at church and providing background music for silent movies at the Lyric Theatre. Even then, he was inclined to 'jazz up' proceedings. One of his first professional engagements was in 1925 with radio-station 4BK where he was guided by the musical director Don Bennett. Later, as the anonymous 'Rambling Pianist' on 4BH, Foster played requests and became the toast of Brisbane, though his identity was a closely guarded secret. At Hill End Presbyterian Church on 25 April 1930 he married a shop-assistant Florence Edith Howe; they were to have two children before he divorced her in 1949.

During the 1930s Foster was part of Brisbane's top dance band, 'The Jumping Jacks'. Each member played at least four instruments and took turns with vocals, using cardboard megaphones for amplification in large venues such as City Hall. With the 'Kit Kats', he was acclaimed by audiences at Lennon's Hotel and the Trocadero Ballroom for playing American-influenced jitterbug and jazz music of the 'Big Band' era. Freddy next joined the Broadway Dansant New Orchestra. As few musicians earned enough from their talents, he worked as a salesman at Littledyke & Son Pty Ltd, furniture manufacturers. On 31 December 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. He served as a stores clerk and with a supply unit in Papua (1943-44), but was primarily employed on welfare activities in Australia. Commissioned on 22 April 1944, he was demobilized as flying officer, Administrative and Special Duties Branch, on 26 November 1945.

Although Foster returned to Littledyke's intermittently, retail shortages encouraged his greater involvement in entertainment. In 1950 he won a national song-writing competition organized by Tempo music magazine with his composition, You've Gone, developed from his experience in Papua where erratic mail had caused loneliness and depression. Assisted by Charles Porter (later a prominent member of the State Liberal Party), he broadcast children's bedtime stories incorporating imaginative sound effects. Foster was the local accompanist for broadcasts on commercial radio's 'Australia's Amateur Hour'; he taught piano at King House, Queen Street, provided commentary at The Speedway and played an accordion on the riverboat taking Saturday-night revellers to Lone Pine. On 17 January 1950 he had married a telephonist Phyllis Maude Gray with Methodist forms in Brisbane; she divorced him in April 1958. At the Presbyterian Church, Ann Street, Brisbane, he married a widow Patricia Catherine Bidner, née Streek, on 6 June 1958; their marriage was dissolved in 1973.

The small and dapper Freddy was engaged by BTQ-7 television station in 1959. He launched The Two Sides of Freddy Foster, a recording of favourite melodies which he promoted by playing excerpts in local stores; his devotion to poodles (he was a life member of the Poodle Club of Queensland) was reflected in the cartoon on the album's cover. Foster was also president of the Queensland Motor Sporting Club and a member of the Corinda Bowling Club. Suffering from diabetes mellitus, he died of a coronary occlusion on 11 October 1976 at Sherwood and was cremated with Anglican rites. The son and daughter of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Truth (Brisbane), 18 May 1930
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 13 Oct 1976
  • private information.

Citation details

Jennifer Harrison, 'Foster, Frederick Charles (Fred) (1907–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Rambling Pianist

20 July, 1907
Reigate, Surrey, England


11 October, 1976 (aged 69)
Sherwood, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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