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Charles Edward Lawrence (1885–1968)

by Jan Brazier

This article was published:

Charles Edward Lawrence (1885-1968), entertainer and broadcaster, was born on 28 March 1885 at Hotham, Melbourne, elder child of Victorian-born parents Charles Joseph Lawrence, clerk, and his wife Nellie, née Quick. As a boy soprano Lawrence sang in his church choir and at eisteddfods. On leaving school he 'pushed a pen and used a billing machine' before opting to use his musical talents. In 1909 the strong-arm wrestler George Hackenschmidt engaged him as a support act in New Zealand. Next year he went to Perth. In 1910-11 in Melbourne Lawrence turned to beach entertainments at St Kilda, playing with Edward Branscombe's Jesters at the Arcadia and next season with J. & N. Tait's Follies. In Melbourne on 15 April 1912 he married Eva May Spence before touring Australasia and South Africa in 1912-13 as support to English entertainer Margaret Cooper.

In the summer of 1913-14 Lawrence joined Rob and Will Thomas's English Pierrots at St Kilda beach where he was known for his 'pianologues'. The company followed a rhythm of summers at St Kilda and winters in New Zealand or Western Australia. After Rob Thomas died in 1920 the leading performers (including Lawrence) bought the company, but next season they did not continue.

Lawrence toured the vaudeville circuits and in 1926 began working as a radio entertainer on 2FC in Sydney; he made the transition smoothly. He entertained at the piano with the patter song his mainstay, appeared in such revues as Laurence Halbert's 'Radio Revellers' and '2FC Follies', and acted as compère of many hospital and concert parties. Through the Depression years people flocked to the free community-singing that Lawrence began conducting in mid-1930 at Ashfield, and later at Sydney Town Hall and suburban and country centres. In 1931 he appeared on the cover of Wireless Weekly with his 'community smile', a short chubby man with slightly receding hair and twinkling eyes behind round rims.

His popularity on radio led to his engagement in November 1931 as commentator for the pioneer newsreel Cinesound Review. With his gags, puns and gentle humour Lawrence provided the entertainment quality which director Ken Hall required. In April 1932 Lawrence moved to 2UW, combining his usual items with sporting sessions. For the 1934 cricket Tests 2UW linked with 3DB in Melbourne; Lawrence was one of a team of comedians in both cities used to fill adjournments in play. A follower of horses, he helped to inaugurate 2UW's racing session and with Eric Welch of 3DB relayed Melbourne races.

During World War II Lawrence, whose voice lacked the serious timbre needed for war items, continued to do the 'at home' and novelty items for Cinesound. He ceased narrating in the early 1950s but, ever the old trouper, continued for some time to compère on the Sydney Show Boat. Predeceased by his wife, he died childless on 12 November 1968 in Sydney Hospital and was cremated.

A genial and professional showman, Lawrence based his humour, never overtly vulgar, on gags, corn and gentle wit, derivative mainly from the English stage. His distinctive voice, which gave pre-war Cinesound newsreels their character, is his legacy.

Select Bibliography

  • St Kilda by the Sea Annual, 1915-16
  • Wireless Weekly, 1 Feb, 22 Nov 1929, 22 Aug 1930, 24 Apr 1931, 5 July 1935
  • Film Weekly, 5 Nov 1931
  • People (Sydney), 26 Jan 1955
  • Punch (Melbourne), 2 Oct 1913
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 24 Feb 1921
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Sept 1930, 13 Nov 1969.

Citation details

Jan Brazier, 'Lawrence, Charles Edward (1885–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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