Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Keith Lamont Macartney (1903–1971)

by John Rickard

This article was published:

Keith Lamont Macartney (1903-1971), academic, actor and theatre director, was born on 18 July 1903 at Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, son of Clive Lamont Macartney, traveller, and his wife Alice Maude, née Kimpton, both Victorian born. Keith was sent to Scotch College, where he was to be joint-dux (1921) and a prefect (1922). At the University of Melbourne (B.A. Hons, 1925) he won exhibitions in English each year, as well as exhibitions in French, German and the science of language, and graduated with first-class honours in English language and literature. In 1926-27 he tutored in the department of English and at Ormond College, before travelling to Europe. Entering Clare College, Cambridge (B.A., 1931; M.A., 1935), he studied Anglo-Saxon and Norse in the school of archaeology and anthropology, and gained a first-class in the tripos, becoming an exhibitioner of the college and Dame Bertha Philpotts scholar.

Much as he relished Cambridge, Macartney returned in 1936 to a part-time lectureship in English language at the University of Melbourne. In the following year he was appointed lecturer. His promotion to senior lecturer in 1942 took into account his leading part in keeping the department going in difficult wartime conditions. Although he continued to contribute to teaching and course-planning, it soon became clear that his true vocation was for drama. His lectures, laced with dramatic readings, were often remembered with affection by his former students, but he was also eager to apply his theatrical talents beyond departmental boundaries. An accomplished singer, he joined Elsa Haas in providing the musical accompaniment to Lorna Stirling's lectures on the history of music: according to his colleague Ian Maxwell, they were 'the most delightful lectures' he had ever attended. Macartney founded the university graduates' Tin Alley Players. In recognition of his role in developing student theatre, he was appointed associate-professor of drama in 1946. From 1950 he was associate-professor of English.

For several years following his return, Macartney lent the theatrical skills (and often the material) he had acquired at Cambridge to the annual student revue, and was hailed as 'Australia's answer to Jack Buchanan'. He directed many plays for the Tin Alley Players, and college and student groups. Memorable among his Shakespeare productions were A Midsummer Night's Dream (1941), in which he played Puck, and Macbeth (1947, co-directed by Joy Youlden); always promoting the dramatic role of music, he engaged Margaret Sutherland to write the incidental music for the former and Dorian Le Gallienne for the latter. Nor were his interests confined to the classics: his productions included Maxwell Anderson's Winterset and the Capek brothers' And so ad infinitum ('The Insect Play'). He was an imaginative director, particularly skilled in grounding students in the techniques of speech and movement.

Macartney became something of a figure around the university. His dress, for the time, was mildly bohemian, and the silk handkerchief which, in the course of lectures, he deployed from his cuff, highlighted his theatrical manner. His discretion and exemplary manners ensured that his homosexuality, though widely assumed, was never an issue.

Plagued with intermittent illness, and finding the rapidly expanding university a less congenial place, he retired in 1964 but returned (1965-67) to help the understaffed department. He was sympathetic to the dilemmas facing the student generation, and marched in the 1970 Vietnam moratorium. Macartney published little and his lectures were not intellectually demanding. His reputation rested on the civilizing impact he had on a small university community which needed artistic stimulus. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 21 March 1971 at his Hawthorn home and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at $183,308. The night before his death he had been heard amusing himself, singing and playing the piano.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Macgeorge (compiler), The Arts in Australia (Melb, 1948)
  • University of Melbourne Magazine, 1956, p 99
  • University of Melbourne Gazette, Jan 1968, Dec 1971
  • Age (Melbourne), 27 Mar 1971
  • Ian Maxwell papers and staff files (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Rickard, 'Macartney, Keith Lamont (1903–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 July, 1903
Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


21 March, 1971 (aged 67)
Hawthorn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.