Person - Eleanor Witcombe

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ELEANOR KATRINE WITCOMBE (1923 - 2018)

In 1948 Eleanor Witcombe replaced Terry Carmichael as Mrs Em in The Match Girls. Her children's plays Smugglers Beware, Pirates at the Barn and The Bushranger were staged by Sydney New Theatre.

Born in SA on 20 September 1923, Eleanor was educated at Yorketown Higher Primary School. In kindergarten she played a blue bird in a pageant. After her family moved to Brisbane in 1939 she attended Brisbane Girls' Grammar School. Her first written script was Omlet , a skit on Hamlet , for a school concert in 1940. In 1941 the family moved to Sydney. In 1947 Eleanor enrolled in Peter Finch's Mercury Theatre School. She worked as a governess and infants school teacher, and between 1948 to 1950 was commissioned by the Mosman Children's Theatre Club to write plays for children. At the same time she was penning short stories plus scripts for ABC School Broadcasts and Drama. Smugglers Beware premiered at Mosman in 1950, directed by Elsie Dayne, its cast including Alan Herbert, Barbara Brunton Gibb and Jack Mudge.

In 1952 Witcombe, like many artists at the time, left to work and study in London. Smugglers Beware became the first Australian children’s play to be professionally performed in England. After her return to Sydney in 1957 she wrote drama adaptations of plays, books and stories for ABC radio, Lux Radio Theatre and Macquarie Radio Theatre. She also wrote the books for stage musicals A Ride on a Broomstick (for children) and Mistress Money (for adults) for the Phillip Street Theatre. Television work included Number 96, The Mavis Bramston Show, Seven Little Australians and Redheap. In 1963 she initiated the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) which in 1968 commissioned her play The Runaway Steamboat for the Adelaide Festival. She wrote the AFI award-winning screenplays of The Getting of Wisdom and My Brilliant Career in 1978, which resulted in developing several projects in the USA.

In 2014, a republican, she was awarded an AM. She died on 21 October 2018.

When Eleanor Witcombe started writing in Australia: “ there was no theatre then, none. Absolutely none! You just couldn’t write about any Australian subjects at all. There was no prestige about writing plays about Australia, and when we did start to do it, our writing was extremely tentative. The place was like a wilderness.”



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