Person - Peter Francis

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PETER ANGUS FRANCIS

Scriptwriter, actor, dancer, choreographer and CPA member, Peter became Assistant to Miriam Hampson after she replaced Pat Bullen as Secretary. When he resigned, his successor in the office was Mona Brand. He was one of NT’s “Younger Set” whose social activities included bushwalking. His close friends were Les Tanner and David Futcher, both physically small like him, and Peggy King, Joyce Mooney, Marie Armstrong and Pat Jenkins.

Peter joined NT in December 1947 after seeing some shows there, most memorably Of Mice and Men and Woman Bites Dog. He tried to get in to The Star Turns Red but the house was always full. His first role was as choreographer and ballet dancer in The Dangerous Sex 1948. His false teeth had a tendency to slip in The Alchemist 1948; he and fellow Anabaptist priest Graeme Stewart played practical jokes such as stuffing a dead bird inside a money bag. Peter played the barman in The Lion on the Square 1949, and was in the 1949 revue Pot of Message, memorably as Prime Minister Bend Stiffly ("There’s a glut in my new open cut") and a lampooned Sir Warwick Fairfax:

I am Sir Warfare the lord of them all/ Making hay with the press and the ballet/ I’ve two houses, one wife – and a couch in the hall/ And a sofa up in the chalet./ Though I spend lots of time on the Communist Plot/ I’m familiar in circles of art/ When I peer at the paintings and see a Red spot/ It always gives me a start.

An audience favourite was his dance routine with Shirley Keane as Madge and Cyril “The Dancing Stars” . Peter also wrote scripts for Contact street theatre and took mime and movement classes.

In 1950 Peter was The Man With the Idea in the Department of Peace and Liberty in the revue Press the Point, and choreographed and danced in Lysistrata. In 1951, on the new children's committee, he choreographed The Emperor's New Clothes, and performed in Follies Bourgeois. In 1952 he was scriptwriter, lyricist and director of The Travelling Musicians in which he also took the role of Mr Rooster. (The children's show made more money than the adult one playing at night.) He played Alain in School for Wives, and was in a Workshop Box and Cox. At the end of 1952 Peter took leave of absence to travel with the Polish Australian Ballet. Returning to NT to find it broke, he and Miriam Hampson shared the cleaning. He co-wrote and performed in United Notions.

Towards the end of 1953 NT was in financial crisis and facing eviction from its Castlereagh Street premises. Amid accusations of incompetence, there were calls for Miriam and Peter to resign. Peter responded that he was often not paid, worked 12 hours a day spending his time chasing people to do things, especially Front Of House who didn’t turn up, and after six years he was still responsible for Contact street theatre as no one else was interested. The big problem was that admission to NT shows was by donation not a fixed price. Soon after one heated meeting, Peter found himself in charge of running the office while Miriam was in hospital. He organised a visit by a hypnotist as a fundraiser.

All this changed with the unexpected success of Reedy River. Peter performed in it 70 times (sometimes removing his false teeth). On a trip to Newcastle the cast annoyed other train passengers with non-stop singing of the show's bush tunes.

In June 1954 Peter returned permanently to his home city Adelaide, with his NT gifts: £10 and a leather overnight bag. The next year he wrote and directed a revue Sighs of the Times at Adelaide NT. He kept in touch with Miriam, writing that everyone in Adelaide thought NT members were communists, but his response was “No, just ordinary everyday people who believe in working at theatre instead of being arty about the whole affair.” By 1965 he had finally gained his Leaving Certificate with English honours, was losing his scatty sense of humour, and getting thinner and more like his late father every day. Peter caught up with NT gossip on his occasional visits to Sydney, and Miriam occasionally spent her annual holiday with him in Adelaide.

Peter Francis was born in 1923 in Adelaide to William Angus Francis and Amy Warland née Saxon. He shared his birthday - 21 May - with David Milliss.



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