The 1950s - Politics

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Out of Commission was Mona Brand’s Gilbert and Sullivan satire on the Petrov Royal Commission, its leaflet and poster (designed by David Milliss) in the form of a legal summons.

A popular show, its season was extended including a performance in the Newcastle Stadium. During the rehearsal period its author dived fully clothed into Lake Macquarie to rescue the script which had fallen into the water. No cast or crew names appeared in the printed program.

ASIO agent F G Murray attended the opening night, a full house where most seats were reserved, special invitations having been sent to witnesses at the Royal Commission. The satire included the Security boys number sung by dark-hatted, sun-glassed, trench-coated stereotypes:

With cat-like tread upon our prey we steal

In silence dread

Our cautious way we feel

No sound at all

But when a word you say

We jot it down

Until a certain day

The real-life agents (conspicuous in their suits and oversize hats) reported that the show was of a professional standard, “at no time did the cast falter in their parts” and some players wore “a type of rainproof coat issued to members of this Service”.

Petrov, a heavy drinker, was lampooned as Brandy Cup. Menzies was Captain Pigiron:

I slap at my chest as I gaze at the prow

Singing “Liberal, I’m a Liberal, I’m a Liberal”.

And a cold perspiration runs out of my brow

In a dribble, in a dribble, in a dribble.

I think, of myself, what a fool I have made.

Oh, why have I lost all our overseas trade?

And an echo comes back from the men I’ve betrayed:

“You’re a Liberal, you’re a Liberal, you’re a Liberal”

Another G & S parody focused on the bias of the judge:

When the lawyer I favour his feet is upon

(Said I to myself, said I)

The whole of the session I’ll let him run on

(Said I to myself, said I)

But lawyers defending I’ll ever cut short

With lots of sarcastic and bitter retort

No patience with him will I show in my court

(Said I to myself, said I).

Another financial success was US author Howard Fast’s 30 Pieces of Silver, staged in 1951 at the height of McCarthyism.

Washington DC statistician David Graham betrays his wartime friend, a Russian-born Jew, as a communist. Unlike Judas he receives no 30 pieces of silver but loses his government job in Treasury.

It comes down to this, Graham. You’ve been seeing this Leonard Agronsky. The axe is going to fall on him – and on his friends too. It’s better for you to resign than to go through the whole wretched business of a loyalty hearing and a forced dismissal. Better for you and better for the department.

Fast wrote to the New: “We were most cheered to read of the struggle being put up in Australia ... we are part of a great peace movement whose victory is inevitable”.

Over the objections of one committee member (who argued that it was Arthur Miller’s least successful play, of limited appeal and applicable only to an historical period) in 1958 the New staged the Australian premiere of The Crucible.

Despite casting problems and exhausting rehearsals, the production was successful (it made a big impression on playwright Alan Seymour and regular audience member Frank Moorhouse sent a congratulatory letter) and the season could have been extended. As was customary, ASIO was given a copy of the printed program.

Miller’s allegory was directed by Norma Polonsky assisted by her husband Stan who also played Parris, with set design by Bettina McMahon and costumes by Miriam Hampson’s niece June Worth. The cast included Brian Vicary (Proctor), Betty Milliss (Elizabeth), Eddie Allison (Danforth), Laurence Booth (Hale), Les Hope (Francis Nurse), Dick May (Herrick), Wendy Howard (Betty) and Evelyn Docker (Tituba). Carolle Boyce (Abigail) went on to work with the Young Elizabethan Players. Roger Milliss understudied the part of Proctor but never played it.

In 1958 Miller’s agent accepted reduced royalties, but by the 1990s the Australian rights were unavailable and it was not until 2007 that The Crucible was restaged by the New, a production taken to Sydney’s Seymour Centre the next year.

In Merry-Go-Round staged in 1953 an ordinary man becomes the victim of big business corruption and racketeering. Written by Albert Maltz, one of the Hollywood Ten, it paralleled events in the USA in the 1930s.

New Theatre revues regularly satirised Australian politicians such as Foreign Affairs Minister Sir Percy Spender, a key figure in developing the Colombo Plan, its goal to raise Asian living standards in the hope that participating countries would battle communist movements. The USA became the biggest contributor to the Colombo Plan, earlier known as the Spender Plan. Press the Point (1950) included Sir Percy Suspender’s song to the tune of “Lovely Bunch of Coconuts”:

I’ve got a luvverly Suspender plan

I wrote it myself in luvverly pen and ink

I’ll nip in the bud the red roaring flood

Singing rolla and bowl the commos into the clink.

At a local level Press the Point targeted Sydney’s ALP Lord Mayor Ernie O’Dea, created an honorary chief of the Suquamish tribe by the visiting Mayor of Vancouver and presented with a five-foot totem pole and full headdress.

Lord Mayor Chief Ban Ban and his secretary are visited by staffer Hia.

Hia: Lord, urgent letter just arrived.

Ban Ban: How!

Hia: Through post.

Ban Ban: How!

Hia: PMG’s Department.

Secretary: What it say?

Hia: Say wharfies marching on Town Hall.

Secretary: Must stop it, Lord.

Ban Ban: How!

Secretary: Tell police.

Ban Ban: How!

Secretary: Ring them up.

In 1950 O’Dea was given bodyguard protection following demonstrations against the City Council’s refusal to let Sydney Town Hall to the Democratic Rights Council, declared a “Red” organisation. The same year the Dean of Canterbury and the Australian Peace Council were also denied its use ~ as was the Australian Carnival of Youth for Peace and Friendship, organised by the CPA in 1952:

We’re marching to Sydney

We’re singing for peace

We’re raising the chorus

All fighting must cease.

Our banner of friendship

Is gaily unfurled

With laughter and music

We’ll build a new world.

A film of the carnival, They Chose Peace by the Realist Film Unit was banned by NSW Chief Secretary Gus Kelly and the Commonwealth censor wanted cuts.

ALP Premier Joe Cahill’s 1958 Defamation Act was satirised in Fission Chips:

A kindergarten teacher is arrested for reading nursery rhymes.

Teacher: Quietly? What do you mean? Are you arresting me?

Cop: I certainly am.

Teacher: But on what charge?

Cop: On the charge of telling dirty stories to poor, innocent little children

Teacher: Dirty stories! I was telling them the lovely old fable of Little Red ... I mean Little Scarlet Riding Jacket ...

From 1952 Commissioner for Road Transport & Tramways A A Shoebridge pushed for the replacement of trams by buses. Inspectors were instructed to ask fare evaders to announce their names in front of other tram passengers.

Girl passenger waiting at tram stop: Shoebridge certainly doesn’t live on this line. The tram I usually get hasn’t turned up.

Trammie: Why aren’t there any trams? Because they’re being taken off the road, because they’re losing money. Why are they losing money? Because thousands are being paid to the British bond holders.

Conductor: Fares please! Fares please!

Fold up your feet and buckle your knees

It’s a luxury tram with exorbitant fees

Fares please! Fares please!

Move right down the centre please

The public don’t get courtesies

The capitalist owners have put on the squeeze

Fares please! Fares please!

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