Wilfrid Thomas

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Wilfrid Coad Thomas (2 May 1904 – 16 August 1991) was a British-born singer and broadcaster, who had a significant career in Australia, then as radio and television commentator for the BBC in London.[1] His name is very frequently mis-spelled "Wilfred".

In Australia (mostly)[edit]

Thomas's parents, who were of Welsh and Cornish extraction, emigrated to Australia when Wilfrid was very young. He had a natural bass-baritone voice, and at the age of 14 took a series of office jobs to pay for singing lessons.[2]

At the age of 18 he toured Australia with the Welsh Choral Society, and sang solo bass solo from Messiah at the Sydney Town Hall.[3] He was "discovered" by Dame Nellie Melba.[4] He toured Australia in 1923 with Edward Branscombe's Westminster Glee Singers,[5] concluding in Sydney in 1924.[6]

He then applied for a job with Farmer's Department Store's newly formed radio station 2FC. He was not employed as an announcer straight away, but he proved his versatility as a character actor in radio plays, as a pianist and singer; his Welsh-accented natural bass-baritone voice finding ready acceptance with audiences.[7] He took singing lessons from Emily Marks.[8] He rejoined the Westminster Glee Singers on their return visit to Australia in 1930, and left with them in December after a triumphant tour of Australia.[9]

In 1934 he married the Swedish dancer Marga Lienhart of Colonel de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo,[10] which toured Australia in 1936 (Thomas narrated the documentary film).[11]

A recording he made was selected by The Gramophone as one of ten outstanding discs of 1936.[12]

He wrote and acted in a thirteen-part radio play "Vocal Boy Makes Good", which was broadcast by the BBC.[13] Among his song-writing credits is the English lyrics for Rose, Rose, I Love You for the 1940 Chinese popular song "Méigui méigui wǒ ài nǐ" (玫瑰玫瑰我愛你). The English lyrics was first recorded in 1951 by Frankie Laine and have little in common with the original Mandarin. The Frankie Lane version was later heard in the film The Last Picture Show.

He returned to Australia in 1940,[14] producing "Out of the Bag", a variety show starring Dick Bentley, Joy Nicholls, Kitty Bluett, Bettina Dickson, and frequently broadcast from army camps. It was on this show that Bentley developed his talent for comedy.[7]

In 1941 2FC (now an ABC station) commissioned his long-running "Wilfrid Thomas Show", an hour of variety,[7] with his trademark sign-off "Thank you for having me in your home."[15]

In 1943 he was appointed Director of Light Entertainment, while continuing to host his weekly show and produce "Out of the Bag".[16]

He left his wife, who would not divorce him, to live with actress Bettina "Bettie" Dickson (22 December 1921 – ),[17] who continued her dramatic career and acted as Wilfrid's manager.[15] They were to marry in London in 1956.

In London[edit]

In 1951 the format of the show changed, with Thomas being based in London and producing his weekly programs from British or Continental locations or from his top-floor Mayfair flat, where he played host to a wide variety of show-business celebrities.[7]

He and his wife Betty had a holiday home at Pittwater, where he enjoyed surf fishing.[18]

Italian connection[edit]

Thomas's first direct involvement with Italy was immediately post-war when he was stirred by the plight of "Displaced Persons" (refugees) to involve himself in the Inter-governmental Committee for European Migration, and used his pen and microphone to welcome the flood of unemployed Italian migrants to Australia.[18]

Later he was involved with the refugees from the November 1980 earthquake disaster in Naples. As chairman of the Guild of Travel Writers in London, he helped raise donations for the relief fund.[18]

He and wis wife Betty owned an apartment in a 14th century house on the Isola Tiberina in the middle of the River Tiber, where they holidayed every year.[18]

Television[edit]

Thomas was one of television's pioneers, acting for John Logie Baird in a basement studio in the BBC's "Broadcasting House" complex.[7] In 1956 he was the first UK commentator in the First Eurovision Song Contest. He continued to be associated with TV in the United Kingdom until his death in 1991.

Recognition[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Thomas, Wilfrid Living on Air (1958) Frederick Muller Ltd. (London)

Jürgen Claus, "Ein Vorläufer: Thomas Wilfred", in: Jürgen Claus: "Kunst heute", Rowohlt Verlag, 1965

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Eurovision Song Contest UK Commentator
1956
Succeeded by
Berkeley Smith

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Times (London, England), 1991 August 23 (ISSN: 0140-0460)
  2. ^ "Stars of the Air Wilfrid Thomas Has Had Varied Career". Wodonga and Towong Sentinel (Vic. : 1885 – 1954) (Vic.: National Library of Australia). 24 September 1954. p. 4. Retrieved 10 June 2012. 
  3. ^ "Welsh Choral Society—"Messiah.".". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 12 December 1923. p. 11. Retrieved 10 June 2012. 
  4. ^ "Wilfrid Thomas.". The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933) (Qld.: National Library of Australia). 30 December 1932. p. 3. Retrieved 10 June 2012. 
  5. ^ "Westminster Glee Singers". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 6 August 1923. p. 5. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  6. ^ "Westminster Glee Singers". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 24 April 1924. p. 10. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "He has lived on air for 35 years.". The Australian Women's Weekly (1933–1982) (1933–1982: National Library of Australia). 19 November 1958. p. 36. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  8. ^ "Music and Drama". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 13 June 1936. p. 12. Retrieved 10 June 2012. 
  9. ^ "Music and Drama". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 31 January 1931. p. 8. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  10. ^ "For Home and Hostess". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1956) (Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia). 1 May 1940. p. 6. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  11. ^ http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/22042847 Another Beginning Ballets Russes and Australian Ballet Company
  12. ^ "MUSIC AND DRAMA.". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 1 May 1937. p. 12. Retrieved 10 June 2012. 
  13. ^ "From A Musician's Scrap Book.". Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954) (Launceston, Tas.: National Library of Australia). 23 October 1937. p. 3 Edition: LATE NEWS EDITION and DAILY, Section: SPECIAL WEEK-END SECTION. Retrieved 10 June 2012. 
  14. ^ "Broadcasting.". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 21 February 1940. p. 8. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  15. ^ a b Crocker, Patti Radio Days Simon and Schuster Australia 1989 ISBN 0 7318 0098 2
  16. ^ "To Direct "Light" Radio Shows". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 23 August 1943. p. 4. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  17. ^ Lane, Richard The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama Melbourne University Press 1994 ISBN 0 522 84556 8
    Bettie's death is frequently given as 1991, but this may be a confusion with Wilfrid's, as Lane clearly has her working at the time of publication.
  18. ^ a b c d e "Australian broadcaster honoured.". The Australian Women's Weekly (1933–1982) (1933–1982: National Library of Australia). 7 April 1982. p. 75. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  19. ^ http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1300&dat=19801224&id=b-5UAAAAIBAJ&sjid=mpIDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1634,3287245 The Age 24 December 1980 p.26