Frank Thring

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Frank Thring
Thring on the set of King of Kings in 1961
Francis William Thring

(1926-05-11)11 May 1926
Died29 December 1994(1994-12-29) (aged 68)
Other namesWilliam Francis Thring IV
Occupation(s)Actor, theatre director
Years active1941–1993
SpouseJoan Cunliffe (divorced)
FamilyF.W. Thring (father)

Francis William Thring IV (11 May 1926 – 29 December 1994) was an Australian character actor in radio, stage, television and film; as well as a theatre director. His early career started in London in theatre productions, before he starred in Hollywood film, where he became best known for roles in Ben-Hur in 1959 and King of Kings in 1961. He was known for always wearing black and styling his home in black decor.

Early life[edit]

Thring was born in Melbourne. Although sometimes referred to as Frank Thring Jr. because of his well-known father, F. W. Thring, he was actually Francis William Thring (or William Francis Thring) IV. His forebears were Francis William Thring (1812–1887), Francis William Thring (known as William Thring) (1858–1920); William Frank Thring, known as Francis William Thring or F. W. Thring, (1882–1936).[a]

Thring was the son of F. W. Thring and Olive (née Kreitmeyer), and was educated at the Melbourne Grammar School. His father was the head of the theatrical firm J. C. Williamson's in the 1920s, and subsequently founded the theatre film production studio Efftee Studios in the 1930s, in Melbourne, Australia. He has been anachronistically claimed to have been the inventor of the clapperboard.[2] Thring Sr. was also a noted film producer (The Sentimental Bloke), and partner in the nationwide Australian theatre circuit Hoyts. Thring Sr. died in July 1936 at the age of 53, when Frank Jr. was 10 years old.[3] His second wife (Frank Jr.'s mother) inherited all the businesses. Frank said his earliest memory is of his mother standing on a stepladder in the foyer of the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, and arranging gladioli in the vases attached to the pillars.


His career spanned more than 45 years, much of it spent alternating between stage, film and television. Perhaps his most famous roles were that of Pontius Pilate in Ben-Hur (1959) and Herod Antipas in King of Kings (1961).[4]


Thring's family operated Melbourne radio station 3XY, from the opening of the station in 1935. He commenced working at 3XY as both a thespian and radio announcer in 1941, as a young man of 15. His numerous jobs at the microphone included being Uncle Frankie in the children's session.[1] When Thring Sr died in 1936 (see above), Thring Jr.'s mother inherited the businesses. However, Thring Jr. incorrectly told people that he owned 3XY.[1]


He began acting in professional stage roles after his discharge from the Royal Australian Air Force in 1945. He was memorable as Herod in Irene Mitchell's production of Oscar Wilde's Salome at Melbourne's Arrow Theatre in 1951,[5] and made his British theatrical debut in the same part in 1954. Two years later, he played Sir Lancelot Spratt in Doctor in the House, which ran for 240 performances at the Victoria Palace in London.[6]

He was Saturninus in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre production of Titus Andronicus with Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Anthony Quayle. He also played Captain Hook opposite Peggy Cummins' Peter Pan. Among his other acclaimed stage roles were George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man, Captain Ahab in Orson Welles's Moby-Dick, Falstaff in Henry IV, Part 1, and Bertolt Brecht's Life of Galileo.[6] Another stage role was in the musical Robert and Elizabeth opposite June Bronhill and Denis Quilley.

Later in life he returned to the stage playing the butler in the Melbourne Theatre Company's production of The Importance of Being Earnest in 1988. His final stage appearance was in Humorists Read the Humorists at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 1992.


Thring first appeared on screen as a child in the 1932 Australian film The Sentimental Bloke, directed by his father F. W. Thring.[7] One of Thring's most well-known screen roles was as Pontius Pilate in Ben-Hur[8] (1959). He also appeared as Al-Kadir, Emir of Valencia in El Cid[8] (1961). Thring was also awarded the Erik Kuttner Award for Acting (1965). In addition to these roles, Thring played a barrister in The Case of Mrs. Loring (1958), the usurping king Aella (Ælla of Northumbria) in The Vikings[8] (1958) and Herod Antipas in King of Kings[9] (1961). Thring is the only actor to portray on film both of the historical figures directly responsible for authorizing the crucifixion of Christ according to the Gospels. He played numerous glowering bad guys in Hollywood epics of the 1950s and 1960s.[4] Back in Australia, he starred opposite James Mason and a young Helen Mirren in Michael Powell's film Age of Consent[9] (1969), and appeared in two biographical films about famous bushrangers: Ned Kelly[9] (1970) and Mad Dog Morgan (1976). He played suave gangsters in Alvin Rides Again[9] (1974) and The Man from Hong Kong[9] (1975). In his later years, his screen roles included the devilish Collector in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome[9] (1985), and a comedic role as an Alfred Hitchcock-like film director in the horror movie spoof, Howling III[9] (1987).


Thring's television credits include the Australian miniseries Against the Wind and Bodyline. He was also the recurring villain Doctor Stark who would use mischievous means in attempts to steal Skippy and other animals out of Waratah National Park in several episodes of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.[10] He also acted in commercials, particularly one in which he would glare at the camera saying "You do have your television licence. Don't you?".[11]

He had the lead roles in the 1959 ABC TV play Treason, and the 1962 ABC play Light Me A Lucifer.

Personal life[edit]

Off-screen, Thring was known for his flamboyant, often waspish, persona.[12] He was featured in numerous TV commercials and guest-starring roles on popular weekly series, variety programs and quiz shows, often dressed in black funereal attire and other sinister costumes - the interior of his house was featured in an Australian TV program and the walls were also black.[13] However, his acting career was interrupted by bouts of alcoholism and periods of ill health.

Thring was appointed 1982 King of Moomba, "this doyenne [sic] of film and theatre looked nothing short of majestic in his regal garb and riding on a thespian-inspired float".[14]

Thring was briefly married to actress Joan Cunliffe during the 1950s. The marriage ended in divorce. Joan lived in London, and was manager of both Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn. Thring was flamboyantly gay,[15][16] but he wanted children and was greatly distressed when his marriage ended without issue.[12]

In 1994, Thring died from oesophageal cancer, aged 68. He was cremated and his ashes scattered off the coast of Queenscliff, Victoria. A celebration of his life was held at the Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne, in 1995.[17][18]


Further reading[edit]

  • The Dictionary of Performing Arts in Australia – Theatre . Film . Radio . Television – Volume 1 – Ann Atkinson, Linsay Knight, Margaret McPhee – Allen & Unwin Pty. Ltd., 1996.[20]
  • The Australian Film and Television Companion – compiled by Tony Harrison – Simon & Schuster Australia, 1994.[21]
  • The Two Frank Thrings – Peter Fitzpatrick – Monash University Publishing, 2012.[22]


  1. ^ F. W. Thring (1812–1887), actually had two sons, both of whom were given their father's name. The first of these was illegitimate, but the second was born after his marriage, and the Thring line continued through the legitimate son.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Peter Fitzpatrick, The Two Frank Thrings, Monash University Publishing, Melbourne, 2012
  2. ^ Radeska, Tijana (5 September 2016). "The clapperboard – We have all wondered what it is for at least once in our lives". The Vintage News. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  3. ^ Holroyd, J. P., "Thring, Francis William (Frank) (1882–1936)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, retrieved 27 September 2018
  4. ^ a b "The Real Thring". ABC Radio National. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 21 September 2008. Retrieved 12 April 2009.
  5. ^ "Good start for new theatre". The Herald (Melbourne). No. 23, 246. Victoria, Australia. 24 November 1951. p. 9. Retrieved 11 January 2023 – via National Library of Australia.
  6. ^ a b Dawes, Sally (1995). "Frank Thring". In Parsons, Philip (ed.). Companion to Theatre in Australia. Currency Press. ISBN 0-86819-357-7.
  7. ^ Mikul, Chris. (2012). The eccentropedia : the most unusual people who have ever lived. Smith, Glenn. London: Headpress. ISBN 9781909394018. OCLC 825076866.
  8. ^ a b c "Frank Thring – Filmography". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2016. Archived from the original on 8 March 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Hal Erickson (2015). "Frank Thring – About This Person". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on 7 July 2015.
  10. ^ "Skippy: episode guide". Australian Television Information Archive. Archived from the original on 21 February 2013.
  11. ^ Conniptions886. PMG radio & TV licences (Frank Thring) (Television commercial) – via YouTube.{{cite AV media}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)[dead YouTube link]
  12. ^ a b Stephens, Andrew (18 August 2012). "In search of the real Thring". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  13. ^ Macklin, Robert. "Thring, Francis William (Frank) (1926–1994)". Obituaries Australia. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  14. ^ Craig Bellamy, Gordon Chisholm, Hilary Eriksen (17 February 2006). Moomba: A festival for the people.: pp.17–22; photo p. 21 Archived 28 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Hancock, Sheila (2004). The Two of Us: My Life with John Thaw. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781408806937. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  16. ^ Batten, Bron (14 September 2008). "The Real Thring | Hoy Polloy". Australian Stage. Archived from the original on 10 November 2010. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  17. ^ A Tribute to Frank, booklet published for the celebration of Thring's memory, Victorian Arts Centre Playhouse, 5 March 1995
  18. ^ Van Straten, Frank (2007). "Frank Thring 1926-1994". Live Performance Australia. Archived from the original on 11 March 2018. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  19. ^ [user-generated source]
  20. ^ Atkinson, Ann; Knight, Linsay; McPhee, Margaret (19 May 1996). The Dictionary of Performing Arts in Australia. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 9781863738989 – via Google Books.
  21. ^ Harrison, Tony (19 May 2005). Australian Film & TV Companion. Citrus Press. ISBN 9780975102367 – via Google Books.
  22. ^ "The Two Frank Thrings (Monash University Publishing)". Archived from the original on 26 May 2020. Retrieved 19 May 2020.

External links[edit]