Robin Ramsay (actor)

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Robin Ramsay (born 31 May 1937 in Melbourne) is an Australian television, film and stage actor.[1][2] He is the grandson of Kiwi shoe polish founder William Ramsay[1] and father of Robina Ramsay, an internationally ranked dressage rider,[3] and anthropologist Dr Tamasin Ramsay.


Ramsay studied at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, graduating in 1957. He worked briefly for the BBC then returned to Australia. He joined the fledgling Union Theatre Company in Melbourne, whose members included Zoe Caldwell and Barry Humphries. He starred in the first Adelaide Festival in 1960, in Moon on a Rainbow Shawl.

He went to the United States in 1961 and joined the Theatre Company of Boston. He then toured the country in The National Repertory Theatre, with Eva Le Gallienne and Faye Emerson.

In 1964 he took the role of Fagin in the hit musical Oliver! on Broadway, a role he played for a further two years in New York, followed by a record-breaking national tour. He shared the bill with the Beatles, singing a song from the musical in a subsequently memorable edition of The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1966 Ramsay recreated his role of Fagin for a West End revival of Oliver!, with Marti Webb as Nancy.

Returning to Australia, Ramsay's role as Charlie Cousens, the dodgy real estate agent in Bellbird, Australia's first successful television soap opera, garnered him considerable public notice. A regular character on the show from August 1967, Ramsay decided to leave in May 1968 to take the role of Fagin in a Japanese stage production of Oliver!.

When the show's producers decided to kill off his character, staging what has been described as "one of the most-watched and best-remembered moments in Australian TV history",[4] fans wrote protesting his death and even sent flowers to his funeral.

Ramsay returned to the theatre playing the controversial priest Daniel Berriganin the Trial of the Catonsville Nine in Sydney. He went on to play Pontius Pilate in 's original production of Jesus Christ Superstar.[4] He was in the first production at the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1972: playing MacHeath in The Threepenny Opera. Polly Peachum was played by Pamela Stephenson. Ramsay spent the next few years as a leading actor with the Sydney Theatre Company the Melbourne Theatre Company, and working in film and television. He has twice won the Melbourne Critics Circle Award for Best Actor. He was in Medea the opening production of the Melbourne Arts Centre, playing opposite Zoe Caldwell.

In 1977, with Rodney Fisher, he developed his first solo show, drawn from the writings of Henry Lawson, The Bastard From The Bush.[5] This refocusing on Lawson as a sophisticated short-story writer and diarist, rather than as a 'bush poet', radically altered Australia's view of their favourite icon. The play toured to Riverside Studios in London, and played extended seasons at Sydney's Belvoir Street Theatre and the Victorian Arts Centre. The production won the Australian Arts Award

In the early 1980s Ramsay was commissioned to create a new solo show celebrating the life and times of Rabindranath Tagore, India's Nobel Prize-winning poet: titled Borderland. The invitation came from the Indian High Commission in Canberra. The play was performed in Australia, then toured to more than 60 countries in support of the Brahma Kumaris, in tandem with The Bastard From The Bush. The tour was sponsored by the Australian Government, the British Council and the Indian Government.

Ramsay then formed his own chamber theatre company, "Open Secret", and continued touring internationally, developing new productions, notably Vikram Seth's Beastly Tales from Here and There and incorporating local musicians into the company's presentations. His new solo play The Accidental Mystic, high times on the Indian ashram trail, written by his wife Barbara Bossert, opened at Melbourne's Malthouse Theatre in 1995, after seasons in Sydney and the Edinburgh Festival. The play toured to London and throughout India. Ramsay was nominated for a Melbourne Critics Circle Best Actor Award for his performance.

In 1994 he played Julie Christie's husband, Wilf Barlow, in the miniseries Dada is Death, and toured to the Tokyo International Theatre Festival with the Playbox Theatre.

In 2008 he produced and directed the feature film Tao of the Traveller, a spiritual adventure film which won a Best Film Award at the South African International Film Festival 2008, and has been selected for screening at the British Film Festival Los Angeles 2009, Egypt International Film Festival 2009, Thailand International Film Festival 2009, and Swansea Bay International Film Festival 2009. In 2008 the film was also invited to the Fallbrook Film Festival in California, and won awards in the Research and Experimental categories at the Accolade Film Festival.

Ramsay became interested in Eastern spiritual matters in the 1960s and studied Taoism and Buddhism and many of the mystical poets such as Rumi, Tagore and Hafiz. During the 1980s, he came across the teachings of Brother Lekhraj Kripalani, now formalised as the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, while still performing with Open Secret. From 2001–2006 he lived at a Brahma Kumaris retreat centre near Wilton New South Wales. Ramsay recreated his Tagore show Borderland in London, as part of the Brahma Kumaris contribution to the Lord Mayor of London's "India Now" celebrations.

Select filmography[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b John Olday's Memoirs: the Australian Period. Accessed 27 July 2007.
  2. ^ Activities of the Foundation in 1995 at the Wayback Machine (archived 19 January 2008). Accessed 27 July 2007.
  3. ^ Robina Ramsay Becomes a Bride. 17 September 1989. Accessed 27 July 2007.
  4. ^ a b Superstar: The Australian Production at MilesAgo: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975 Accessed 5 November 2012
  5. ^ [1] at Cameron's agency. Accessed 5 November 2012.