Rusty Bugles

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Rusty Bugles
Written by Sumner Locke Elliott
Date premiered 1948
Original language English
Setting Northern Territory during World War II

Rusty Bugles was a controversial Australian play written by Sumner Locke Elliott in 1948. It toured extensively throughout Australia between 1948–1949 and was threatened with closure by the New South Wales Chief Secretary's Office for obscenity.

Production history[edit]

It was first produced by Doris Fitton and Sydney's Independent Theatre company on 14 October 1948, and advertised as an "army comedy documentary".[1] The announcement of its ban was made by J. M. Baddeley, Chief Secretary and acting Premier of New South Wales, on 22 October[2] but after initially defying the ban, Doris Fitton avoided a forced closure by commissioning a rewrite from the author.[3]

The Independent Theatre took the play, after an unprecedented 20-week run in New South Wales, to reopen The King's Theatre, Melbourne.[4] Meanwhile, another company was playing "Rusty Bugles" at Killara, New South Wales, so it was the first Australian play to run simultaneously in two states.[5] The words that were the subject of the ban gradually reappeared; no legal action was ever taken, though rewrites were demanded in different states.[6]

At the end of its record six-month run in Melbourne, the production transferred to Adelaide, then returned to Sydney at The Tatler. But now critics were writing that it was being played for laughs, with the swearing self-conscious rather than part of the patois.[7]

The publisher of the play, Currency Press, quotes Elliott as saying that Rusty Bugles was 'a documentary... Not strictly a play... it has no plot in the accepted sense'. Elliott did not foresee that shortly after this, the genre of the theatre of the absurd would be established as a 'legitimate' dramatic form where plot and the delineation of character are less important than the insight offered into the implicit drama of most human interactions.[8]

Cast (1948)[edit]

  • Des Nolan ("Gig") - John Kingsmill
  • Vic Richards - Ivor Bromley-Smith
  • Sergeant Brooks - Sidney Chambers
  • Rod Carsen - Ronald Frazer
  • Andy Edwards ("The Little Corporal") - Robert Crome
  • Otford ("Ot") - Alistair Roberts
  • Mac - Frank O'Donnell
  • Ollie - John Unicomb
  • Chris - Kevin Healy
  • "Darky" McClure - Lloyd Berrell
  • "Keghead" Stephens - Ralph Peterson
  • Corporal - doubled
  • Ken Falcon ("Dean Maitland") - Michael Barnes
  • First Private - Jack Wilkinson
  • Second Private - James Lyons
  • Bill Hendry (YMCA Sergeant) - Frank Curtain
  • Private - Peter Hartland
  • Jack Turner (Sigs Corporal) - doubled
  • Sigs Private - doubled
  • Sammy Kuhn - Kenneth Colbert


The play was adapted for TV by the ABC in 1965 and then later in 1981.[9] Both versions were directed by Alan Burke who had directed the stage play in 1949.[10]

The play was also adapted by the ABC for radio in 1965.[11]

1965 film[edit]

Rusty Bugles
Directed by Alan Burke
Written by John Warwick
Based on play by Sumner Locke Elliott
Distributed by ABC
Release date
23 June 1965
Running time
75 mins[12]
Country Australia
Language English

The play was adapted for the ABC's Wednesday Theatre in 1965.[13][14]

It was Alan Burke's first production for the ABC since he returned from England.[15]


The cast of the 1965 film was:

  • Jack Allan as Mac
  • John Armstrong as Andy
  • Stuart Finch as Gig Ape
  • Kerry Francis as Rod
  • Guy le Claire as Darky
  • Robert McDarra as Sgt Brooks
  • Rod Moore as Keghead
  • Graham Rouse as Vic
  • Michael Thomas as Ot
  • Mark Edwards[16]


The critic for The Sydney Morning Herald thought the adaptation blundered by not establishing where and when the play was set, saying the director "wasted speculation while a huge cast of strange characters passed before him — too many, in fact, to be accommodated comfortably in such short playing lime." He also felt the word "flamin' " was overused. [17]

Another reviewer noted the high use of the word "flamin" ("it got a flamin' good workout") while "the other word, which the wowsers took such exception to when the play was first staged in Sydney some 15 years ago, hardly got a look-in." However he thought "Alan Burke's production was a good, smooth job" and did "draw the pathos from the story."[18]

1981 film[edit]

Rusty Bugles
Directed by John Matthews
Produced by Alan Burke
Written by Sumner Locke Elliott
Based on play by Sumner Locke Elliott
Starring Serge Lazareff
Graham Rouse
Ian Gilmour
Distributed by ABC
Release date
Running time
75 mins
Country Australia
Language English

Sumner Locke Elliot announced in the late 1970s he wanted the play to be filmed.[19]

The ABC filmed it in 1981. Alan Burke was again associated as producer.



The critic from the Woman's Weekly complained about the "quaint, old-fashioned dialogue" and "some quaint, old-fashioned direction" in which "the viewer was never certain he was watching a photographed stage play or a badly re-enacted documentary... A study of bordeom , became studiously boring."[20]

The Canberra Times called the 1981 production "the sort of entertainment that makes satire redundant."[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "''Sydney Morning Herald'' 22 October 1948". 1948-10-22. Retrieved 2016-07-27. 
  2. ^ "''Sydney Morning Herald'' 23 October 1948". 1948-10-23. Retrieved 2016-07-27. 
  3. ^ "''Sydney Morning Herald'' 28 October 1948". 1948-10-29. Retrieved 2016-07-27. 
  4. ^ ""Opening the Season" ''(Melbourne) Argus'' 16 April 1949". 1949-04-16. Retrieved 2016-07-27. 
  5. ^ ""Rusty Bugles ran in two cities" ''(Sydney) Sunday Herald'' 24 April 1949". 1949-04-24. Retrieved 2016-07-27. 
  6. ^ ""Candid Comment" ''(Sydney) Sunday Herald'' 15 May 1949". 1949-05-15. Retrieved 2016-07-27. 
  7. ^ ""Rusty Bugles sound a false note" ''Sydney Morning Herald'' 10 April 1950". 1950-04-10. Retrieved 2016-07-27. 
  8. ^ "Introducing the Play". Sumner Locke Elliot's Rusty Bugles. Currency press. Retrieved 2007-09-11. 
  9. ^ Ed. Scott Murray, Australia on the Small Screen 1970-1995, Oxford Uni Press, 1996 p135
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Rusty Bugles on radio.". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995). ACT: National Library of Australia. 27 April 1965. p. 15. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  12. ^ "MONDAY". The Canberra Times. 39, (11,187). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 21 June 1965. p. 2 (TELEVISION and radio GUIDE). Retrieved 20 March 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  13. ^ "TODAY'S TV.". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995). ACT: National Library of Australia. 23 June 1965. p. 19. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  14. ^ "TELEVISION Old sons, new note.". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995). ACT: National Library of Australia. 18 March 1966. p. 13. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  15. ^ "Leisure TV Drama Music Art Books Radio The Arts.". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995). ACT: National Library of Australia. 25 June 1965. p. 17. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  16. ^ "Two beards and a bright future.". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995). ACT: National Library of Australia. 21 September 1965. p. 13. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  17. ^ "Too many troops spoil the plot". Sydney Morning Herald. 25 June 1965. p. 9. 
  18. ^ Veitch, Jock (27 June 1965). Sydney Morning Herald. p. 84.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  19. ^ "'Bugles' author will help with the movie.". The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982). 1933 - 1982: National Library of Australia. 11 January 1978. p. 7. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  20. ^ "Culled Cut!.". The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982). 1933 - 1982: National Library of Australia. 2 December 1981. p. 177. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  21. ^ "TELEVISION By IAN WARDEN Barbarians through a Pythonesque eye.". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995). ACT: National Library of Australia. 12 November 1981. p. 22. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 

External links[edit]