Googie Withers and John McCallum – Double Act

Cover of 'Double Act'
Cover of ‘Double Act’

Googie Withers and John McCallum are stars from British cinemas pre and post WW2 golden age who would go on to have a profound influence on the Arts in Australia. As Founding Patron’s of the Tait Memorial Trust they will forever be a part of our work to assist the careers of young Australian performing artists who study in the UK. In Double Act, Brian McFarlane charts their careers through the eyes of a lover of theatre, cinema and television; The glimpes into their personal lives throughout adds a unique poignancy to the book which really is a must for any lover of theatre and the performing arts.

John McCallum, famous for his rugged good looks was a highly successful film, television and stage actor and producer in his native Australia and in the UK before and after the war. After completing his military service with the 2nd AIF in New Guinea he returned to resume his acting career in the UK.  In 1948 he married the British actress Googie Withers, with whom he appeared in a large number of films.

Googie Withers best known work of the period was as one of Margaret Lockwood’s friends in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938). Among her successes of the 1940s, and a departure from her previous roles, was the Powell and Pressburger film One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942), a topical World War II drama in which she played a Dutch resistance fighter who helps British airmen return to safety from behind enemy lines. She played the devious Helen Nosseross in Night and the City (1950), a British film noir directed by Jules Dassin.

They were among the most gifted and distinctive of Ealing’s large company of actors. The pair had met and fallen in love on the set of The Loves of Joanna Godden, released early in 1947. Later that year they were to star in It always rains on Sunday directed by Robert Hamer. The film was re-released a few years ago by the BFI.

How they managed to juggle their first class international careers with a family of three children often on opposite sides of the world was a feat in itself. In 1958 John would go on to join Sir Frank Tait at J C Williamson’s where he was closely involved with the production of American musicals from Annie Get Your Gun to My Fair Lady. With Borovansky, formerly of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, they toured a cast led by Margot Fonteyn.

This company would go on to form the core of the Australian Ballet with the help of Frank Tait, John McCallum and Dr Herbert Coombes, the first Chairman of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. At the invitation of Sir Frank Tait, McCallum became joint Managing Director. McCallum was keen to encourage the casting of talented Australians in leading roles and was instrumental in beginning the starring careers of Kevin Colson, Jill Perryman, Nancye Hayes, Barbara Angell and others.

Still of John McCallum and Googie Withers in It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) © Photo courtesy of Film Forum/Rialto Pictures.
Still of John McCallum and Googie Withers in It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)
© Photo courtesy of Film Forum/Rialto Pictures.

Their contribution to the Australian performing arts is considerable. In 1971, McCallum was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1992, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO). Both honours were made for services to drama and theatre. Withers was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for services to drama, in the 1980 Australia Day Honours List. In the 2002 Queen’s Birthday Honours List (UK), she was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)

McCallum also wrote, directed and produced numerous films and television series, particularly the international TV series Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (1966–68) which he co-produced with Lee Robinson. Television series he produced in the 1970s include Boney, Barrier Reef and Shannon’s Mob. McCallum also widely acted on the stage. A particular favourite role was in The Circle by W. Somerset Maugham. In this production he acted alongside Googie Withers in the U.K. as well as in Australia.

The book includes more than 30 black-and-white photographs which complement the text and make you wish for more. After all, there are limits to describing the performing arts in words even though McFarlane does this par excellence.

John McCallum passed away on February 3rd 2010 in Sydney. The other part of this great double act, Googie Withers, died 17 months later at the age of 94. A great loss to the performing arts in Australia.

Googie Withers filmography on imdb

John McCallum filmography on imdb

Review of Double Act from the Sydney Morning Herald

Link to buy the book, Double Act from Amazon

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *