Australian Screen

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Dad and Dave from Snake Gully – Episode 1 (1937)

Synopsis

This is the first episode of the long-running Dad and Dave radio serial. In this episode, Dad (George Edwards) and Dave (John Saul) discuss Dave’s hope to marry Mabel, Dad examines the farm’s finances and Dave tries to fix the clock – with disastrous consequences.

Curator’s notes

George Edwards and Nell Stirling were probably the busiest couple on Australian radio in its early years, during a golden age for radio drama and comedy. From the mid 1930s to the early 1950s, they broadcast multiple shows night and day to a national audience, and Dad and Dave was the most popular show. The public enthusiasm for the Dad and Dave radio shows was based in part on the success of the 1932 film version of On Our Selection, and its sequels starring Bert Bailey as Dad.

It is hard to grasp now just how big radio was in the period before television – or how busy the live radio schedule would have been for Edwards and Stirling. In 1934, at 2GB, they did at least 24 live productions per week. They presented as Darby and Joan during breakfast, followed by script meetings. They presented David and Dawn in the 6 pm children’s session, then an adaptation of a popular public domain novel such as Westward Ho! (1855) from 7 pm, a mystery series at 8 pm (such as Inspector Scott of Scotland Yard) and at 10 pm, six nights a week, an episode of Notable British Trials, during which Edwards got to play accused, prosecutor and judge.

The key to all this was the extraordinary range of voices that George Edwards could deploy in front of a microphone. The ‘man of 1,000 voices’ was famous for playing up to 12 different parts in one show. He is said to have done six different voices in one scene! The schedule was only alleviated when the couple signed a recording contract with Columbia in 1936. The evening shows were then pre-recorded, and could be sold as records to the gramophone-owning public. They left 2GB and signed up with 2UW, where they were soon heard over its Commonwealth Network. Their programs were also shipped to play on New Zealand radio.

Edwards and Stirling were a colourful pair. By 1931 he was a not quite successful vaudeville actor, dancer and comedian, feeling the effects of the Depression and the death of vaudeville. She was a dancer in the Fuller’s circuit chorus line, a striking redhead with long legs and a great business brain. They married in March 1934. She was 24, he was 47.

By 1937, when they started the Dad and Dave shows, they were both famous, if not infamous, and becoming very rich. Sumner Locke Elliott described her as looking ‘like a barmaid who had won the Irish sweepstakes’, when he saw her at an audition in 1934. She wore glossy black satin and ‘diamonds at ten o’clock in the morning’ and ‘a great deal of mascara and lipstick’. According to her entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography they were famous for their low wages to actors – ‘Scrooge Edwards and Nell Pound Stirling’ were among their nicknames.

One reason that George did so many voices was so that they didn’t have to pay another actor. In the Dad and Dave recording, he plays Dad alone, although in some episodes he played several characters. Nell Stirling usually played Mabel, Loris Bingham was Annie and Mum, and John Saul played Dave. The scripts were written by the prolific Maurice Francis until 1940, when he joined the army. Lorna Bingham, daughter of Loris, then took over and continued writing for the rest of the series.

George played fewer parts from 1948, when he and Nell went through a divorce. She kept control of the company and would only allow him to play Dad in the series. He bought racehorses, gambled and lost and drank heavily. She remarried four months after the divorce and died from an overdose of sleeping pills in 1951. Elliott doubted that it was an accident, though that is how it is usually described. George died in 1953, and the Dad and Dave serials concluded that same year.