Remembering the extraordinary life of an extraordinary man.
British born Alan Edmund William Edwards AM MBE (17 January 1925 – 14 January 2003) was an actor, teacher and founding Artistic Director of the Queensland Theatre Company in Brisbane.
His childhood playmate was David Montgomery, the son of “Monty” of Alamein. His early schooling was in Egypt, where his professional army father was then stationed. At an early age Alan had decided to make the theatre his profession, won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London graduating in 1944 with a RADA Diploma in Acting.
However, World War II intervened during which he joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and rose to the rank of Captain. During his service in Kenya he was in charge of the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) established by the British War Office, in Nairobi. While in Kenya, he also organized a garrison theatre while in training for preparation’s for the Pacific theatre of war.
After the war, he won a scholarship to the Old Vic Theatre School, The Cut, London, After graduating he joined The Young Vic Company, as an offshoot of the Old Vic – the first residence of the Royal National Theatre under Laurence Olivier. ‘Here‘, Olivier said, ‘we think to develop plays for young audiences, an experimental workshop for authors, actors and producers.’
Alan then worked in various repertory theatres in England and Scotland before joining the Birmingham Repertory Theatres in 1954 under Sir Barry Jackson, where he stayed for two years.
In 1956, Alan left Birmingham to appear for the BBC in a series of television productions and for the next eight years he worked mainly in London in film, theatre and radio. In British film and TV, he earned 53 credits, notably for THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST (1955), THE BLACK ARROW (1951) and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1955).
He also directed several plays for various Repertory Theatres. During this time he began his teaching career at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and he also taught at the Central School of Speech and Drama, the Rose Bruford College and Toynbee Hall. In 1962 he went into Management and co-founded TEAMWORK, presenting revues in London, Oxford and ‘on the fringe’ at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1963.
Alan was making a film in Adan and he found that he worked so well in the heat that he decided he really didn’t like cold England. So, in 1964, he sailed from England, straight into the post of Tutor in Acting at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney. On arrival in Australia, Alan combined his teaching duties with as much involvement with professional theatre as possible. He appeared for the Old Tote Theatre many times, at the Theatre Royal, Hobart and played a number of major roles for ABC Television and Radio and for Commercial TV and Radio.
A recruitment campaign by the Queensland Theatre Company received a total 61 applicants scattered worldwide for the post of Artistic Director. On July 15, 1969, Alan flew to Brisbane for the interview. While awaiting his return flight at the airport, he received a page to take a phone call, where the QTC board chairman, Sir David Muir CMG, told him he got the job.
“I’ll never forget Monday, 17th November, 1969 when I walked into the S.G.I.O. Theatre and was shown into an office that contained a table, a chair and an internal telephone. Around me were 3 other empty offices which were, I was told, the rest of the Q.T.C. administration offices. I remember my first decision was to go out and buy typing paper, carbon, flimsies, pencils, rubbers, paper clips, the usual paraphernalia of an office. I had my own portable typewriter.” — Alan Edwards
Alan hired executive secretary Gillian Coar and immediately built up a highly efficient and well integrated company, utilizing his artistic and administrative ability, and officially opened the first fully professional production directed by Alan of the world premiere of the musical A RUM DO! on April 10, 1970, coinciding that day with the Royal Assent given to the Act of Parliament, which incorporated the company. This was followed just 3 days later with a Royal Performance, on April 13 in the presence of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, and HRH the Princess Anne.
1. In his own words: - Alan Edwards describing getting the job and the early years
Alan became a major contributor to the artistic life throughout Queensland. His numerous productions and performances for Queensland Theatre Company have made him one of the best known and respected identities of the Australian stage.
During his 19 years at the QTC, Alan won acclaim not only for his many notable productions he directed, but also was acclaimed for his performances in such roles as Salieri in AMADEUS, The Psychiatrist in EQUUS, Professor Higgins in PYGMALION, Dr Alfred Feldman in DUET FOR ONE, Cicero in JULIUS CAESAR, Sir Peter Teazle in THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL, Judge Don Gusman in THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, Richard Noakes in ARCADIA and The Chorus in HENRY V, which he also directed.
Other roles included Baptista in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW and Mr Diagilsmith in TIGHTROPE both for The Queensland Ballet. Alan also appeared in a variety of roles with companies including Sydney Theatre Company, Northside Theatre Company, Phillip Street Productions, La Boite Theatre, The House is Live, Opera Queensland, Queensland Performing Arts Trust and Seymour Productions.
Considered by many as his theatrical triumph at QTC, was his open-air presentation of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAMin Albert Park, staged as part of the Warana Festival celebrations in 1979. The project had long been one of Alans’ cherished dreams, and took years of his persistence, due to its size and complexity to bring it to life. It involved the creation of a complete theatre where none existed, and bringing together local talent with multiple companies: The Queensland Theatre Company, Queensland Ballet Company, Queensland Opera Company, Queensland Theatre Orchestra and the Australian Youth Ballet. The success of the production, coupled with the public reaction, established a more permanent venue and annual production in Albert Park.
Some of Alan’s other favorite shows he directed for the Queensland Theatre Company included the musicals ANNIE, HELLO, DOLLY!, and the plays BLITHE SPIRIT, LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT and CARAVAN for the New England Theatre Company.
After serving for 19 years he resigned as Artistic Director from the Queensland Theatre Company in 1988.
An Artists Galah Salute to Alan Edwards was presented as a secret surprise to him on July 25, 1988 at the Suncorp (SGIO) Theatre filed as an outrageous show including highlights and lowlights of his rein, culminating in the presentation of a sound souvenir book, followed by a party at the bar. It was organized by Karen Crone.
He then pursued a freelance career as a director, actor and teacher in both opera and theatre.
During rehearsals for THE TRAGEDY OF KING RICHARD THE SECOND in September 2001, Alan made the painful decision to permanently retire from acting.
From 1978 – 1983 Alan was a member of the Theatre Board of the Australia Council. He was Chairman of the Steering Committee which brought into being the Confederation of Australian Performing Arts (CAPPA) and later served as its Vice-Chairman.
He was a board member of the Queensland Performing Arts Trust for 10 years.
From 1975 – 1994 Alan was the inaugural President of the Actors’ & Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund (Qld) Inc.
He was a Patron of the Queensland Theatre of the Deaf.
He was a Member of the Immigration Review Panel (Queensland).
He was a Justice of the Peace.
In 1982 he was a recipient of the Advance Australia Award for his contribution to Theatre.
In 1983, Alan was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) by Her Majesty the Queen for his valuable contribution to the advancement of Queensland’s cultural life.
Also in 1983 he was a finalist in the Queenslander of the Year Award.
In 1984 he became an Australian Citizen.
In 1990 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Australia Day Honours List in recognition of service to the performing arts.
In 1994 he was the recipient of a Brisbane Theatre Critic’s Matilda Award for Services to the Queensland Theatre industry.
In 1997 he received The Glugs of Gosh Award for Excellence in Theatre.
In 1998, after recommendations by Kate Foy and David Logan, Alan was awarded a Doctorate of Letters (honoris causa) by the University of Southern Queensland.
On January 14, 2003, Alan Edwards passed away from cancer.
Alan’s contribution and legacy to the performing arts of the Commonwealth is astonishing in his vast array of character portrayals, his creative discipline as director, his expertise in uniting a company of highly skilled people and his much sought after participation with a diverse range of other 1st class companies throughout Australia.
“There’s a train of thought that believes Queensland has little cultural life of any consequence. It’s as widespread as it is erroneous, and we believe we have done much to dispel it. We rate this as one of our proudest achievements.” — Alan Edwards circa 1980.
The Actors’ & Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund of Queensland presents The Alan Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Performing Arts in Queensland annually to someone who has contributed a great deal to the industry above and beyond the call of duty. Honouring the memory of Founding President Alan Edwards AM MBE JP, this award is presented at a special morning tea attended by friends and industry colleagues.