“You make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give” (Winston Churchill)
WELL-LOVED Perth personality Max Kay lists Churchill’s saying as one of his favourite quotes.
In a life lived to the full, Glasgow born Max lists himself as a former entertainer and theatre owner, former politician and a person who cares about the community and those less fortunate.
Not that Max has retired completely from the stage. On St Patrick’s Day the Kalamunda Performing Arts Centre was a sell out for his music and comedy show One More Time which also featured several family members including wife Norma.
“I don’t know what I’ll call the next show,” Max says during an interview with Have a Go News at his Menora home.
His great skills as a comedian and entertainer still run deep.
The boy who hails from Govanhill in the poorer south side of Glasgow, marvels at the fact he received the Order of Australia in 2003 for his services to promoting young artists as well as earning the Prime Minister’s Medal and the 2001 Citizen of the Year award.
He was also presented with a Vietnam Logistical Support Medal for lifting the spirits of deployed troops in that war-torn country.
Max reminisces about his home country and his long association with celebrated Scottish entertainer Andy Stewart, which brought him to Australia.
Max was a singer with local dance bands in Glasgow in his teens and during his national service he entertained with many of the military dance bands.
Max joined Andy’s troupe as a singer and comic feed during 1959 while Andy was performing with his Heather Mixture shows at the Inverness Empire.
He quickly became a constant companion taking on the role of Andy’s personal manager, handling his business and managing the touring company.
“I had been to Australia with Andy, touring America, Canada, New Zealand and here,” he said. “We owned the US and Canada tour and took Scottish stars with us. People loved the fact we brought the smell of heather to them. We played Carnegie Hall in New York three times.
“I first came to Perth in 1961-62 and it was quite primitive, there was no Narrows Bridge and David Jones Town Hall store looked like it belonged to the 1920s. But when I returned in 1966 the progress was unbelievable and I thought, ‘my God, what a marvellous place to live’, and I loved the climate.
“I had a friend in Perth who ran a cladding business so I invested in it, settling in Perth with Norma and two of our three children (a third was born in WA and the couple now have eight grandchildren).
“I intended to give up the theatre, but footballer Jack Sheedy asked me to do some shows. I had to undergo a tonsillectomy and thought I would no longer be able to sing but my voice was fine, even better.”
The decision to return to entertaining was prompted by the fact that an accountant had embezzled a big sum of Max’s money.
“But he really did me a favour, prompting me to work hard, doing five shows on Friday and Saturday and more at footy clubs on Sunday afternoons to earn extra,” he said.
“I clawed my way back financially, also working at the Red Garter in William Street, which had a Scottish theme.”
Max returned to Scotland in 1974 to make a guest appearance paying tribute to Andy Stewart on Eamonn Andrews’ This Is Your Life.
Back in WA he hit the entertainment circuit big-time appearing with Noel Ferrier in Cinderella at the Regal Theatre, also working with Frank Baden-Powell and presenting plays at the Hole in the Wall theatre and later with Peter Harries.
On impulse, he bought a bar and restaurant and ran the Civic Theatre in Inglewood under the civic clock, later building his own Civic Theatre in Highgate which he operated for 25 years, with Norma at his side.
Guests included Ronnie Corbett, Colleen Hewett, Max Bygraves and Phyliss Diller. The late WA premier Sir Charles Court became a supporter and mentor.
It was hard work but rewarding and Max was doing what he loved.
For years, both Labor and Liberal parties had approached Max to stand for office. He decided to run for Perth City Council and became a councillor for five years in the city he had grown to love. He headed 22 committees and chaired the Christmas decoration and Australia Day committees and enjoyed it all, but eventually decided politics wasn’t really for him.
Max retired in 2001 but retirement still means busy days. He works for Curtin FM radio, appearing weekly with Jenny Seaton, and ran the Scottish Hour as the kilted crusader.
He is a member of Perth Theatre Trust, Swan Bells Foundation, Prostate Cancer Foundation, St Bartholomew’s Foundation (homeless men and families) and council president of the Sir David Brand School for the Disabled.
Entertaining and charity work drive Max, who declines to list his age because of ageism. He also wants older people to embrace technology rather than be left behind. That’s most important, he says as a footnote.
Max is an inspiration really.