Life upon the ‘wicked’ stage… and some of the wonderful characters

Su Pollard and Peter Keogh
Su Pollard and Peter Keogh

Growing up I always felt that I marched to the beat of a different drum – that is until I discovered at about 15 that I was not the only person who marched to that drum and it opened a whole new world that I am happily involved into this very day. The world of the theatre.

I discovered a group called the Beaumaris Players in Melbourne and was offered a role in a play called The Shop at Sly Corner. At the time I had a terrible stammer that caused me great stress, however after hearing from the Hollywood actress Debbie Reynolds that the character I was to play did not have a stammer, I was able to play the part with no hint of a stammer. Ensuring a proud Mum and Dad in the audience.

I then moved to Melbourne. I interviewed for my school newsletter, the multi-talented performer Tommy Steele – in his boxers – who was very kind to me. His manager however was the epitome of the ‘wicked’ part of being on the stage.

It was a few years later that I returned to Perth and started work, albeit voluntarily, at the Playhouse Theatre – painting a dressing room for the arrival of big star, Googie Withers, who was very regal and very charming. At the Playhouse I was also very actively pursued by a well-known gay actor who would quite literally chase me all around the space under the stage, but he never caught me. It was my second experience of the ‘wicked’ part of being on stage.

My parents then moved to Sydney where I was fortunate enough to obtain work at the Sydney Opera House as a tour guide; supernumerary actor in the operas Carmen, Lakme and Aida; and as an usher, starting on the opening day in 1973. Exciting times indeed and not a hint of any ‘wicked’ experiences – in fact, the opposite. Whilst there I met Carol Burnett, who when I told her that the Opera House mural looked better by night said ‘Don’t we all dear!’ and Dame Joan Sutherland who berated me for keeping her in the cold as she signed a program for me.

Peter in costume
Peter in costume

By then of course I was totally hooked on being involved in theatre and my life there took me on some magical journeys.

After the Opera House, at both the Theatre Royal and then His Majesty’s Theatre I got to know quite well some of the most memorable people in show business, people like Peter O’Toole who I played cricket with; Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, a total gent; Stanley Holloway, who was exactly as he appeared in his movies; Derek Nimmo, a tough taskmaster; a very young and very good looking but also quite shy Mel Gibson; Peggy Lee, in a wheelchair backstage at The State Theatre; Julie Anthony, such a great talent; Geraldine Turner, who was magnificent on stage; Taina Elg, who spent Christmas with my family; Jill Perryman, now a dear friend; Reg Livermore, who was supremely talented; John Farnham and Colleen Hewett who shone as the lovers in Pippin and of course the late, great Debbie Reynolds who became a close friend.

I then moved to London where I married British actress from the hit BBC series Hi-de-Hi, Su Pollard, so talented in so many ways with the most incredible voice. Through Su I met some of the biggest stars in Britain including the petite and very funny Barbara Windsor; Paul and Linda McCartney backstage at a Royal Variety Concert, both very friendly; Joanna Lumley who was delightful; the beautiful Jean Simmons; Dame Anna Neagle who was very sweet; Beryl Reid – very camp; and the three stars of the series The Golden Girls, who we later saw film the series in Hollywood.

Su and I attended a luncheon at The Savoy Hotel for Princess Diana, we had a lovely chat with her and then met her again at a small function on the side of Westminster Abbey. She was exquisite and very, very friendly. In London I was chairman of the King’s Cross Boy’s Club and as such was invited to a private function at Buckingham Palace hosted by the Duke of Edinburgh. It was surreal and a day I will never forget.

Cyndi Lauper with Peter
Su with Peter

In New York, where Su was performing, we attended a cocktail party with Jane Powell, who was like a little doll; Alexis Smith, who as tall and willowy; Van Johnson who when asked by Su whether he was married or gay replied: “Well I’m not married dear!”

How lucky have I been to have experience all the above plus much more while working in an industry that has become my passion! For me life upon the stage has been a total joy — with just a dash of ‘wicked’.