Jeffrey Frith speaks about his late father, the celebrated political cartoonist, artist and sculptor, John Frith.
Interview with Jeffrey Frith Part 1
C Rhodes: This is an interview with Jeffrey Frith who will be speaking with me, Campbell Rhodes, for the Oral History Program conducted by the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. Jeffrey is the son of John Frith who was a prominent cartoonist and sculptor and it’s John Frith’s work I’d like us to focus on today.
On behalf of the Director of the Museum I would like to thank you for being part of this program today. I’d also like to thank you for completing the Rights Agreement. Do you understand that the Commonwealth owns copyright and that the Rights Agreement will allow you to set the conditions of access to this interview?
J Frith: Yes.
C Rhodes: The interview is taking place today, 23 April 2013 at the Museum of Australian Democracy. I’d like to start Jeffrey, by asking you about your father as a man – what kind of person was he? What were the defining characteristics about him?
J Frith: Well it’s very difficult to gloss over the past for Dad, because he had a chequered past. At the age of two he found his father dead on his bed. So he didn’t have a role model as a father. My father was more like a brother to me and it was a joyful time. We did sport together, we played squash together, we did golf together, we swam together, holidayed together, with my sister and my mother on a lot of these occasions. He was interested in what I was doing, I was interested in what he was doing. He was 93 when he died and that interest never flagged. It’s my pleasure really to be able to donate works to major institutions in Canberra who are the correct repositories for a lot of the cartoons that we managed to save from the old days, from the ’60s.
I suppose the lasting impression that I have of Dad is that he was a jokester, he was a funny man. Now, as you know, funny men always have a dark side. So what Mum thought of him, I don’t know.
C Rhodes: What was your mother’s role in the home and in your father’s work?
J Frith: She was a real mum. She didn’t drive, back in those days we only had one car in the family, a little Ford Anglia, you had to get out and turn the tail-lights on. But we’d all pile into the car and drive up to Sydney. Mum in the passenger seat of course and the kids in the back, and we heard her saying, “John, John, are you asleep?”, and he turned to her and said, “May, please don’t do that, it’s very dangerous to wake a sleeping man.”
C Rhodes: So they were a well-matched couple?
J Frith: I think they were. They were both Geminis and they were both the same age. Mum was the Matron in the hospital in Sydney when Dad, on his way back from Japan and Korea to go back to the UK, stopped in Sydney. He’d been there before, when he was a teenager he’d come to Australia. So in 1930 he landed in Sydney, met my mum and he didn’t go back to England for forty years. So I think they were well-matched.
C Rhodes: In a lot of his cartoons you can see an impression that he had a particular sympathy towards Menzies, moreso than Calwell or Evatt. Was he particularly political? What were his actual politics?
J Frith: Yes, he was very political. He enjoyed the cut and thrust of it, he would always be listening to Question Time, he’d read all the papers. He had an international focus in his interest, having been brought up in England of course and travelled widely, then time in Asia, two years in Japan and Korea, it really was an interest of this to find out how the world ticked.
But Dad always saw it a little bit off-centre from everybody else. I asked him once when I was at university why he was a Menzies man, because there was no doubt he was, and he said he’d been in London at the time of the General Strike and the mob was in the streets and it really scared the life out of him, and a lot of other people. He thought well, if that’s what unions do, if that’s mob rule, I don’t want anything to do with it. So I suppose his sympathies – you know, he was broad in his general knowledge, it was just amazing, because he read so widely. He wasn’t anti-socialist but the socialist nanny-state he was dead against.
C Rhodes: His politics obviously come out in his cartoons. I understand that Arthur Calwell was not particularly pleased with the way your father used to draw him.
J Frith: That’s true. That’s almost an understatement. Arthur Calwell had the habit of cursing the press in the parliament, normally out the side of his mouth, you know, like “Curse the Press, curse the Press”. So the editor of the paper called Dad in and said look, this is enough, we want to silence this bloke a little bit, just get him to calm down. So Dad did him as a parrot, with glasses on and a fairly good beaky nose and curly hair at the top, on a perch. He had him in the parliament saying “Curse the press, curse the press!” Well that really got Calwell upset. I think he wrote to the editor, I can’t substantiate that by fact, but I think there was another case where Dad was hauled over the coals, saying look, you’ve really upset him this time – but hey, have another go! So the next time Dad drew him, he drew him with no feathers whatsoever, except one stuck in the parson’s nose.
C Rhodes: Did Calwell speak to your father much after that?
J Frith: They ran into each other at the Melbourne Cricket Ground up in the Members Lounge. Dad walked into the toilet and there was Calwell relieving himself at the urinal. As soon as he saw Dad he managed to cut it short, zip up, and he was out of there.
C Rhodes: When he wasn’t drawing what were his hobbies and recreation? What did he do apart from his art?
J Frith: He loved modelling, that was a recreation for him. If you go back in history, you look at people like Honoré Daumier during the French Revolution, he would sit in the courts that were established and he would be making plasticine models – because he didn’t have a camera, so he had to have some way of recording the look and the physiogamy of the people he was later going to draw, which he did so beautifully. Dad inherited that, and people like Peter Nicholson more recently, the same. So there’s something that goes with cartoonists – I think it’s because the face has to be mobile. It’s no good knowing how to draw Menzies looking like that, severe and stern, in parliament. No, because you want to make him happy and gay or quarrelsome. So how does the face react. Sometimes I’d go into the studio and Dad would have a mirror and he’d be grimacing into the mirror. I’d say what are you doing? He’d say I’m trying to feel out how it works, how does the face work. So modelling was certainly one thing he did.
The other was golf. He really loved golf. He was 30 years a member at the Kew Golf Club in Melbourne and just enjoyed it, and I enjoyed going around with him.
C Rhodes: A number of his cartoons have a golfing theme too, I’ve noticed. There’s one with Menzies and Calwell playing golf. So it obviously came across in his art.
Rather than focus on a biography of John, I’d like you to share some stories, some of which you’ve already told me off-air, about the way your father liked to work. Was he working regularly as a cartoonist when you were a child growing up?
J Frith: Yes. Dad was the Art Editor for The Bulletin for fourteen years in Sydney. That was not long after he stepped off the boat in the ’30s. One person, who is familiar with biographies and writing biographies, he said your dad came in as a stranger, as it were, to a very vibrant art scene in Sydney – how was it that he actually scored that job, that must have been one of the pick jobs. He’s not here to ask and I never asked that question. However, during that time he was very friendly with people like Norman Lindsay and Ted Scorfield, both of whom did the big cartoons for the tabloid version of The Bulletin and Dad as Art Editor would give them ideas, they would discuss ideas, and then they would draw them up of course, and most beautifully. Somehow or other he conned Norman into being my godfather and Ted Scorfield to be my other godfather. I think Norman particularly was not a God-fearing person. He thought God-botherers were a bit of an anathema to him and he did a lot of work about wowsers and drew them in a very poor light.
So Dad’s move from being the Art Editor happened during the War, when Norman couldn’t do some cartoons and Dad had been doing the theatre character drawings. He was a lightening-fast caricaturist, he could capture a person within half a minute. He used a very spare line. He used a brush when he was doing the cartoons, but when he was sketching, crayon, pencil, biro, didn’t matter what it was, he could get that image down very quickly. I remember going home from school once and Malcolm Muggeridge was sitting in the chair in the lounge room and Dad had a piece of dowel with some plasticine on it and a sketchpad and he was regaling Muggeridge with stories, and likewise Muggeridge was being very animated himself. I don’t know if it was the whisky at the side of each of them that was helping, but nevertheless. So Dad finished that model head, which was later photographed and put into The Sun News Pictorial. He found a way of getting people to relax.
He moved then to the Sydney Morning Herald, after The Bulletin. He started cartooning during the War and the Sydney Morning Herald grabbed him as their first full-time political cartoonist. So he really had his head up there because if you wanted to do an anti-Franco or an anti-Mussolini or an anti-Hitler you could do it, you were encouraged to do it. So politics was really black and white in those days. Tojo up in Japan. I remember all these characters – Winston Churchill. I can draw them all the way Dad did, because he showed me. He was very willing to share with anybody his skills, both in sculpture and in drawing and caricaturing.
It was then that Rupert Murdoch’s father got in touch with Dad, in 1951, and said we want you to come down full-time, much bigger circulation, we can do the right thing by you. So the family moved, holus-bolus, down to Melbourne in 1951.
C Rhodes: What was the physical process of his art? Did he work at home a lot?
J Frith: He did to start with. Unfortunately his studio was off my bedroom and Dad was an eighty cigarettes a day man, but in those days the cigarettes were very small. Often I would go in and see him working away but the cigarettes were mainly ash and he would then brighten it up and light the next cigarette from that cigarette. So I don’t know how many he smoked, but maybe not all that many.
At the Sydney Morning Herald he drew at night, because the SMH came out in the morning. The Herald in Melbourne, being an evening paper, the city edition came out at 12 midday, so Dad was up early listening to all the news, reading the papers that were delivered at home, The Argus, The Sun, The Age, to get the spread of what was happening – read Reuters, whatever was going on he would follow up when he got to the office. He would ring the library if there were things he needed to get photographs of – if he was going to do a Sherman tank it was no good doing a Sherman tank if it turns out to be a Leopard or something else. So he was very skilled at doing that.
But at the same time the editor then asked him to come into the office every day, five days a week, rather than sending the cartoons in by car. So that was good because the smoke-filled studio that I inherited was now free for me. I went to university and did architecture because Dad said there was no money in art, although he sent us two kids, my sister Jacqueline, four years older than me, and myself both went to private schools. So there must have been money in political cartooning. Eyre, the cartoonist for the Sydney Morning Herald, his son, Eyre Junior, took over and I think Dad was very protective of me and didn’t think I should be exposed to the rough and tumble of swearing, smoking, drinking, hard-hitting journos, because it wasn’t always an easy environment to do well in – a lot of politics in the office, let alone in the cartoons. So I think he pushed me out of that into something else, which turned out to be architecture.
C Rhodes: When he was making his cartoons, what methods did he use for the physical art?
J Frith: When the editor asked him to go in five days a week, he said give me a few ideas, maybe three or four, we’re paying you a lot of money, we want some ideas. So Dad would sketch up a few ideas, I would drive him in each day to the Herald and he’d be sketching away. So he’d have some ideas to present with the leader writers and the feature writers discussing what was happening in the news. The editor would ask John, what have you got for us John? Cartoon. For most people cartoon means something funny. On a dismal grey day in Melbourne with a very severe editor and these other very important people around, Dad was not in his element. His element is more humour and seeing the funny side of things. However, he would come up with a variety of ideas and with general agreement the editor would say right, do this one John, and remember it has to be down to the compositors no later than eleven o’clock, because we’re the twelve o’clock edition. In those days they made metal plates.
Dad knew everybody in the whole process. When Sir John Williams when he first engaged Dad, took him around the entire three or four storeys of the Flinders Street office where the Herald & Sun Weekly Times was printed. Dad was amazed that Sir Keith knew everybody by name and would ask after them, and I think he maybe took a leaf out of Sir Keith’s book and he knew everybody too. If he arrived late that was okay because they could put a stipple line over the cartoon – so I always knew if he’d arrived late because there was lots of tone in the cartoon which wasn’t normally there. It was usually black and white, no colour in those days.
So he would then go back to the office with the idea and sketch that up on cartridge paper, which was very good quality paper, knowing that it was going to be a half-reduction. You probably know, a half-reduction is actually a quarter of the size – if you do it on an A4 sheet it’s going to be a quarter of that. He did more A3 size, although he was using imperial size sheets at the time. He would sketch that in and then he’d get a soft pencil, like a 6B, and go all over some greaseproof paper, smooth it all down, then turn it over and use it as carbon paper. So he’d take his sketch and transfer it onto the cartridge. He would sketch on ordinary butter paper and once he’d figured out the way it was going to look in the finished cartoon, rather than drawing it again he would trace over quickly what he’d already done.
So there’s the pencil sketch, then there’s the carbon-copy if you like, then he would get the Indian ink, some Chinese white, a No.12 sable-hair brush – very particular about all these things – been up in Japan and Korea, and I often wondered – I know they use a brush for their calligraphy. Most of the other artists at the time were using a pen, cross-hatching. Norman Lindsay and all those people had a pen as their main tool, but Dad chose the brush. I’ve seen him work where he would move the paper around so he could get a full sweep of the arm. If you look at Dad’s work closely you will see that there’s what I call, what he called, a living line. A living line is one where it starts thin, a bit more pressure on the brush, gets thicker, and then tails off. He used that to great effect, especially when drawing an arm or a muscle, he’d just flick it in with the tip of the brush. Dad had a great economy of line. He would then quickly fill in – great black and white artist. He knew, like David Lowe, where to put the blacks. It may sound trite or simple, but when you see it, it really works well. If Menzies was bowling to Calwell, because he liked to do the cricket as well, and Bob was off the ground, as most fast-bowlers would be, he would put the black underneath. It sounds simple, but that lifted the figure up. If he wanted the crowd in the background at the MCG he wouldn’t bother doing faces, he would just flick it in. So all of a sudden the place is full and when there’s ‘Howzat!’ you could see the whole crowd going up.
So he had a way, almost calligraphic in my view. Looking at the work now, if you look at Petty and a few of the others – lots of lines, lots of words, lots of intrigue. You look at Giles back in the Daily Express in London, he had one cartoon a week I think, and lots of detail, lots of tone, lots of texture. So Dad was like a breath of fresh air – he just let the white shine through.
C Rhodes: How long did the whole process take him?
J Frith: Well it couldn’t take him too long because of the impetus, because it had to be out by twelve o’clock. So from eight o’clock in the morning, he had to get something ready in just a few hours.
C Rhodes: Did he draft and redraft, or did he just start and get to the finished product?
J Frith: During this process – it sounds like copying, but he was just tracing his own work – he would make those adjustments. There would have been some changes along the way and that’s where he did the changes.
C Rhodes: I have found in some of the cartoons you have donated to us, you donated the originals and some of the published cartoons in the Herald on that day are slightly to moderately different than the original that you’ve given us. That implies that at some point he did a second version of certain cartoons.
J Frith: Well there was one instance I can tell you of, when the editor called him up prior to the cartoon going in. He said, “I want to see it, my office now”. Dad would go around, past the Ladies toilets – that’s where they put the artists, way down with the slops bucket and the cleaners. But still it was Flinders Street, so it was pretty good. So he went down Mahogany Row and there’s the editor sitting behind his big desk and Dad would put the cartoon in front of him. “Well look John, that’s all very well” the editor would say, “we’re paying you a good whack and there’s too much white”.
A bit like the Duke saying to Mozart at the premier of Don Giovanni. “Sire” said Mozart, “what did you think of the show?” He said “Oh, too many notes.” So, “too much white.” So Dad went back to his office, and being the jokester that he was, and he wasn’t going to be intimidated just because this fellow had a very high position in the organisation, he put in a little bird. That little bird stayed when he took it back – well, not so much white now! That little bird became something that people looked for. Isn’t it funny how things happen that way? It became a trademark.
C Rhodes: He had a habit as well of placing himself in a lot of cartoons, as a sort of everyman. He is in quite a lot of his own cartoons, or if not him specifically then somebody who looked a bit like him, often as a passer-by or as an observer or something. Was he doing that just to make himself the everyman in a way?
J Frith: Yes. The name he had for that character, which was certainly based on him – long nose and curly moustache – was called John Citizen. John Doe in the States, but John Citizen here – of course a lot of his work was syndicated all over the place, although I’m not too sure about the States. I know cartoons of Dad’s were asked for by Presidents in the White House, so some of his work should be there. He found that the cartoons allowed him to do so much by way of bringing the topic of the day down to something that people would go to Page 4 and say ah! Then they’d go and read something about it, but they’d get the laugh and they’d get the gist of it. That’s the magic of his work.
C Rhodes: You and some of your family are also in some of the cartoons as well?
J Frith: Yes. Giles certainly did that back in London. Cartoonists look at everybody else’s work. But if you go behind that, you say why would he do that. I suppose it’s because it creates greater empathy with the people who are viewing, family people looking at the paper – oh, look. It was great for my mother and my sister and myself because we never grew up, we stayed the same age. I was always at school with a cap on, my sister was always four years older, and my mother was always young and beautiful.
C Rhodes: I’d like to talk about your father’s work at Bendigo Pottery as well. Can you tell me how that all came about?
J Frith: Dad had lived in London for many years, but left as a teenager to come to Australia, and then back to London. When he finally left he joined the Hudson Bay Company, went over to Canada, through the States and on to Japan and Korea for two years. On the way back to London he met Mum and stayed, so it was forty years before he got back to London. He said to me Jeff, do you know in all the years I was in London I never went to the British Museum, shall we go. He was knocked out by some of the most fragile and simple objects in the whole museum – a little terracotta Roman lamp, must have cost ten cents, disposable almost. The fact that it survived all those centuries really struck a chord with Dad. So when he got home from his first trip back to London in forty years, he stayed away 18 months, some of that time in Spain, he knew Geoff Walker who ran Walker Ceramics in Melbourne, he had a boy at my school and Dad and he were friends. He was talking to Geoff Walker one time and said, “I’d really like to get stuck into some sculpture”. John, I’ve got just the mix for you – why don’t we do terracotta, but we’ll put in some manganese, mix it up in the pug mill so it’s all blended, but we can fire this to 2000 degrees. It will look like and sound like and be heavy like bronze. That was enough for Dad, he said great, let’s do that.
So I think Geoff provided the clay and did all the firing, did all the technical stuff, and Dad had an exhibition in the Munster Arms Gallery in town, behind Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne. Bill Derham, who had just taken over Bendigo Pottery, went to that exhibition and got in touch with Dad, loved his work, and says would you consider doing something for us. Dad said what did you have in mind. He said some character jugs, a bit like the Toby Jugs they do in the old country. Bendigo Pottery is the oldest pottery in Australia, from 1850 thereabouts, made all the crockery that the goldminers and prospectors needed. So Reform bottles, character jugs were what Bendigo Pottery, through Bill Derham said would you do these, and we’ll do them as a limited edition.
C Rhodes: Why did he choose the people he chose? Was it Bill’s decision or your father’s decision to do Menzies and all the people he chose?
J Frith: Bill was an entrepreneur and I think he would have left that to Dad’s discretion, because Dad was the political cartoonist. I haven’t got that verbatim, but my feeling is that Dad would have suggested that we need to Menzies, we need to do something uplifting, like the heroes, why don’t we do Kingsford-Smith, Albert Namatjira, why don’t we do those people who are going to resonate with a broad spectrum of the community.
C Rhodes: Your father actually gave the Menzies jug to the former Prime Minister. Do you know what Menzies’ reaction was?
J Frith: I know the reaction beforehand, because before Dad did Sir Donald Bradman and Sir Robert Menzies he would get in touch with them. He knew these guys over the years – you can’t cartoon and be a major figure in the newspaper industry with half a million people looking at your work every day and not have Menzies’ office ring up and say could you please send the original to parliament, Bob has requested it. So he met Bob a number of times. But he would ring them up, and I know verbatim from Dad telling me that when he rang Sir Don Bradman in Adelaide, the Don said yes Frithy, that’s fine, do it, and I’m sure Bob would have said exactly the same.
C Rhodes: Did you have a role in some of the Bendigo stuff as well, the glazing on some of the pottery – can you talk about that
J Frith: Bill Derham was interested in producing an art piece. These were going to be a limited edition, special box with certificate and satin lining, limited to 3000. Because he knew I was an architect and by this time I was also looking at designing for him a display centre using bush poles and something that was in keeping with what had become one of Victoria’s premier tourist attractions. He said would you care to have a look at this, you’ve seen the sort of pottery we do, we’re noted for the salt glaze that we do, we’ve got these big barrel-vault kilns that are wood-fired and when it reaches a certain temperature, all the unglazed pottery is in there being fired, they would throw the salt in and it would vaporise and glaze the work. So depending on the clay they used would be the colour it came out, usually brown. In those days when that was happening, most of the pottery in Australia was brown of one sort or another, and the salt glaze was very Bendigo Pottery.
So I looked at the palette that they could produce there and I took the Henry Lawson head that Dad had done. Dad knew Henry in the old days – Henry liked to drink a little bit and would hang around the journos and try to get a threepence here or a threepence there to go to the pub and have a sherry or two with some of his mates – not a lot of money in art. If you had a steady job at least you could sponsor an artist – I’m sure that’s the way Dad thought about it. Anyway, I took the Henry Lawson, which is a beautiful jug, and I did these very muted grey colours, but realistic in a way – the hair was a darker blue and the face was a lighter brown, and the moustache of course. When I showed it to Bill he said it’s fabulous, but my factory workers are piece workers, they get paid by how many they push through, and we’re not Royal Doulton here, we can’t do this – what else can you suggest.
So being a sculptor myself and knowing Dad, the best way to show the work was with a matt finish, because if it’s fully glazed like the crockery then you’re going to get highlights, even in the shadow parts. Dad had learnt, by photographing his work for the paper, that if you vary the lighting you don’t have to do the eye with the eyeball and the pupil, you just drew a slit, because the shadows allow the viewer to observe that it’s not there but they see it.
Anyway, Bill overrode that suggestion of mine and went the way that they did all their pottery. They were using slip clay to produce these thousands of artworks and all were glazed.
C Rhodes: You’ve donated one to us which is unglazed, which has a signature on the bottom – what’s the story with that?
J Frith: To do these character jugs, which was something they weren’t doing, Bill Derham at Bendigo Pottery had to get one of their old mould-makers out of retirement, said it’s a huge project, we can’t do it without you, so he came back and did the work. Once the mould is made then you have to have like an artist’s proof. So they did a slip glaze casting and that’s the one that the family has donated to you. The original ones that I’ve then painted in poster colour to look like… [Part 1 end]
Interview with Jeffrey Frith Part 2
J Frith …like terracotta, that’s how I wanted them finished. So that was my way of saying to Bill, this is the finish, if you can get that I think we’re on a winner. And Dad of course had signed it. The anomaly is that when Bill went his way they upended the jug where Dad had signed it and on all the others that were produced for the limited edition there’s a Bendigo Pottery stamp, the signature by John Frith is gone. So whilst Bill was an entrepreneur, he didn’t value the artist’s signature.
C Rhodes: So there are people who have bought them not knowing that they’re John Frith?
J Frith: Oh no, they have a certificate and it’s all outlined. From an artist’s point of view you often think should I sign, shouldn’t I sign – the work is so distinctive it couldn’t be anybody else. It really speaks for itself. However, in the providence situation further down the track, from a heritage point of view, well is this a copy of, was it done in the school of, did his son do it – where does the truth lie.
C Rhodes: Something else I didn’t know about your father was that he had a TV show in the very early days of television. Can you tell us about that?
J Frith: In 1956 Melbourne got black-and-white TV to line up with the Olympic Games. Herald-Sun ran 3DB radio station and HSV7, and of course they would try and use talent that they already had under contract. So Dad went down to Dawker Street in South Melbourne and he did a variety of things. One of the first things he did was a quiz show with June Finlayson, who was a Miss Australia, Anton Bowler who was like an Oscar Wilde, he had a fantastic intellect and a very good general knowledge, so he was funny, he was erudite. Dad was funny without being erudite. And Danny Webb was the compere. It was called What’s My Desire and the contestants that came on trying to fool the panel would be any visiting celebrity, like Morecombe of Morecombe & Wise, Tom Lehrer, when he came out to do his show was on, and so many others – Frank Thring, who Dad was a friend of anyway. That ran for a number of seasons.
He then did a ten-minute joke show, but they didn’t believe in canned applause and the only people who laughed and gave Dad any feedback were the cameraman and the producer, and that’s not enough. So Dad did a cartoon. It was sponsored by Centreline who did men’s clothing, and Dad would draw and tell gags at the same time. So he did a drawing of a sentry. In the Home Guard they couldn’t afford rifles, they were at the Front, but the recruits in training in the Home Guard had cutout pieces of wood that looked like a rifle. So the sentry had been told you’re on duty and it doesn’t matter who comes, you challenge them. That’s all very well, but when the big car came up and the general got out, he remembered what he was told, so he said “Halt, who goes there, or I’ll fill you full of white ants” – because the Aussies don’t take authority very seriously. Anyway somebody in the army got onto Sir Keith Murdoch and said take this man off the air. So the show was cancelled.
C Rhodes: When was that?
J Frith: Hmm – well, we didn’t have TV, if we wanted to see it we went down to the milk bar and pressed our noses against the window, like everybody else, or I went into Dawker Street and saw him. So I imagine I was still at school or just at university, so that would be late ’50s, early ’60s.
C Rhodes: Are there any other stories or snippets of information about your father that you’d like to record now, anything we haven’t covered?
J Frith: He was very generous, a very generous man, generous with his time. People would come up to him in the street, because he was on television also on Daley At Night, a late-night show as a permanent guest with Frank Thring and Jonathan Daley. People would see him in the street and say oh John, I loved that cartoon you did the other day, that really told the story so beautifully, and he would stop and talk. He wasn’t afraid to go and address, as the after-dinner speaker, the Australian Chartered Accountants Association – he said Jeffrey, they’re not really known for their humour so I don’t know what I’m going to do! But he could think on his feet very quickly, he knew how to engage an audience. He said if you haven’t got the audience in ten seconds you’re going to be working uphill all night, but if you can get them in that first ten seconds then you’re home and hosed, doesn’t matter what you do. So he’d pick somebody to come up and do a lightning sketch, or maybe the president who has just introduced him.
So he had a way of connecting with people, a generosity of spirit. It didn’t matter whether it was a girls’ fete or a fete at my old school. I remember he got the Hawthorn Pipe Band to come to Camberwell Grammar for the fete. He could call in favours. One of the organisers of the fete said to Dad, no one seems to be game to have a go at this flying fox, it goes from up near the school building, down across the lawns and lands on the Keith Anderson Oval. Dad said that’s okay, get the guy with the big bass drum, drum up some business, and I’ll do it. The only thing is, he didn’t do it properly. He hung upside-down and went head-first. Trouble was he was a bit heavier than some of the other people, although he was a slight man, I think they jigged it up after he’d gone, because he nearly crashed his head on the stone wall that leads onto Keith Anderson Oval.
But he was very generous in that way. His time with us kids, he would take us down to the park and we’d do golf swings – just that generosity of spirit.
C Rhodes: That’s a lovely thing to end on. Thank you Jeffrey, for taking the time to talk to me today. That concludes this interview and once more Jeffrey, thanks very much for your time and for giving us a fascinating insight into your father’s life and his work.
J Frith: Thank you – it’s been most enjoyable. Thank you.
This history has multiple parts.1 2
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