Googie Withers and John McCallum – Double Act

Cover of 'Double Act'
Cover of ‘Double Act’

Googie Withers and John McCallum are stars from British cinemas pre and post WW2 golden age who would go on to have a profound influence on the Arts in Australia. As Founding Patron’s of the Tait Memorial Trust they will forever be a part of our work to assist the careers of young Australian performing artists who study in the UK. In Double Act, Brian McFarlane charts their careers through the eyes of a lover of theatre, cinema and television; The glimpes into their personal lives throughout adds a unique poignancy to the book which really is a must for any lover of theatre and the performing arts.

John McCallum, famous for his rugged good looks was a highly successful film, television and stage actor and producer in his native Australia and in the UK before and after the war. After completing his military service with the 2nd AIF in New Guinea he returned to resume his acting career in the UK.  In 1948 he married the British actress Googie Withers, with whom he appeared in a large number of films.

Googie Withers best known work of the period was as one of Margaret Lockwood’s friends in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938). Among her successes of the 1940s, and a departure from her previous roles, was the Powell and Pressburger film One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942), a topical World War II drama in which she played a Dutch resistance fighter who helps British airmen return to safety from behind enemy lines. She played the devious Helen Nosseross in Night and the City (1950), a British film noir directed by Jules Dassin.

They were among the most gifted and distinctive of Ealing’s large company of actors. The pair had met and fallen in love on the set of The Loves of Joanna Godden, released early in 1947. Later that year they were to star in It always rains on Sunday directed by Robert Hamer. The film was re-released a few years ago by the BFI.

How they managed to juggle their first class international careers with a family of three children often on opposite sides of the world was a feat in itself. In 1958 John would go on to join Sir Frank Tait at J C Williamson’s where he was closely involved with the production of American musicals from Annie Get Your Gun to My Fair Lady. With Borovansky, formerly of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, they toured a cast led by Margot Fonteyn.

This company would go on to form the core of the Australian Ballet with the help of Frank Tait, John McCallum and Dr Herbert Coombes, the first Chairman of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. At the invitation of Sir Frank Tait, McCallum became joint Managing Director. McCallum was keen to encourage the casting of talented Australians in leading roles and was instrumental in beginning the starring careers of Kevin Colson, Jill Perryman, Nancye Hayes, Barbara Angell and others.

Still of John McCallum and Googie Withers in It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) © Photo courtesy of Film Forum/Rialto Pictures.
Still of John McCallum and Googie Withers in It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)
© Photo courtesy of Film Forum/Rialto Pictures.

Their contribution to the Australian performing arts is considerable. In 1971, McCallum was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1992, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO). Both honours were made for services to drama and theatre. Withers was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for services to drama, in the 1980 Australia Day Honours List. In the 2002 Queen’s Birthday Honours List (UK), she was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)

McCallum also wrote, directed and produced numerous films and television series, particularly the international TV series Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (1966–68) which he co-produced with Lee Robinson. Television series he produced in the 1970s include Boney, Barrier Reef and Shannon’s Mob. McCallum also widely acted on the stage. A particular favourite role was in The Circle by W. Somerset Maugham. In this production he acted alongside Googie Withers in the U.K. as well as in Australia.

The book includes more than 30 black-and-white photographs which complement the text and make you wish for more. After all, there are limits to describing the performing arts in words even though McFarlane does this par excellence.

John McCallum passed away on February 3rd 2010 in Sydney. The other part of this great double act, Googie Withers, died 17 months later at the age of 94. A great loss to the performing arts in Australia.

Googie Withers filmography on imdb

John McCallum filmography on imdb

Review of Double Act from the Sydney Morning Herald

Link to buy the book, Double Act from Amazon



John Amis

The funeral is over and he is laid to rest in Aldeburgh, not far from Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Imogen Holst. The last few days have been a wonderful celebration of the life of John Amis, due to the love and support of his many friends the services were very special and … unforgettable.

Thank you so much to you all for the touching messages of love and support. John was a remarkable man, an irreplaceable man who I will never forget. I was blessed to have eight happy years with him. Over the coming months the Trust will celebrate his life with the John Amis – A Concert in Celebration and the Tait Winter Prom on November 26th and a new award, the John Amis Award., more below.

John Amis
John Amis

The funeral for John was held at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in London on Tuesday 20th August led by John’s old friend, The Reverend John Wates. A witty eulogy from John’s long time friend, and former BBC colleague, Humphrey Burton and memories from another dear friend, Michael Rose were a welcome respite from the grief most of us have been experiencing these past few weeks.

Joanna McCallum; daughter of founding Tait Trust Patrons, Googie Withers and John McCallum, and now a member of the TMT committee, read:

Reading – Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

Joanna McCallum

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.

Dame Felicity Lott sang a song which was very dear to John, ‘Beim Schlafengehen‘, one of Strauss’ four last songs, accompanied beautifully by Graham Johnson. This was a particularly poignant moment as Dame Felicity visited John near to his death and sang some songs quietly into his ear. Her singing of the Strauss was an unforgettable moment in the service. If John was writing this I am sure he would find a way to better express the joy that she shared with the congregation and most especially to John’s partner, Isla Baring.

John Amis at home
John Amis at home

A lovely recording of John singing, Bilbo’s Song by Donald Swann, was played with his dear friend, Donald Swann singing in harmony and accompanying and a hauntingly beautiful 1927 recording of, The Power of Love by Percy Grainger with the pure tones of Anita Atwater, soprano and Percy Grainger accompanying on the harmonium and Ralph Leopold piano.

The service ended with Steal Away, the famous Negro spiritual arranged by Michael Tippett from ‘A Child Of Our Time’ sung beautifully by, The Choir of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate led by Andrew Earis, Director of Music .

On Wednesday at St Peter and St Paul Church, Aldeburgh a short service was held with a reflection on John’s life by conductor, Steuart Bedford and Humphrey Burton again provided the Eulogy before the committal. This service was marked by the recordings of John whistling and being back in his spiritual home the service had an added colour.

To read the order of service of John’s funeral please download it here

John Amis Memorial Concert, October 8th 2013, St Paul’s Knightsbridge

We all hope you can come to the Memorial Concert on 8th October at St Paul’s Knightsbridge. The concert is being developed with the assistance of Michael Rose and will be a fitting celebration of his life and work. Please watch this space. Artists and the concert repertoire is being confirmed and the theme will most definitely be as broad as the tastes for which John Amis was justly famous. Flanders and Swann to Mahler, Percy Grainger, Wagner and of course Britten and Tippett….plus?

John Amis Award

As we look back at John Amis’ funeral on Tuesday 20th August the idea of a legacy, a tangible way to remember John, has been at the forefront of our thoughts. He was a man of rare talent, and was an inspiration to so many and his life deserves to be fully celebrated.
John Amis by Hoffnung 1958 edited

For the last six years of his life John was a Patron and an active supporter of the Tait Memorial Trust, arranging many successful and popular events and working tirelessly to further the Trust’s work. In recognition of his substantial contribution, Isla Baring OAM, Chairman of the Trust, wishes to create an Award in his honour to be called the John Amis Award.

We have created a JustGiving page in the name of John Amis which is attached to the main TMT JustGiving page. Any money donated via John’s page will go directly to fund this new award. We are delighted to report that the fund has got off to a good start with the generous donations made at John’s funeral and at his committal in Aldeburgh.


GiftaidlogotransparentPlease donate to this award using the button below.

Donate with JustGiving

Save the Date – Tait Winter Prom 2013

We look forward to hearing Dame Gillian Weir, Primavera Shima, Travis Baker and the lovely Valda Wilson again at the 2013 Winter Prom at Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, Chelsea 26 November 2013.

This concert was completely arranged by John Amis. The notes, the artists and the concept was all John’s work. It will be dedicated to his memory.

Tait Winter Prom 2013

Below are some photos of John Amis from 2013

John Amis with Sir Andrew Davis after Elgar Concert at Cadogan Hall, London
John Amis with Sir Willard White
LeonBerger_Alison Swann_JohnAmis_StephanieFlanders.jpg
Leon Berger, Alison Swann, John Amis and Stephanie Flanders
John Amis in the Flanders and Swann evening at 49 Queens Gate Terrace, March 2013
John Amis

Tait Memorial Trust website

©2013 Tait Memorial Trust • Registered charity 1042797