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DIGGERS WHO FACED FOOTLIGHTS
(By Lyla S tevcns)
^[WiTH our Australian film industry forging ahead, it is interesting to note that "Diggers in Blighty/' which has ^> played continuously for 20 years all round Australia and in England, too, was the first talking picture
tb be'made here; and to remember that its parent was that colorful and inimitable personality, Pat Hanna.
AT thc beginning of tho First
World War Pat left New Zealand, thc land of his birth, with the first contingent to go overseas. When thc war ended, the New Zealand Division moved up into Cologne, and Pat was com- missioned to organise an enter- tainment group, which soon be- came No. 1 Er« .tainmcnt Unit.
Retuning hu.iic in 1919, thc company played for two years in New Zealand, and then came across to Aufitralia, where it was rein- forced by Australians. Thus be- gan Pat Hanna's famous "Dig- gers." which was to run uninter- ruptedly throughout Australia and New Zealand for 12 years.
n\HE success of '"Thc Diggers"
due to rich talent und won- derful teamwork, and the following names will stir the memories: Hil- da and Jessie Meadows (Jessie be- ing now Mrs. Pat), Moya and Isa Crossley, Ivy Ray, Vera Carew. . Mickey Phillips, Bert Gilbert,
Johnny Marks, Don Nicol, Joel Valli, Syd. Exton, Brian Lawrence (who. as a boy of 7, sang like a veteran), Bobbio Pearce, James Foran, Lance Fairfax, Ernest Kopke. Con Charlton, that popular Scottish baritone Jock Thomson, and many others.
Pat wrote and impersonated thc ilrst sketch, typifying thc Digger! ns is known all over thc world to-day. A heated co"».roversy later) began in the Melbou*' .- Press as to i what wa.T thc typical Digger. Sir John Longstaff claimed that the typical Digger was the hard-bitten, hatchol-faccd typo. However. Sir John Monash t opi led that thc boys kc look nway with him were boy- ish and naive, but when they re- turned, war-weary and loan, they put a stiff husk before the world, though at heart they wore senti- mentalists.
Jack Cato ended thc argument when he cho.se Pat as his subject for a picture entitled "Thc Soul of the Anzac." and entered lt in a world-wide competition, which he won. It was subsequently hun« in various naileries throughout the ?World a.". thc pic»- of thc >v.u\
ONE oí the unforgettable scenes
in thc Diggers' varied reper- toire was "Mademoiselle from Ar mentleres." The first njght Pat f>ro«ented the stage version of this n Melbourne, he llnlshed lils com dy part on the stage, and rushed to ttic peephole in thc proscenium. Where he always watched the au- dience':; reactions. He stepped back in horror und mortification. Some- one sui«!: "What's wron.;.'' He replied, "They're cat itv-; ice creauuil'* The stage manager, who was al»o watching, .aid. "No, they're ming handkerchief- to dry their eves - most of the women aro trying."
Thoy were - men. too. In the dim light Pat thought they were lifting up Ice-creams. So it was for 12 yean» in every part of Australia. From rollicking laughter a sea of handkerchiefs would quietly bruth away tho tears us Mademoiselle stood : liontly at thc casement win
dow, looking sadly out on thc snow covered dawn - while thc quartette and orchestra wafted back a sad, ghostly , echo in thc minor key: "Parley vous."
Once during a Perth season there was a hue and cry about domestic cats disappearing, and suspicion was directed to a certain local Chinese. In the midst of a per- formance, when the late Don Nicol and Pat were doing lightning sketches of some of their patrons to a running comedy commentary, thc lights failed. The show must go on. Don quickly seized a torch and started to flash it at Imagin- ary spooks, while leaping about! with the agility of a ballet dancer.
Joe Valli, in the wings, falling
i back on thc old gag of telling your
fellow-players that their perform- ance was "pussy," meowed. Don,
with his nimble wit, retorted: "Dim sims on the hoof!" Thc house was convulsed, and thereafter the im- promptu act was a "must."
It must be unique for a costume comedy show to play for 12 years without a risque joke or profanity of any description. But "The Dig- gers" was entertainment "plus," and a great achievement.
T)AT Hanna to-day is JUS whlmsl -*- cal and as versatile as ever. He has several inventions to his credit -from a new furniture unit to a
bomb fuse used extensively during thc Second World War; he is un ardent fisherman ; and he still takes a dip in the briny every morning, winter and summer - though the tide has been in and out a good
many times since Lieutenant G. P. Hanna formed No. 1 Entertain-
ment Unit. (By arrangement with, the Melbourne "Ai'gus").