Rex 'Waca' Dawe wrote all 520 episodes, and played the eternally harried Dr. Percy Pym too.
Pym was joined in the classroom by 'his' boys; Greenbottle, Rupert Bottomly, and Ronald George Standforth.
Reginald Dawe was born 13th April 1912 at Evandale, Adelaide S A. His elder brother Lewis nicknamed him “Rex”, a name not easy for a small child to pronounce, so little Rex said “Wac”, his closest approximation, and continued to call himself that. Schoolmates expanded the nickname to ’Wacka”. To friends in and out of school, he was Waca Dawe, or just Waca, an ideal nick-name for a school master with an ever-active cane. Waca’s first stage performance took place in 1924 while attending Prince Alfred College and in 1931, he was one of the founders of The Footlights Club at Adelaide University. This was followed in 1931 with formation of the SAD Players at Station SAD.
On the other side of his life Dawe was admitted to Law Practice in 1936, the same year ‘Yes, What’ commenced on 23rd June. With the fateful success of The Fourth Form at St Percy’s, Rex Dawe faced, in his words, “the most important decision of my life: the law or radio.” He would quickly have become one of the more successful junior barristers, but after the wild success of ‘St Percy’s’ nobody would take him seriously in court. After twelve months he found it was “scarcely possible to act the part of such a confounded ass at night and expect people to believe that my gravity in court the following morning was not also assumed.”
So on stages and in courts, Fate was making the choice easier. Dawe: “I like the law, but I love show biz!” Radio and stage won.
Waca wrote all 520 episodes as well as playing schoolmaster Dr Percy Pym, becoming a household name in Australian radio. After the end of ‘Yes, What?’ in 1940, Dawe continued his stage career in Australia, England and finally in Spain where he died in 1972, at the age of 60.
Jack Craig-Gardiner (Cuthbert Horace Greenbottle)
If one-time listeners to Yes, What? can remember nothing else about the show, they remember the name of ”Greenbottle”, the boy who was helplessly pixilated and therefore vulnerable and strangely loveable.
SpikeMilligan may never have heard of Greenbottle, or he might have, but in any case there are similarities between Greenbottle and the Goon Show’s Bluebottle, played by Peter Sellers. On radio, both were young pests with screechy voices but Greenbottle owes his name to Will Hay’s Harbottle.
He was played by Jack Theodore Craig-Gardiner, born 29th September 1915 at Nailsworth, South Australia. For stage and radio purposes it was deemed better for him to be simply Jack Gardiner. He was some six years older than the other two boys, and three years younger than Dawe.
He owed his radio debut at the age of 20, to a one pound bet, when friends dared him to audition his impersonations of film stars at a SAD P & A (Professional and Amateur) Parade. Most people can imitate at least one other person,butGardiner’s repertoire boasted about fifty entirely different voices.
His Greenbottle voice and persona captured the nation and in later years when Morrie Chapman was attempting to revive Yes, ’What? he could not get anybody to play Greenbottle anything like the character devised by Gardiner.
Towards the end of the ‘Yes, What?’ years, the pace of recording was intense and Gardiner suffered a throat problem which forced his temporary retirement from the cast. Earlier he had been considered “totally unsuitable for radio”, his normal speaking voice being too low husky and soft to broadcast. However,he later became the chief announcer at Station 4TO Townsville.
Gardiner died in 1973 at the age of 57.
Ralph W Peterson (Rupert Bottomly)
Bottomly was the school’s knockabout Ginger Meggs-style larrikin with whom the average schoolboy most identified. He was a “regular” boy and to the horror of parents, schoolboy listeners found a hero in Bottomly.
Peterson was born in Adelaide on 21st February 1921 and joined the Kangaroos at different reported ages (11, 12, 14 … Ralph says it was 12, therefore in 1933). He combined well with Jack Burgess and Jack Gardiner in many comedy sketches including ‘The Red-nosed Sponsor’ and ‘Bridge For Four’.
Peterson’s first evening radio engagement was as Harold, the bad lad in a show called ‘Following in Father’s Footsteps’. From there, he became Rupert, the bad boy of the Fourth Form. After four years of being the bad boy of radio, Peterson was determined not to be typecast. As the Fourth Form neared graduation in 1940, he produced a half hour radio pantomime written by the SAD General Manager’s secretary. It was The Unreal Dragon, a fanciful tale of an aesthetic dragon played by Jack Gardiner, who sang in a gangster accent: “I’m a tough guy, see?, but I’ve got a poetic soul!”
He saw military service with field artillery and vaudeville with the 50-50 Amenities Show which toured New Guinea, as well as producing and compering the Regimental Revue (a variety concert in aid of the fighting forces). Post war, his later career flourished as a professional writer and producer, for TV, film and radio. He died in 1996 at the age of 75, the last of the regular cast to go.
Jim Williams (Ronald George Standforth)
Standforth wanted to please, and would have enjoyed being teacher’s pet, but this was out of the question because he was remarkably dull. While Greenbottle remembered everything wrongly, Standforth remembered nothing, and was consequently quite victimised by Percy Pym.
Jim Williams too had taken the Kangaroo Club road. Having been born in Adelaide on 20th October 1921,he would have been aged about 13 years old upon joining. He had already beenthrough three years of elocution training, and had had considerable success at the Adelaide Eisteddfods. As Standforth, he was often apt to recite ‘The Song of the Sea’ with only a minimum of coaxing. As a Kangaroo, Williams too, was inducted into evening radio via ‘Followiing In Father’s Footsteps’ where he played Creasy the office boy at the firm of Marks and Henty. He played in 5AD’s ‘Albert the Gangster’, and in serious plays including Maxwell Dunn’s ‘The Three Sisters’.
Jim Williams gained his Australian Operators Proficiency Certificate and operated his own amateur radio station, and always listed his four hobbies as ‘radio, radio, radio and fishing’. He died 2nd May 1981, aged 59 years.
Frank McCarron (Mister Basil Cornelius Snootles)
A photographer called at St. Percy’s school during lesson # 75. He was Basil Cornelius Snootles. Can there be anybody in the world quite as sad sounding as Mr Snootles whose plaintive, wobbly voice sounds as though it is atleast 200 years old and about to fall over? He spoke anachronistic English to match his old world Christian names. Snootles was very St. Percy’s-minded and he ineffectively applied to be assistant school master, but did however,qualify for the job of school caretaker.
McCarron also played an upper-crust biscuit buyer, an irate Italian egg vendor, and several other roles for St Percy’s.
Frank McCarron, was born 23rd August 1909 and therefore nudging 30 years when he began playing Snootles. Previously he had played Toni the inn keeper in ‘The Student Prince’ for the Theatre Royal, and had appeared in the ABC Radio’s production of Max Afford’s play ‘Heroism’s All Around Us’. Dawe introduced McCarron into the SAD Players and to other radio shows
McCarron established the Tootals Linen Company of South Australia, and then was sales manager for G. & R. Wills in Adelaide. He retired from the soft goods business in 1975 and died 26th November 1991, aged 82.
Alice Creed (Daphne)
Rupert Bottomley’s persistent girl friend Daphne, managed to interrupt 10 lessons between # 375 and 453. The lovely but argumentative Daphne was portrayed by Alice Creed (her maiden name), another amateur from the repertory and little theatres.
It has been noted that Dawe would introduce new characters as extensions of their off-air lives. It has been suggested (by SAD’s Dick Moore) that Alice may have taken Ralph Peterson’s fancy at the time (or vice-: versa), he being about 16 years of age. Peterson confirmed nothing. In 1961 he said “Daphne, I have forgotten”, and was in no hurry to remember.
Alice and Ralph also appeared together in Radio Ball comedy sketches. More information about Alice’s life post St Percy’s, so far, is unknown.
Richard Harding-Browne (Francis Algenon Marmaduke de Pledge ‘Pickles’)
When Gardiner’s (Greenbottle) throat required three months’ rest, St.Percy’s school needed a new pupil. He was Francis Algenon Marmaduke de Pledge, swiftlynick-named ”Pickles”, the bright boy who theoretically ought to have raised educational standards in the classroom. Harding-Browne had already appeared in ‘Yes, What?’ a couple of years previously, as Percy’s defence barrister in the case of Greenbottle vs Pym.
Born 13th January 1921 Harding-Brown was discovered by producer Agnes Dobson. He joined SAD as a 16-year-old in October 1937. Of assistance was the theatrical background Harding-Browne shared with the others. He progressed from the strong dramatic society at St. Peter’s College to Adelaide’s amateur theatrical groups, winning parts with The Treehouse Players and The Independent Players.
His deep, resonant voice was ideal for announcing. Many listeners judged him the best, so SAD gave Harding-Browne an afternoon show of his own, a half-hour concert in which he gave chatty homilies about anything at all.
Harding-Browne also devised and sold a game show, ‘Take It Or Leave It,’ launched before a live audience with help from Dawe and Gardiner. Of the ‘Yes, What?’ cast, de Pledge was the first cab off
the rank, to join the forces in 1940 and became a Leading Aircraftman (trainee pilot).
The ABC Weekly of 7th April 1955 reported that Harding-Browne died in a Wellington Bomber over Continental Europe on his 21st Birthday.
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