Popstar and TV personality Jimmy Hannan walking down the aisle at the Sydney Stadium with a crowd of people around him.

Jimmy Hannan: a winning smile

 Beth Taylor


Updated 8 January 2019: Vale Jimmy Hannan, who passed away on 7 January 2019, at the age of 84. We celebrate his life and work, and acknowledge his kind donation to the NFSA in recent years.

Jimmy Hannan was a Gold Logie-winning variety show host, singer, actor and game show host. Making appearances on over 20 shows, his career in Australian television and radio spanned 30 years. In 2015, he donated a wealth of memorabilia to the NFSA, including photographs, audio recordings, film and video recordings, scripts and sheet music.


Name that tune

Jimmy got his start on television as a bright-eyed 18-year-old contestant on Name That Tune. It was 1956 and television had just launched in Australia. Very few people had televisions in their homes so people crowded around TV shop windows to watch, and listen - the shops kindly left the sound on. Jimmy was on the show for six weeks and never made a mistake guessing the songs. He used his £500 prize to go to Canada to further his career.

Jimmy's charming TV persona is well-reflected in his carefree, welcoming stance and huge trademark grin in the publicity photo below. Tall, with naturally blonde curly hair and blue eyes, he is perhaps most recognisable for his fantastic teeth. 

    Black and white photograph of TV personality and singer Jimmy Hannan in a suit and tie. He has his arms outstretched and a big smile on his face. It is signed 'Keeping smiling, Jimmy'.

    Aren’t I lucky? They’re good TV teeth, a little bit buck, which make them extra good. They’ve really got to be for TV.

    Jimmy Hannan, Australian Women's Weekly, 1962

    After snagging a compere role on the musical variety show Saturday Date (1963-67, TCN-9), Jimmy wanted to make a record of his own. 'Beach Ball' was originally recorded by The City Surfers in 1963 and the words and music were written by Roger ‘Jimmy’ McGuinn, who went on to start the band The Byrds, and Frank Gari. You can hear back-up vocals from the Bee Gees (early in their career) and the song also features musicians from Col Joye’s band on drums and guitar.

    In a telephone interview with Jimmy, he recalled to me with a laugh that they got the echo effect on the vocals by putting the speaker in the toilet and recording that. The song was released in February 1964 and reached number 2 on the Australian charts. Looking back he says that he put out some ‘dreadful songs’, but he remembers ‘Beach Ball’, and that time of his life, fondly. Jimmy’s vocals are assured, but today the stand-out characteristic of the song is its infectious fast-paced momentum thanks to John ‘Catfish’ Purser on drums.

    Surfing music and the dance 'The Stomp' were popular at the time. During the taping of Saturday Date in 1963 an article from the Australian Women’s Weekly notes, ‘the teenage audience were so carried away with stomping on the cement studio floor that the camera was vibrating and the singer couldn’t be heard. In the end the singer and [host] Jimmy Hannan gave up trying to compete, and joined in the stomp instead.’

    Two black and white photos featuring Jimmy Hannan performing at the Sydney Stadium with a band. The photo on the right shows him making his way to the stage through fans.

    You were very lucky to be heard above the screaming.

    Jimmy Hannan

    The concert photographs above were taken by an unknown photographer at Sydney Stadium in 1965 and are a terrific example of Jimmy’s popularity and vitality. Jimmy remembers this particular concert at Sydney Stadium where he performed alongside Johnny Devlin, Little Pattie and The Denvermen. Jimmy looks very relaxed in his role as a teen idol, managing to appear casual even in a suit jacket and tie.

    Jimmy went on to win a Gold Logie for most popular television personality in 1965 for Saturday Date.


    A host that won't boast

    In articles you read about Jimmy, journalists often mention how hard working and down to earth he is. He said in an Australian Women’s Weekly article from 1981, ‘Whenever I’ve compered a show, I’ve always stuck to the philosophy that it [the show] comes first. I try to play it low-key so people watch the programme instead of me. So many performers grab the spotlight and don’t let go.’

    In this clip from the 1970 special The Weekend Starts Here Jimmy visits a group of young patients at The Duchess of Kent Children's Hospital at Sandy Bay, in Hong Kong, and joins their band to perform a song.

    Excerpt from The Weekend Starst Here courtesy Nine Network


    This excerpt from The Mike Walsh Show in 1980 shows an unpredictable live-to-air interview with Academy Award-winning Hollywood actress Cloris Leachman. As well as being very much of its time, it's a brilliant example of Jimmy's charm and ability to think on his feet. After sitting on Jimmy's lap Cloris says cheekily 'they're sort of boring questions ... ask me some penetrating questions', and they go from there. 

    An excerpt of Jimmy Hannan interviewing Cloris Leachman on The Mike Walsh Show, Episode 198, 13 November, 1980.

    Excerpt from The Mike Walsh Show courtesy Mike Walsh AM, OBE Hayden Productions.


    10 things you didn't know about Jimmy Hannan

    1. At the height of his career in the mid-70s, Jimmy was recording 13 television appearances a week, plus radio, in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
    2. He was born and bred in Sydney's Surry Hills.
    3. In 1957 Jimmy got his start as a singer in a big band that played at the Marrickville Strollers dance hall in Sydney. They played to 2,000 jitterbugging dancers each weekend. 
    4. Olivia Newton-John and Billy Thorpe, amongst others, got their start on Saturday Date.
    5. The Bee Gees' Barry Gibb joked that they got their name from being Jimmy's 'Backing Group'.
    6. Jimmy regularly hosted shows on Melbourne’s 3UZ and Sydney’s 2GB radio stations.
    7. He once saved a boy from jumping off the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
    8. He met his wife Joanne when he was singing in the big band. They raised four children and were married for 60 years, remaining together until his death.
    9. Jimmy retired at 50 and moved up to a farm in Bellingen where he kept cattle for 10 years.
    10. Jimmy's long list of TV credits includes: Name That Tune (1956), Say When (1962), Saturday Date (1963-67), Jimmy (1966), Take a Letter (1966), The Go!! Show (1967), Take a Letter (1967), Jimmy Hannan Tonight (1967), Generation Gap (1969), In Melbourne Tonight (1970), The Weekend Starts Here (1970), Spending Spree (1971-5), The Graham Kennedy Show (1972-75), Split Second (1973-74), The Mike Walsh Show (1973-84), The Ernie Sigley Show (1974), The Jimmy Hannan Show (1975), Celebrity Squares (1975-76), Let’s Make a Deal (1976-77), Micro Macro (1978), Have a Go (1980), Personality Squares (1981), Search for a Star (1981), $100,000 Money Makers (1982), Value Shopping (1987), This Is Your Life (1989).