An Australian showbusiness veteran

BY DARREN GRAY

Talent agent Darren Gray remembers one of the great all-rounders of Australian showbusiness, Reg Gorman.

The veteran actor and entertainer Reg Gorman has sadly passed away at the age of 89. He was a genuinely kind and generous man, and it was an absolute pleasure to have known him.

A Natural Comedian

Two men dressed in shirts and suit jackets pictured from the waist up, smiling at camera.

Reg Gorman and Darren Gray in Melbourne, 2004. Photo by Sue Manger

Reg was one of the last surviving vaudevillians having been a regular fixture on the Tivoli Theatre and club circuit where he worked as a clean comic and impressionist. In 1954, George Wallace Jnr described him as 'the freshest young comic around'.

Reg didn’t have any family connections to the entertainment industry but he had natural comic flair and just wanted to make people laugh. He won his first eisteddfod at the age of 9 and performed with various youth groups before turning professional at the age of 25.

 

A menacing-looking man pictured from the waist up standing in a doorway holding a large knife.

Reg Gorman in a scene from the TV series Homicide. NFSA title: 1250359

When television launched in Australia, Reg appeared in the ABC’s first attempt at a live opera, and in 1957 he made his featured television debut on the ABC as a comedian and impressionist on The Johnny Gredula Show.

Acting roles soon began to flow in on groundbreaking productions like Consider Your Verdict, Homicide, Skippy, Contrabandits, The Rovers, Whiplash, Woobinda Animal Doctor, Matlock Police, Bellbird, Boney and The Evil Touch.

Reg also had a couple of roles in Number 96, the most memorable being that of an irate father who was furious when the homosexual lawyer Don Finlayson (Joe Hasham) started showing an interest in his son. This was at a time when depictions of homosexual relationships were rare on Australian television. 

Australia's Favourite Barman

Reg never had any desire to become a leading man and was quite content being a character actor but in 1969 he starred in the sitcom Mrs Finnegan playing Darby, the work-shy son of long-suffering widow Jessie Finnegan (Dolore Whiteman).  Reg appeared in hundreds of stage and screen productions during his long career but it was The Sullivans which made him a household name all over the world when he was cast as Jack Fletcher in 1976. The Sullivans followed a typical family in Melbourne as they endured the Second World War and Reg remained with the show throughout its entire run.

Despite becoming Australia’s most famous barman, in real life he was allergic to alcohol so didn’t drink. Reg recalled that in one scene he was required to drink a glass of beer; it was impossible to fake the head on beer then and poor Reg was stuck with a terrible hangover for days afterwards. The Sullivans actually became a family affair for the Gorman family with his daughter Kate and wife Judith Roberts both appearing in the series.

Here is a short clip of Reg as barman Jack Fletcher from the first episode of The Sullivans in 1976:

From Stage to Screen and Back Again

Reg continued to grace the small screen after The Sullivans ended. He played Kylie Minogue’s father in The Henderson Kids, and appeared in many other productions including Prisoner, Neighbours, Blue Heelers, Fergus McPhail, Something in the Air, A Country Practice, The Wayne Manifesto, Shock Jock and The Pacific. He earned three Best Actor awards for the short film Punch Drunk.

His big screen credits included roles in They’re A Weird Mob (1966), Caddie (1976), Inn of the Damned (1975), Ned Kelly (1970) with Mick Jagger, Alvin Rides Again (1974), Evil Angels (1988) with Meryl Streep and The Big Steal (1990). His many theatre roles included parts in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, The Odd Couple, Sweet Charity, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Dry Run, Dimboola and Promises, Promises.

Reg retained a deep love for vaudeville and as the 21st century dawned he decided to bring the artform back to a whole new generation with his one-man show Hanging onto Vaudeville which resulted in critics calling him a ‘national treasure’.

In the following clip, Reg talks about the acting process and how it differs from film to television to theatre:  

The Family Business

Reg was married to the actress Judith Roberts and their daughters Kate and Charmaine have both gone on to enjoy very successful acting careers. In fact, when Kate was working in London Reg and Judith popped over to England for a visit and Reg found that viewers still remembered him from The Sullivans. While in London I was able to arrange for him to do a voice-over for a Jacobs Creek test commercial and when leaving the studio we were approached by a man who spoke very poor English. The man appeared to be asking us if we wanted any ‘bum'. I was dumbstruck but Reg immediately got into the comic side of the situation and we found out later that we were the victims of a German hidden camera show.

In 2018 Reg and Judith relocated from Melbourne to Sydney to act as chaperones for their teenage granddaughter Olivia Deeble who had landed a contract with Home and Away to play the role of Raffy Morrison. The Gorman family had now become a multi-generational showbusiness dynasty. Reg was one of the pioneers of the Australian entertainment industry, and a true gentleman.