Stuart Wagstaff

Stuart Wagstaff

Stuart Wagstaff AM (born February 13, 1925 in Great Durnford, Wiltshire, England, UK) is an Australian television and stage entertainer.

Early life

Wagstaff grew up on a farm with his parents and two older sisters. His father was very strict and emotionally abusive, and he received little affection from his mothercite web | author=| date= February 2, 2006| title=Talking Heads - Stuart Wagstaff | format= | work=Talking Heads | url=| accessdate=2006-11-24] . However, his mother frequently took Stuart and his sisters to see plays and pantomime, generating an early interest in the theatre. At the age of 11 he was sexually abused by a farm handcite web | author=| date= February 2, 2006| title=Talking Heads - Stuart Wagstaff | format= | work=Talking Heads | url=| accessdate=2006-11-24] .

War Service

In September 1940, at the insistence of his father, he joined the Royal Navy as an apprentice aircraft mechanic in the Fleet Air Arm, and served at naval air stations and on aircraft carriers until the end of the war, but considered himself to be a poor mechaniccite web | author=| date= February 2, 2006| title=Talking Heads - Stuart Wagstaff | format= | work=Talking Heads | url=| accessdate=2006-11-24] . He frequently volunteered for ships' concert parties to further his interest in acting.


After the war he joined the Windsor Repertory as an assistant stage manager, occasionally taking small roles in plays. He then joined Whitley Repertory where he took part in up to 48 plays plus four weeks of pantomime each year, as well as a few West End appearances and some film and television.


The 1950s

Wagstaff first came to Australia in 1958 to appear in the J C Williamson production "Not in the Book". In 1959, J C Williamson's put Stuart into the original "My Fair Lady" production with which he was associated for the next four and a half years, the last two and half playing Professor Henry Higgins, through all the Australian and New Zealand capital cities. Following this he took over the male lead in the stage musical "The Sound of Music".

The 1960s: Television

In 1964 he appeared as the host of the Channel 7 variety show "Studio 'A'" and in 1965 he replaced the late Eric Baume as the "Beast" on the Channel 7 daytime show, Beauty and the Beast. This production was to establish him as one of Australia's firm television favourites. During this two and a half year period with Beauty and the Beast, he also appeared in leading roles in several stage productions including "There's a Girl in My Soup", "Present Laughter", "Private Lives" and several theatre restaurant revues.

In 1968 he became host of a major "Tonight" show on the Seven Network and later transferred to the Nine Network in the same type of format. During the following three years he hosted several shows on the Nine Network, including "In Melbourne Tonight", "The Sound of Music" and a regular late night interview show.

Tobacco advertising

Wagstaff's suave style - today it would be called "cool" - led to his advertising Benson and Hedges cigarettes, with the memorable tagline "When only the best will do ... and isn't that all the time?".

On 23 January 2003 Chris Beck of The Age interviewed Wagstaff:

"By his own account he is a workman-like actor who has been largely ignored for film and television roles because, he says, "I did 116 Benson and Hedges commercials and I was very heavily identified. It was irritating because I love movies."

"People often ask me if I have any regrets about doing those commercials because I think a lot of people - young, impressionable people - might have taken up smoking as a result. And I suppose I have regrets about that. But...we didn't know then. So, I can't have regrets about something I didn't know."

The "Non Smokers' Movement of Australia" website (issue 18, May-June 1997) wrote:

Smoking Frontman Expresses Late Regrets

"Stuart Wagstaff, who made a career from 116 Benson and Hedges commercials spanning two decades has disclosed he regretted his lucrative liaison with the tobacco industry. He is quoted as saying, "One thing that concerns me deeply in the light of what we know today is that I might have been instrumental in people starting smoking. The company policy was that the ads were intended to make people who accept smoking change brands but, of course, people must have indeed have started as a result of it. And that I regret. [...] Cigarettes "(sic)" advertising on TV was banned in Australia in September 1976, but in April 1997 Wagstaff revealed that the company kept paying him "for nothing" until 1993 -- 17 years later. "They believed whenever a group of people saw me they thought, subliminally, Benson & Hedges. So they kept me on the payroll. I didn't argue."

The 1970s

After a 3 year stint in Hollywood, working in film and television, he returned to Australia in 1975 and was immediately kept busy with TV appearances all over the country, including being a regular panellist on Channel 9's "Celebrity Squares", then two years as permanent panellist on Channel 0/10's "Blankety Blanks", plus seven seasons as the host/presenter on the ABC's "Stuart Wagstaff's World Playhouse".

Apart from television he is active in his first love, the theatre. In late 1979 Stuart appeared again as Professor Higgins in "My Fair Lady" and a successful national tour followed, in which production he was also co-producer. About this time he also produced Sydney and Melbourne seasons of the American stage comedy "Father's Day". In 1981 Stuart toured as the Narrator in the highly successful "Rocky Horror Show" starring Daniel Abineri and repeated that with a second tour a few years later, which also featured a young Russell Crowe.

The 1980s: Australian Theatre

1982 saw the production of "Noises Off" and this too, with Stuart in the lead, had a very successful national tour. In 1983 he played the lead in "Blithe Spirit" at Marian Street Theatre in Sydney and then went on to host the "Midday Movie" and "Friday Night Movies" on the Seven Network for two years.

The late 1980s and today

Television guest roles in the 1990s included appearances in "GP", "Rafferty's Rules", "A Country Practice", "All Saints" , Stuart appeared often on "The Midday Show" and appearances on "Good Morning Australia". He has made several appeances on Channel 7 Perth's Telethon. The late 1980s and the 1990s have seen Wagstaff on stage with Sydney seasons and subsequent tours of "Noises Off" (again), "Black Comedy", "The Winslow Boy", "Lend Me A Tenor" and in Gershwin's musical, "Crazy For You". Wagstaff also appeared in the role of Old Cookson in the spectacular theatrical production of "Pan" at the Capitol Theatre. Cameron Mackintosh’s production of "Oliver" sees Wagstaff returning to the stage in the role of Mr Brownlow.

Member of the Order of Australia

On 26 January 1998 Wagstaff was created a Member of the Order of Australia for "service to the community, particularly through the channel 7 Perth Telethon Trust by raising funds for charities that support children's medical research" [cite web | url= | title=It's an Honour | accessdate=2007-06-30] "


In character

* "The Journalist" (1979) .... Courtney Lewers
* "Bit Part" (1978) (TV) .... Uncredited
* "All at Sea" (1977) (TV) .... Mr. Arthur Pickering
* "The Dick Emery Show in Australia" (1977) TV Series .... Various Characters
* "Is There Anybody There?" (1975) (TV) .... Uncredited
* "For Pete's Sake" (1974) .... Man in Chandelier Store ... aka July Pork Bellies
* "Sunstruck" (1972) .... Uncredited
* "Seagulls Over Sorrento" (1960) (TV) .... Uncredited
* "A Night to Remember" (1958) .... Uncredited

As himself

* "" (2005) (TV) .... Himself
* "Blankety Blanks" (1977) TV Series .... Himself - Panelist
* "Name That Tune" (1975) TV Series .... Himself
* "In Melbourne Tonight" (1957) TV Series .... Himself (1970)
* "Beauty and the Beast" (1964) TV Series .... Himself (1966-1968)

Guest appearances

* "All Saints" playing "Reg Howard" in episode: "Revelations" (episode # 1.20) 30 June 1998
* "Temperatures Rising" playing "Thornton" in episode: "Healer Man" (episode # 2.18) 15 August 1974
* "The Partridge Family" playing "Head Waiter" in episode: "The Last of Howard" (episode # 4.7) 27 October 1973
* "Whiplash" playing "Lieutenant Hoffman" in episode: "The Adelaide Arabs" (episode # 1.34) 14 October 1961
* "Whiplash" playing "Jimmy Quicksilver" in episode: "A Portrait of Gunpowder" (episode # 1.22) 22 July 1961
* "Whiplash" playing "Jimmy Quicksilver" in episode: "The Remittance Man" (episode # 1.11) 29 April 1961


External links


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