Sound of Music’s Bobby Limb
Variety Today – May 1991
BOBBY Limb is an entertainer who vows never to retire. In this exclusive interview with Variety Today Managing Editor Shirley broun, this Australian showbusiness favourite talks frankly about the successes and the frustrations, the heartbreaks and the happy memories of a career that spans more than four decades.
Bobby Limb is a real `ham’ – he openly admits it and says he will never stop enjoying the razzle dazzle of showbusiness.
One long-time admirer of bobby’s once said to me: “I like him because he is a genuine performer. He doesn’t play out a role as a comedian. He is just being himself – what you see in each performance is the person, not someone trying to be someone else.” This is still true today.
Looking back over more than 40 years under the spotlight, Bobby Limb – the musician, comedian, singer and television host, has given a great deal of pleasure to Australian and overseas audiences alike.
He was there – and taking a high profile – when the Australian television industry was in its infancy and in the hey day of radio broadcasts.
His high rating show, Bobby Limb’s Sound of Music, which extended its initial run of 13 weeks to an amazing nine years on TCN 9, also had the distinction in 1960 of being the first show to go National – coast to coast around Australia.
And, did you know, that Bobby Limb made more than 50 recordings prior to leaving for England in 1953. His biggest hit was old favourite `Irene Goodnight’ for which the 35,000 strong 2UW Teenage Club membership made him their hero.
Bobby remembers vividly the occasion which sparked his interest in pursuing a career under the bright lights.
“I was about eight years old and playing cowboys and indians in the wood yard. I picked up a stick to use as a gun and found it had holes in it. I took it home and mum told me it was a fife,” he said.
Bobby breaks into song as he recalls the first tune he played: “It’s a long, long road a winding.” Soon after Bobby auditioned for the School Fife Band – and that’s where his career began.
The fifth generation Australian then joined the Adelaide Drum and Fife Band, followed by the Adelaide College of Music where he played classical mandolin and won a scholarship which entitle him to six years free tuition on an instrument of his choice.
“I took one look at a golden saxaphone in its case and selected that instrument. And, so it was that I played tenor sax from the age of about 10,” he said. Bobby grew up in the Big Band Era and formed his own 8 piece group, named appropriately `Bob Limb’s Band’ in 1948. His singer was Joan Clark, mother of vocalist Samantha Sang. He moved to Melbourne in 1950 to play in Bob gibson’s Big Band and soon after developed his own successful showband.
A move to Sydney to take over the baton in Sammy Lee’s Band, led Bobby into the recording studio – this time as a vocalist and not a jazz musician, as he had been previously known.
“Istarted recording on the old 78 rpms and my first record – I’m sure you won’t know it – was I’ll Build a Bungalow.”
Bobby had gained quite a reputation as a jazz musician having won the prestigious Musicmaker polls for five years in succession so when he rang his mother and told her of his latest voice recording, she was quite taken aback.
“I rang mum and told her I had made another record and she immediately asked `who sang’. I told her I did. There was a pause at the other end and she said `Oh Bob, don’t make a food of yourself.”
Bob, with that same boyish humour that has endeared him to thousands, said that before the audiences woke up that he wasn’t a singer he had made no less than 50 recordings, prior to heading to England with his new wife, Dawn Lake in 1953.
Bobby had built up quite a following in Australia, being contracted to 2UW and in constant demand in niteclubs, radio, recordings and jazz concerts.
But, while he was riding the crest of the wave he still knew there was much to learn.
“Despite the fact that I was popular on radio, I realised the hard way – success wasn’t assured,” Bobby said.
He related a humbling incident which occurred at the famed Tivoli theatre in Sydney.
“I was at my peak in Australia with my recordings and was asked to perform at the Tivoli. the true theatre goers were seated in the body of the theatre and the teenagers – my ardent followers – were up in the seats above,” he said.
“I died, trying to do my radio work in the theatre. it just didn’t work and I couldn’t understand why.”
Bobby and Dawn decided – along with four other peers – to travel to London to learn more about the industry.
His success in Australia led Bobby to being signed to go into Glasgow.
“I played stooge to a comedian, getting a bucket of green paint over my head each night,” he said.
It was far from the `teenage idol’ status Bobby had enjoyed back home in Australia.
But true talent shone through in the end with Bobby appearing on popular British show `Benny Hill’s Showcase’.
“I was a comedian who played sax over there, whereas back here I was a sax player who did comedy,” Bobby said.
Dawn too, achieved success. the talented vocalist auditioned for the BBC Showband anbd won selection from a field of 67 professionals.
The couple stayed in England for four years, returning to Australia in 1957, just in time to help TCN 9 celebrate its first birthday.
From that celebration emerged a new show for Bobby Limb which was to make him a household name across the country.
“Dawn and I were looking for a situation comedy at the time – reading scripts, etc,” Bobby said.
“In the meantime, Ken Hall (now 90 years old and a patriarch of Australian television), Bill Harmon and I had come up with an idea of a segmented musical show called Bobby Limb’s Sound of Music to put on while we worked on the situation comedy.”
“We hit the right button and a 13 week season lasted nine years,” he said.
From 1958 to 1970, Bobby Limb had the distinction of filling the prime 7.30pm time slot every Friday night on channel 9.
In 1987 Bobby, Dawn and original cast members such as Daryl Stewart, Rosalind Keen, Bob Gibson and Betty parker, re-united to celebrate Sound of Music’s silver jubilee with an Australia-wide tour.
With the help of the show’s originbal sponsors, Westpac, Dulux and Mobil, the troupe travelled thousands of kilometres around the nation and performed 190 concerts.
One of the most important things about long running shows such as Sound of Music and Bandstand, according to Bobby, was the fact that they gave all levels of talent a `showcase’.
“With the exception of the Midday show and Starsearch, there is very little opportunity today for young, talented performers to get a start and be seen,” Bobby said.
“Why they took off Bert Newton’s New Faces when it was in the Top 10 in four states, I’ll never know. It frustrates me when all this young talent is around and they have no showcase and yet, 25-30 years ago, there were eight TV shows in Sydney alone on which they could see variety performers.”
Bobby said similar shows could work today under the right direction.
“We need to put some entreprenuers back into TV. We don’t have to talk about the mess the television industry is in at the moment. It is run by accountants who are only interested in the dollar and if the show will work in America.
“The thinking in television today is all wrong. Take the recent incident with Tony Barber for instance. After 14 years, he wanted to leave Sale of the Century to do something different, so the station takes down his photos.
“Tony has done so much for that side of the industry – he is one of the best in the wor4ld at what he does, and they treat him this way. It’s so frustrating.”
While bitterness has matured to frustration over the years, Bobby experienced his own major television trauma during the early 70s – a time when, after changing stations from Channel 9 to 10, he also became involved in a lobby tagged `The TV Make it Australia’ campaign, during the Whitlam government’s `It’s Time’ era.
“We were campaigning for a larger local program content on television at a time when there was only 30pc local content of which football and boxing were designated `drama’”, Bobby said.
The result was that television stations didn’t appreciate the lobby and blackballed Bobby from TV. His photos were removed as well – and never returned.
The sad part was that despite the strength of the lobby, nothing was achieve.
“We didn’t achieve anything really. Whitlam got in. He promised that `now perhaps the dignity of the Australian artists would be appreciated’, but nothing came of it.”
Although spending 20 years of his life in television, Bobby holds no bitterness towards the stations or the industry.
“It’s life and I accept that,” he said.
But these days Bobby has little time to really think about the past. As Cheif Entertainment consultant for the Merlin International company who had a great input into Darling Harbour, and built such popular landmarks as the Harbourside Festival Marketplace, the Sky Garden (which recently won the International Award for Design and Development for retailing) and the $80 million development at Manly wharf in Sydney, Bobby is kept exceptionally busy coordinating talent and entertainment events.
He also produces shows on the Sydney showboat, the latest of which has been likened to the Moulin Rouge in Paris and features superb dancing, singing, music and effects.
“Working seven nights a week, we are turning away up to 50 people a night – it is just so popular,” Bobby said.
In addition, Bobby has taken under his wing a promising young 16-year-old singer susan Orrel, who has already been signed to the CBS label. And, he and Dawn (who came out of retirement for the performances) have teamed up for a series of Morning Melodies performances appearing in venues along the East Coast.
Bobby is also joint owner of the `Forest of Tranquility’ rainforest at Ourimba, north of Sydney, and the Australian Reptile Park at Gosford.
Both Bobby’s father and grandfather lived to 96 and neither retired – he plans to do the same.
“My father told me to always bite off more than you can chew and to chew like mad if you want to be a success. And, to make your goals unobtainable. that has beenmy philosophy throughout life.”
“I’m also a catalyst and don’t believe in waiting for things to come to me. I get ideas and am enthusiastic – and that’s what keeps me young and handsome,” he said.
Adding, “Well, that’s what Dawn says and she must be right!”