Actor, writer, director, producer and singer
Jon Finlayson, well-known and loved Australian actor, writer, director, producer, singer, raconteur, family man and host of many a fabulous dinner party, died of cancer on 12 September 2012, aged 74.
Jon was born in Coburg to Clorine and Ron Finlayson, then the chief draftsman of the Commonwealth. At about the age of eight, along with his younger sister Rhonda (deceased) and brother Bruce, the family moved to Burwood, where he spent the rest of his childhood, attending Hartwell Primary School and Camberwell High.
At the age of eight, Jon began his long career in the performing arts, touring all over Australia for many years as a boy soprano for the Australian Boys Choir. He was actively involved in theatre throughout school and, as a teenager, began performing weekly on The Fakermagangees, the long-running children’s radio serial on 3DB. This was followed by many other Australian radio dramas over the years. After matriculating he threw himself into amateur theatre productions for some years, appearing in many a Gilbert and Sullivan musical before moving on to professional shows at the Union Theatre (which later became the Melbourne Theatre Company). Shows there included the controversial musical Lola Montez, starring Justine Rettick, which was banned for some weeks by the chief censor due to its provocative content.
The early 1960s saw the creation of several long-running intimate revues, the first of which, co-written and directed by Barbara Angell, ran 11.30pm on Fridays at The Arts Theatre in Richmond. He managed to rope his sister, Rhonda, into the cast and brother Bruce into assistant stage managing. The next two revues at the Arrow theatre were an even bigger family affair, with Rhonda on stage, Bruce promoted to costume designer, his mother, Clorine, running the box office and father Ron doing front of house, building sets and sweeping the foyer. The shows were the hugely successful Outrageous Fortune and Slings and Arrows, co-written by David Sale, Barbara Angell and Jon, who also performed in all of them along with such actors as Betty Bobbit, Judi Hooke and many guest stars.
Jon spent many years performing in musicals at the Comedy Theatre, Her Majesty’s, the Princess and Russell Street Theatre, including The Fantasticks, Robert and Elizabeth, Bells Are Ringing, For Amusement Only, Lock Up Your Daughters and Auntie Mame with the likes of Tikki Taylor, John Newman, Toni Lamond, Frank Sheldon, Hy Hazel, Ruth Cracknell, June Bronhill and Maggie Fitzgibbon. He also created the role of Feldman for The Magic Show, in which he played opposite Ross Skiffington and later in the film production of the same name, made in Canada.
His years of stage credits include The Man Who Came to Dinner, Ashes, Arden!, Crossing Niagara and Trumpets and Raspberries for the MTC, Fortune in Men’s Eyes, Enter a Free Man and Cowardly Custard for the St Martin’s Theatre Company, The School for Scandal for the Tasmanian Theatre Company and a Sydney production of Jesus Christ Superstar, in which he took over the role of Herod from Reg Livermore. For the Hobart-based Theatre Royal Light Opera Company he directed Orpheus in the Underworld, The Beggar’s Opera and New Moon.
He was the director, producer, costume designer and co-writer (with Gary Down) of the immensely successful stage show The Glitter Sisters, which toured nationally for five years. Singing the songs of the Fascinatin’ Forties, it starred Betty Bobbit, Anne Phelan, Laine Lamont, Jillian Archer, Geraldine Turner and Colette Mann.
Most people would recognise the voice of Jon Finlayson. It has been floating through their living rooms via TV or radio voiceovers for years. Jon, in fact, partook in the very inception of Australian television, appearing in and writing for many well-loved Aussie TV dramas. These include a long association with the ABC and Crawford Productions in shows such as Division 4, Homicide, Ryan, Cop Shop and Prime Time, as well as The Power, The Passion, Zoo Family, Snowy River and the TV movie The Sentimental Bloke. He was also involved in the writing of The Mavis Bramston Show for Channel 7. This naturally segued into roles on the big screen, including many of the Alvin Purple films, Paul Cox’s film Lonely Hearts, and Evil Angels, directed by Fred Schepisi.
Much of the 1980s and ’90s saw Jon appearing in another creation of his own, the one man show An Evening With Noel Coward, Without Noel Coward, which toured Australia extensively, with repeated seasons at the Melbourne Zoo.
While not on stage he was forever entertaining friends and family at his famous dinner parties, lively cocktail parties and family lunches. He was an avid cook and an unstoppable raconteur with a wicked sense of humour and a keen interest in the lives and backgrounds of those around him. Over the years he developed a great love of drawing and painting and went on to have many exhibitions of his work in Melbourne, Ballarat and at his home gallery in Bittern.
He is survived by brother Bruce and nieces Alexandra and Zoe Schepisi.