John McCallum Australian Actor and Producer

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John McCallum & Googie Withers

John MacCullum

John Neil McCallum, AO, CBE (14 March 1918 – 3 February 2010)[1][2] was an Australian theatre and film actor, highly successful in Britain. He was also a television producer.[3][4]


Early Life

McCallum’s father, John Neil McCallum Sr., was a theatre owner and entrepreneur, who built and for many years ran the 2,000 seat Cremorne Theatre on the banks of the Brisbane River. After emigrating from Scotland, McCallum Snr. became an accomplished musician, and was soon heavily involved in Brisbane’s entertainment scene. His mother was an accomplished amateur actress who was born in England. In 1918, McCallum Jr. was born in Brisbane during the opening night of a comedy performance. After his birth, a family friend sent his father a telegraph which read ‘Congratulations on two howling successes’.[5]

McCallum was exposed to acting at a young age: his early childhood was full of backstage encounters at the Cremorne Theatre with the wide variety of performers who frequented his father’s theatre. Although McCallum and his two younger brothers received their primary school education in England, the family returned to Australia once the Great Depression started. His secondary education was at the Anglican Church Grammar School in Brisbane.[6]

Early Career

His early theatrical training was with Barbara Sisely at the Brisbane Repertory Company. He later did two years at RADA in London under Kenneth Barnes and his sisters Violet and Irene Vanburgh. From there he went into repertory at Tunbridge and Northampton. In 1939 he did a season at Stratford-upon-Avon playing small roles and understudying. From there he moved to similar roles at the Old Vic under Harley Granville-Barker in which he appeared in the historic 1939 production of King Lear which featured Jack Hawkins with Peggy Ashcroft, Fay Compton and Cathleen Nesbitt.

Later Career

McCallum returned to Australia shortly afterwards in order to join the AIF for the duration of World War II, in which he served in New Guinea.[7]

After the war he joined the J. C. Williamson company for a while, working with Gladys Moncrieff in The Maid of the Mountains. Because there were limited theatrical choices in Australia at the time, McCallum returned to England where he soon went back into films; he had already appeared in two films before returning to Australia: Heritage (1935) and Held for Ransom (1938).

McCallum became a leading man in British films of the 1940s and 1950s, including highly regarded films such as It Always Rains on Sunday (1947). In 1948 he married the British actress Googie Withers, with whom he appeared in a large number of films. They made their home in Australia from 1958. McCallum also wrote, directed and produced numerous films and television series, particularly the international TV series Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (1966–68) which he co-produced with Lee Robinson. Television series he produced in the 1970s include Boney, Barrier Reef and Shannon’s Mob. McCallum also widely acted on the stage. A particular favourite role was in The Circle by W. Somerset Maugham. In this production he acted alongside Googie Withers in the U.K. as well as in Australia.


In 1958 McCallum became joint managing director of J.C. Williamson’s alongside Sir Frank Tait.[8][9] McCallum was keen to encourage the casting of talented Australians in leading roles and was instrumental in beginning the starring careers of Kevin Colson, Jill Perryman, Nancye Hayes, Barbara Angell and others. His contribution to the Australian performing arts is considerable and, in 1971, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).[10] In 1992, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).[11] Both honours were made for services to drama and theatre.


John McCallum died in Sydney at the age of 91. He had been suffering from leukemia.


McCallum was a JC Williamson Award recipient for lifetime achievement in 1999.[12] In 1992 Googie Withers and John McCallum were founding patrons and active supporters of the Tait Memorial Trust in London. A Charity established by Isla Baring OAM, the daughter of Sir Frank Tait of JC Williamson’s to support young Australian performing artists in the UK.[13]

Selected Filmography

As Actor

  • A Son Is Born (1946)
  • “The Loves of Joanna Godden” (1947) [14]
  • The Root of All Evil (1947)
  • It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)
  • The Calendar (1948)
  • Miranda (1948 film)
  • A Boy, a Girl and a Bike (1949)
  • The Woman in Question (1950)
  • Valley of Eagles (1951)
  • Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951)
  • The Magic Box (1951)
  • The Long Memory (1952)
  • Trent’s Last Case (1952)
  • Derby Day (1952)
  • Melba (1953)
  • Trouble in the Glen (1954)
  • Devil on Horseback (1954)
  • Port of Escape (1956)
  • Smiley (1956)

As Producer

  • Bailey’s Bird (1979) (TV series)


  1. ABC TV: Talking Heads (8 October 2007)
  2. TV Tonight: Vale – John McCallum (3 February 2010)
  3. Obituary The Times, 15 February 2010.
  4. Obituary London Independent, 3 April 2010.
  5. Obituary: The Australian, 5 February 2010
  6. Mason, James (2011). Churchie: The Centenary Register. Brisbane, Australia: The Anglican Church Grammar School. ISBN 978-0-646-55807-3.
  7. “Actor’s luck held despite jinx song.” The Australian Women’s Weekly 9 Mar 1946: 36 accessed 12 Dec 2011
  8. “John McCallum”. The Telegraph. 3 February 2010. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  9. “Googie Withers and John McCallum – Double Act”. Tait Memorial Trust. 7 October 2015. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  10. It’s an Honour: CBE
  11. McCallum awarded AO
  12. “JC Williamson Award recipients”. Helpmann Awards. Live Performance Australia. Archived from the original on 21 March 2012. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
  14. Wikipedia References

External Links