The Dalrays

The Dalrays on Bandstand, TCN 9, Sydney, c. 1964.

The Dalrays were Ray Pritchard and Trevor Fowler, an acrobatic act from Adelaide, who first appeared at Melbourne’s Tivoli Theatre in the pantomime, Goody Two Shoes, in December 1956. That engagement marks the beginning of an association, recorded in correspondence over the course of ten years. The Dalrays returned to perform at the Tivoli several times. However, their correspondence is most notable as a record of international touring to engagements in Asia, Europe and America between December 1958 and June 1966.

Archived in the Tivoli collection at the State Library of Victoria, the Dalrays’ letters, mostly written by Ray Pritchard, reveal how two artists took advantage of opportunities to perform, developing their act as they worked and crafting an itinerary of engagements, while juggling the logistics of international travel, booking agents, contracts and costs.

The Tivoli’s replies were written mostly by David N. Martin, the managing director until his unexpected death in 1958, and thereafter mostly by Gordon C. Cooper, Martin’s general manager in Melbourne, who became joint managing director with Martin’s son, Lloyd. Their replies reveal the efforts of Australian entrepreneurs to weave touring artists and regional agents into international networks.

Maps of the Dalrays’ international touring reveal the operation of three circuits: (1) an Asia-Pacific circuit linking cities in Australia with Calcutta, Hong Kong, Manila, Seoul, Singapore and, above all, Tokyo; (2) a European circuit branching out from Paris to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Beirut, Brussels, Cannes, Dusseldorf, London, Madrid, Monte Carlo, San Remo, Stockholm and Tehran; and (3) a north American circuit, spanning between New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and including Miami, Florida, and Reno, Nevada, where the Dalrays played

Asia, 1958–1960

1. The Dalrays – Asia-Pacific: December 1958 to October 1960

For their first engagement beyond Australia, the Dalrays travelled via Singapore to open at Firpo’s Restaurant in Calcutta on 4 December 1958. There is no record of the Dalrays’ experience in Calcutta, only a brief letter from Cooper, addressed to the Dalrays at Firpo’s, thanking them for the Christmas greetings they had sent (7 January 1959). But continuity in colonial familiarity between Adelaide and Calcutta could explain the awestruck tone of excitement with which Pritchard describes the infrastructure for entertainment in Tokyo, their next destination.


25 March 1959

Mr Gordon Cooper, Tivoli Theatre, Melbourne

Dear Sir

Hello there, we are in Japan as you probably know and we are both enjoying our sojourn immensely, the night clubs here are fantastic, you have no idea, they have 16 piece orchestras and rising floors, and all are beautifully decored and lit, and there are dozens of them, the night life here is really something.

There are quite a few Australians here in Tokyo, I bumped into Billy Banks the other night, and Ken Littlewood, Frank Weber is here too, and the Sadlers, all working constantly, you should see our publicity here, the club that we opened at has 2 coloured shots of us about 13 feet high outside, so you can see Rudas has a pretty good in over here.

Just before we left Calcutta a big show ‘Holliday on Ice’ opened there and its the same management of the American show and there is every chance that we can join it later, so we are madly rehearsing on ice here.

There are hundreds of Japanese strippers here, all doing Margo the Z Bomb act, but they don’t mean much and there are several girl vocalists who sing in English, but don’t understand what it means, they have learnt parrot fashion.

Well Gordon I must close now so drop me a line if you want anything here, I remember Ginger was having trouble getting medium paper for the spots and there’s a ton of it here so if you need it, we will be here for a few months.

Cheers for now.

Yours sincerely, 

Ray Pritchard.

The Dalrays opened in Tokyo at the Cabaret Monte Carlo in the Ginza district some time in March 1959. A year earlier, the cabaret had been described as ‘the spectacular Monte Carlo’, among the four biggest nightclubs in Tokyo at the time; the others were the Ginbasha in Ginza, and the Benibasha and Copacabana in Akasaka (Desert Sun, 16 May 1958, p.4).

Photos of the exterior of the Monte Carlo reveal a modernist box-shaped design with a textured facade and a wrap-around chequer-board neon sign (Fukutomi 1994, p.124). Surmounting the building was a rotating ‘atomic age’ neon sculpture, enclosing a cubic gaming die, in reference to the famous Casino de Monte-Carlo in Monaco. Coloured cut-outs of the Dalrays, twice life-size at thirteen feet high and posted on the building’s facade, were in continuity with the architectural design of the building’s facade as a billboard for what goes on inside.

The networks of entertainment in Tokyo provided the Dalrays with onward connections – firstly, to play for American forces in Okinawa and Korea; secondly, to play in the nightclubs of Hong Kong. On ‘playing in American clubs for the armed services’ stationed on Okinawa, Pritchard was ‘happy to say that the act is being very well received in front of States side audiences’ (2 May 1959).

Playing for American forces in Korea, his commentary is similarly upbeat, but reflects disparity in the country’s economic recovery in comparison with Japan: ‘We are in Korea at present working for the American forces, this is very good here except that the country itself is a mixup. I will be back in Tokyo in one week, and we will be going to Hong Kong for Xmas’ (26 October 1959).

Europe, 1960–1963

2. The Dalrays – Europe: November 1960 to October 1963

Having spent around twenty months in Asia, the Dalrays faced the decision of where to tour next. With no offers to return to Australia, their choice was between America and Europe. In letters to the Tivoli, Pritchard records their negotiations with the American producers of Holiday on Ice, whom they encountered before leaving Calcutta. But they decided on Europe instead.

The Dalrays flew from Tokyo to Paris in October 1960 where they started working at the Nouvelle Eve. The reasons for choosing Europe were probably a mix: the appeal of flexibility, the prospects of better income, the opportunity to travel independently. Performing at the Nouvelle Eve in L’Amour Madame, the Dalrays were reviewed favourably in Variety as ‘in for mits’ (i.e. applause): ‘a knockabout hand to hand act’, they ‘add a fillip in a take-off on two acrobats mixed up in an opera’. 

After fifteen months in Paris, the Dalrays spent the next twenty-one months touring between engagements in western Europe, Scandinavia and the Middle East (Figure 2). The Dalrays were so consistently in work – and so far from Australia – that the flow of correspondence with the Tivoli reduced to occasional updates.

After an initial letter from Paris, Pritchard sent just five more – a postcard from Madrid (‘Hi there, look where the hell your pantomime boys are now…’, 19 February 1962), and letters from Beirut (‘The Casino here is quite some place…’, 31 March 1962), Palma (‘The club is fabulous, it’s open air, right next to the sea’, 13 July 1962), Barcelona (‘We have been having a very successful tour’, 9 March 1963) and Luzern (‘The casino … is right on the lake and it’s very beautiful here’, 17 May 1963).

America and beyond, 1964–1966

3. The Dalrays – America and beyond: March 1964 to June 1966

The Dalrays realised their ambition to perform in America while on their second stint in Europe. By this stage, the possibilities of aviation were such that America did not become a separate network in their touring, distinct from Europe and Asia. Rather, between March 1964 and June 1966 (when their correspondence with the Tivoli ends), the Dalrays integrated north America into an itinerary of international touring which spanned the globe – from Europe to America, America to Australia, Australia to Asia, and back to Europe again. 

After performing at the Moulin Rouge from March to October 1964, the Dalrays arranged a series of television appearances. They appeared on Hollywood Palace, televised from the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard with Arthur Godrey, Shelley Berman and Dorothy Collins among others, on 21 November 1964. From Brussels in December, Pritchard wrote: ‘We have been working like mad and have done 4 T.V.s in the last month, Hollywood Palace was very good for us in America and were offered 6 months in Miami to start Dec. 26th, bad luck it doesn’t fit in our schedule’. 

In April 1965, they were performing in Barry Ashton’s Les Femmes de Paris at the Americana Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. In May, they transferred into Ashton’s Folies de Paris at the Golden Hotel in Reno, Nevada, where a reviewer for Variety appreciated their act. Their ‘“Opera Comique”, a panto to offstage recording from Figaro’, ‘augmented with comedic acrobatics and falls’, was described as ‘fun-filled and earns top palm’ (Variety, 30 Jun 1965, p.63).

While the Dalrays were in the United States, they were negotiating with the Tivoli for another season in Australia. The Tivoli were to present the Windmill Revue for the first time in Australia, after the London theatre had closed the year before. Having finished in Reno, the Dalrays flew from San Francisco, arriving in Sydney on 21 July 1965. They opened with the Windmill Revue at the Sydney Tivoli on 24 July, and transferred with the production to Melbourne where they played until 19 February 1966.

As the Windmill Revue drew to a close, the Tivoli entered negotiations with Harry Odell Productions in Hong Kong to secure an onward booking in Asia on the Dalrays’ behalf. By April 1966 the Dalrays were back in Hong Kong, performing at the Highball and Sun Ya nightclubs. They then toured on to Taipei in May and Tokyo in June. The Dalrays’ correspondence with the Tivoli closes with a postcard from Tokyo.

13 June 1966

Mr Gordon Cooper, Tivoli Theatre, Bourke Street, Melbourne C.I., Australia.

Dear Gordon, Hi there, hope you are well, I am wondering what’s happening to Tivoli now. The tour is very nice, the act is going great, things are better, Tokyo is very crowded and expensive now, see I miss Aussie now, thanks again for everything and hope to hear from you, 

best wishes, Ray Dalray.

C/– Toho Geino, Kojun Bldng, 6-4 Ginza, Tokyo, Japan. 

The aerial topology of international touring

Maps of the Dalrays’ international touring illustrate how aviation replaced the network of shipping routes and railways. Earlier touring networks taking acts beyond the Australasian region were anchored by the transatlantic axis and its linear extension through British colonies in the ‘East’. The Dalrays’ itineraries linked a new network of destinations: Tokyo to Paris, Madrid to Beirut, Paris to Miami, Reno to Sydney, Melbourne to Hong Kong, Taipei to Tokyo and so on.

The pattern of their touring mixed transit ‘point-to-point’ with the ‘hub-and-spoke’ model that airlines were adopting. Tokyo and Paris served as hubs for touring within regional circuits that converge at points. In Hong Kong, for example, the regions networked by the Dalrays’ itinerary were encountered as diversity in touring acts. If earlier in the century touring companies tracked back-and-forth along a linear path by ship, then the Dalrays toured ‘around the world’ by plane. The aerial topology of their international touring was ‘orbital’.

For touring artists, aviation did more than increase speed and shrink distance. It linked destinations into new formations, creating itineraries that gave new shape to careers. Aviation increased the ‘elasticity’ of the regions formed through touring, as ‘fields of operation’ extended ‘spheres of influence’ and stretched beyond their reach. Mapping the Dalrays’ correspondence with the Tivoli reveals that aviation coincided with the emergence of ‘mobile agents’ as a model for managing production.

4. The Dalrays’ world – places talked about and toured to: December 1958 to June 1966

– excerpts from a paper presented at the IFTR 2018 conference, University of Belgrade, Serbia; subsequently revised and extended for publication as Bollen J, ‘Visualizing the Entrepreneurial Networks of International Entertainment: The Dalrays Touring Beyond the Tivoli, 1956-66’, in Theatre and Internationalization Perspectives from Australia, Germany, and Beyond, eds Ulrike Garde and John R. Severn, (London & New York: Routledge, 2021), 55-71.

Maps created in QGIS.