Billy Matthews

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(b. Penzance, Cornwall, **/**/1892? - d. 04/04/1985). Actor, singer, broadcaster. Billy (William) Matthews was born in Penzance and came to South Africa with his parents in 1898. The family settled in Johannesburg, where his father is said to have played the French horn in the Johannesburg Orchestra. Billy himself was a choir boy and in 1907, as a boy soprano, won a gold medal at the local Eisteddfod, an achievement he equaled when, in 1921, he won the men's open solo competition . His first stage appearance was in 1921 at the Palladium Theatre in a play directed by Muriel Alexander and he subsequently joined The Masqueraders, a troupe which played the Standard Theatre for some weeks and then toured the country. He obviously had a fine singing voice and the concerts he gave were well patronised by the mining communities along the Witwatersrand.

When the Associated Scientific & Technical Societies of South Africa (ASTS) was granted the first broadcasting license in South Africa (operating from the Stuttafords Building in Rissik Street), Billy Matthews was the first vocalist to be heard on the radio and over the years he appeared in numerous radio plays and concerts. Another first came his way when he appeared in the first South African sound film. In the short Sarie Marais (Joseph Albrecht/1931) he played a Boer prisoner-of-war in Ceylon who, while longing for his girl back home, sings the title song. Nearly 40 years passed before he appeared in two more South African films, namely Stop Exchange (Howard Rennie/1970) and Taxi! (Joe Stewardson/1970).

In the meantime he was kept busy on radio and on the stage. For the Johannesburg Operatic and Dramatic Society he featured in Floradora (1928), Tom Jones (1933), The Geisha (1935), The Desert Song (1935), Merrie England (1936), The Vagabond King (1938) and Spring Quartet (1960), See How They Run (Ricky Arden Productions, 1960). His SABC radio work was very diverse, ranging from Exhibit "A" (1946), a play directed by Jack Bligh, and Shakespeare's Richard II (1950), to playing Mr. Plod on the Noddy series produced by Kathleen Davydd for the SABC Children's Programme of the English Service. In the early 1970s he still appeared on the stage for PACT in In the Case of J. Robert Oppenheimer (1971), directed by Leonard Schach, and at the Alexander Theatre for Charles Marowitz in his A Macbeth (1973).

(He may have been the same William Matthews who turns up at regular intervals in England, first in two silent films, namely Squibs (George Pearson/1921) and Eugene Aram (Arthur Rook/1924), and also two plays, White Cargo (1924) at the Playhouse Theatre in London and By Candle Light (1929) at the Prince's Theatre in Bristol. He featured in a revival of White Horse Inn (1940) at the Coliseum in London, and later in the musicals Belinda Fair (1954) at the Theatre Royal in Bath and Can-Can (1955) at the Hippodrome in Bristol.) (FO)


Dickason, Graeme B. - Cornish immigrants to South Africa

Le Roux, André I. & Fourie, Lilla – Filmverlede: geskiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse speelfilm

Woolfson, Malcolm - But the melody lingers on

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