Theo Walters Profile

Aleisha Ward
18 Feb 2016

Billed as “Australia’s Greatest Showman”, the dapper Theo Walters made quite a splash on the New Zealand jazz scene in 1936 when he arrived in Wellington with his Personality Band.

Considered Australia’s version of Cab Calloway, Walters began his career in Perth in the late 1920s playing at dance palais such as Perth’s Luna Park until 1932, when he moved to Sydney to make it in the big city scene. He founded the first incarnation of his Personality Band and gained significant local media attention with sellout crowds. By early 1933 Walters was featured in the Australian Dance Band News (Australasia’s premier popular music trade magazine), which noted that he had the only 10-piece band in Sydney and it was proving a big hit with dancers.

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Theo Walters with the RNZAF showband on Bougainville, 1944. Standing from left, Jim Warren, Cliff Inns, Doug Kelly, Roy Miller, Tia Bennett, Bill Egerton, Peter Glen, Theo Walters, Bob Girvan, Nip Spring, Jack McCaw, Keith Harris, Pat Watters, Frank Robb. In front, from left: Des Lavin, Alf Ramsay, Fred Coleman and Bill Shardlow. 
Photo credit: Jim Warren collection
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An advert for the Theo Walters Band at Auckland's Peter Pan Cabaret in the late 1930s. By this stage his entire band was New Zealanders, including the "crooning drummer" Johnnie Madden. 
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Theo Walters leads the RNZAF Big Band, c. 1944
Photo credit: Jim Warren collection
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A touch of brass: Theo Walters's brass section in Auckland, 1937. From left: Phil Campbell, Vern Wilson, Theo Walters, Jim Watters, Baden Brown.
Photo credit: Dennis Huggard collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. F-90427-35mm-6
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The Hill Billy Hotshots, a country spoof band created by Theo Walters in 1944 as part of the RNZAF's Flying High Revue. From left, Eric 'Chook' Sundberg, Bob Girvan, Theo Walters, Jim Warren and Toby Tobeck. 
Photo credit: Jim Warren collection
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The 1941 letter from Theo Walters to musicians for the band at the 1ZB Radio Theatre, offering what were then very generous terms. The recipient's name has been deleted for privacy
Photo credit: Chris Bourke collection
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Theo Walters advertised at Wellington's Majestic Ballroom, September 1936
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Art-deco imagery advertises the Theo Walters band's live-to-air broadcasts on 3ZB Christchurch and 4ZB Dunedin, NZ Radio Record, 8 October 1937.
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The Theo Walters Band, Auckland, late 1930s. Jim Warren at far right
Photo credit: Jim Warren collection
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The Theo Walters five piece band with accordion
Photo credit: Stan Hills collection
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According to a note on the back of the photo, this shows the last appearance of the Theo Walters Personality Band at the Majestic Cabaret, Wellington; late 1930s. "Sacked?" it adds, cryptically
Photo credit: Stan Hills collection
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It was quite a coup for the Majestic Cabaret, Wellington, to recruit the Theo Walters band for a season in 1936. Australia's "ace" swing band broadcast live on 2YA when they arrived (now part of RNZ National). NZ Radio Record, 2 October 1936.
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The Theo Walters Band performing on 1ZB where they were the house band in 1941. The purpose built, brand-new art deco radio theatre, on Durham Street, Auckland, was demolished in 1990
Photo credit: Stan Hills collection
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The audience enjoys the RNZAF band perform in the Pacific Islands during World War II
Photo credit: Jim Warren collection
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The impeccably dressed Theo Walters Band, ready to swing on 1ZB, Auckland, 1941. Greeting them is controversial broadcaster Colin "Uncle Scrim" Scrimgeour - at the time he was the director of the NCBS, the commercial service of the public broadcasting system. 
Photo credit: Stan Hills collection
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Spellbound: The Theo Walters band at the Peter Pan cabaret, Auckland, 1937. Most are New Zealand musicians. From left: Baden Brown, Vern Wilson, Phil Campbell, Bernie Duggan, Jim Watters, George Campbell, Lal Martin and Walters.
Photo credit: Dennis Huggard collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. 35mm-90427-5_mm
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