Viola Tait’s memoirs are important as both a personal history and a social history, providing not just details of a life in the theatre, but about the theatre in Britain, America and Australia during the middle of the twentieth century.
Lady Tait AM began working on her memoirs in the late 1960s, but life got in the way—and a very busy and exciting life it was too. The manuscript was filed away in her theatre basket along with photographs, memorabilia and numerous notes on other aspects of the theatre. In 2001, following the launch of her second book, Dames, Principal Boys … and All That: a history of pantomime in Australia, the manuscript was revived. Unfortunately Viola died before the work could be completed, leaving her editor Elisabeth Kumm and daughter Sally Bell to finish the task, including the preparation of an epilogue and the preliminary selection of images.
The effort of getting the book published remained out of reach at the time, however, and it was not until some fifteen years later that Elisabeth, through her involvement with Theatre Heritage Australia, suggested that Viola’s memoirs should finally be published.
With the assistance of Viola’s daughters and the Tait Memorial Trust, a small team from THA was assembled to complete the task: Elisabeth Kumm, Judy Leech and Simon Piening, with assistance from Mimi Colligan, Frank Van Straten and Peter Johnson.
During the intervening years, much of Lady Tait’s vast photo archive had been donated to either the Australian Performing Arts Collection in Melbourne or the National Library of Australia in Canberra. Accessing this archive involved many months of research, including numerous emails between the editorial committee and the Tait sisters. Meanwhile, the text was re-proofed, and preliminary cover designs were undertaken by Belinda Hayball, a graphic designer and friend of the Tait family.
I Have a Song to Sing: some memories of Gilbert & Sullivan and J.C. Williamson by Viola Tait, edited by Elisabeth Kumm, foreword by Richard Bonynge AC CBE, Theatre Heritage Australia, Collingwood, Vic, Dec 2018, Jul 2019; 244 pages, illustrations, portraits, facsimiles; 25 cm.
‘An enchanting story of the intimate life of a lovely lady.’ – Richard Bonynge AC CBE
‘This is a truly delightful—and insightful—memoir. Lady Tait’s love for life and for the history of the performing arts and its people glow warmly on every page, creating a vivid evocation of a glamorous and glorious theatrical past.’ – Frank Van Straten AM