In the 1960’s and early 70’s, entertainment wise, NSW Clubs were the Mecca of Variety acts. From RSL’s to Rugby League Clubs; they were drawing BIG crowds and trading very well, presenting 2 or 3 shows per week (some clubs had much more…) with as many as 5 performers on the bill. Many had resident 8–10 piece orchestras. Wonderful and wondrous entertainment was flourishing well for everybody… but there was no acknowledgment or kudos for those responsible for these mega shows. …Not yet!
Early in 1975, a meeting took place in the home of entertainer Lucky Grills. Also present at this meeting were great stalwarts of Aussie Variety Entertainment; Greg Bonham, Max Hyde, Frank Newall and John Campbell.
The Logies had already been organised for the Australian television industry – but there was nothing for the Aussie Variety Profession. …And so with a star system and a glamorous awards night in mind, a further historic meeting took place on 9th June 1975 at the Coogee Sports Club…
Present at this committee meeting were John Campbell, Johnny Holmes, Max Hyde, Frank Newall, Sylvia Raye, Marj Greig, Greg Bonham, Jan Adele and Warren T. Smith. …Warren suggested the industry address the problem of too many international artists flooding (at that time) our showrooms, and so the committee constructed an Australian Star acknowledgement award show which would recognise excellence in Aussie performances. This would give clubs revered and high profiled Oz entertainers to help fill showrooms.
The Variety Star Awards.
With plans for a BIG awards presentation night and a peer voting system under way, John Campbell (the founder/proprietor of the Artistes Answering Centre) became Chairman – being neither performer nor agent; he was perceived as standing on neutral ground. With a newly formed enthusiastic committee, The Variety Star Awards were born. The inaugural awards night, a huge success, was held at South Sydney Leagues Club in Redfern, on Monday November 10th 1975. Additionally, high profile TV star Don Lane, assisted the committee greatly with his expertise, writers and producers. …Our Australian Variety Profession came of age!
‘MO’ enters the building…
The following year the committee elected the next Chairman to be the legendary Johnny O’Keefe, who at the suggestion of Don Lane, changed the name to the Australian Variety ‘Mo’ Awards (honouring Australia’s ‘MO’ McCackie – one of the greatest Australian vaudevillian/comedians of the 20th century) both events were voted unopposed. …Tenders were sought to design the prestigious ‘Mo’ Award and after much searching, a magnificent statue was designed by Fischer H K & Co Pty Ltd of Morisset NSW and sculptured by Helmut Fischer.
The first ‘Mo’ Awards took place at Revesby Workers Club in October 1976. Never could a night be more successful; televised live by the Nine Network – such was the interest of the ‘Mo’ Awards.
Since its inception, Oz television relied heavily on our variety performers to establish it, now with a ‘Mo’ Award nomination; our performers achieved higher profile and prominence. TV shows like The Mike Walsh Show used our variety stars on a regular basis, making them household names. Jade Hurley, Simon Gallagher, Lucky Grills, Jan Adele etc may never have achieved the prominence they were to enjoy thanks to this television exposure.
We become a Benevolent Fund.
From 1977, the ‘Mo’ Committee commenced staging many fund-raising shows as well as the glamorous presentation ceremony. With ‘Mo’ Award productions playing to packed houses, performer and future chairman; Warren Kermond OAM saw these successful events could be used to assist performers ‘in-need’ because of accident or ill-health and so in 1979 he set up the ‘Mo’ Awards Benevolent Fund.
Meeting all government requirements, we became a Registered Charity and formed a committee of Benevolent Fund Trustees, to work independently, but alongside the ‘Mo’ Awards committee – dedicated to helping those who have helped us all in ways of entertainment.
Most notably, our ‘Mo’ Award Patrons have been mighty and illustrious stalwarts such as Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke AC; Tommy Tycho AM, MBE; Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating MP; Geoff Harvey OAM; Frank Ifield OAM; Barry Crocker AM and Brian Cadd.
Each year, audiences grew greatly from 500 plus to 2,000; and in its 5th year our award ceremony was held at The Regent Theatre. By our 10th year, the Mo’s were staged in the magnificent Sydney Opera House. As the years progressed, the Mo’s (chaired by Paul Flanagan, Audrey Yates, Terry Kaff, Warren T. Smith and Warren Kermond OAM) became regarded as hugely prestigious both in and outside the industry.
Later, under the lead of Ingrid Berg OAM, a move was made to expand the ‘Mo’ Awards by moving it in to the areas of Opera, Classical, Folk, Circus, Dance, Ballet, Drama, Musical Theatre and Jazz in an attempt to make it the premier award for the whole of Australian show-business.
BIG, Lavish and Over Categorised.
From 1991, our ‘Mo’ Awards had 43 categories! …ensuring a very long night… The ‘Mo’ Awards show was permanently moved from clubs and into larger theatres, such as Her Majesty’s Theatre, The State Theatre, The Regent Hotel, Sydney Town Hall, Sydney Entertainment Centre etc with increasingly lavish productions, attracting capacity audiences. Further chairmen continued to lead the ‘Mo’ Awards such as Damon Hartley, Ken Laing AM, Geoff Weston and Geoff Harvey.
The Mo presentation ceremonies became the grandest, lavish and most extravagant shows ever staged in Australia. Standing tall, the ‘MO’ had now become the most respected, coveted and applauded award by all members of the Australian Variety Profession. The ‘Mo’ Awards owe much to these visionary chairmen and particular Tommy Tycho AM MBE. In 2002, a further category was added… Best live Radio performer!
A Crisis is coming…
At this time, inspired by our success, other award shows materialised such as the Helpman Awards, The Aria Awards and the Golden Guitars etc. In 2005, during Mo’s 30th year, we faced a financial crisis; the current chairman recommended the ‘Mo’ Awards be dissolved in its current form because of increased competition for sponsorship dollars. Award recipients that year were given their ‘Mo’ Statuettes in an exclusive and private ceremony backstage at The Sydney Entertainment Centre.
In November of 2006, at a special extraordinary meeting, there was an attempt to close the Mo’s down, but Bobby Bradford, performer/proprietor of the Major Oak Theatre Restaurant became chairman; and with his wife Mary, kept the ‘Mo’ Awards alive by the slimmest of voting margins. Bobby and Mary’s new enthusiastic board took on the formidable task of rebuilding and garnering new members. Their undeniable drive saved the ‘Mo’ Awards from extinction.
‘MO’ fights back…
The ‘Mo’ Awards were finally restored to the focus of club performers and using clubs as the preferred venue. Additionally, the number of presentation ‘Mo’ Award categories were returned to its origins to achieve financial stability – much to the chagrin of many members. The ‘Mo’ Awards quickly continued and thrived! Unfortunately, a sad 2006 casualty was the silver metallic iconic Mo Award became triangular elongated glass figures.
By 2007, technology was moving rapidly and the ‘Mo’ Awards initiated its first informative internet website. In early 2009, for the first time, the voting method was changed to internet voting under the scrutiny of independent tellers. Voting became simplistic with 95% of the voting panelists embracing this new procedure which still endures to this day.
With the streamlined categories, developed policy/objectives for the benevolent fund and the social network Facebook.
Now, the ‘Mo’ Awards being staged at certified packed auditoriums each year, the brand of the ‘Mo’ Awards is known world-wide and remains one of the most respected trophies in Australian Show Business history.
As always, the best stories are always the true stories. The Story of the ‘Mo’ Awards is more than incredible, it is epic. The Adventure continues…