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Barbara Crompton (1938–2000)

by Nigel Starck

Barbara Crompton, by Messenger Press, 1998

Barbara Crompton, by Messenger Press, 1998

State Library of South Australia, b2224012

Barbara Crompton's career as an actor, director and drama teacher was inspired by the experiences of her British childhood.

Her widowed mother, May Brimelow, ran a theatrical boarding house in Wigan, Lancashire. The young Barbara grew up among tragedians, comedians, soubrettes, magicians, and character actors in repertory.

Her acting debut was with the Wigan Little Theatre, for which she played Rosalind in As You Like It and Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal.

From 1956 until 1959, she studied at the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama in Sidcup, Kent. She married immediately after graduating and, within a month, she and her husband, Geoff Pullan, were sailing to Australia on board The Stratheden.

The next six years were spent in Tasmania, where Mr Pullan joined the ABC as an announcer. Barbara became a presenter of the ABC Television children's program Party Time, adopting the professional name of Barbara Crompton.

Their two children, Rachel (who died in 1998) and David, were born in Hobart. The family moved to Adelaide in 1966, when Mr Pullan was appointed to the lecturing staff at Adelaide Teachers College.

Ms Crompton taught drama at Western Teachers College, the SA College of Advanced Education and Adelaide University. One of her proudest accomplishments at this time was completing an education degree, juggling her studies with teaching, family commitments and the theatre.

Adelaide audiences first saw Ms Crompton as Maggie Hobson in the Therry Dramatic Society's Hobson's Choice in 1967. Subsequent roles with the society included Helen Browne in Graham Greene's The Living Room (1969), Mrs Baker in Neil Simon's Come Blow Your Horn (1989), Addie in Lillian Helman's Little Foxes (1991), and Mabel Grace in Noel Coward's one-act play Red Peppers (1998).

She first directed for Therry in 1989, when her Anne of Green Gables won this accolade from the (often acerbic) critic Peter Goers: "Barbara Crompton has fashioned a handsome, tight and charming production which is memorable for all the right reasons''.

Her other Therry Dramatic Society directorial credits included Helen Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road (1996), William Nicholson's Shadowlands (1998), and A Child's Christmas in Wales (1999), based on the childhood recollections of Dylan Thomas. Bob Kimber, who directed Ms Crompton in her Adelaide stage debut and many subsequent productions, recalls her "superb comic technique, wonderful timing and impeccable memory for script''.

Ms Crompton appeared with the Adelaide Repertory Theatre in The Wind in the Branches of the Sassafras (1974) and Move Over Mrs Markham (1977). She directed Neil Simon's I Ought To Be In Pictures for the company in 1998.

In film, she played the Queen in SA Film Corporation's The Fourth Wish (1976).

She also staged dramatised storytelling productions for the Come Out youth festivals and travelling productions with her students from Western Teachers College, so that outback children might have some contact with live theatre.

Offstage, Ms Crompton was the subscriber representative on the board of State Theatre for several years. She adjudicated at drama festivals and moderated Year 12 Drama for SSABSA throughout SA and the Northern Territory.

While paying tribute to Ms Crompton's "vibrant'' acting and "inspired'' directing, the president of the Therry Dramatic Society, Jill Bartlett, said her teaching and adjudicating services constituted an even greater legacy.

Ms Crompton's son, David Pullan, a professional actor based in London, was a cast member in the British premiere of Hugh Janes's Dead-Lock in 1991. At Ms Crompton's recommendation, the Therry Dramatic Society bought the rights to the production.

Ms Crompton herself was to direct, but had to withdraw when her health declined this year. The production opened at the Arts Theatre last week.

David Pullan flew out from London to see the play, and to attend his mother's funeral this week.

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Citation details

Nigel Starck, 'Crompton, Barbara (1938–2000)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 13 July 2024.

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